Archive for the ‘Vegan Stories’ category

Bringing Vegan Wherever I Go

March 10, 2014

It’s 8:00 sharp on Saturday morning.  I am standing in the big, bright kitchen of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Gloucester, MA.  The talented author Janet Ruth Young happens to be on the board of this church, and I happen to know her.   When she asked me to be a guest speaker at her church as part of their green initiative lecture series, I readily agreed.  I cannot imagine passing up a chance to share my knowledge about vegan nutrition, food and recipes.   I am to give a winter root vegetable cooking demonstration and talk.  I know it’s not specifically a vegan topic, but I am going to make it one.  A good one.  No one will notice that they are eating vegan.  They are only going to notice that what they are eating is delicious.

My partner Bill and I weave in and out and around each other and the giant ten burner gas stove, double oven and two-sided sink.  We wash, scrub and peel vegetables at the big sink, then move them over to the chopping area.  Bill is far more diligent and focused than I, and so while I move my knives, bottles of spices and jars of hemp oil, ginger Nama Shoyu salad dressing and equipment I have brought from home, he makes fast work of the vegetable prep.  We have no idea how many people to expect, but I am as prepared as I can be with enough ingredients to feed 30 people.

IMG_1408   Bill and I prepping.  I am a blur…he is steady!

Folks start trickling in early.  Some of my friends come, and there are lots of new faces, too.  I am not nervous doing this any longer, so it is with joy and excitement that I begin.  There are about 20 people, a small enough group that they can all fit into the kitchen and watch everything.  I talk and talk, answer questions, and demonstrate how to cut Brussels sprouts.  I give a brief lesson on massaging kale.  When I explain that I use hemp oil as much as possible because it is easy to digest and filled with nutrients, everyone laughs when I confess that I have it on auto-ship from Amazon. I use a spiral slicer to make noodles from raw carrots, sweet potatoes and beets.  I invite a couple of volunteers to try, too. IMG_1405

While I chatter away, Bill mans the ovens and the stove, roasting a giant baking sheet of the sprouts and another of chopped root vegetables in preparation for a creamy, roasted vegetable soup, toasting pecans in a dry skillet so that I can teach the group how to toast and spice nuts.

The time flies by and soon everyone is digging into the massaged kale and spiral sliced raw vegetable salad.  They barely finish their full plates when I present the warm Brussels sprouts salad served over baby mixed greens, garnished with blackberries, avocado, raw pumpkin seeds and toasted spiced pecans.  I show how to make a balsamic reduction, using Blackberry Ginger infused balsamic from the Cape Ann Olive Oil Co.

IMG_1413   Toasting and Spicing Pecans

IMG_1416    Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Toasted Spiced Pecans

The final tasting is of the roasted vegetable soup.  We have roasted garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots.  Bill pulls the hot baking sheet from the oven and we manage to scrape all those lovely, browned vegetables into the stock pot.  We add water, vegan bouillon, black pepper and minced fresh sage to the pot, bring it to a boil, then Bill turns off the heat, purees the giant potful with an immersion blender and it’s ready.  He moves the pot to a serving table and I ladle out hot mugs of the soup to everyone.  It’s hard to ladle soup into tiny blue Willow ware cups, but I pull it off without spilling much.  IMG_1436The group raves and raves about the food.  I answer more questions.  And here I must mention how grateful I am to my friend Krissi, who takes notes for me sometimes and today, hands me a legible list of topics and reminders of what I have promised to give attention to when I email the recipes to the group.  After the event is over, the first thing I do I look for leftovers.  There are none.  Every bite has been consumed.  With enthusiasm!

Clean up today means I wander around, packing up the knives, bottles, jars and other gear while Bill and a woman from the church wash the dishes, pots and pans.  We are finished by 12:45 and I leave tired and happy, knowing I have shared food, recipes, and a lot of what I know about eating a healthy vegan diet with a receptive audience.  I know that those who came today learned enough to make changes in their eating habits—for their health and for their environment.

The recipes:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Toasted Spiced Pecans

Ingredients:

Brussels sprouts
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c pecan halves and pieces
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 T maple syrup

6 cups mixed baby greens or 1 bunch kale*, washed, torn into bite-sized pieces and massaged with 1 T olive oil until volume is reduced by about half
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 bulb fennel
1 avocado
1 orange
balsamic vinegar—I use blackberry-ginger balsamic from the Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. Main St. Gloucester
salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half.  Put them on a large baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil.  Turn all the Brussels sprouts so that they are cut-side down on the baking sheet.  Place baking sheet on center rack in oven and roast for 18-20 minutes.  The bottoms of the Brussels sprouts should be nice and brown, some of the tops should be dark, too.  Remove from oven, liberally sprinkle with the balsamic, toss to coat, add salt and pepper to taste.

While Brussels sprouts are roasting, heat a small skillet over medium heat on the stove.  Add the pecans to dry pan and toast until they become aromatic, flipping them occasionally to prevent burning.  When pecans are toasted, add olive oil, cinnamon, cayenne and maple syrup.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until maple syrup bubbles. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Wash the rest of the vegetables and fruit. Thinly slice fennel, open the avocado, remove the seed, and slice the avocado across and down.  Use a tablespoon to scoop out the avocado flesh.  Use a paring knife to remove skin from the orange.  Chop the orange into bite-sized chunks.  Reserve juice.

Assemble the salad:  In a large salad bowl, add the mixed baby greens or kale.  Add the orange juice, if any.  Arrange the Brussels sprouts, sliced fennel, avocado chunks, orange chunks and berries on top of the greens.  Sprinkle with 1/4 c more of the balsamic.  Add the nuts to the top of the salad and serve immediately.
*If using kale, massage with a couple of tsp oil until tender before assembling the rest of the salad.

Raw Root Vegetable Noodle Salad

Ingredients:
1 bunch kale, washed, removed from stems and torn into bite-sized pieces
2-3 T hemp oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1-2 medium sized beets, washed and peeled
1 large carrot, scrubbed
1-2 sweet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 avocado, halved, pitted and cut into bite-sized chunks
raw pumpkin seeds and toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (recipe below)

Method:
Place the kale in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the hemp oil and massage the kale for about 3-5 minutes, or until kale is slightly wilted and softened and reduced in volume by half.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice, salt and pepper and set aside.

*Spiral slice the sweet potatoes, carrot and beets.  Slice the beets last because they are the messiest and will juice on the other vegetables.  If the beets are very juicy, you can rinse them under cold water to keep their juice from spreading too much.  Use kitchen scissors to cut the vegetable noodles into manageable lengths.  Add the vegetable noodles to the kale and dress generously with Ginger Nama Shoyu dressing.  Toss to coat and distribute vegetables.  Arrange the avocado chunks on top of the salad.  Sprinkle the top of the salad with the seeds.  Drizzle a small amount of dressing on top and serve.

Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (adapted from Life Alive Restaurants)
Ingredients:
fresh garlic cloves, peeled and pressed to fill a 1/4 c measure
1/2 c plus a little more fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
3 T Nama Shoyu
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt
1 c olive oil, or a mixture of hemp and olive oil

Method:
In a powerful blender, add the garlic cloves, the ginger, the Nama Shoyu, and the sea salt.  Add 1/3 c of the oil.  Blend on medium-low until everything starts to move around. Turn off blender and scrape down sides if necessary.
Turn the blender back on medium speed, then to high and blend until smooth.  Take the little inner cap off of the blender cover and slowly drizzle in the remaining oil.  Turn blender on high and blend only long enough to emulsify the dressing.  Transfer dressing to glass jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.  Keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.
*If you don’t have a spiral slicer, you can grate the vegetables instead.  It tastes just as good!

Creamy Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:
extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
2-3 ribs celery, washed and cut into chunks
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bunch parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
3 double sized cubes vegan bouillon, mix of salted and salt-free
water
1/4 c fresh sage leaves, washed and minced, or 2 tsp dried sage leaves
1 c orange juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
black pepper to taste

Method:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place prepared garlic and vegetables on one or two large baking sheets so that they are in a single layer.  Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat.  Roast in oven 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and slightly browned.

When vegetables are done, remove from oven and transfer to a large soup pot.  Add the bouillon cubes and cinnamon.  Add water to about and inch below the vegetables.  Heat over high heat until steaming.  Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender.  Alternatively, allow soup to cool slightly and puree in batches in a blender or food processor.  Return soup to pot.  Add the orange juice,, sage leaves and black pepper to taste.  Heat until steaming hot, being careful not to let the soup boil.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.  Serve with hearty bread and salad for a delicious meal.  This soup freezes well.

The Essex County Garden Club Winter Event

January 24, 2013

Prepped and packed, I drive in the icy twilight to South Hamilton.  It is easy to find the hostess’ house and I navigate the long driveway, park, and take a deep breath.  This is my biggest gig so far, this group of 25 women coming out in the bitter cold to listen to me talk about and watch me cook vegetables.  I am not nervous, but even so,  butterflies dance in my belly as I open my trunk and gather three heavily loaded bags to bring into the kitchen.  Leslie, the hostess, emerges from her garage to greet me with her bright welcoming smile.  She offers to carry one of the bags and I allow this, beginning what is to be an evening of both humble submission and powerful opportunity.

I have been allowed to arrive early and have an hour and a half to set up.  Using some of Leslie’s kitchenware and some of my own, I fill a large pot with water and set it on the gas range.  I place steamer baskets in two smaller pots and add enough water to meet the bottom of the metal steam baskets.  I empty my bags and cover the counter with bowls of vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, chopped, diced and spiral sliced winter vegetables and my large cutting board.  I take out my three best knives and lay them in a tidy row atop the board.  I ask for a pretty plate to arrange the raw cookies I have made for the end of the event, and I am given a beautiful white pedestal dish.  I arrange organic sugar-coated, heart-shaped cookies so that what is already pretty and delicious is now looking absolutely gorgeous.  She takes the cookies and puts them in her dining room with the other goodies for munching.  I sneak in and take them back to the kitchen.  I am going to save them for the end.  I want to tell about these treats, how easy they are to make, and how amazing a raw vegan cookie can be.  I want to have their full attention when they take the first bite of that cookie.

Nina, the event planner for the club, arrives a little while later.  She is the reason I am here and the butterflies that have been fluttering inside me rest quietly.  I feel more comfortable now that her sweet familiar face in the room as I finish setting up.

I take the spiral slicer out and place it on the roomy granite-topped island counter.  I know this will impress even the most doubtful of the attendees.  I have a beet, a carrot and a sweet potato all ready to turn into colorful vegetable noodles.  I transfer cooked quinoa to a glass bowl for heating.  I transfer the creamy, spicy sauce to the biggest bowl I can find and it is filled to the brim.  I wonder if I have made too much.

Before I can think about maybe being nervous after all, the door opens and opens and opens and suddenly the kitchen and dining room are packed with women.  They chat, fill their glasses with wine and set out appetizers and desserts—carrots and celery and dip, crackers and cheese, trays of cookies and brownies.  I am starving, so I cut up a carrot, open my jar of homemade ginger Nama Shoyu dressing, dip my carrot sticks in, and nibble.  And wait.

At last, Nina stands beside me.

“Are you ready to get this going?”

I nod, and she tries to quiet the room.  She taps the side of a glass bowl with one of my knives.  She taps it again.  Someone notices, and pushes out a powerful “Shhhhh.”  All conversation stops.  Well, almost all.  I take a deep breath as Nina introduces me.  She tells them she used to stalk me at our CSA pick up and we all laugh.  I’m on.

I am lightheaded as I look at how many women stand in front of me, waiting for me to begin.

But I do.  I ask how they take care of their kids—if they give them music lessons, enroll them in sports, send them to good schools.  I ask them if they monitor their homework, their computer time, their television time.  Some nod, others don’t.  Then I ask them if they cook with their kids.  I see lots of heads nodding.

“What do you cook with them?  What do you make together?”

“Cookies!”

“Brownies!”

“Cupcakes!”

And I’m in the thick of it right away.  I ask if they cook dinner with their kids.  If they teach them how to prepare vegetables—to wash, scrub, peel, chop, roast, steam—-and the room is quiet.  I boldly remind them that what their kids put into their bodies is one of the most important things to think about.  I try not to sound preachy as I suggest that cooking time can be together time, family time, teaching time.  So that when their kids grow up, they know how to feed themselves with healthy food.  Healthy food that will nourish their bodies the same way all the other things we all see as important nourish their minds, spirits and bodies.

As I talk, I set up for the roasted vegetables, making sure the oven is preheated, spreading diced beets on a large baking tray and drizzling them with garlic olive oil.  I ask a woman to help me and she puts the tray in the oven, setting the timer for me.  I set up the rest of the roasting vegetables, showing off the Brussels sprouts I have harvested from my garden just the other day.

IMG_1492

Brussels sprouts harvested from my winter garden, with carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, and red potatoes, ready to roast. Photo credit: Heather Robb

I answer questions about kale and kale chips, peeling, chopping and steaming vegetables all the while.  The first big hit of the evening is the spiral slicer.  No one can believe how perfect and beautiful carrots and beets are when they are turned into noodles.  I slice a carrot, then I get a volunteer to slice the beet.  I help her a bit and in a moment, glossy, deep-red strands of beet pile up on the counter.  I take my kitchen scissors and cut the long strands a bit to make them more manageable.  I get them into the boiling water.  Carrots first, 3 minutes.  Beets next, 5 minutes.  I drain them, then sample them out, ladling the Alfredo sauce on top.  The chatter that had started up again is gone as each woman tastes the small plate of food she receives.

“How did you make this sauce?”

“Why is it so creamy if you didn’t use cream?”

“How can this be vegan?  Isn’t there cheese in here?”

I pause and talk about cashew cream and nutritional yeast, how to make what is often dairy-based taste just as good, if not better, vegan.  There are a lot of questions about nutritional yeast, and I do my best to answer them.  I do not have all the answers, but can easily direct.

Then the steamed vegetables are done and I pour them into a bowl.  I shake and pour the ginger Nama Shoyu dressing over the steaming bowl, then plunge my hands in to toss the dressing.  I hear gasping, but it’s really not that hot.  Nina and another woman offer to plate the samples.  Heaping scoops of quinoa pillow the pile of glistening dressed vegetables.  The room grows quiet again as the women taste what they have been given.

Mixing Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing into steamed vegetables

Mixing Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing into steamed vegetables
Photo credit: Heather Robb

“Oh!  This dressing!  What is it?”

“Can I have this recipe?”

“Is there ginger in here?”

The dressing is the second big hit.  It’s a recipe I kind of stole from the restaurant Life Alive in Lowell, MA.  There are two newer branches, one in Cambridge and one in Salem, and it’s one of my favorite places to eat.  I always get the same thing—the Goddess bowl, which is their signature dish.  I am addicted to the dressing.  I am so addicted that I have spent hours trying to duplicate it.  I finally nailed it a few months ago and now can share it with confidence, even if I have to sheepishly confess that it is absolutely not my recipe, only an adaptation of theirs.

I remember to talk about GMO foods, the “Dirty Dozen“, and, of course, I include bits and pieces of my vegan life.  I talk openly and honestly about the nutrients in food, the importance of a varied diet.  I offer information about general health, what is not good about dairy products, and explain exactly what vegan means:  no animals.  No animal products.  So, yeah, no cheese, so yogurt, no butter, no  fish.  I was asked if I miss any of it.

Not for one second.

The timer goes off for the roasted vegetables.  The woman whom I have volunteered to be in charge of the oven turns and pulls two heavy trays of roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, onions, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes from the dark, high heat.  I take each tray and do my best to fill the last giant bowl without dropping anything on the floor.  The trays are heavy and I am already tired.  I sprinkle the vegetables with fresh rosemary that I have cut from my garden this same morning, and add a bit of salt and pepper.  I steal a Brussels sprout and a sweet potato chunk before the final round of sampling begins.

The women eat and chatter, and I stand back, wondering if I have missed anything.  My notes have been tossed to the back counter, unneeded.

I space out for a minute and then notice a tall, gorgeous woman passing around a tray of chocolate-dipped macaroons.  I go over to her and touch her shoulder. I know  she has taken the time to make this beautiful, time-consuming dessert, and it breaks my heart to say these words.  I say them anyhow.

“Um, please.  Would you mind holding back on those?  I have a little dessert and I am afraid that if everyone eats one of those, they won’t have room to try mine.  You could pass them out after…”

Her face flushes and she looks down, then up at me.

“Oh, I’m sorry!  I didn’t know.”

I honestly could cry as I look at her, but I hold steady.

“That’s okay.  Thank you for bringing those.  They look great.  Mine are really small—so everyone will still have room for yours after.”

The pedestal with the heart-shaped raw vegan ginger cookies is passed around.

“What’s in here?”

“These are really good!”

“Is is nutmeg?  Do I taste nutmeg?”

With the last of my “crowd energy”, I give the ingredients and tell them there is a link to the recipe on my blog.  They line up to collect my card and I promise each eager face that I will post right away and include the recipe for the dressing.

Energized by a couple of my cookies, I work the crowd afterward.  I thank everyone for coming, and seek out the women who have helped me throughout the evening.  I am touched by their excitement for my cooking and by their welcoming smiles, their food confessions, their desire to make even small changes in the way they prepare food and eat.

I return to the counter, prepared to clean up and find that the women have done it for me.  Everything is washed, dried, and stacked neatly for me to pack up.  Nina and I are the last to leave, and she offers to carry one of the bags out to my car. I tell her that would be great.

Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (adapted from Life Alive restaurant’s version)

Ingredients:

fresh garlic cloves, peeled and pressed to fill a 1/4 c measure

1/2 c plus a little more fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely

3 T Nama Shoyu

2 T lemon juice

1/2 t sea salt

1 c olive oil, or a mixture of hemp and olive oil

Method:

In a powerful blender, add the garlic cloves, the ginger, the Nama Shoyu, and the sea salt.  Add 1/3 c of the oil.  Blend on medium-low until everything starts to move around. Turn off blender and scrape down sides if necessary.

Turn the blender back on medium speed, then to high and blend until smooth.  Take the little inner cap off of the blender cover and slowly drizzle in the remaining oil.  Turn blender on high and blend only long enough to emulsify the dressing.

Transfer dressing to glass jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.  Keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.

This is amazing drizzled onto warm steamed vegetables, although it is also good on cold salad.

Shhhh…Secret Vegan Cooking Class

January 22, 2013

I am preparing for my fourth vegan cooking talk and demonstration.  The secret is that it is not technically a vegan cooking class—I have been invited by the Essex County Garden Club to talk about how to use winter vegetables.

The back story: Last spring I joined a CSA.  I bought one share for our family and had the pleasure of visiting Alprilla Farm each Wednesday afternoon to choose whatever I desired.  Each week I brought home a giant bag packed to the brim with the most beautiful organically grown vegetables.  The selection was vast—eight or nine types of greens and heirloom tomatoes, several types of beets, onions, carrots, peppers, kale and squashes.  Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, beans, soy beans, and much, much more.  Whenever I arrived, I met someone new and fun to talk with about how to prepare and eat the bounty offered.  I met a woman named Nina who seemed to be on my schedule and she would follow me around, asking what to do with celeriac, or how I managed to get my kids to eat kale.

It turns out that she is the event planner for the Essex County Garden Club.  One afternoon, she asked if I would be interested in sharing my knowledge about vegetables—why they are good to eat and how to prepare some of the more daunting ones—and I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to teach how to cook vegetables.  It would also be a chance to share vegan cooking with a lot of people— a chance to be on the offense about being vegan!  I knew I would be be able to show the beauty in the way I choose to eat without having to do anything other than be myself.

So I’m in my kitchen.  I want to show off, thus I have been prepping all day.  I clean, peel and dice beets, carrots, red potatoes and sweet potatoes.  I wash kale and tear the leaves from the stems.  I spiral slice beets and carrots.  I make ginger nama shoyu dressing for steamed vegetables.  I scurry out to my garden and cut fresh rosemary and sage.  The show-stopper will definitely be the beet and carrot “noodles” turned from the spiral slicer because I also make my delicious vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms.

I make raw ginger cookies for dessert sampling, too, taking the time to press out the dough and cut hearts with a cookie cutter, because it’s close to Valentine’s Day and I love to share these amazingly simple and flavorful treats.  (And because Nina, who came to one of my vegan cooking classes here in my kitchen and tried one before, asked so nicely.)

Raw Ginger Cookies

Raw Ginger Cookies

The plan is to roast some vegetables in garlic olive oil, steam some and serve with quinoa and ginger nama shoyu dressing, and boil the noodles and serve with the Alfredo sauce.  Then cookies.  I know everyone will ask for the sauce recipe, so here it is.

Prep for Essex County Garden Club
Vegan Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms top center and middle row second bowl in

Vegan Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1/2 c cashew cream*

3 T olive oil or flavored olive oi, divided (I like to use mushroom sage oil for this recipe, but plain is fine)

1  12 oz pkg sliced mushrooms

1 large sweet onion, diced

1/8 t crushed red pepper flakes

generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1 c peas, fresh or frozen

2 c vegetable stock or vegetable broth

1/3 c nutritional yeast

1/4 c minced fresh sage leaves

1/4 c orange juice concentrate

3 c raw baby spinach

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Heat 2 T oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms, turn heat to high, and cook, tossing every few minutes, until mushrooms begin to brown and they release their liquid.

Heat the remaining T oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook about 7 minutes, or until onion is soft and beginning to brown.

Add the cooked onion to the mushrooms.  Add nutmeg and crushed red pepper flakes, stir, and cook for another minute.  Add the vegetable broth or stock and bring to a boil.  Stir in the peas.  Cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the cashew cream and the nutritional yeast.  Reduce heat to low and cook for about 5 minutes more.  Add the sage and the orange juice concentrate.  Stir well to incorporate.  Remove pan from heat and fold in the baby spinach.  Grind a generous amount of black pepper into the sauce, taste, and add a little salt to taste.

*another way to make cashew cream:  soak 1 c raw cashews in cold filtered water for at least an hour but overnight is fine, too.  Drain, rinse, and drain again.  Pour soaked cashews into a blender and add 1 c filtered water.  Blend until smooth.  Use for this recipe.  Freeze any leftovers for next time.  Keeps at least 3 months in freezer.

All packed up and ready to go.  No room left in the fridge!  Notice that somehow my kombucha scoby jar is front and center on the top shelf.

All packed up and ready to go. No room left in the fridge! Notice that somehow my kombucha scoby jar is front and center on the top shelf.

Vegan Cooking Demo #3

January 14, 2013

At dinner one night with a group of friends, one of them thought it would be a good idea if I started teaching them how to cook vegan.  The women who are in this little group with me are thoughtful about what they bring when we eat together, but I always bring both an entree and a dessert so I know for sure I will not go hungry, in case someone forgets that chicken broth is not vegan, or that eggs are not okay if they are in a cake.  Sometimes they just don’t know how to make a cake without any animal products.  “What should I use instead of eggs?  Ground flax seed?  How would that work?”  or “What would I put in the salad if you don’t eat goat cheese?”  (The answer to that one is easy—leave out the cheese, or at least offer it on the side.)

I thought it was a good idea, but I am a bit shy about standing in front of a group and talking about, well, anything, really.  I am comfortable in small, informal settings with people I know.  Stage fright hits when I am standing in front of a roomful of people and expected to perform in any way, even just cooking.  My friend Michaela, the one who is a superb baker and who has the most imploring big brown eyes asked again and again until I finally conceded.  Vegan cooking lessons for everyone.  In my kitchen.  Second Sunday of each month at 2 pm.

I thought it would be good to start with desserts, an area that seems the most challenging for bakers who want to try making vegan sweets.  I double and triple checked my recipes, trying things out ahead of time, and my family benefited from multiple batches of cookies and muffins.  I scrutinized recipes I make regularly, making sure the measurements were exact.  I prepared a sheet of vegan baking substitutions and handouts of all the recipes.

I was shaking as I began the first session, but after a few minutes, I forgot I was being watched and just started chatting away as I measured, mixed, and baked.   I planned to pull off three different recipes—giant, crunchy, chocolate chip cookies, molasses ginger cookies, and the famous Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin recipe.  I printed the blueberry muffin recipe right off of the internet, using it like a worksheet so everyone who came could see how easy it is to figure out the substitutions.  1/4 c silken tofu for each egg.  Soy or almond milk in place of dairy milk.  Vegan margarine in place of butter.  Organic sugar.  I made the muffins with the changes, and no one could believe how delicious they were—just as good, if not better than the original recipe.

It went well.  Really, really well.   “Is it okay if I invite a friend next time?”  “Can I bring my niece?”  “Could you please email me a link to your blog?  To that website?”  “What was the name of that book you read?”  My cell phone began ringing—strangers calling.  “I heard you are giving vegan cooking lessons.  Do you have room for one more person?”  “How much does it cost?”

The answer was, of course, yes!  And it’s free.

The second lesson focused on entrees, and I demonstrated how to make homemade seitan, a chewy and delicious main course.  I also showed how to make cashew cream, and from that, made a vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, peas, and kale, served over spaghetti squash.  We ate dinner together at the end of that demo, and I happened to have enough raw ginger cookies to pass around for dessert.  “Raw cookies?  How do you do that?”  “These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!  Could you share the recipe?”  It was a small group, easy to please, full of excitement for learning vegan cooking.  Then another round of phone calls and suddenly a bunch of people, some of whom I have never met, are sitting in my kitchen, raptly watching me chop, stir, process and talk about why I am a vegan.  And a vegan cook.

So— here I am at the beginning of my third group vegan cooking demonstration, this time teaching how to make vegan cheeses.  My friend Krissie was kind enough to bring her camera and take a few shots of the event.

I am holding up a package of agar-agar, a type of seaweed used as a thickener for many vegan cheeses.

I make three different cheeses in one hour.  The first is  smokey cashew cheese from the fabulous website:

 http://www.olivesfordinner.com

  Krissie got a great shot of the smokey cashew cheese.

The second is pine nut cheese, adapted from a recipe a friend found online while trying to impress me with her vegan cooking skills.  (Not that she needs to try—my friend Stephanie is an amazing cook and I always leave her table with a happy, full belly.)

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Beet-Ravioli-with-Pine-Nut-Goat-Cheese-Rosemary-Cream-Sauce-Aged-Balsamic-Vinegar-354390

I have made this entire recipe as it stands and was a bit disappointed, especially in the pine nut cheese.  The lemon was far too strong, so I eliminated the lemon zest, and instead of using the full amount of lemon juice, I used a little less than half the amount and used organic apple cider vinegar for the remaining volume.  I added about 2 tsp fresh rosemary to the processor along with everything else and wound up with what is perhaps the best nut-based ricotta cheese ever!  It freezes very well, so go ahead and make the full recipe, then divide into 1/2 cup containers and store in the freezer.  This is amazing in a vegan lasagna, or on a whole wheat pizza with a little vegan pesto, some tomato sauce and some caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms.

The final cheese is tofu feta.  Tofu feta is tricky.  There are a lot of recipes out there and I have tried many.  This one is truly delicious and easy.

http://www.ourveggiekitchen.com/2010/03/tofu-feta.html

My captive audience.  I’m making tofu feta in this one.  Beneath the orange pot lid is a block of tofu.  The block is wrapped in a clean dishtowel and the weight of the lid is pressing out the excess water so that the tofu will absorb more of the marinade.

I serve the tofu feta mixed with some chopped cucumbers, halved baby grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, all dressed with a dash of hemp oil, a bit of lemon juice, a sprinkle of oregano, and some freshly ground black pepper.

For a quick and easy tasting of the pine nut cheese, I cook a box of pasta, add a couple of cups of chopped fresh broccoli, a can of drained chickpeas, and some red sauce.  I pour that into a casserole, dollop on the pine nut cheese, and heat at 350 ° for about half an hour.  There are no leftovers!

Sometime during the lesson, my friend Jane raises her hand, old-school style.  “I think you should get paid for this, Elizabeth.”

“Oh, no, I don’t want to take any money for this.  I am truly okay doing it for free.”

“No, we should at least reimburse you for all the ingredients.”

“No, it’s really fine!”

And so on, until, as I stand behind my kitchen counter, trying to talk and cook and be entertaining and all that, one after another, my audience comes behind the counter.  They tuck bills into the front pocket of my jeans.  I am uncomfortable with this, but at the same time, secretly thrilled that anyone is willing to pay me to teach how to cook vegan.  After they leave, and I clean up, I empty the contents of my pocket onto the counter.  I think— I could make a living doing this—and my gratitude is immense for the generosity and kindness of my friends and the friends they have brought to me.

Vegan Twice-Baked Potatoes

November 27, 2012

My husband and I attended the Boston Vegetarian Society’s Food Festival a few weeks ago. We had the opportunity to sample dozens of delicious vegan foods and to pick up a wide assortment of vegan propaganda—one of my favorite parts—like stickers that said “Praise Seitan” with a little pentagram graphic and t shirts with the slogan “Only Kale Can Save Us Now!”.   We were fortunate to have the chance to listen to lectures by world famous chefs, physicians, and film makers.  One lecture in particular, given by Dr. Pam Popper, motivated me to revisit our nutritional standards once more.  Her philosophies and advice are based on cause-and-effect studies, rather than correlation studies.  This makes the most sense to me.

Cause and effect studies are studies that show direct relationships between an event and a result.  An example is that if you stand under water, you get wet.  Simple.  I am not saying you cannot prevent the water from touching you, either by using an umbrella or a waterproof jacket with a hood; but it is obvious that when water touches you, it causes you get wet.

My friend Charlene shared a perfect example of a correlation study:  If you eat ice cream, you are more likely to drown.  Sounds crazy, right?  The reason those two events are lumped together in that way is that people eat more ice cream during the summer months, which is also when more people are likely to go swimming.  And drownings are most likely to occur from swimming accidents.  The only connection is that both activities take place during summer.  The lack of connection between eating ice cream and drowning ends there.  Eating ice cream does not cause anyone to drown.  So why would we draw a solid conclusion from that correlation?

Many of the studies we see on the news or read about in health magazines are based on correlation rather than on cause-and-effect.  Many studies are also funded by those involved in making money from the sales of certain agribusiness products, and by drug companies who are far more interested in selling their drugs to mask or relieve symptoms of our lifestyles and diets rather than finding and eliminating the actual causes of our health problems.  No one makes money by taking away or solving the problem, and yet, if we eliminate the causes or solve the problems, we improve our health.  We don’t need to take medications.  We don’t need to give our money to conglomerate agribusiness, or to drug manufacturers.

So, back to Dr. Popper.  She talked about altering biomarkers with medications, and how taking a cholesterol drug changes the reading of your blood cholesterol.  It changes the number.  It does not necessarily change the way your arteries respond to eating foods that contribute to clogging your arteries.  Or how taking medication for type 2 diabetes does not necessarily change the way your organs manage the glucose in your system, or the breakdown of body functions over a long period of time that occur as a result of type 2 diabetes.  The diabetes still affects the whole body, even though the drugs change the numbers.  This doctor addressed how diet—what you eat every single day—is what creates the actual change in the body.  Diet alters biomarkers, and also alters every single physiological aspect of the body, its organs, and its functions.

The aspect of her lecture that hit me the most was about fat consumption.  She discussed how fat consumption negatively affects our health.  She suggests, after studying cause-and-effect studies for many years, that we should consume far less fat.  The actual numbers?  10-15% of our daily calorie intake.  If you eat 2000 calories each day to maintain your weight, only 200-300 of those calories should come from fat.  It sounds like a lot of calories when you look at the numbers, 200-300 calories.  That’s a whole breakfast.  But 1 tablespoon of oil, any kind, is about 120 calories.  I can eat that in a few minutes, just with a can of smoked almonds beside me while I watch a movie!  She suggests that if we need extra calories, we eat them in the form of starchy vegetables and legumes.

What about the good oils?  Dr. Oz says olive oil is good for us.  And coconut oil?  Isn’t that supposed to be the new wonder oil?  And walnut oil?  Avocados?  Oil is fat.  Period.  Eat some fat, but make sure it comes from the foods we eat.  There is no need to add oil to get fat into our bodies.  We require such a small amount that there is plenty in 1/4 of an avocado, a tablespoonful of nuts, or a handful of seeds.  10-15 % is enough.

So I bought her book, Solving America’s Healthcare Crisis.  I started reading into her research.  I’m sold.  And now, I am attempting to cut back our fat intake.  The easiest way to start is to STOP ADDING OILS TO OUR FOODS.  There is plenty of fat in what we eat without adding more fat.  So, more roasting, more steaming.  Less sauteing.  And if I do saute, I try to use only a teaspoon of oil, then add a tiny bit of water at a time to keep the food from sticking or burning.  So far, it’s working out well.  I’m not sure we have reached the optimum low levels at every meal, and I cannot obsess on this all day long, but I can definitely be more aware, and prepare our meals with more emphasis on vegetables and less emphasis on added fat.

Potatoes, which are loaded with nutrients and filling starch, are not my favorite vegetable.  I do like french fries, and although delicious, they are loaded with oil.  To work on my new goal of not adding oil, I have been trying to come up with a way to eat them that excites my taste buds while also giving me enough calories to meet my dietary needs.  I had a beautiful stock of organic potatoes from my CSA share from Alprilla Farm and an empty belly.  I foraged around in my refrigerator and pantry, filled my steamer basket with water, scrubbed nine organic golden potatoes, and an hour later, served this delicious dinner to my family.  I made extra, so we could have them for dinner a couple of times, and lunches for the week.

Vegan Twice-Baked Potatoes

Ingredients

8-10 potatoes, scrubbed and pricked all over with a fork

2 c broccoli florets

1 c mushrooms, diced

4 c kale, washed, leaves pulled from stems and cut into bite-sized pieces or 4 c baby spinach, washed

1 can rinsed black-eyed peas

1 c plain almond milk, maybe a little more or less

1/2 c nutritional yeast

1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced

1/2 c minced scallions, green ends only

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Method

Heat oven to 400 ° F.

Place potatoes directly on oven rack and bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until tender.

While potatoes are baking, steam broccoli and kale  for about 5-7 minutes, or until just tender.  Set aside.  If using baby spinach, add the spinach for the last minute only.

Spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray.  Heat skillet and add mushrooms.  Saute until mushrooms release their liquid, about  5 minutes.  Set aside.

Pour black-eyed peas into a large bowl and mash them well with a fork.  Add 1/2 c of the almond milk and the nutritional yeast.  Stir to combine.

When potatoes are tender, carefully remove them from the oven and transfer them to a cutting board.  Turn oven temperature down to 350 ° F.  When just cool enough to handle, slice each potato open length-wise, scoop out the flesh, and add to the black-eyed peas and almond milk mixture.  Set aside the skins.

Using an electric mixer or a potato masher, combine the potatoes  with the black-eyed peas and almond milk, adding more almond milk until the mixture is thick, as for mashed potatoes.

Add the chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, scallions,  salt, and  black pepper.  Mix well.  Fold in the broccoli, kale and mushrooms.

Use a large spoon to generously stuff each potato skin.  Place the stuffed potatoes on a cookie sheet and bake again, this time for about 20 minutes, or until hot through.

Serve two halves for a meal, with a green salad dressed with lemon juice or your favorite balsamic vinegar.

Chocolate Macaroon Heaven

March 27, 2012

Standing in line at The Common Crow, our local health food store, I spy a tiny package of chocolate coconut macaroons.  There are 3 in the package.  The total net weight is two ounces.  But they are chocolate orange macaroons.  I can already feel my mouth watering when one of the cashiers sidles up to me.

“Those are so delicious.  I eat the whole package every time.”

With that confession, I think, it’s only two ounces.  Who wouldn’t?  The price is $2.99 and I cringe as I plunk the treat beside the rest of my order.  I open the package as I am driving home and try one.  It’s pretty good—the flavor is what I crave in a good macaroon, but they are a little too sweet and the texture is decidedly fudge-y.  I remember macaroons with a crunchiness to them, the coconut tender and crisp all at once.  I don’t bother eating the other two.  When I return home, I rush into my kitchen and start lunch.  While the quinoa and tempeh steam, I riffle through the baking cupboard and begin to assemble ingredients to make a better version of my favorite cookie.

I have been searching for a raw chocolate vegan macaroon for a couple of years.  I have scoured the internet, reading one recipe after another.  Most have either too many ingredients, or ingredients that are challenging to find.  I don’t own a dehydrator, which leaves out a lot of the recipes I found.  I like the ones sold at Rawbert’s Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly, but they cost $2.75 each, too much to buy a dozen without feeling guilty.  And theirs still lack something in their texture that makes me think I can do better.  So I do.

I pull down my Nana’s little striped mixing bowl and grab a couple of measuring tools, in case I really do nail it.  I gather unsweetened coconut, almond meal, agave nectar, cocoa powder, coconut oil and an orange.  I place the jar of coconut oil in the microwave to melt.  I measure the ingredients into the bowl and try to stir. I give up on mixing with a spoon and instead, sink my fingers into the raw cookie dough to mix it thoroughly.  I use a mini ice cream scoop to make balls, and press the dough firmly into the half-round before releasing it onto waxed paper.  In a few minutes, there are a baker’s dozen chocolate orange macaroons on my cutting board.  I call my husband in to be taste-tester while I quickly write down exactly what I did.

He tries the one from the store first, chewing thoughtfully.

“That’s pretty good.  Yeah.”

He swallows and then tastes mine.

“Oh, yeah!  Yours are great.  I love the texture.  The flavor is great, too.”

He proceeds to scour every drawer and cupboard for something to press my cookies into a denser ball.  I am not interested.  I like the light, crisp coconut, the rich, dark chocolate, the hint of orange just the way it is in my cookie.  He turns to go back into his office.  He leaves the half bite of store cookie on the counter and grabs another one of mine to take with him.

Raw Chocolate Orange Macaroons

Ingredients:

1 c organic shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 c organic almond meal

1/4 c organic raw cocoa powder

3 T organic agave nectar

2 T melted organic coconut oil

zest of 1 orange

1/2 t orange extract

Method:

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine shredded coconut, almond meal, cocoa powder and orange zest.  Add agave nectar, coconut oil and orange extract.  Mix with fingers until completely combined.  Using a mini ice cream scoop or a measuring tablespoon, press the dough into balls.  Place on a plate or a piece of waxed paper.  Store in a container in refrigerator (if they get that far).  Makes 13 macaroons.

A Little Vegan Story

January 17, 2012

Last fall I promised myself and my readers that I would write more, and include some honest pieces about what it’s like to be a vegan in a mostly meat-eating culture.  I have been mulling this one over for a week or so and am ready to write about this experience…

My friend Charlene invited my husband and me to a low-key post-holiday party.   She and her husband have a fun, eclectic group of friends, many with whom we are acquainted, some of whom are our friends as well.  I asked what I could bring to contribute to the party and was happy to make our collective latest favorite—an olive tapenade layered with hummus and fragrant pine nuts cooked in olive oil.  We dressed up a little and went, excited to spend time with our friends.  Charlene promised a couple of vegan items on her menu.  She made a delicious white bean cassoulet and amazing whole grain bread.  She even made my chocolate chip cookie recipe, complete with the Uncle Sam cereal and ground flax seed egg substitute.

We arrived, put out our tapenade, and started making the rounds of greetings and introductions.  Charlene’s husband Eric is skilled at making guests feel at home and comfortable.  He made sure we had drinks, and helped us make connections with anyone we didn’t already know.  We were happily chatting away and munching when I noticed a yummy casserole on the table.  It looked like it maybe had grated cheese sprinkled on top, so I asked the man spooning some of it onto his plate if he would mind tasting the topping and letting me know what it was.

“Why?”

“Oh.  I don’t eat cheese.”

“Why not?  Lactose intolerant?”

“No.  I’m vegan.”

I noticed Eric then, hovering nearby.

“You know”, the guy said, “Eating plants is killing, too.  Plants have feelings, so it’s (stupid? ridiculous? I can’t remember the exact wording) to eat plants as much as it is to eat meat.”

His dark eyes flashed, challenging me.

Eric jumped right in.

“Elizabeth, it’s breadcrumbs on top.  That’s the bean cassoulet.  It’s vegan.  You can have it.”

He smiled at me, encouraging me to put some on my plate.

I could feel myself shaking; the sense of being bullied overwhelmed me.  I focused on Eric.

“Thanks!  I didn’t recognize it right away.  Thanks for making something I can eat.  I really appreciate it!”

I stood for a moment beside the man who was clearly trying to antagonize me.  I made a decision.  I smiled at Eric, turned, and walked away.

When we left the party, Eric apologized profusely.  He was sorry the guy was such a jerk.  He overheard what he said to me and could not believe how rude the guy was.  He hugged me, his eyes conveying how much it bothered him to have a person in his house who would treat another person like that.  I assured him I was fine—and that it was in no way his fault.  I reminded him that no one has control over anyone else, and that people often say thoughtless things, that people get defensive over issues that come up without thinking about the other person’s feelings, views or choices.

I thought about this on the way home, and later, too.  There were many ways I could have chosen to respond to what happened.  I am happy I had not been drinking alcohol, because if that were the case, I know I would have launched into the dreaded vegan tirade that includes animal rights, killing, death, blood, cruelty, starving children all over the world, veal, hormones, sickness, cholesterol, capitalism…you know, that one.  The other choice, had I been drinking, would have been to finally put to use my mad boxing skills and surprise the guy with my amazing one-two punch, watching him crash to the floor, or perhaps face-first into the platter of sliced turkey.  Great show for non-violence and vegan life!  I could have asked him why he felt the need to attack and bully the tall, slender middle-aged woman standing beside him at a party when all she asked was whether there was cheese on top of a casserole.

But I walked away.  Walking away did not, and still does not feel cowardly.  It felt, and still feels very grown up.  After all, it was a low-key post-holiday party.  No need for a fight or a brawl over taking it personally.  His response was not about me.  It was about him and his stuff.  Period.

Thinking about this has given me a chance to look at the way I respond when either asked about being vegan or attacked about being vegan.  I have been working on good responses for when this happens again, as I am certain it will.  I can focus on not taking it personally when someone goes ballistic on veganism.  I can explain how I feel without making someone else feel guilty or wrong.  I can be kind.

I have as much right to my choices as anyone else does.  There has to be a way to be me in the world and have that be okay.  Coexistence, that’s what I dream of.  Acceptance.  Open minds.  These are the keys to being in the world.  I have a couple of them dangling from my keyring right now.  I can save my one-two for the 600 lb. tae bo bag in the gym.