Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Who are we?

So there is this Behind The Apron round-up going on in the land of food bloggers, that was started at 28 Cooks and lasts through the month of January. Since today is the last day of January, I thought it would be a good time to post my entry!

I try to be pretty transparent as a blogger, because I think it's fun to get to know more about people than just what they eat. Most of you have seen my face before, but I'm not camera-shy. :) Here I am again (wearing SYNTHETIC boots!).

My name is Laura, and I was born on 17 February 1984--which means I'm pushing 23 years old. I grew up in Southeast Georgia, in a small town that was practically part of Savannah. I'm a masters of accountancy student at UGA now, in Northeast Georgia, and I am finishing my last semester of school EVER. This summer, I will be moving to Atlanta to start working at a public accounting firm where I was an intern last summer. My short-term goal is to become a CPA but my long-term aspirations do not lie in the business world necessarily. My husband and I want to live in Paris as missionaries to the artist population there one day, and I hope to be able to somehow use my business experience there to help earn our living--maybe have my own bakery??? That would be cool... The other thing I plan to do with my life is write. Specifically, I want to write as an observer of, and advocate for, the natural world. I write a lot of essays, but I also like to write poetry and fiction. I love nature and I love hiking and tennis and watching movies that make me cry. I love music, especially folk (Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Ralph McTell) and classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Beatles) and live jazz. I speak a passable amount of French, and I love all languages and cultures and anything about the world that's new to me. I'm a shorty, only about 5'3", and I'm terribly near-sighted.

This is Bob. He was born on 3 June 1984 (so I'm older by about 3.5 months). He grew up here in Northeast Georgia. He has a BA in English, and now he is a ministry intern at the Wesley Foundation (the Methodist student ministry on campus here). When we move to Atlanta he is considering pursuing a master's degree in social work. He likes playing video games (he is playing "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" as we speak) and reading all kinds of literature, from classics to comic books. He loves music too, and is the bassist and lead singer of a Pixies cover band. Right now he's really into Pixies music, but he also really likes Cake and Dispatch and Béla Fleck and Pink Floyd. He likes movies that are off-beat, often dark. He's about 5'10" and on the thin side, and he has small feet.

We both enjoy cooking (and eating), so much of what you see on my blog was partially a product of Bob's efforts as well as mine. We got married on 23 July 2005, and have been happy ever since! Our wedding was at a state park on the Ogeechee River about 3 miles from the house I grew up in.

This picture was taken about three years ago, when we went on a mission trip to Paris. I sort of feel like this is where we belong... and I know we will be back.

I don't know what else to say about us, except we love God with all our hearts, and we really love being vegan and being health nuts! Hopefully this covers everything you ever wanted to know about the Jessers.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Because I'm worth it

Sorry I've been MIA... I have plenty of pictures and cooking experiences to share with you, but tonight I just wanted to show you one very decadent thing.

I donated blood this evening, even though I have an unnatural phobia of blood and come within an inch of passing out every time I am exposed to it. It was something I felt like I needed to do, and I promised myself a hot fudge sundae once it was all over.

I made the Hot Fudge Sauce from The Everyday Vegan, drizzled it over some vanilla ice cream (So Delicious, of course), and crumbled a cookie over the top. Sometimes you just need to be good to yourself, right? And it was very, very good...

I will catch up in the next couple of days. I hope. I have been cooking some real food too, and I can't wait to share it with you. I hope you all have had a good beginning to the week. Peace!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Simply homemade

This is fougasse, a French bread that is a staple in the region of Provence. As is customary, I slashed this loaf to resemble an ear of wheat. It's cute, and it is so fun to hold a warm, homemade loaf of bread that is this artful! It's tasty too. (Recipe included at the end.)

Besides homemade bread, I have another homemade venture to share. Inspired by Dori's post about soy milk, Bob and I decided to purchase a soy milk maker. It wasn't a rash decision; we have been thinking about it for a while, and really it is ridiculous to pay the prices that commercial soy milk is sold for--even locally produced soy milk (which, here, I cannot find any local soy milk that is made with non-GMO soybeans). Here is the machine in action:

We ordered it from this site, and we have used it several times now. The soy milk it makes is very tasty, depending of course upon your inputs. We're still tinkering around to find that perfect recipe for our tastes, but as soon as I have it figured out I will share it with you.

Finally, here's something that's hardly homemade at all. Waaaay back in November, we found one of these in the frozen section of the health food store, and we bought it and saved it until now. It's a Tofurky.

We hadn't planned on buying one, but some vegetarians we met at a veg*n potluck were raving about them so when we saw it we just went for it. We didn't feel compelled to take it to Bob's family's house for Thanksgiving. So we kept it. Tonight, while I was studying, Bob got in the kitchen and roasted it, alongside some carrots and onion wedges and potatoes. He also lightly wilted some Swiss chard to go along with it and, at the last moment, we decided the Tofurky probably needed some gravy. In a pinch we used the mushroom gravy recipe on the Tofurky box. I'll include the recipe, in case you're interested.

We both were surprised at how good the Tofurky actually was. I thought it might be bland, but we really didn't think it was. The stuffing on the inside was perhaps a little bland. Oh well. The gravy was decent--as Bob put it, it served the purpose of gravy. It was very easy and quick to make, and so it served us very well tonight when we failed to plan ahead! The Swiss chard was delicious--it would be hard to mess that one up.

Apple Hemp Muffins from Vive Le Vegan! Dreena never misses a beat, does she? I love the flavor of hemp seeds. Another thing I appreciate about Dreena's recipes is her use of ground oats. Oats are a wonderful alternative to wheat flour, and they lend a soft texture to her baked goods. These are simply delicious!

Speaking of Dreena, guess what I got in the mail this week?

A lot of you probably know that I won her recent cookbook giveaway. A lot of you probably further know that I won her last giveaway as well. Sheesh! How does that happen to one person??? Anyway, just so you know, I definitely plan to BUY Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan when it hits the market--not even going to try and win a third freebie! But, thanks Dreena! I am definitely looking forward to hitting up this book some... probably this weekend, when I have some time to breathe.

Looking forward to catching up with you all!



1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup very warm water
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt

Mix the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup water in a bowl. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until foamy.

Sift flours and salt together and make a well in the center. Pour in the cup of water and then the foamy yeast mixture. Mix to a soft dough and gather into a ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth. Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl and leave in warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size.

Punch down dough and knead for one minute. Press into a large oval, 2 centimeters thick and make several cuts on either side. Lay on a large floured baking tray (or I recommend a baking stone, for best results) and leave to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 415 F.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until crisp. After 15 minutes of baking, spray the stone and the loaf with water to make the crust crispy.

I'm going to play with this recipe some more and try to get the proportion of whole wheat flour up--this is already a better ratio than the original recipe prescribed. Fun to make!


Mushroom Gravy

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup sliced onions
1-1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
2 tablespoons oil
4 cups stock, vegetable bouillon, or soy milk (I used stock)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Lightly sauté the mushrooms and onions in the 1-1 1/2 tablespoons oil. In another pan combine the flour and remaining oil and whish over low heat for one minute. Whisk in the stock, soy sauce, and pepper. Cook until thickened. Stir in the mushrooms and onions.

I actually cut the oil by about half in the recipe, and it worked just fine.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


One day last week I made a huge pot of chickpeas--it produced about 8 cups total of cooked chickpeas. I stored it in 2-cup portions, and I have been coming up with all sorts of ways I would like to use them. I want to make the falafel from VWaV... I found about ten soups in Nava Atlas' book that sound like they make excellent use of chickpeas... But with as busy as I am right now, I needed to find some quickie ways to use them.

First: hummus. I referred to Dreena's Creamy Hummus from Vive this time as a guide, but I don't really like olive oil so much in hummus so I left that out. I also cut back on the tahini a teensy bit. The hummus was very creamy and flavorful--I think the small dab of sesame oil really gave it a lot of flavor. We had it, as you can see, with cucumber and spinach and mushrooms and toasted pita wedges. This is one of my favorite lunches.

I found a recipe in Nava's Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons that looked fairly simple and, best of all, I had most of the ingredients on hand already. It was the Chickpea and Bulgur Stew, and with the cold and rainy weather we've had, I thought a nice hearty stew would be a good answer. It was! The flavor is very soft and mellow, and the bulgur makes the stew thick so it stays warm and feels warm going down. I loved the sautéed bell peppers that served as a garnish on top--by throwing them on just before serving, they retained that lovely, vibrant green and added a nice crunch to the stew. I toasted pita bread to go along with this, and it was a lovely companion. Plenty of leftovers remain, so I suspect we will be eating off of this for the rest of the week.

Desserts? Those have been simple too. Here I have some banana ice cream, which is just puréed frozen banana chunks with just enough soy milk to bring it to a soft serve consistency. In this particular variety I added some cinnamon and agave nectar, and just a few carob chips. Mmm.

This one was really easy too. With the help of my new espresso machine, I simply brewed a double shot of espresso and poured it over some So Delicious vanilla ice cream. I love the contrast of hot and cold, and I love the creaminess of the ice cream mixing with the boldness of the espresso.

I remembered reading recently on someone's blog (who was it???) about microwaving apples with spices and having a quick, delicious breakfast. Instead of using a whole, cored apple as this person did, I cut mine up into chunks. I tossed it first with a sprinkle of lemon juice, then with just a few dots of agave nectar, some cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg, and a pinch of raisins. I microwaved it for about one minute, and when it came out the apples were soft but still somewhat firm, and all the juices together had made a nice little sauce on the bottom of the bowl. This was a great, easy little breakfast.

EDIT: The inspiring blogger was bazu! Check out her apples--who wouldn't be inspired by this?

I'm trying to study for the CPA exam on top of my classes this semester, and I'm finding that it's claiming most of my free time. I'll probably be cooking plenty of things that pretty much cook themselves (soups and stews), and I'll probably be cooking in big batches that we can have several meals from. And I may only be around once or twice a week sometimes... at least until I can get through this first section of material that I'm studying, since it's one of the biggest chunks. I hope in a few more weeks, maybe a month, I will be through it and ready to move on to something else that's not so time consuming. Wishing you all the best!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thank goodness for simple things...

I have definitely caught a case of the blahs here lately. I think it stems mostly from being on the go during a long weekend, combined with trying to get back into a disciplined school mode, and new cozy flannel pajama pants from Bob's grandma that are just too comfy to want to change out of. Anyway, in times when I do not feel like cooking I am very thankful for frozen homemade soups and chilis, for leftover millet, and for simple meals of beans and rice.

I did recently re-vamp a recipe that I tried a while back, based on something I originally saw Kate do. The first time I made these black bean patties, they were delicious, but very crumbly. I was a novice at vegan cooking then, and had not really learned how to bind things together. This time, I used some quick oats to bind the patties, and I used flax meal plus water as an egg substitute. The combination of these things did the trick; this time the patties held together great, even on the grill.

Here is my re-vamped recipe:

1 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup diced veggies (I used a mix of green bell pepper and red onion)
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste (I used plenty)
Several dashes liquid smoke
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3-1/2 cup quick oats
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water

Pulse the sunflower seeds, the garlic, and the spices together in a food processor until crumbly. Put everything in a bowl and mix well with your hands. Form into 4 patties and let them refrigerate about 20 minutes (this step helps hold them together too). Grill for about 7-8 minutes on each side. And serve!

If you're Bob, you enjoy yours on a whole wheat bun. If you're me, you opt for an open-faced sandwich with just a thin slice of homemade bread on the bottom. Either way, plenty of spinach and sprouts and some dijon mustard are a must!

Slivered potatoes stir-fried with some veggies is one of Bob's favorite treats in the world. We made these for his family over the weekend, and they include garlic, spinach, and broccoli. Another variation, which he made today, included mushrooms and green peppers.

There will be more cooking soon, I assure you--I have got to motivate myself to do it. In the meantime, I will enjoy your blogs and your wonderful food, and maybe draw some inspiration that way!


Saturday, January 13, 2007

A plain-jane kind of day

It was not a very exciting day in the way of food. In fact, it was not a very exciting day in any sense. When I woke up this morning the sky was overcast, and it stayed that way until the sun went down, with occasional sunlight peeking through. The weather was still and warm, drastically unlike this week's true January chilliness. I didn't even get out of my pajamas today until about 3 PM, when Bob and I decided it was high time we went out for a walk. Talk about lazy!

From the moment that thoughts of breakfast entered my head, I started contemplating creative ways to use up the foods we had on hand. There was a portion of a can of pumpkin purée in the refrigerator, so I used it to make pumpkin pancakes:

I was so hungry when these were done that I did not even stop to take a decent picture! I made them the same way I did when I served them for an extra special brunch back in November, modifying Isa's recipe.

For lunch I knew I wanted to use up some of the millet that I made from my last post, because I made a boatload of millet. I steamed some edamame and put that on top of a scoop of reheated millet, then made a simple dressing with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and sesame seeds. I topped it with the dressing and a nice sprinkle of sea salt and tossed it all together.

Voilà! Edamame-millet salad. Very creative name, I know.

Bob left a couple of hours ago to practice with his band, The Debasers. Yes, he's the bassist and lead singer of a Pixies cover band. I'm not expecting him until around 10 tonight. I couldn't get in touch with any of my friends, so I'm trying to entertain myself here at home. I wasn't planning to make cupcakes today, because my planned cupcake-baking date with my friend fell through. But, what else did I have to do tonight? So, I made the Rum Raisin Cupcakes with Rum Glaze. I passed up the optional rum-flavored buttercream frosting--first, to make the cupcakes "healthier" (HAH!), and second, to let the flavor of the rum in the batter and in the glaze speak for itself, without trying to dress it up too much. What can I say? I'm a girl of simple tastes. Anyway, I don't have the cute piping and decorating tools that I would need to make these look extra fabulous. But my birthday is in a mere 35 days, so there is hope yet!

I haven't actually tried these yet. I'll wait until Bob gets home and coax him to share one with me. But the batter sure did taste delicious!

For supper, I was not very hungry (...after sampling the cupcake batter--*sheepish*) so I just made a small, plain, boring salad. Baby spinach leaves, sprouts, cucumbers, mushrooms, a sprinkle of hemp seeds, and a quick dressing made of olive oil, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, pepper, and rosemary. That's all there is.

Now what? Well, I'm reading High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver. It's a collection of very clever essays about nature, environmentalism, and treading lightly on the planet. One of my favorite quotations from her is, "Let me be a good animal today." I sometimes get so worked up about how I'm going to change the world--but really, it's just as simple as that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Something I grew up eating, being from Savannah and only a stone's throw from the Atlantic Ocean, was seafood. And I have to admit, when going veg, fish was the hardest thing for me to give up. In fact, when I went vegetarian I still ate fish for months (so not entirely vegetarian, I guess), and only gave it up upon going vegan. I feel good about not eating fish, even fish that my dad caught himself on his little 17-foot fishing boat--why kill for food when there are so many delicious, peaceful alternatives? And I don't really even miss the taste of it that much, especially since I have learned to cook so many wonderful, healthful plant-based dishes that I would never have even dreamed of before.

When I found Jennifershmoo's freebie recipe for tofu fish sticks, I decided to give it a try. The recipe was very easy; I modified it in only two ways. First, I used sunflower seeds in place of almonds, since almonds are expensive and therefore kind of a treat around our place. Second, I used water in place of soy milk to dip the tofu in for breading. I cut the tofu into eight cutlets, so I guess I truly didn't make tofu fish sticks. Anyway, it only took me about ten minutes to throw everything together, and then baking time was 30 minutes. They came out golden and beautiful--and delicious! Not entirely fishy, of course, but the kelp granules added that hint of flavor, and the lemon juice added at the end really helped bring it out. I will make this recipe again, for sure!

While it was in the oven, I thought about how to complete the meal. A typical meal I remember from growing up was "fish-and-grits." It's probably a southern thing! Anyway, I don't really keep grits on hand, but what I did have was millet. Hmm, cooked millet is not entirely unlike cooked grits in texture. So I went for it. I toasted the millet in the saucepan before adding the water, to bring out the depth of its nutty flavor. I seasoned it with salt, black pepper, and paprika; additionally, I added a 4-ounce can of chopped green chilies. It was done the same time as the tofu--great planning!

The millet was delicious cooked this way--I'll definitely do it again. Millet is quite a bit more nutrient-packed than grits too, being rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Just as I had hoped, it complemented the tofu quite well. For a vegetable, I made a good helping of fresh kai-lan, stir-fried with chopped garlic and ginger.

This was a fun meal to prepare! Here's one more shot, of the whole deal:

I had never used kelp granules before, and I really enjoyed the flavor they added.

I have tentative plans to make cupcakes this weekend with a friend. Yes--I may be breaking in my new cookbook! So stay tuned... And peace to you all!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Staples and a new semester

Thank you for sharing your opinions about the book. As I said, I really have enjoyed it, on the whole... Anyway, I'm almost done with it now and can pick out something else to read. I've been wanting to read something by Barbara Kingsolver--I'll probably check out the library pretty soon.

We have a grocery shopping excursion planned for this afternoon, because we are not well-stocked at the moment. We've been keeping up with our fresh fruits and veggies, but it's hard sometimes to come up with meals when there's not much else around. Last night, I did come up with a TVP "chicken" salad-style meal, that was very easy and aimed at using up some produce we did have. I put red onion, green bell pepper, and carrot in it, as well as some granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. TVP salad has been a good staple for us during busy spells. It actually came out tastier this time than I think it ever has before, so I will remember these ingredients!

It was good on a whole grain wrap piled with spinach and sprouts...

It was also delicious on a bed of spinach and sprouts, with a slice of toasted homemade bread.

Oh, homemade bread--that was the other staple that we made yesterday. I don't always photograph our homemade loaves, but this one is quite adorable, so I wanted to share it with you:

The recipe came from Fatfree Vegan, but we mix and knead it by hand rather than in a bread machine. This is a favorite bread recipe of ours. In the winter when the apartment is not as warm, we notice a difference in the way our bread turns out--denser, smaller, crustier loaves usually result. I love how this one almost came out in the shape of a ball! It's 100% delicious, though.

Oh, yes: Monday was the start of my last semester of grad school. I'm actually very excited about some of my classes this semester. My business curriculum classes should not be nearly as intensive as they have been in the past, so there's a break. And I'm taking a one-hour seminar on endangered species conservation and management (in which we will be reading A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, of which I have read excerpts before and found it to be wonderful literature), a hiking/backpacking class, and a Pilates class! Woo-hoo!

I guess that will leave me plenty of time to study for the CPA exam... woo-hoo...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Not-so-melty sandwich, and a (good?) read

When I was a cheese-eater, I used to really like veggie melt sandwiches. I haven't really missed them that much, but when we got the Vegan Gourmet cheese I thought it would be fun to make a nice, dairy-free veggie melt. Mushrooms and spinach are a must. Sprouts, if we have them on hand (which we didn't)... and a tomato, when we can get them. We actually had a tomato. Sauté the mushrooms until they are slightly tender, spread one side of the bread with dijon mustard, pile everything on, and grill it on low heat until the cheese melts. Voilà!

As you can see, the VG cheese didn't really melt very much. It's hard to get the sandwich hot enough all the way through on the stove, especially when you're using dense homemade bread. I would have probably transferred it to the toaster oven, but I was afraid it would fall apart. That's okay--tasty lunch. I opted for sweet peas to go with it, just to make sure there were enough veggies in our meal.

Last night Bob knew I had Indian food on my mind, so he took me to Bombay Cafe for dinner. Probably the most vegan-friendly restaurant in Athens, and maybe the tastiest (if you like Indian food, which I am really beginning to appreciate). Bob ordered aloo mutter, which was potatoes and green peas in a curry sauce, and I had bhindi masala--okra cooked with onions, garlic, and lentils and curry spices. It was so very tasty, and definitely the best manifestation of okra I've ever had. It makes me long for summer when okra abounds. When the time comes, I will definitely learn how to cook this dish. I brought home half my meal and had the leftovers for lunch today, and thought to take a picture:

Bhindi masala with some spinach roti on the side. Yum....

That's all for food. On another note, I got this book for Christmas:

Jane Goodall's Harvest for Hope, which came out in 2005. It's so easy to read that I've nearly finished it in just a couple of days. I wish I could recommend it highly to every one of you, but I don't know if I feel that strongly about it--particularly the chapters that address factory farming. I would say that she does a wonderful job of bringing attention to the horrible conditions on factory farms; I actually cried when I read her description of the life and death of a factory-farmed pig, even though I knew the truth already. The problem I have with the book is her solution to the problem.

She is not a vegan, though she says in her book that she would be if she didn't travel for about 10 months out of the year. She seems to look very favorably at buying organic meat and animal products, as if that will be a definite solution to the problem. One quote from the book that bothered me was:

We can now go to just about any grocery store and find products from animals who were raised humanely, safely, and in ways that caused little or no harm to the environment. (p. 99)

I'm sorry; I'm just not that trusting of the industry to buy this completely. Yes, I think that buying organic, free-range, cage-free, grass-fed is better, but the animals that are raised for those products, unless we're talking a very small family farm or something, are still going to be subject to some form of cruelty during their lives--still going to be treated as profit centers rather than living, beautiful creatures--still going to be deprived, in some way, of their natural behaviors. I mean, the USDA, which sets the standards for organic certification, do they really have the best interest of the animals at heart?

Basically, I really wish I could recommend to non-vegans the chapters in this book that expose the practices on factory farms, and not the chapters that outline Goodall's proposed solutions. I think it is too bad that she does such a nice, in-depth job of outlining just how these farming practices hurt the animals, destroy the environment, and pose an enormous risk to human health, and then seems to water down the solution. If I were an omnivore and I read this book, I would probably be shocked and horrified, and then I would read "Buy organic meat and dairy products" and believe that I would really be doing my part to fight back if I did.

All the other topics she addresses--avoiding GMOs and pesticides, buying local, seasonal produce--I think are beautifully handled. There are some stories about farm animals that made my heart melt with affection. Goodall is very insightful and very thorough in her coverage of all the topics related to "mindful eating." So I hesitantly recommend this book. I wish I could recommend it to my non-vegan friends, but I don't know. Thoughts?

Wow, that was a long rant. Thanks for reading it all!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Not so much cooking

Hi all... The past few days have been quite busy, and we have not been home much to cook or to eat. I kind of forgot about a few things that we had planned to do--I wanted to do more cooking than this while I was still on break, but at least I have a few things to share with you.

Tuesday Bob and I went hiking up in Clayton, Georgia at a little area called Warwoman Dell. The trails around the area were fairly light and easy, but there were some neat things to see along the way. We packed the "usual" hiking food--bread and peanut butter, apples and oranges, steamed edamame. I also brought along a huge sack of trail mix that we got for Christmas.

We never got a good, clear view from the mountain peak because the trees had not been cleared. That is actually pretty refreshing. It was a beautiful, clear day, though, and even through the skinny tree trunks the Great Smoky Mountains were an awesome sight.

We saw lots of stone ruins along the trail; this one was preserved and a rustic little picnic area was built around it.

At the bottom of the trail was a beautiful little waterfall rushing in over a rock piling.

There was no one around to take our picture, so I did a blind one-handed shot... and I think it came out well!

Wednesday we had to go to Atlanta: Bob had a Wesley Foundation staff retreat that he had to attend, and I was able to tag along. We stayed in a hotel and the Wesley Foundation provided all the food for the retreat. There were plenty of snack foods that were suitable for Bob and me... and while the rest of the staff had pizza for dinner Wednesday night, they were happy to order veggie burgers from Ruby Tuesday for us. And I never, ever go on a retreat without taking some Better Than Milk powdered soy milk--that way we can eat breakfast!

Thursday after the retreat was over, we met a good friend of ours in Atlanta. He has been in Mexico for several months doing volunteer mission work, and will return tomorrow to Mexico until mid-July. We chilled out with him all day long and half the night. He is a self-proclaimed granola-head and thus the vegan thing is not hard for him to understand; we had homemade vegetable soup and bean burritos and just had a wonderful time walking in the rain and playing Trivial Pursuit and dominoes until about 2:30 AM. It was a 1.5 hour drive back to Athens, so we didn't get to bed until about 4:30. That made Friday a sluggish, stay-at-home kind of day.

I have been meaning to try the Pumpkin Seed-Crusted Tofu from VWaV for a while now, so I made it finally for lunch today. I draw the line at deep-frying my foods, however, and opted to bake it instead, at 350 for about 25 minutes. It got browned pretty well in the oven, but I found it to taste a bit on the bland side without the chance to soak up the frying oil. It tasted good, though, and I do not regret baking it instead of frying. Next time I will probably try to find some way to give the tofu some flavor ahead of time.

To go with the tofu, some more stir-fried kai-lan, and some roasted purple and sweet potatoes.

A light, healthy meal with plenty of iron and calcium, vitamin A, antioxidants, and omega-3s and omega-6s. Add the antioxidant power of a nice glass of red wine...

Don't worry, I didn't eat this much--this is Bob's plate.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Southern comforts, and some new discoveries

Welcome 2007!

I don't really make new year's resolutions; if I think I need to make a change in my life, I try to introduce it instantly, rather than waiting for a "new beginning." But there is something to be said for starting a new year--it's a natural time to just evaluate things and to "put the right foot forward," so to speak. I've been thinking a little about some of my daily habits, and decided that I want to be even more of a "health nut" than I have ever been (and I have always been pretty nutty about it). I also hope to spend more time reading and writing for pleasure, more time outside... less time on the internet. I hope it won't cut TOO much into my blogging time--there are plenty of other things I do online that are a complete waste of time, whereas blogging has been a very positive thing for me. Still, I may scale back just a little bit. Don't be surprised, anyway.

Enough with that. On to the food...

The title of my post refers in part to new year's dinner, which was one of the most comforting and "traditional" southern meals I've had in a long time (you have to understand--I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia). At first I thought about making a vegan version of hoppin' john, which is traditional new year's day fare here in the South. I don't know if it's just a southern thing, but for those of you who may not know what it is, usually hoppin' john is a dish of black-eyed peas and rice, seasoned with all kinds of stuff that I don't eat anymore and served on January 1 to bring "good luck." Well, since I don't really buy into the notion of luck, I was not really concerned about sticking to the tradition. What I really wanted was a good pot of black beans, served with cornbread instead of rice.

What is more traditional than beans and cornbread? Well, beans and cornbread and collard greens, of course! Yum, yum, yum... and healthy too (if you can resist the temptation to go overboard on the cornbread, that is).

For the beans, I started with 2 pounds of black beans and plenty of water in my crock pot. I chopped and added:
2 small yellow onions
1 green bell pepper
3 stalks celery
4 large garlic cloves

For spices I added:
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Several dashes chili flakes
1 tablespoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
3-4 bay leaves
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
Several dashes liquid smoke

Then it just cooked on high for about 5-6 hours.

For the collard greens, I started with a little bit of olive oil and about 3 garlic cloves in a sauté pan. When they were tender and aromatic, I added the chopped greens and stir-fried them on meduim for several minutes. When they were starting to get tender, I added a splash of cider vinegar to the pan, and some salt and pepper, and I put the lid on and let them steam on low heat until they were soft.

I used the PPK recipe for the cornbread, adding a bit more baking powder because a couple of the comments said the cornbread was a little dense. This cornbread has an excellent flavor, but I found it to be a little dry. Not a problem, though--it's still tasty and crumbled up with the beans and collard greens, the dryness was not an issue. We enjoyed this meal, and we will enjoy the beans many, many more times, as my six-quart crock pot was absolutely filled by the time they were all cooked up.

New year's breakfast was VWaV Pumpkin Waffles. Several bloggers had mentioned their plans for making waffles on January 1, and it made me think about how I have not had waffles in quite a while. We ate them with syrup and Soyatoo! whipped topping. A decadent breakfast, but I felt somewhat better since I used whole wheat pastry flour in place of the all purpose flour in the waffle recipe.

After breakfast, I made myself a latte with our new espresso machine that our families got us for Christmas. I added a bit of ground cinnamon to the coffee in the brew basket, and I stirred in just a little bit of sugar to make a cinnamon latte. I have not gotten used to the steaming mechanism yet--it works a bit differently from our old machine, and I cannot seem to get the perfect amount of foam. Some things just take practice. Doesn't affect the flavor, though--my latte really hit the spot.

This is one new discovery: Kai-lan, also called Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale. Bob found it at our local Asian market--which, I am embarrassed to admit, I have just recently discovered after living here in Athens for four and a half years. But it was very inexpensive, about a dollar a pound, so we picked up a good amount of it. I didn't really know what to do with it, but I came home and looked it up on Wikipedia, where I learned that a popular way to prepare kai-lan is to stir-fry it with garlic and ginger. We tried that today with lunch:

The taste is similar to broccoli, but slightly more bitter. The fresh ginger was a good balance to the bitterness of the kai-lan, and we both thought this simple stir fry was delicious. I'm sure it would be very tasty mixed with some sweeter vegetables too, such as carrots or snow peas. This vegetable is supposed to be very high in iron and calcium. We have much more, so I am going to keep trying it out in different ways.

Speaking of trying new things, Bob and I recently purchased a package of Vegan Gourmet Monterey Jack cheese alternative--the first fake cheese we have ever bought. At first I was surprised by the texture, reminding myself that it is not cheese and I can't expect it to be exactly like cheese. After getting over that initial reaction, I have been quite impressed with this product. It was very good on a simple Boca burger with some sprouts and Dijon mustard--and it even melted in the toaster oven. It's not cheese, for sure, and I doubt it would ever fool anyone. But it's a really great substitute. Not something we plan to make a habit out of, but once in a while it can't hurt.

It's days until school starts back--my last semester!! What will I do with myself until then? I have a few plans. But I'll leave that alone for now. Peace and happiness to all of you!