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Brookland Cafe, bluebells, babies (of the raccoon variety), and a trophy for Smark

Although we live nearby, Mark and I rarely venture to DC, which frankly, I do not like. If I need or want to do something in a city, I’ll usually drive up to Baltimore, where I am from, where I know people, where the streets make sense (They are a grid! They don’t look like someone threw a bowl of noodles on the floor and turned it into a map!), and where one is able to park their car. Mark and I lived in DC near Georgetown for a year, and more than once Mark drove home to our neighborhood, couldn’t find parking, and had to drive back to his office and sleep there because there wasn’t anywhere to put his car. Since we moved to Virginia, my forays into DC have been mostly limited to meetings for work, shows at the 9:30 Club (which I love), and occasional trips to the Smithsonian.

This is part of the reason you rarely see restaurant reviews on this blog; DC has plenty of options for vegans, but I’m barely familiar with them because I avoid the place (and I usually insist on Ethiopian when I am there!). But Mark was in a chess tournament near the Mall last Saturday, so after helping raccoons in the morning, I met him out there. After his tournament, we went out to dinner at a new vegan-friendly restaurant, so I thought I’d do a little review. And blab about my life, because you miss that, right?

I’ll go in chronological order, more or less. Mark, brave soul, drove downtown in the morning to register for the tournament, and I did my regular raccoon routine. We have 15 babies right now, but I think it was about 8 last weekend. This is Vinegar, and like Bender, he can’t roll off his back to right himself. (Most raccoons can – Vinegar is too fat!)

Once all the babies were fed and all the cages clean, I took the metro into the city and found Mark, who was doing well in the tournament. I didn’t hang around the chess place, though. I crossed Pennsylvania Ave…

…and headed towards the Mall.

I was hoping to see the rocket Antares during its takeoff, but the takeoff got scrubbed, for the second time, at the last minute. (It finally took off the next day.) I was disappointed, but I did think the Washington Monument looked a bit like a rocket prepared for liftoff with the scaffolding currently surrounding it. (It’s under repairs due to the earthquake we had in 2011.)

Did you know that the Smithsonian owns one of the original Paris metro signs that I loooooooooooove? (Oh, Paris; you pull off crazy streets and a lack of parking with so much more class than DC.)

I wandered around a couple of the Smithsonian’s gardens for a while…

… then headed back towards Mark. I witnessed a duck walking down the sidewalk outside the Natural History Museum. Why??? I guess she walked up from the Tidal Basin, but that seems rather dangerous. In retrospect, I wonder if I shouldn’t have tried to relocate her, although she seemed to know what she was doing.

Mark was outside waiting for me…with a trophy!!! He won every game of the tournament!

We went to Brookland Cafe for dinner because I had read online that they had a vegan menu and I wanted to check out their selection of vegan bar food. And I REALLY wanted a beer (it was hot!). It’s about 3 blocks from the Brookland CUA station. I had insisted we take the metro even though many stops were closed and we therefore had to take a shuttle for part of the way because I’d never been to Brookland and my base assumption for DC is there is no parking, but actually there was plenty of parking. That was around 6:30 on a Saturday; not sure if that makes a difference. The interior:

Mark was starved after his mental exertions, so we ordered an appetizer of jerk “chicken” tenders. These ended up being a veggie burger cut into strips and covered in a jerk sauce. I wasn’t expecting a veggie burger, but the sauce was tasty.

For his main, Mark ordered the mock fish sandwich. The “fish” looked and tasted like the fish filets I sometimes order from May Wah…which is good because we love those things.

I got the BBQ sandwich. This one was Gardein, I think even the sauce.

For our sides, we both ordered the “explosion” fries, which is a mixture of all four fries they have: regular, sweet potato, lemon pepper, and red pepper. Those were fun. Neither of us could finish our sandwiches, so we took the leftovers home. Because they were based on frozen products, it would have been fairly easy to make any of these dishes at home (except maybe the fries), and I prefer go to restaurants for things I can’t easily make at home, however, everything was also very delicious, the service was extremely attentive and friendly, and I like supporting places that have vegan menus, so I would definitely return. If we lived nearby, I could see Mark and I going there regularly for a beer on nights I didn’t feel like cooking. I would very much prefer it if they got rid of the television, though, and used real china and silverware instead of disposable plastic. I’m kind of hoping the latter is just a temporary measure for some reason.

Before I go, can we talk briefly about how much I love spring? One of the highlights around here is the Virginia bluebells. A couple of weekends ago I went to Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area to check them out.

That was extremely pleasant, although I think Bull Run Regional Park is still my favorite place to see them. I missed them there at their peak, but I did head down there one night after work this week.

Although the blanket of blue wasn’t as heavy as it would have been a couple of weeks ago, it was still beautiful.

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Fermentation Fervor

Last week I randomly stopped by Sandor Katz’s website (author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved) and was shocked to find he had an upcoming event scheduled in DC. So I immediately ordered a ticket and last night after work, I headed to Chinatown…

… to the synagogue

… and spent two and a half hours listening to him speak. Unfortunately, I didn’t lug my big camera with me and my phone is inexcusably terrible at taking pictures. But I tried to get some pictures because I knew I was going to want to tell you how great the talk was.

Sandor and a cabbage.

Sandor is a fountain of fermentation knowledge. He just rattles off the Latin names of various bacteria as if he’s reciting the alphabet and he’s very inspiring. I think even more than all the facts and scientific stuff he went over, my big take-away from the session was really just his attitude. I’m a very laid-back, relaxed cook and I don’t do a lot of measuring, but I have always calculated an amount of salt to use in my sauerkraut and other pickles based on the weight of the vegetables. Sandor, however, says you don’t have to bother with all that measuring nonsense. You just chop up some vegetables – however you want, or you know, don’t bother chopping them – and add as much salt as you feel like and put it in a jar, or some other vessel. Then when it tastes good, you eat it. And that’s that. To prove how simple a process this was, he made some sauerkraut while talking to us, without even thinking about it.

We also got some samples, including of a prior batch of his sauerkraut, so yes, I’ve tasted Sandor Katz’s sauerkraut and it was tasty! We also got kimchi, pickle juice, and beer.

If Sandor should make an appearance near you (and who knows, with a new book due out in a couple of weeks, maybe he will), I definitely recommend checking it out. Buy a ticket in advance too, because this event sold out and there was a line down the block to get in. Which I thought was pretty awesome. I didn’t realize until last night just how big a deal Sandor was. It was kind of interesting to be in a room with so many other people that share my interest in this stuff, even if I am terribly shy and of course didn’t talk to any of them. I often feel very isolated, but it turns out that whenever I venture out into the world in pursuit of one of my interests, whether it be wildlife or fermentation or whatever, there are plenty of other people around, even here in Northern Virginia, that are into it as well. Who knew? Anyway, the class was great and I can’t wait to get a bunch of jars of various things bubbling away…I’ve been lazy lately and this talk was exactly what I needed.

Once the class was over, I walked down 6th St NW towards the metro station …

… which is on the left corner of this picture.

Hopped on the Red Line at Gallery Place …

… and transferred to the Orange at Metro Center. I have a lot of bad things to say about DC, and even a lot of bad things to say about the Metro, but I DO have to say that the stations are nice and it’s very clean. That’s because they’ll arrest you for so much as finishing a candy bar on the escalator (no food allowed) or drinking anything, even if you’re handicapped! And if you are handicapped, you’ll need something to drink because you’ll be stuck underground forever because the elevators NEVER seem to be in service. I think they are a little overzealous in some of their policies, but it is probably the cleanest metro I’ve ever been on. It also has a particular smell that I forgot about until last night, and surprisingly, it’s not the smell of urine like the New York subway – I don’t even want to KNOW what they’d do to someone they caught urinating there – it’s not a bad smell at all. It’s just how the DC metro stations smell – I think it’s all that concrete or something – and you forget about it when you no longer have to ride it every day and then do so again after a long time. I had to wait a while for my train, which is why I have so many pondiferous thoughts about the metro’s odiferousness.

In addition to wondering why I’m talking about how the DC metro smells, you’re probably wondering why I’m being so fartsy-artsy with the black & white photos. Well, I mentioned a whole ago that I’d been taking some pictures with an infrared filter. I had a lot of fun with that, but it’s kind of a pain because of the very long exposures. The long exposures were part of the fun, but they aren’t very conducive to spontaneity, and I was thinking I wanted to get some fun IR pictures while we are in France and the Netherlands in May, and I might not always want to be carrying a tripod with me. Soooo, I found a camera that had been internally converted to take only IR pictures. With this modification, you can use the camera normally, so exposure times are normal, and you can see through the lens on the viewfinder, even auto-focus and all that good stuff. But every picture you take will be infrared-only, so this probably isn’t something you want to do to your only camera. But I found a used camera that already had the mod, AND the camera was one I was interested in anyway, a Panasonic Lumix GF2, which is a micro 4/3s camera, which means it’s really tiny but takes SLR-quality photos and leaves me with complete creative control, which is a must for me because I only use the manual settings.

All the pictures above except the colors ones of Sandor (which were taken with my phone) were taken with the new camera. None of them look very strange because they were taken in the city and things like buildings don’t reflect a ton of infrared light, especially at night. So those end up looking very normal once they’re converted to B&W. Things look a little different out in nature (or my yard) during the day. No, it didn’t snow (the weather’s been awesome and this is a particularly beautiful spring, I’ve found) – grass just reflects a lot of IR light.

We have a bunch of bamboo in our backyard. I keep maintaining it’s going to attract pandas, but so far we haven’t had a panda infestation that I know of.

I’m hoping to take some shots someplace other than my yard this weekend! None of these pictures were altered in any way other than being converted to B&W using Picasa, by the way. In fact, if anyone out there has any recommendations for a good RAW editor for Linux (I use Ubuntu) PLEASE let me know! I tried to get Lightroom and Photoshop working with wine, but it was a no-go. I don’t want to spend much time at all post-processing – I’m on a computer all day at work and I tend to keep away from it at home – but I am interested to see if I get better images working with the RAW files.

I try not to veer too much off topic on this blog (though somehow I’ve decided cats and raccoons are totally on topic), but at the risk of boring some of you, I might post a few. There’ll be more food next time, though, I promise! Quite likely fermented food!

Oh – one final thought. Any vegan tips for Nice, France? Mark has swapped out Marseille from our itinerary for Nice, which I’m cool with because Nice looks très belle, but I’m not as sure about eating there. Speaking of France, though, je lis les romans français! I read the English version of Julien Parme in about a day, and it kind of irked me in being SO like The Catcher in the Rye. It’s practically the same book 60 years later and in Paris. Putain. BUT the French version is perfect for my skill level and much more enjoyable. I bought a few other short, easy-seeming modern French books as well, but if anyone wants to suggest some more, I’m all ears. My reading skills are definitely way up, but my listening and speaking skills are pretty lousy. Story of my life – that’s true my English as well! But I’m hoping subtitles magically appear under everyone’s face when they speak in France. French subtitles are fine. My tutor said I’m out of luck with that. Putain.

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Tofutti Ricotta – review + recipe

Today I was definitively diagnosed as suffering from (daily, yay) migraines. I’m not telling you to solicit pity or anything, just to explain tonight’s dinner (although it also sort of explains why I’ve been quiet lately). I met with my doctor this afternoon to go over the results of my MRI, which was composed of images like this:

…which because I LOVE neuroscience, I found fascinating, but which are also creepy because those are MY eyeballs on stalks. However, we also now know that is my very normal brain, which is a good thing.

Is showing you pictures of my brain too intimate? I think it may be, although people are always showing off their sonograms and frankly I find this much more interesting to look at. Sorry, though. Try not to think of Large Marge every time you see me.

Moving on, having ruled out anything terrifying (other than the eyeballs on stalks) like brain tumors, migraines it is. This is bad because migraines are annoying, but it is GOOD to have an explanation for this annoyance, and GOOD to have medicine, which I can start tomorrow. I was resistant earlier to the idea of taking medicine, but after this past week, I’m ready for it.

So I stopped by Wegmans on my way home this afternoon to pick up what I hope is my miracle cure. While waiting for the prescription to be filled, I wandered the aisles, and guess what I found?? Tofutti Better Than Ricotta Cheese! I had no idea this was a new product! As the label says, wow!

I immediately snatched it up in a flurry of excitement. For occasional use, I’m a big fan of Tofutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese and Better Than Sour Cream, so I had high hopes for the ricotta. However, I was slightly hesitant about it because honestly, although I’ve never made a spectacular homemade “cream cheese”, and Tofutti’s sour cream is more realistic than anything I’ve made as well, I’ve never had any problems making tofu “ricotta”, so I wasn’t sure I needed this product. Nonetheless, I bought it…for you! So I could do a taste test and write a review for YOU. Because I care! I’ve been trying to make extra-healthy dinners lately, but I decided that tonight I would splurge and make something easy (because I have a headache), but decadent and fun (to celebrate because I hope to not have a headache tomorrow! Or the next day!). And educational for my readers!

So the “ricotta” went home with me, for the rather outrageous price of I believe $4.39, in addition to some just-as-processed Gardein Beefless Tips, tinned tomatoes, and pasta – WHITE pasta. That’s right, I’m celebrating.

Unfortunately, I was slightly put off when I opened the ricotta.

It just didn’t look…great.

I crumbled it with my hands. It felt distressingly like cold, damp okara. If any of you have followed my depressing okara trials, you’ll know that I am no fan of okara, and let me tell you something: cold, damp okara is the WORST kind of okara. Worse, the ricotta TASTED a bit like cold, damp okara. The photo may make it look as innocuous as a bowl of crumbled tofu, but it’s actually very grainy and disturbing, whereas crumbled tofu is pleasant and fresh. Those of you who don’t make your own tofu or soy milk may be wondering what the heck okara (the ground-up remains of soybeans that is a by-product of the soymilk-making process) looks, feels, and tastes like. Suffice it to say, it’s a grainy, bland mess. Raw Tofutti ricotta tastes a little bit like what I suspect chalk would taste like if you ground it up and added water with a touch of lemon juice. Slightly tangy wet chalk, in other words.

I became alarmed at this point. My celebratory dinner suddenly seemed in danger of being GROSS. So I decided I would make TWO versions of my dinner, one with the now-frightening Tofutti ricotta and one with my own tofu “ricotta”. I didn’t want to “waste” my good “cotton” (i.e., non-silken) tofu on an experiment, so I took a box of firm silken tofu and whizzed it in a blender with a little salt, 2 or 3 tablespoons of Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

While I was blending up my own “ricotta”, behind my back, Senor Gomez was not nearly as skeptical of the Tofutti stuff as I was!

Hahahahaahahaha!!! Oh man, this hilariated* me. He REALLY liked that stuff.

Anyway, so I pre-heated the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, then ground up the Beefless Tips and sauteed them with a small onion and some garlic in a skillet, deglazing with white wine.

I put 28 oz of whole tinned tomatoes into the blender, with a bunch of chopped garlic, frozen basil, and some dried oregano, red chili flakes, and salt, and processed. It’s like a circus in my kitchen at times, by the way.

I also cooked some pasta al dente and drained. I set up two small bakers and put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of each, then topped with some of the pasta.

Then I added the “beef”.

Next up, the “ricotta”, Toffuti on the left, homemade on the right.

Closeup of the Tofutti, looking suspiciously okara-like.

I added more sauce, pasta, another layer of “ricotta”, and the rest of the sauce.

Another close-up of the Tofutti version:

I covered and baked for 45 minutes. After removing, let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Here is the dish with MY ricotta:

…and here is the Tofutti ricotta. It MELTED! THANK GOD. Soooo much more appetizing. And actually not gross!

I served myself some of each for a taste comparison. Tofutti on the left, Renae on the right.

The verdict? To my surprise, the Tofutti was okay. Baking it did WONDERS. However, it was just okay. It was not worth anywhere NEAR its $5 retail price (which is absurd). My tofu ricotta cost about $1.75 – and would have been mere pennies had I made the tofu myself – and tasted BETTER than Tofutti. It’s also better for you. To be honest, I had a pretty hard time distinguishing which lump of pasta bake was the Tofutti Ricotta and which was the Renae Ricotta on my plate during the taste test (a.k.a. dinner, which by the way I balanced with a lovely, abundant salad); they tasted and looked similar. Mark said the Tofutti was okay, but when he went back for seconds, he only got more of the Renae Ricotta, which he said was better.

In conclusion, Tofutti ricotta is a useless and extremely over-priced product. I can’t even say it’s a good convenience product because it takes only SECONDS to make a nice, fresh tofu ricotta. You don’t even need the blender: just crumble up some regular tofu with your hands and work in some salt and lemon juice, and nutritional yeast if you want. You also can’t really eat Tofutti ricotta raw, unless you are a glutton for punishment or are a cat.


The reason I find those pictures of Gomez so hilarious is because when I was growing up, I had the Most Awesome Cat in the World, Dracula. Dracula had THE biggest personality you’ll ever find on a cat. I even have a tattoo of him, he was so awesome. Like Gomez, Dracula was all-black. What I find really weird is I actually sometimes CALL Gomez Dracula, which seems so bizarre to me because Dracula died years and years ago and other than their species and color, they have little in common. You’d think I’d accidentally call him Tigger, but I have never done that even once. Anyway, among many, many goofy things Dracula did, if you put a paper lunch bag on the floor, he’d stick his head in it and then walk until he hit a wall. Then he’d back up, change directions, and again walk until he hit a wall. (This makes Dracula sound very stupid, but he wasn’t – he was just…unique.) Evidence:

* a perfectly cromulent word.

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A vegan B&B and other adventures

Mark and I were invited to an open house at The Wildlife Center of Virginia this Saturday and decided to make a weekend out of it. The Wildlife Center is in Waynesboro, which is not terribly far from Charlottesville, which I’ve always wanted to explore. We got to see their hospital facility and then meet their non-releasable, resident animals. We weren’t allowed to see any of the patients, of which they see between two and three thousand a year. But it was cool to see where my parents’ money goes (Mark requests a donation to this place from my parents in lieu of Christmas gifts each year).

I thought this kestrel was just adorable!

Many of the other people at the open house were eagle fans. In addition to several other eagle patients, the center is raising several eaglets from the Norfolk Botanical Garden that were orphaned when their mother was tragically killed by an airplane, and most of the visitors have been watching them grow on the center’s eagle cam. We weren’t able to see these eagles, but we did see a couple of non-releasable eagles, such as this guy.

They also have a lot of owls. You might as well know now that I am totally fascinated by owls.

After visiting the Wildlife Center, we drove about 40 minutes east to a town (if you can call it that) called Schuyler, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where out in the middle of nowhere (we had absolutely no cell phone coverage at all) there is a most exciting establishment: a completely vegan bed & breakfast! The White Pig is a B&B and animal sanctuary, specifically for potbellied pigs. It’s a beautiful restored farmhouse:

The innkeeper, Dina, and her husband raise pigs they have rescued. I wish we had stayed two nights instead of one because we did not manage to find time to explore the farm or even see the pigs: we’re definitely going to have to go back. We DID see numerous non-living pigs. My friend Pig was right at home!

It’s a very interesting – and very wonderful – feeling to be staying in a place, especially one so remote, where everything is vegan, including the toiletries. There is even a “no meat on the premises” policy! I don’t generally feel unwelcome when I stay in a “normal” hotel or inn, but let me tell you, I felt damn welcome here! The back of the house:

An old barn next to the house:

Smark being silly:

After settling into the White Pig, Mark and I drove about half an hour into Charlottesville, looking for dinner. We found Lemongrass, a cute little Vietnamese/Thai place near the University of Virginia that had vegan meals noted on the menu. I noticed that some of the things marked vegetarian but not vegan were almost definitely really vegan as well, and in fact, asked about the tofu summer rolls, which fell into that category. Our waitress said I was right that the menu was sometimes wrong about the vegan items and checked with the kitchen to verify the summer rolls were also vegan.

I had the Orange-Tamarind Tofu, which was really good.

Mark had the Cashew Seitan. Let me tell you how Mark felt about the cashew seitan. None of the meals marked vegan were also marked spicy (although as I said, I believe several, if not all, of the vegetarian dishes may really be vegan), so when we ordered I asked them to bring us the selection of “hot stuff” you usually find at Thai restaurants, so we could spice them up. They didn’t remember to bring the hot stuff out, but Mark – the boy who will literally pour an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce over just about anything I serve him, and I cook fairly spicy to begin with – informed me the cashew seitan was so delicious it didn’t need hot sauce. I couldn’t refrain from stealing half of it from him, either.

Later that night we stopped by Whole Foods (I can’t decide if the Charlottesville store is bigger than my local store in Fairfax, or vice versa, but it’s pretty huge) and picked up some Sheese and crackers, which we ate sitting on the porch of the White Pig, drinking the vegan red wine and eating the vegan chocolates we’d been left, and gaping at the stars, which we don’t ordinarily get to see unobstructed by city and suburban lights.

The next morning we went down for breakfast and found two yogurt granola parfaits waiting for us, which I forgot to take a picture of, but which were delicious. Then it was time for blueberry pancakes, which Mark informed me were better than my pancakes. They were. The only time I ever cook breakfast is when Fortinbras is over and demands that I make him pancakes (he can be a bit demanding). So starting what promised to be a long day with a perfectly cooked homemade breakfast was delicious and wonderful. It was also so weird to be able to eat breakfast food while out! So weird that at first Mark avoided buttering his pancakes because we’re so used to just assuming we can’t do that. I had to remind him we could eat everything!

I also ordered box lunches from the innkeeper for us, which I didn’t photograph. They included “chicken” salad sandwiches, which Mark didn’t love because he’s not a fan of mayonnaise, but which I thought were really good. We packed up the car, including the lunches, and were off to Monticello, home of our third president and a prominent founding father, Thomas Jefferson. I’ve always wanted to see Monticello and it lived up to my expectations. Although it was sweltering (95 degrees!), it was just lovely. We had some time before the tour, which I had booked earlier, and stopped into the cafe, where they serve food made with produce grown in Jefferson’s garden, and I was shocked to find a vegan wrap available, although I didn’t buy it since we had our box lunches. I tell you, I barely feel weird any more as a vegan! The world is beginning to find me normal!

Not much else really has to do with veganism or even animals in the rest of this post, but I’ll share a few photos because Monticello is simply breathtaking, and well, it is Independence Day!

The house itself:

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but the kitchen is not actually in the house (!), so I can show you that:

Part of Jefferson’s beloved garden – he was a huge fan of vegetables and in fact introduced several of them to our country:

I’m telling you, it is ridiculously pretty:

I had never seen a blooming artichoke before:

A random view from the grounds:


We had a really great weekend. I highly recommend that any of you in the DC metro area make a weekend trip to the White Pig, and if you haven’t seen it (and even if you have), Monticello. In fact, any of you who plan to visit DC from other areas may want to consider including this as a side trip. Charlottesville and Monticello are just over two hours from DC, as is the White Pig. After a few days battling crowds, traffic, and the general unpleasantness that is DC, believe me, you will cherish a night or two in a serene setting, especially one that’s all-vegan!

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Random Product Reviews

A few weeks ago, I visited my favorite store, Super H and picked up a couple of interesting products, which I have taken the time to review for your edification. I’ve noticed that a lot of food bloggers seem to receive free products that they in turn review on their blogs. I’ve never received any free products. So I have to resort to buying bizarre items in the grocery store and reviewing them. Life is tough, my friends.

First up is my personal favorite:

Meatless Spaghetti Sauce with Pickled Cucumber! Because WHY NOT?

This was a tiny can and I feared there would not be enough for two so I chose to try this product on an evening when Mark was not dining with me. Because what if it was so awesome I didn’t want to share?!?

First impression upon opening the adorable little can? Well, that it resembled cat food, to be honest.

I didn’t let that deter me, however, because Brachtune really likes cat food and she seems pretty discerning, so I figure maybe she’s on to something.

To prepare this exotic dish, I removed the contents of the tin to a microwaveable bowl and heated it for a few minutes.

I then spooned it over some prepared pasta.

My thoughts? Well, that it was pretty disgusting, actually. It was greasy and weird and oddly sweet, and after considering Brachtune’s culinary opinion a little further I remembered that she considers plastic bags and her own butt to be great delicacies, so I decided that an uncanny resemblance to cat food wasn’t necessarily an indicator of good grub after all. However, I did consider the possibility that Meatless Spaghetti Sauce with Pickled Cucumber is a great idea, just one that does not translate well to canned versions. So I whipped up my own version of the same using chopped homemade seitan, cucumber relish, and chili paste …

… which I also served over pasta.

This, with its significantly lower amounts of oil and sugar – yes, sugar! – was an improvement on the canned stuff, but I still found it in my best interests to defrost a frozen pesto cube and toss it with the remainder of the pasta for the rest of my meal.

Next up, Soy Pudding. Great for dessert!

We don’t usually eat dessert unless we have company, but I was feeling a bit peckish after dinner tonight and, recalling that the Soy Pudding I bought at Super H was about to expire, I figured there was no time like the present to try it out. My original plan was to throw away the syrup it came with because it contained high fructose corn syrup and make my own ginger-flavored topping, but at the last minute I decided that would be cheating. The syrup comes in a little packet taped to the pudding tub, which is pretty classy.

I didn’t expect this one to be too bad, quite frankly. It’s really just soft tofu – how bad can it be? And I like ginger, so despite the fact it’s made with high fructose corn syrup, how bad could that be?

Mark’s a lot more squeamish than I am, however, and I’m going to tell you right now he went into this venture with a bad attitude.

I can’t help but think that if he’d cleared his mind of any prejudices against tofu for dessert this would have gone over better with him.

He valiantly tried a bite in an attempt to be supportive of my efforts to bring you unbiased product reviews.

But I’m afraid he ultimately issued an unfavorable review of Soy Pudding.

As for me, I found it much more palatable than the spaghetti sauce, but also to taste very much like tofu drizzled with ginger-scented high fructose corn syrup. I think I’ll stick to chocolate.

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Chinese-Style Orange “Beef”

I usually go to Trader Joe’s about once a month and stock up on stuff. Last night was a Trader Joe’s night. I found a new product: “Beef-Less’ and “Chicken-Less” strips (I assumed I’d be able to find a link for you but alas, no) in the produce department and decided to pick up a package of each for making quick dinners after late nights at work. And somehow the very next night became just such a night. I got home around 8 and wanted to make something fairly fast, so I broke out the “Beef-Less” strips and threw together an “orange beef” stir-fry. Ordinarily I’d have preferred to use a fresh orange so I could use the zest in the dish as well but I didn’t have any and it was already late, as well as rainy and dreary, so I just used orange juice from the fridge instead of running to Wegmans.

Chinese-Style Orange Beef

1 package vegan “beef” strips, such as Trader Joe’s Beef-Less Strips
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 hot pepper, sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp shaoxing wine (or sherry)
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp chili paste
1 Tbsp bean paste
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

Chop the broccoli and steam until crisp-tender, leaning towards crisp (it will cook another minute or two in the stir-fry, so under-cook slightly).

Chop the bell pepper, slice the hot pepper, mince or press the garlic, and if desired, snip the “beef” strips into bite-sized pieces using kitchen shears.

Whisk together the orange juice, agave nectar, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, chili paste, and bean paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add 1-2 Tbsp peanut oil, then add the garlic and hot pepper. Stir fry for 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the bell pepper; stir fry for a minute.

Add the “beef” strips and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the broccoli and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Pour in the sauce and stir, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens and becomes slightly shiny.

Serve with rice.

This was a pretty good, fast meal. The “Beef-Less” strips were okay. I’d probably buy them again as they were very convenient and tasted fine. I asked Mark what he thought of them and he said, “pretty good”. I asked him if he could be any more specific because I wanted to review them on the blog and he said, “they are better than I could do!” But then he added, “they aren’t as good as that secret seitan recipe you made a couple of times. That was sooooo good. You should make that again.” He was talking about Kittee’s Gluten Log; it was a test recipe when I first made it. So I guess that’s that. But Kittee’s recipe, though amazing, really needs to be made the day before for best results and the Beef-Less strips can be ready in 3 minutes, and on some days, convenience wins.

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Reuben Casserole

The following events have all occurred recently:

  • My second batch of sauerkraut finished fermenting.
  • I made my first batch of tempeh in about a month.
  • A package of cheddar Teese arrived on my porch.

I was therefore thinking about how to incorporate these items into my evening meal; after all, tempeh is best as fresh as possible, and I’d already opened the Teese to taste it. So let’s see: tempeh, sauerkraut, and “cheese”…what can I possibly make with that? Well the obvious answer, of course, is everyone’s favorite: reubens, but we didn’t have any bread and although Wegmans is right down the street, I’d already been there once today – and separately, so had Mark – and had no intentions of returning. So what I did instead was make a reuben casserole, which also allowed me to use up the 5 leftover lasagne noodles I’ve had in my cupboard forever. This was a win all around.

Reuben Casserole

4 ounces pasta, any sort (I broke up some whole wheat lasagne noodles)
6-8 ounces tempeh
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut
1/4 cup vegan sour cream
1/4 cup tomato sauce or ketchup (you may want to add a tiny bit of sugar if you use tomato sauce)
2 Tbsp pickle relish
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp Indian black salt (or sea salt)
juice of 1/2 lemon
shredded vegan cheese (cheddar Teese worked perfectly; a portion of the “cheese” recipe in this post or pimiento cheese would also be great)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta; cook until al dente, then drain.

Admire my tempeh. I know I keep forcing you to look at pictures of my tempeh…I’m still always amazed when it turns out so well, and after the lackluster packaged stuff I had the other night, I’m so glad I finally got the hang of making it.

Chop the tempeh into bite-sized pieces.

Heat some oil in a skillet, then fry the tempeh pieces until beginning to brown.

Mix together the sour cream, tomato sauce or ketchup, relish, lemon juice, mustard, and salt.

If you are using a solid “cheese”, shred it.

In a medium-sized casserole dish, place the pasta, tossing it with a tiny bit of vegan margarine or oil.

Add the tempeh in a layer.

Top with the sauce …

… then the sauerkraut. (By the way, I made mine with caraway seeds this time; if yours is plain, you could toss some caraway seeds in with it.)

Top with the “cheese”.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes; remove lid, then bake 10 minutes longer.

It’s not the prettiest thing to photograph a serving of, but it sure was tasty!

Mark liked it a lot. So did I. As for that cheddar Teese, it’s okay, but quite frankly it’s no Cheezly. I didn’t like it by itself on crackers that much, while amazingly we can eat Cheezly that way. It did, however, melt nicer than cheddar Cheezly (though I find mozzarella Cheezly melts perfectly), and I think it would be good in grilled cheese sandwiches or maybe even a quick mac & cheese. I think its best use may well be topping casseroles like this one.

In other news, I woke up on Sunday with Locomotive Breath inexplicably stuck in my head, so I was rocking out to some Jethro Tull in the sunroom. When Mark popped in, the following ensued:

And in cat news, sometimes Brachtune looks like an owl. I took this picture of her and promptly had the Dead Kennedys’ I Am the Owl stuck in my head the rest of the day.

Brachtune is so gorgeous, I’ve often wondered why she doesn’t get a modeling career and support us for a change.

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Meet Hieronymus the Bosch and look at some pizza

Ugh, I’ve been so busy lately. I haven’t had time to be very creative in the kitchen, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce you to my early Christmas present from Smark: Hieronymus!

Hieronymus is an 800-watt Bosch Universal Plus Kitchen Machine. I asked for Hieronymus after killing two Kitchen Aid mixers in four years. When I first started getting into bread baking a few years ago, I came across recipes that called for 20 minutes of kneading and said, “no way!” I did a minimal amount of research and concluded everyone’s favorite Kitchen Aid would be good enough for my “kneads” (haha, you wouldn’t believe the mileage I’m getting out of that one lately), asked for one for Christmas and received it from my parents. And it did serve my needs for a while. I wish I had researched better or foreseen that I’d be making bigger, heavier batches of dough, because three years later the KA was dead, but as I told my mom (feeling pretty guilty that I’d killed my present in only 3 years when many people keep KA mixers for 20 years), I used it almost constantly in that time and I really solidified my seriousness about bread baking.

In a strange stroke of fate, the very day my original KA mixer gave up the ghost, my friend Lanet asked me if I knew anyone who needed a Kitchen Aid because she’d just upgraded hers although her old one was in perfect working order.

It took me only a year to kill Lanet’s mixer.

Kitchen Aids are simply not cut out for whole grain doughs or even large batches of white dough. What is cut out for whole grain and large batches of dough is the Bosch Universal Plus. Mark let me open the mixer as soon as it arrived even though it’s a Christmas present, because I was sad without a mixer. Plus Peter Reinhart is counting on me to test stuff! I immediately made two heavy loaves of whole grain bread and a dozen bagels. You may recall that in my bagel tutorial I said I had to knead the bagel dough in halves to avoid stressing out my mixer. Bagels are probably one of the #1 things that contributed to my mixer demise; they are a very stiff dough. My new best friend Hieronymus, however, kneaded the full batch with nary a complaint, in fact, I’m pretty sure he could have handled a double batch!

Hieronymus may look a little different than you are used to mixers looking. The drive shaft is located in the middle of the mixing bowl – which looks therefore a bit like a bundt pan – instead of separately, above it. This is the dough hook, which it comes with:

This gives the mixer a lower profile (fits better under counters) and means you can keep the ingredients completely contained during mixing (goodbye flour-covered counter tops!!), although it does make it a little awkward when removing sticky doughs after kneading. The pros outweigh the cons on that issue though.

It’s also not as noisy as my old mixer. I don’t have to pre-mix dough ingredients, I just weigh them, dump them in, and let the mixer bring them together into a ball. It’s SERIOUS about kneading and didn’t strain at all, no matter what I threw at it. Like six 12-ounce whole wheat pizza crusts. At once. Man, I love Hieronymus!! I’m completely enamored of this mixer.

Not only that, but the blender attachment came free with the package Mark got me. In fact, that’s what convinced me to switch from the DLX to the Bosch at the last minute and I do not regret the decision for a minute.

The Bosch was cheaper and I think probably easier to use (based on what I’ve read in many forums), and the blender is AWESOME! I’ve never used a Vita-Mix, but I’m willing to bet the blender on Hieronymus would give it a run for its money. My old favorite kitchen appliance was the mixie, but I’m afraid the Bosch is outdoing the faithful old mixie. I needed almond meal the other night. The dry grinder attachment on the mixie choked with just half a cup of almonds in it. I put two cups of almonds in the Bosch blender and in two seconds had perfectly ground almond meal. The blender can crack twice as many soy beans at a time as the mixie can, and it cracks them nicely. I haven’t tried making peanut butter in it yet, but if I can do that, I’m not sure what charm the mixie will have over me any more…. Poor mixie.

I REALLY researched the mixer I wanted this time. I’m on a lot of bread baking forums and mailing lists these days and the topic comes up often. Pleasant Hill Grain came up nearly as often as a great place to buy from, and if I’ve convinced you that you also need a more powerful mixer, I definitely recommend them. I was shocked to see the package arrive two days after Mark ordered it and that was with free shipping!

Do I sound like a commercial yet? I hate sounding like a commercial. But I really love my Christmas present and wanted to share!

And just so this isn’t a foodless post, here are some pictures of the pizza I made for dinner last night. I’m usually a very minimalist pizza topping person: I just like “cheese” pizzas, light on the cheese at that. But I had some rapini I needed to use up, so I sauteed it with some onions and garlic …

… added some red pepper strips for color and sweetness …

… and topped one of the whole wheat crusts I was telling you about:

I think vegan sausage would have been good on this particular pizza, too:


Barbecued “Ribs”

I don’t ordinarily think of myself as having any “signature” dishes because I like to try new things so often; in fact, I’m the type of person who will host a dinner party and serve all-new, completely untested or totally made-up recipes. I’m daring like that. But I guess if I were forced to pick a recipe that I’m known for, UnRibs would be one of the top dishes. (Spicy Tofu is another.) But just because the UnRibs are everyone’s favorite (including mine and Mark’s), that doesn’t mean I don’t try other “rib” recipes from time to time, so when I was flipping through some of my “neglected” cookbooks today, it’s not surprising that I decided to make the Barbecued “Ribs” from Bryanna Clark Grogan’s Almost No-Fat Holiday Cookbook. And although I usually improvise barbecue sauce, I made her smoky chipolte barbecue sauce as well, because Bryanna said it was good and Bryanna is almost always right.

Barbecued “Ribs”
From Bryanna Clark Grogan’s Almost No-Fat Holiday Cookbook

Baked Gluten Balls

2 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten (I just used one box, which is just about 2 1/2 cups)
2 cups cold water

Smoky Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
(I cut this recipe in half from the original and it made plenty; follows are the halved measurements.)

1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlrc, minced or pressed
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes that you’ve crushed in a blender or food processor)
1/2 cup brown sugar or Sucanat (or turbinado sugar with 2 Tbsp molasses)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp chipolte chiles in adobado sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp liquid smoke

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

I got the barbecue sauce cooking first. As it’s an almost-fat-free cookbook, Bryanna suggests “steam frying” the onions and garlic, but I just put a little olive oil in the pot and sauted as usual.

While the onions were cooking, I measured all of the other ingredients into my new Fire King batter bowl: another cheap find due to a chip in the rim.

When the onions are soft …

… add the remaining ingredients to the pot, bring to a boil, the reduce heat and simmer for half an hour.

While the sauce is cooking, place the vital wheat gluten and water in a medium bowl.

Mix until the vital wheat gluten is entirely incorporated and it looks like a brain.

Bryanna says to cut the gluten into eight dozen pieces, so using a bench knife I cut it into four pieces …

… then eight …

… then each eighth into eight to twelve pieces, not worrying too much about ending up with exactly 96 pieces, but rather mostly same-size pieces.

I placed them on two half-sheet pans.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. I put mine much closer together than the “couple of inches” apart Bryanna recommended, so I just used kitchen shears to snip them apart where they had merged.

Most of the puffs will deflate almost immediately after removing from the oven.

When the barbecue sauce has cooked down a bit …

… puree it with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.

Because I have my oven set up in such a way for bread baking that unless I start moving a lot of very heavy (and very hot if I’ve preheated it) items (a huge baking stone and a large cast iron pan I use for steaming), I essentially only have one baking shelf, I moved half of my gluten balls to a smaller, glass baking dish so I could stick it in side-by-side on the same shelf as my brussels sprouts:

I don’t recommend doing this though. Leave ’em on the baking sheet so they are spread out and can get a little crispy when you bake them again. Cover with some of the sauce, but not this much:

They were sort of drowning. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

I couldn’t resist taking photos of the balsamic-roasted brussels sprouts I made to accompany the ribs:

Serve! In addition to the brussels sprouts, I also made the Potato and Green Bean Salad that was on the page right after the Barbecued “Ribs” (although it was for a different holiday).

As Bryanna suggested, I decided to freeze half of the gluten balls for another day. I also froze the rest of the barbecue sauce, so now I have a super easy, super fast dinner waiting for me after some future long day at work.

I got some comments that people were missing the cats lately. They’ve been extra lazy lately and have been sleeping through dinner preparations, so I went hunting for them before downloading the pictures from my camera. I found Tigger on my reading chair; he was startled by my appearance.

But he quickly went back to sleep.

The Toonse was hangin’ out by the “water cooler”, one of her favorite spots.

By the way, if your cats are as demanding of fresh water as mine are, they and I both really like the Catit Cat Waterer. I’ve tried a couple other brands of cat fountains and they have all broken after a year or so, and also got clogged up with Brachtune’s long fur very quickly. I’m not entirely sure why Toonsey’s fur doesn’t get in the Catit fountain, but this thing stays amazingly clean, and Brachtune is ALWAYS hanging around it. She never paid much attention the previous fountains, but she loves this one; I think perhaps because she gets to lick plastic without me yelling at her. (They can either lick the dome, which has a thin film of water running down all over it, or drink out of the basin it flows into.) Tigger still demands that we turn the kitchen or bathroom faucet on for him (RIGHT NOW! I DON’T CARE IF IT’S 4 A.M.! WAKE UP AND TURN THE FAUCET ON, STUPID HUMANS!), but I guess he’s always going to be a special needs cat.

Here’s a more complete view of the fountain:

And that’s it for tonight! I’m going to be attempting to make homemade sauerkraut this week – too late to have it ready by Thanksgiving, unfortunately, but I’ve been wanting to try it for a while. I made pretzels for the first time yesterday and they turned out well; I’ll do a tutorial next time I make them. (This paragraph brought to you by the German part of my heritage.)

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After swimming for a long time tonight, I was looking for something quick to make for dinner. Opening all of the cupboards in succession and pondering, as usual, I decided to use up the rest of the anellini pasta, making what else but Spaghetti-Os. Mark said I should name this dish “Renae-Os”, but I decided Smark-Os sounded better. Plus Mark (whose nickname is Smark, much to his chagrin) really liked them.


2 cups anellini (small rings) pasta
1/2 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 small or 1/2 large carrot, minced
5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (I love garlic, so maybe that’s a lot to some people, if so, just use less)
1 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups veggie broth (that’s the frozen stuff in the measuring cup in the photo)
3 cubes frozen basil, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp beet powder, for color (optional)
1/4 cup Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix, or nutritional yeast
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 small or 1/4 large lemon
3 vegan “franks”, sliced (optional)

Cook the anellini until barely al dente and drain. Meanwhile, heat a small amount of oil in a soup pan. Add the onions, celery, carrot, and garlic.

Cook until very soft. If necessary, deglaze the pan with white wine or some of the veggie broth.

Add the tomato sauce, broth, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

Add the uncheese mix or nutritional yeast and simmer for 10 minutes.

Puree using an immersion or regular blender.

Pureeing it turned it an orange color, so I added the beet powder to take it back down to red. I also thought it would add a subtle tangy sweetness, but honestly I couldn’t taste the beet powder. I did like the color better though.

Add the anellini and optional franks. I happened to have some vegan hot dogs on hand in case I decided to celebrate our nation’s independence by eating faux pig innards. Heat until franks are cooked through (about five minutes).

It was hard to take a decent picture of this plated, or “bowled”.

But Smark liked the Smark-Os even if they aren’t very photogenic!

I made Bryanna’s okara parmesan with that dried okara I had. It’s pretty good; the miso makes it. I sprinkled it on top of my Smark-Os. Tigger was pretty interested in it, which was no surprise considering it contains nutritional yeast.


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