Zucchini Gratin, Lemon-Basil Seitan

Hello, I’ve missed you! I have recipes! With really, really, really bad photos!! In fact, the photos are so bad I’m ashamed of them, especially as someone who has urged you to keep up on my life if you’d like to by going to my photo blog, though I tell you the photos there are of a little higher quality. I’ve been doing a lot of things, and even posting regularly (though perhaps not as personally) on my photo blog, but I sure haven’t been posting here, have I? I’m not going to make any promises that I’ll be posting regularly now, but I did make a dish or two last night I liked enough to want to record, so here I am.

And what have I been doing with my time instead of cooking magnificent, blog-worthy food? A lot of wildlife volunteering, of course. I have regular shifts at two different wildlife hospitals here, which I absolutely love. It’s very interesting working in two very different places, and it’s going to be REALLY interesting in the next month or so when baby wildlife season starts. I have so much to learn, especially about all the non-raccoon and non-raptor species as well as the differences between Virginia and California species. I’m interested in caring for all animals, although both hospitals are aware of my special interest in both raptors and rabies-vector species and I’ve have started working with the education raptors (and other species) at one of the hospitals and have been handling rehab raptors at the other. California seems to be a lot more rehab-friendly than Virginia was and my volunteer work here has been my favorite thing about California. It’s really great.

My next favorite thing about California is NATURE. It took me a while to get used to the parks here as they are very different than Virginia’s parks, and arriving during the middle of summer AND a drought was probably not an ideal introduction. All the parks were dry, brown, hot, hilly, open, and apparently devoid of wildlife when I first got here. As it turns out, though, winter in California is a magical time. I despised winter in Virginia, but in California, everything turns green – and not just an ordinary green, but a GLOWING green – and thousands and thousands of raptors migrate through here: the parks have become extremely beautiful and I don’t know if there is just more wildlife this time of year or if I’ve gotten luckier, but I’ve started to see so many more animals that it may be even better than Virginia. Plus the weather is amazing: comfortable temperatures and NO SNOW. The San Francisco Bay area is a very populous, congested area, yet there are so many parks and open spaces, it’s pretty amazing. I typically go hiking several times a week and don’t repeat many parks all that often, and I have a thick folder full of used park maps, and there are still many I haven’t yet been to. Also, I stare at Google Maps a lot looking for green areas to explore, and yet, nearly every week I talk to someone who mentions some park I’ve never even heard of. It’s really pretty incredible. I LOVE it.

Last, but not least, is friends. I don’t have that many here, but some of my very old friends are coming to me. 🙂 Our good friends Brad and April moved to the Bay Area a few months after we did, which was SO GREAT. And at long, long last, Fortinbras has FINALLY made it back to California. He moved to LA just a couple of weeks ago. I wish he was closer, but LA is way better than Baltimore, and we are driving distance from each other, if not pop-by-on-a-whim close. He drove up here the week before last, which was the first time I’d seen him since I left Virginia in July. He’s actually the reason for my first recipe today because he bought a bunch of zucchini and yellow squash while he was here and we didn’t eat all of it, so a few were languishing in my fridge and needed to be used up. I’ll typically just lightly saute zucchini and top with a flavored salt, but though he’ll eat that, Mark tends to take only a few slices and I’m always harping on him about eating more nutrients, so last night I had a little more time for dinner preparations than I usually have and I tried to think of something different to do with the zucchini and squash that might appeal to Mark. I decided to make a gratin.

I’ve made gratins in the past, often relying on the gruyere recipe in Artisan Vegan Cheese, but I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t made fermented cheese since I moved. I keep wanting to and not finding the time. What I have been making a lot of, though, is various cheese recipes by Lacey at Avocado and Ales. Lacey left me a lovely comment on my last post so I checked out her blog and found she’s pretty amazing. (Lacey, if you are reading this, I tried to leave you a comment telling you that but I had issues doing so and I don’t know if you ever saw it.) So when I googled around for gruyere ideas and found a recipe (that I think was adapted from the original vegan cheese bible, The Uncheese Cookbook, which you would THINK a vegan of as many years as me would own but I for some reason do not), I took a tip from Lacey and replaced the acid with vegan lactic acid powder. I don’t think I’ve ever actually had real gruyere cheese if you want the truth, but I thought the resulting sauce was pretty tasty. Also, she didn’t write this particular recipe, but you should really check out Lacey’s recipes – I’ve quit buying Daiya mozzarella and just make her mozzarella, which I prefer, on pizza, and her vegan cheddar sauce is really great.

Anyway, on with the recipe:

Zucchini Gratin
Cheese sauce adapted from a recipe in the comments on this page, with inspiration from Lacey at Avocado and Ales

4 small or 3 large zucchini and/or yellow squash, evenly sliced
1 small yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
1 recipe vegan gruyere sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup bread crumbs
vegan parmesan, optional

Vegan Gruyere Sauce:
1 cup water
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp flour
4 tsp arrowroot
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp vegan lactic acid
1/4 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. If you don’t have pre-made bread crumbs, make some first so you can work with a dry blender or food processor: toast about 3 slices of white or whole wheat bread until they are quite dry, then roughly crumble into a dry blender or food processor. If you’d like, add some seasonings: I added a little vegan chicken broth powder, salt, and dried parsley. Process until you are left with small crumbs and set aside. Next make the gruyere sauce by placing all ingredients in a blender or food processor and processing until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring until sauce is smooth and thickened. Set aside. Slice the zucchini or squash and the onion, then heat a little oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, then add the zucchini and squash until they are lightly cooked. Pour the gruyere sauce into pan and mix everything up, then pour the mixture into a medium baking dish.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.

If using, top with vegan parmesan. I just happened to have seen Follow Your Heart’s shaved parmesan for the first time the other day and bought it out of curiosity, so I used that, but I don’t generally buy or make vegan parm and if I hadn’t had it, I would likely have generously sprinkled Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese, which I always have on hand and use for all my powdered or sprinkly cheese needs, on top.

Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

BAD, CURIOUS CATS!

They are so cute and SO annoying when I’m cooking.

Mark’s thoughts on the gratin? He liked it a lot. He declared himself a “foodie”, closed his eyes and said he tasted hints of “berry”. I said that was absurd, to which he commanded, “Silence! Do not contradict the foodie!” In a slightly less silly assessment, he said it was both creamy and crunchy and he enjoyed that dichotomy. He also ate all of what was on his plate and didn’t make a single complaint about the fact it was squash, which he ordinarily has very mixed feelings about. Success!

Mark suggested that I also post the recipe for the seitan I served, which I agreed to do because it gives me a chance to talk about my brand new Instant Pot, which I’m excited about. I’m a little late to the Instant Pot game, which is surprising because I love kitchen gadgets, but with my move last year to California, I spent the first half of 2015 purging as many material items as I could from my life and not buying anything. And the second half of 2015 found me needing to be extremely frugal because CALIFORNIA IS EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE. I’ve had my eye on an Instant Pot for a while, though, because although I managed to cram all my appliances into a kitchen that is much smaller than my previous one, several of them, such as my dough mixer and slow cooker, were inconvenient to use, and I had dreams of replacing the slow cooker and rice cooker with the Instant Pot to free up some space and make all of the appliances easier to reach and use. And then my stovetop pressure cooker stopped working properly – it would maintain pressure, but release a lot of steam while doing so. Now, I won’t lie to you: I probably just needed to replace the gasket, which would have been the cheapest solution, but I instead decided to take that as a sign it was time to indulge in the Instant Pot. And I’m really glad I did because I know it’s going to get a lot of use and now my dough mixer is going to be a lot easier to use from its new location on the counter. I had started getting back into baking a little bit when we first moved and I had some time (before I was able to start volunteering again), but I’d gotten pretty lazy about it partially because the mixer was just inconvenient to use. And another thing I’d been lazy about was buying and stashing a bunch of Gardein products in the freezer, which is NOT a frugal move. I should have been making my own seitan more regularly, but my preferred method for that was steam-then-bake and my slow cooker/steamer was also inconvenient to get to so I tended not to do it. Then I thought about returning to my previous favorite method of seitan making, which was pressure cooking, but my pressure cooker was getting on my nerves. ENTER THE INSTANT POT, in which I can steam OR pressure cook the seitan – though I’ll tell you now I’m pretty much always going to pressure cook it.

For pressure cooking, the Instant Pot is far superior to a stovetop pressure cooker, because you can set the timer and just walk away – in fact, I could leave the house if I wanted to. (And the weather in California is generally so glorious I USUALLY want to leave the house.) PLUS there is none of the really annoying “run cold water over the pressure cooker to bring the pressure down” nonsense I was always doing with the stovetop cooker. I’m not yet sure about making rice; I doubt it’s going to be easier or better than my high-end fuzzy logic rice cooker, whose place its taken on the counter, but I also didn’t get rid of the rice cooker and I intend to bring it out of the cupboard when I want to cook something in the Instant Pot AND have rice, which I think might be rather often.

Basically, though, I convinced myself I’m going to save tons of money on bread and fake meat by investing in the Instant Pot. Hopefully that’s true. I’ve already baked a couple loaves of bread – the bread crumbs in the recipe above? Made from homemade bread. I will also hopefully use the slow cooker feature much more often than I was slow cooking before because I am very often not home during dinner-making hours, usually coming home starving and throwing something sub-par together as fast as I can.

So that’s my Instant Pot story. If you have favorite Instant Pot tips and recipes, please share!

As for the seitan recipe, generally when I want to make seitan of any type, I’ll google Vegan Dad’s lunch meat recipe to get the basic ratios of beans/liquid/vital wheat gluten (though you’d think I’d have it memorized by now), then I season it however I’m in the mood for. Previously I would steam and bake as Vegan Dad instructs, but now that I again have a reliable pressure cooker, I’ll be doing that as it takes half the time and is in my opinion easier. Something that I’ve been doing for a long time is cooking large batches of dried beans and freezing them in 1-cup portions to be used for seitan down the road. I’ll be able to either slow cook or pressure cook these beans in the Instant Pot from now on.

Enough blather, here’s the actual recipe:

Lemon-Basil Seitan
Seitan adapted from Vegan Dad’s lunch meat; sauce lightly adapted from Epicurious

For the seitan:
2 cups water
1 cup cooked or canned beans (I usually use some sort of white beans but used canned Lebanese fava beans this time)
1/4 cup neutral oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegan chicken broth powder
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
2 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten

For the sauce:
1 cup vegan chicken broth
zest and juice of one lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup (lightly packed) basil, chiffonaded

To make the seitan, add all ingredients except the vital wheat gluten to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Measure the vital wheat gluten into a large bowl, then pour in the liquid and stir with a wooden spoon, or just mix with your hands. Lightly knead until entirely mixed. Form the mixture into a log shape. Take a large piece of clean cheesecloth or muslin and roll the seitan up like a tootsie roll, tying the ends with kitchen string. Place in a pressure cooker and cover with water or vegan broth. (I used plain water but salted it generously.) After bringing up to pressure, cook for 50 minutes to one hour then release the pressure naturally. (I kept my Instant Pot in “Keep Warm” for 10 or 12 minutes, then moved the valve to “Venting” to release the remaining pressure.) After removing it from the pot, you can unwrap the seitan at this point, but let it completely cool before slicing or using. In fact, the seitan is best used the next day after firming in the refrigerator overnight, though you can use it as soon as it is cool.

For the Lemon-Basil sauce, slice as many pieces of seitan as you want and pan fry them in a pan large enough to accommodate them, then remove from the pan. In the same pan, pour a little olive oil, add the garlic, and stir a couple of times, then pour in the broth and lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced to one half or one third of original volume. Add the basil and stir, then return the cooked seitan to the pan, coat with the sauce, and re-warm. Serve. I served mine with the gratin above and rice made with vegan chicken broth in the Instant Pot.

Boy, is this picture bad:

So there you have two recipes and an update on my life. If you are interested in seeing some GOOD photos, again, I refer you to renae.org, where you can also find my photo blog. I have a lot of super-exciting photos like this one:

and this one:

there. That’s all for now – I’ll try not to be a stranger. Leave me Instant Pot recipes. 🙂

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Black Bean Stir Fry

Yeah, that’s right, I HAVE A RECIPE. It’s not the most exciting or innovative recipe in the world, but I figured it would help me ease back into actual food blogging at some point. 🙂

The secret ingredient in this dish is Chinese fermented black beans. You are supposed to rinse these before use but the brand I bought wasn’t too salty and I didn’t bother. I really simplified the preparation for this dish. As I had some cooked brown rice in the freezer, this meal took about 15 minutes to prepare, most of which was devoted to vegetable chopping.

Black Bean Stir Fry

12 oz seasoned baked tofu, chopped
1/2 small head savoy or Napa cabbage, cored and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 small head broccoli, chopped into florets
2 leaks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 hot pepper, chopped
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
2 scallions, sliced
about 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine or sherry

For the sauce:
3/4 cup vegetable broth or vegan “chicken” broth
3-4 Tbsp Chinese fermented black beans
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp black vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp corn starch whisked into 3 Tbsp water

Prep the tofu and all the vegetables and set aside. Stir in all of the rest of the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch mixture). Heat a wok over high heat and add a little oil. Add the leaks and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add each of the remaining vegetables, except the scallions, and the tofu a minute or two apart in order of their required cooking time, stir frying the entire time (for the ingredients above, I went in the following order: leeks, carrots, celery, pepper, broccoli, tofu, cabbage, water chestnuts). Use the wine or sherry to deglaze the wok, then pour in the sauce and toss. Lower the heat a bit and let the sauce cook for a minute or so, then pour the cornstarch mixture into the wok, stir, and cook for another minute or so until the sauce thickens.

Top with the sliced scallions. Serve with chili garlic sauce or Sriracha on the side.

Aaaaand back to non-food matters. I’ve been suffering from photography withdrawal since returning from Africa. Yes, this is somewhat due to the fact that I’m sad there are no non-zoo lions in Virginia, but it’s compounded by the fact that it’s winter. We had such a FABULOUS summer that I got VERY used to going to a park every single night after work, but not only is it cold this time of year, worse, it’s dark when I leave work, so parks are out. It’s very depressing. I decided that to motivate myself I would attempt a “365” photo project, which means that every day for the next 365 days I need to take and publish a photograph. What’s more, I decided my theme would be self-portraits. Upon reflection I realized that people may think I want to take “selfies”, but that’s the last thing I want to do. I kind of see “selfies” as something you take with your phone at arm’s length. I can’t think of any reason I would take a picture of myself with my phone. The reason I chose to concentrate of self-portraits is, however, possibly more sad than a desire to take a good “selfie”. The reason is I used to take a lot of pictures of friends and I like taking pictures of people. Maybe not as much as I like taking pictures of animals, but I like it. The fact is, though, that I don’t go out that much any more, and I don’t particularly want to, which means if I want to practice taking pictures of people, that leaves me or Mark, and there’s no way Mark will agree to be my model, so I’m left with myself. Which is actually kind of appropriate because although I DID go out a lot in high school when I was teaching myself photography, there were still a lot of times when I was home alone with no subjects to photograph so I’d take pictures of myself. Like this one, which I like because THERE’S AN AWESOME PICTURE OF TIGER BEHIND ME in our living room:

Or more ridiculously, this one wearing my dad’s suit – and apparently carrying the mail – for some unknown reason:

Okay, I also like to play dress-up.

I don’t know, we might be heading into selfie territory with this one:

Anyway, I’m REALLY unphotogenic, increasingly so the further I get from high school, so I’m hoping that over the course of the year I’ll come away with at least a couple of photos of myself that I don’t hate, either because I improve at taking them or I come to terms with my appearance. One of those things. Although I have absolutely no confidence I will actually keep this up for 365 days. I’m surprised I’ve done it for three, quite frankly. The only reason I’m mentioning it here is to make myself a little bit more accountable by actually confessing that I’m doing it. It will actually be much easier to keep up with in the spring and summer when I’m out hiking every night as I usually take my tripod with me and I can just hop in front of it for a shot or two. I have absolutely no idea how I will possibly manage to take a different photo of myself every single night of the long, cold, horrible winter. That will require a lot more creativity than I have. But here’s to trying!

I assure you I will VERY RARELY, if ever again, post any of these self-portraits here. This is supposed to be a food blog and most pictures of me will make you lose your appetite! But here was photo 1 of 365, taken while I was figuring out how to tether my DSLR to my laptop in Lightroom. Gomez thought he’d assist with that endeavor.

And today’s:

I’m kissing her little paw!

An outtake from today that shows Torticia, who NEVER looks bad in a picture, better:

I said I don’t take “selfies” (because I’m snobby and I take “self-portraits”), but that’s not entirely true. I can’t be trusted not to take pictures of myself with my underwater camera just because I CAN take pictures of myself underwater and I think that’s awesome. In the pool at the lodge in Zanzibar:

See what I said about being unphotogenic?!

Okay, NEXT, a request. So I’m going to apply for the Virginia Master Naturalist program this spring and although there aren’t really any previous education requirements, I feel like it would be a good idea to do some reading before classes begin in February. Anyone have any favorite books on natural history, biology, or the like? When I read science books, I usually read physics or neuroscience books, so it’s sort of a new field for me.

Next stop: SERENGETI!

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Broccoli “Cheese” Soup

I had some limp broccoli in the refrigerator so I decided to make soup out of it last night. Nice for a cold night, perhaps, but not too amazing, right? I didn’t think so until Mark started going absolutely nuts over it. We were watching TV together while eating and I was flattered when he told me not once but twice that the soup was excellent. But then he didn’t stop! He just kept raving about it. “I’m not even paying attention to the show, I’m too into this soup!” he proclaimed, which was surprising considering we were watching a program he ordinarily finds hilarious. Even after we’d finished dinner, he was still going on about it: “I want to eat that soup until I throw up!” At that point I had to tell him the compliments were heading into gross territory and starting to sound less complimentary. But considering how much Mark hates throwing up the fact that he’d be willing to risk it in order to eat more of the soup was saying something, I suppose. Additionally, he’s also usually very squeamish about cleaning up pots from “creamy” things, but he cheerfully washed the soup pot and said even that chore was worth the soup. The last thing he said to me before I went to sleep was, “I’M GOING TO THE KITCHEN FOR MORE OF THAT SOUP.”

He insisted I do a post on it. I was reluctant to do so because I’ve already done a very similar post, but that post is ancient anyway, so here’s exactly what I did last night that produced the soup Mark would puke for.

Broccoli “Cheese” Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups or so chopped potatoes
2 small or medium or 1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (and stalks peeled and chopped)
6 cups of vegetable broth (I used Better Than Bouillon’s “No Chicken” flavor)
1/3 cup vegan gouda or other cheese from Artisan Vegan Cheese*
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt or seasoning salt, to taste

* I am sorry that I keep including cheeses from this book in my recent recipes. I’ve been avoiding posting anything I made using recipes from this book since I don’t want to post the cheese recipes themselves, but as you can see I haven’t had a ton of other ideas for posts lately! Plus Mark REALLY wanted me to post this recipe! If you don’t have the book, you can use your favorite vegan “cheese”, or use the recipe I posted in this post. You can also just omit the “cheese” entirely for a Cream of Broccoli soup.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large soup pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook until onions are soft. Add the potatoes and broccoli and cook another minute or so, then add the broth. Bring to a boil then add the “cheese” and nutritional yeast, stirring until the “cheese” is melted and incorporated. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are soft, about half an hour. Remove from the heat and puree using an immersion blender, or, when cooled, in batches in a regular blender. Return to the heat, stir in the lemon juice (adjust the amount to taste) and salt if necessary. (I actually used an all-purpose season salt mix I made up instead of regular salt, but I made it a while ago and have no idea what’s in it! Salt, garlic and onion powders, and other seasonings.)

Serve with crusty bread and a salad. Neither of us even bothered with the bread last night. As Mark says, the soup looks very unassuming and boring, but according to him, the flavor is just spot-on.

I said last time I had more raptor picture, so let’s get to it. While we were in Charleston over the holidays, we went on the swamp garden tour at Magnolia Plantation. I found it very expensive, but then I saw a red shouldered hawk lording over the swamp and my frivolous financial gripes were forgotten. Plus he posed for us for a long time. Such a long time I’m sure my very patient mother-in-law was wishing that bird would fly away so Mark (with his beloved binoculars) and I would mosey along already.

He’s saying here: “I’m a red shoulder!” (He was actually quite fussy, which is typical of red shoulders. They have an attitude.)

He flew away, but just to another nearby tree.

He just kept posing! I love him!

We eventually managed to drag ourselves away and continue the walk.

Hawks are definitely not the only wildlife at the swamp. This is an anhinga:

Egret:

And the real star of the swamp: an alligator! They enjoy sunbathing together with turtles.

I love their creepy smiles.

Quite frankly, I’ve decided I want to live next to a swamp. There’s always something fascinating going on in or around them.

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Corn-Jalapeno Casserole

Here is a side dish I made last night by scrounging through leftover bits I’d saved during the week. It was a nice accompaniment to the rice and beans I also made and Mark absolutely loved it. I made ours quite spicy but you can make it as mild or as spicy as you like by varying the amount of jalapenos.

Corn-Jalapeno Casserole

1/2 cup vegan “cheese” sauce (see note below)
2 Tbsp vegan sour cream
2 Tbsp pickled jalapeno “juice” (optional; I added it for some extra kick)
1-3 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapenos
12 oz frozen corn

Note: Since buying the phenomenal Vegan Artisan Cheese, all of my cheese sauces have been made by melting a hunk of pretty much any of the cheeses from that book, generally by whisking water off the boil into it, then whisking in nutritional yeast flakes, garlic and or onion granules, and sometimes fresh lemon juice, and they’ve all blown away any cheese sauces I’ve made in the past. I had half a cup or so of such a sauce left over from serving over steamed cauliflower the other night, although I can’t explain why because I can eat that stuff straight! If you don’t have Vegan Artisan Cheese, first of all, get it, but if you don’t have time to buy the book, make the rejuvelac, and ferment the cheese, use your favorite “cheesy” sauce. The recipe for an old standby is available here.

A note on the pickled jalapenos: I linked to a refrigerator pickle version of pickled jalapenos that I’ve made in the past, but since I discovered and fell in love with canning this summer, I bought a ton of jalapenos at the farmers market, sliced them, and put them in 4-oz canning jars (which I find adorable), along with a couple sliced of carrots and a smashed garlic clove for each jar. Then I poured a hot brine of 50% white or cider vinegar/50% water and some salt into each jar, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and processed in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I love this size jar for stuff like this and I have plenty of them to last me through the winter. I also love the spicy, vinegary brine – I mix it with tomato sauce and a few other ingredients to make a nearly instant taco sauce. Hmm, perhaps I should do a separate post on all this stuff?

Okay, to the actual recipe I’m supposed to be writing up:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can fit your baking dish into your toaster oven, you can use that (I did).

In a bowl, whisk together the “cheese” sauce, sour cream, and jalapeno “juice” (if using). Stir in the jalapenos and corn. Transfer to a small baking dish (I used a glass loaf pan). The mixture should be just a little liquidy; if it’s not, add a little water or non-dairy milk.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the cover and bake uncovered for 20 more minute or until brown and bubbly.

I served this with rice and beans. The beans are Steubens yellow eye beans, which Whole Foods sells in their bulk bins and which I adore. I think they are my favorite bean; they are very tasty and so pretty! I soaked the beans for a few hours then put in my slow cooker with some liquid smoke and minced onion and garlic in some broth and cooked on high for maybe an hour and a half. Then I drained the extra broth off. I had a few slices of leftover seitan, which I chopped pretty small and fried until crispy in a cast iron skillet. I added some vegan bacon salt and onion granules to it as well as several healthy squirts of liquid smoke. Then I added this “bacony” seitan to the beans, as well as some sliced fresh jalapenos, and warmed it all up. This was topped generously with Tabasco and served over rice with the corn jalapeno casserole accompanying it.

And now for raptor news. Mark and I went to Charleston for the holidays this year and while we were there paid a visit to the Center for Birds of Prey, which was really cool and a place I will definitely be volunteering should we ever move down there. Although the guided tour included only a small portion of the center (really just a few of the outdoor education bird cages), the flight demonstration that followed was worth the admission fee. I’m ordinarily opposed to forcing animals to put on “shows” for human enjoyment, but because these are all education birds that can’t be released, I don’t have a problem with training and shows like this, because all education birds in this country are required by federal law to be used in education programs. It’s either that or be euthanized. And I don’t have a problem with the birds that can fly showing that off, especially since this is an impressive show that really sticks with people and they’ll be more apt to remember things they learned and better appreciate raptors. Plus, if any bird they attempt to train doesn’t show signs within one month that they are willing to learn to do it, they stop trying and use that bird for non-flight programs. I also think it’s actually good for raptors to have to work for their meals, which is essentially what they are doing during a flight demonstration like this. Anyway, if you are at all interested in raptors and you are in the Charleston area, I highly recommend The Center for Birds of Prey. Admission isn’t cheap, but I’m happy to donate money to causes like this and felt that the ability to photograph raptors in flight was absolutely worth the admission. Here are some pictures:

The first birds we came to on the guided tour were a pair of eagles, both amputees:

My only raptor volunteering regret is that the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia isn’t a big enough facility to house eagles, except very young ones. We have to transfer any we get to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

This is an eagle owl; I forget what kind. Eagle owls are all pretty huge though. We have a Eurasian eagle owl (as did the Center for Birds of Prey) at the Raptor Conservancy and it’s enormous.

The rest of the pictures are all from the flight demonstration.

How adorable is this Ural owl? You can see his jesses dangling from the perch. Education birds will usually have leather jesses around their legs. This is what handlers grab onto with their gloves when holding these birds (I know because I get to do this!). When you aren’t doing a flight demonstration (which is not something we do at the Raptor Conservancy), the jesses are attached to a lead whenever the bird is out of its cage.

He’s just been given the signal (he’s prompted with food) to leave that perch and fly to another, and thus he is about to take off:

Because owls are nocturnal, most people very rarely get to see them fly, which is a shame because owls in flight are really amazing. For one thing, they are totally silent.

I never really expected to see a vulture in a flight demonstration, but they had one! This one is for Jes.

Did you know that there is controversy over where to classify New World vultures (like this black vulture) in the animal kingdom? They used to be linked to falcons but genetic testing in the last 20 years or so put them closer to storks. We don’t admit vultures at the Raptor Conservancy. The Center for Birds of Prey, on the other hand, is way into vultures: the bulk of the “tour” was letting us watch them feed the local wild vultures with the scraps their patients refused to eat.

This is some sort of falcon; note he is wearing a radio device on his back. If he flies away during the flight demonstration, this device is how the Center will locate him and bring him home to safety. Remember these are education birds so they have been deemed unable to survive on their own, so catching them if they escape is important for their survival. (I suspect a lot of the birds they use for flight demonstrations are human imprints.)

Here the falcon is on the ground hiding his “prey” of ground beef behind his wings.

Kites seem to be lesser known raptors, at least in this area, but they are neat birds. We don’t have any at the raptor center right now and I don’t think we see too many. But they are fun to watch fly and this guy was clearly loving the opportunity to soar around for a bit on this very clear, beautiful day.

I have yet more raptor pics – we saw a few wild raptors at various parks while we were in Charleston, but I shall save those for another day.

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Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

My favorite stand at the farmers market always has cippollini onions with a sign next to them saying, “these are great roasted!” and every single week I’m suckered into buying them by that sign because I LOVE roasted onions. I made this with potatoes last night, but I wish I’d tossed a couple of chopped carrots in there as well because roasted carrots are also totally awesome and my plate would have been that much more colorful.

Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

1 lb cippollini onions, peeled
1 lb other root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, chopped
a couple springs fresh rosemary
olive oil
white baslamic vinegar
flaked salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the onions and chopped vegetables in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough to touch. Place on a pan or in a cooking dish large enough to arrange in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon or so) and about a tablespoon of the white balsamic, using your hands to coat every piece. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Cover the pan or dish with aluminum foil and roast for half an hour. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are all soft. Drizzle with additional basalmic if so desired.

The brown blob on my plate is barbecued seitan, using a riff on Vegan Dad’s lunch meat. YES, I AM OBSESSED WITH AVOCADOS.

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather in Northern Virginia has been GLORIOUS. I finally got around to getting an annual pass for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (there is normally a $2 honor system entrance fee) since I’m there all the time. I was very easily talked into joining the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, which meant I paid $15 for a membership and got $5 off my annual pass, meaning I spent $10 more than planned in order to earn the privilege of doing things like picking up trash! I josh. Although really that’s one of the things I get to do as a “friend” of the refuges (Occoquan Bay is one of three refuges in a complex of three within a few miles of each other, although currently one of them is only accessible by kayak). I must be very easy to read because the volunteer making the sale remarked that as a “friend” I’d have occasional access to areas not open to the public (which, honestly, is about 80% of the refuge, and I’d give myself about a 4 out of 10 on ability to obey those rules). And really I do want to get more involved with the refuges so had I known about the organization, I’d have joined a long time ago. I want to do things like count species for them.

ANYWAY, the weather’s been about a 12 out of 10 all week and it’s the last few days I’ll be able to get into the refuge past 5 p.m., so Wednesday night I was down there again tromping around.

This is the entrance road. The main parking lot is in the middle of the refuge so I’m headed there. The sign says, “Welcome to Your National Wildlife Refuge System,” which always makes me think MINE MINE MINE!

Apparently the refuge’s beaches used to be a tourist attraction until the ’40s, after which the army bought it and used it as a research station until the ’90s, at which time US Fish and Wildlife bought it and allowed nature to reclaim most of it. Remnants of the army installation remain pretty much only in the form of the roads which now form the hiking paths. This is Easy Road, with the sun setting behind me as I hike east:

And this was taken just a little further down Easy Road, but turned around and facing away from the sun:

I’m not really sure where the boundaries of the different water bodies are, but this is probably right about where Belmont and Occoquan Bays merge. OBNWR is located at the intersection of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers.

I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I want to be at OBNWR around sunset is because I REALLY want a good picture of a fox and sunset or sunrise will be my best bet. And I see one maybe one out of every three times I go around sunset. But I NEVER get the picture. THEY ARE SO QUICK! (And always jumping over lazy dogs!) It started getting dark fast after I took those sunset pics over the bay(s), so I had to trot back rather quickly to my car, which as I said was parked in the middle of the refuge. So I was trot trot trotting, turned a corner, and found myself face to face with a beautiful red fox, startling both of us. He was actually too close to me! Too close for my 400mm lens to focus on him! Damn it! Here he is running away from me!

To be even more honest: although I want a fox picture bad, I also don’t want one, because I like having a goal. I wanted a turkey picture bad and now I see turkeys all the time and I’m all, “ho hum, another turkey”. (I’m also all, “Ho Ho Ho, Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?“, one of the three best Christmas songs ever!)

In personal news, yesterday it dawned on me that I might be a hippie, or rather, that other people probably consider me a hippie. I’m not really one for labels. When I wore a lot of black and danced to anything by Depeche Commode, I never once called myself a goth. But I went to a new person for a haircut last night and had the following exchange:

Hair stylist: How often do you wash your hair?
Me: Rarely.
Hair stylist: What do you wash it with?
Me: Some handmade shampoo bar I got from etsy.
Hair stylist: What styling products do you use?
Me: The gel I scrape from inside the leaves of my aloe plant.

I mean, to me, all that sounds perfectly normal. Everything I do seems very normal. But even *I* walked away from that conversation thinking I might be a goddamn hippie. In discussing what sort of cut I wanted, he asked what styling methods I use and I had to confess that the only hair dryer I own is my convertible car. He did his best not to look mortified, but he did suggest about five times that I try switching to a volumizing shampoo. His parting words to me were: “VOLUMIZING MOUSSE!”.

Well, that was probably TMI, so I’m going to go now and don some love beads, switch on the black light, burn some incense, douse myself in patchouli (crap, I have a bar of patchouli soap in my shower; if I wanted to avoid this hippie label I’m not faring very well here), crank up In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (hmm, not only do I own In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, probably half of my music is from the ’60s – it’s getting harder to run from this label), drop some acid, and ruminate on how the man is bringing me down.

I don’t know if this picture makes me a hippie but it is one of the more normal outfits I wore in college. It probably just makes me weird.

In the immortal words of Mark E. Smith:

You don’t have to be strange to be strange. You don’t have to be weird to be weird.

Edited to add: I just learned that Mark E. Smith is on twitter and his tweets are just about what I expected, which is to say, hilarious.

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British Pickled Onions

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I love pickles of all sorts. My favorite food right now is British-style pickled onions, which were inspired by the pints of mixed pearl onions my favorite farmers market farmer offers:

The pickles feature one of my favorite vinegars (well, I pretty much love all vinegars): malt vinegar.

I pretty much followed this recipe, although I was not very precise when measuring. These are excellent; the only problem is waiting a month to eat them!

British Pickled Onions

3 pints pearl onions
1/4 cup salt
2 cups malt vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole allspice (for my first batch, I only had ground allspice, which worked fine)
large pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf

Peel the onions. To do this, I first trim both the top and bottom, though you could just trim the root off. Place the onions in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, and let boil for 2 minutes, then drain them. They will slip right out of their peels.

Dissolve the salt into enough water to cover the peeled onions, in a bowl large enough to hold them. Add the onions and cover with a plate that fits into the bowl in order to keep them submerged. Let sit for 2 days.

Meanwhile, bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Drain the onions and place them in a sterilized jar. Mine fit in a quart canning jar. Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over them. Refrigerate for one month.

Sooooo good!

The small jar above contains the onions I’m eating now. The jar below has another two weeks to cure.

Also in my refrigerator are some balsamic pickled onions, but I’m only 5 weeks into the 8 week waiting time for these. Look how dark they are!

Mmmm!

And now for some outtakes from the above photo session:

They’re so nosy! I was thinking that I still don’t have any interesting pictures to show you, but it’s chilly here today and so when I settled into my chair to process the onion pictures and compose this post, I grabbed a blanket. Within 10 seconds of spreading the blanket on my lap, this happened:

I had to use my cell phone for the pictures and they are inexplicably terrible, but yes, I am attempting to write this post on my laptop while two cats are hogging my lap. Of course I love it.

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Chestnut-stuffed Peppers; Cucumber & Radish Salad

My favorite farmers at the market now have chestnuts. I’ve bought fresh chestnuts before and I recall them being a huge pain, although curiously I don’t recall much else about them. Nonetheless I was of course compelled to purchase a pint of them.

They’re still a huge pain.

I wanted to do something savory with them so I got the idea to use them in stuffed peppers. Here’s what I did.

Chestnut-stuffed Peppers

1/2 pint fresh chestnuts
1/4 large onion or 1/2 smaller onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp red wine
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 cup vegan broth
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
salt
2 long sweet peppers
vegan cheese (optional), for topping

Here are my chestnuts. I peeled the whole pint but only used half of them in this recipe. I’ll roast the other half later.

Cut an “x” in each chestnut. I used a paring knife and had to be a bit stabby with it. It’s probably very easy to cut yourself when preparing chestnuts. It requires a bit more effort than doing the same thing to tomatoes you want to peel.

Put the chestnuts in some water, then bring it to a boil.

Boil the chestnuts for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat off but leave them in the pot. They are easier to peel when they are warm, so scoop out a few at a time and leave the rest in the water as you peel them. The shells will likely have started to open at your “x”.

Use your fingers and/or paring knife to remove the shell. The skin almost always comes off in the shell; sometimes you’ll have to rub it off. This one looks disconcertingly like a chocolate candy to me.

I’ll be honest, peeling chestnuts is a real bore and took forever.

At long last, they were done.

Roughly chop them.

Put some oil in a small skillet and add the diced onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the garlic.

Add the chestnuts and cook another few minutes.

Add the wine, using it to deglaze the pan …

… then add the sage, broth, and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, and simmer until the chestnuts are soft. I left mine for 40 minutes while I went to exercise. Stir in the rice.

Pretty peppers.

Cut them in half lengthwise.

Remove the seeds.

Stuff 1/4 of the mixture into each half.

Optionally top with vegan cheese. I used a small bit of Daiya mozzarella and a generous sprinkle of Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix.

Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. I used my toaster oven, which worked great. Here it is finished. This was okay, but I wouldn’t say it was worth the effort of the chestnut peeling.

Cucumber and Radish Salad

2 pickling cucumbers, or 1 regular cucumber
3-4 large radishes
1/4 large or 1/2 smaller onion
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
3 springs dill, chopped (or just pull the fronds off)

Thinly slice the cucumbers and radishes; a mandoline is preferred for this task. Also very thinly slice the onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Toss everything together. Preferably put it in a bowl with a sealing lid. Refrigerate for at least an hour, occasionally shaking and/or flipping the bowl over if it has a sealable lid.

And here it is finished. I make variations of this frequently during the summer so there was no surprise here. It was a good choice to accompany this meal because chestnuts are a bit sweet, and I also served sweet corn on the cob, and this was a tangy, refreshing contrast.

In kitty news, Gomez and Torticia recently went in for their annual exams. I love taking them to the vet because they are not Tigger. Tigger hated hated HATED the vet. There are some vet techs out there who actually refused to be in the same room as him, and he left more than one doctor bruised and bloodied in his wake. In fact, it was generally a bloodbath and I’d have to walk out in shame. He was a TERROR. These two little sweet darlings, on the other hand, are SO GOOD! They react quite differently from each other, however. Torticia looks at the whole experience as one fun adventure and makes herself right at home, whereas Gomez rather quivers in fear the whole time.

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet:

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet (look at that scowl!):

I’ve zoomed in and enhanced this photo so you can see Torticia’s extremely cute “vanilla” toe. LOVE that the vanilla toe has a pink paw pad and the chocolate toes have brown pads!

Silly cats. Anyway, everyone oohed and aahed over their beauty, sweetness, and marvelously soft and silky coats. I love that no one who sees them can resist petting them. They are in optimal health, although little miss Fatso needs to shed some pounds. Gomez forgot his ordeal within two seconds of returning home. (Torticia, world’s most agreeable cat, couldn’t have cared less if I’d packed her back up and driven her back there a second time.)

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Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince

I guess you could say today has been a typical Saturday. It’s just about 7 p.m. and here is what I’ve done today:

  • Went to a national wildlife refuge to take pictures
  • Dropped some donations off at a thrift store
  • Went to the library
  • Went to the farmers market
  • Sliced and prepared 7 trays worth of fruits and vegetables to be dehydrated
  • Cleaned the old seasoning off of two cast iron skillets
  • Re-seasoned two cast iron skillets
  • Pruned the bushes and pulled the creeping vines off our windows
  • Peeled and prepared a brine for 2 pints of pearl onions (to be pickled in balsamic vinegar tomorrow through the next two months)
  • Made hot sauce from the chiles I’ve been fermenting for the last week
  • Edited photos from the wildlife refuge
  • Went to a national park to take pictures
  • Edited photos from the national park
  • Found a recipe to play with while trying a new vegetable: bitter melon
  • Wrote a blog post about bitter melon

I need a nap. Anyway, yes: bitter melon. I’ve seen it referred to in recipes, usually Indian, so I’ve long been familiar with the idea of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever purchased one. But one of the farmers at my farmers market was selling them and you know I can’t pass that by. I intended at first to use it in an Indian recipe – I even warned Mark about it (he claims he doesn’t like Indian food, although he actually does) – but I’m out of a few Indian spices and need to get to the Indian grocery, so I decided to go in a Chinese direction instead. After some googling, I decided to veganize and adapt this recipe on Serious Eats. Here’s the outcome:

Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince
I don’t know why I turn into a Brit or Australian when referring to the product Americans call ground beef (or ground pork, or ground whatever), but I do.

8 oz bitter melon
4 oz vegan mince (ground “meat”)
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup shaoxing wine, divided
3 Tbsp fermented black beans (available in Asian grocery stores; either dried or in a paste/jar is okay)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp garlic chili paste or plain chili paste
2 tsp black vinegar

So if you’ve never had it, here’s the deal with bitter melon. It looks like this:

It doesn’t look like any Western vegetable I can think of, but it’s related to cucumbers and cooks like summer squash. To prepare it, all you do is cut it in half length-wise …

… and then scoop the seeds out.

For this dish, and most others unless you are stuffing it, you’ll then slice it into half-circles and optionally chop it.

It cooks in about the same time squash does and has a similar texture. It’s not at all like a melon, but it is very, VERY bitter. Also, Mark insists it looks like squid tentacles. I tend to fall into raptures over any new vegetable I come across, but bitter melon is going to have to do some serious work to win me over. I tasted a very small bit before cooking it and quickly realized I’d better make Backup Dinner in addition to Experimental Dinner, so I chopped a red bell pepper and a head of broccoli. I used an entire 14-oz package of Tofurky mince, but used maybe a third of it with the bitter melon, which is why I called for 4 oz above. I also only used a third of the sauce in the bitter melon dish (although I did NOT adjust the measurements above for the sauce). I used the remainder of the mince and the sauce to make a broccoli/pepper/mince stir fry. I’m going to power on and give you the recipe, though, because you might like bitter melon more than I do (although I do not recommend you invite a bunch of people over and serve them a main dish of bitter melon without knowing what it tastes like).

Put the mince in a bowl and add the ginger and half the Shaoxing wine. Shaoxing wine, by the way, is Chinese rice wine. You can sub sake or dry sherry. Mix everything together, then set aside.

Fetch your fermented black beans. Now this is a staple you should keep on hand. They often come in a paste-like consistency, in a jar, but you can also buy them dried, which is what I usually do because they keep longer that way.

Measure them out and put them in a small bowl.

Add the rest of the Shaoxing wine, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, chili paste, and black vinegar.

Heat some oil in a wok or skillet over medium high heat, then add the bitter melon.

Stir fry for a minute or two, then add the mince. Stir fry until the bitter melon is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce and combine well.

Serve with rice.

Here it is with the backup dinner I fortunately made. I actually ate nearly all of the bitter melon dish, so I guess I didn’t detest it, but I don’t think I’m going to rush up to bitter melons at the farmers market with the unadulterated glee with which I attack, say, romanesco. I think Mark put 1 mm of bitter melon (a.k.a. squid tentacle) on his tongue, spit it out, and that was the end of bitter melon for him. However, the sauce is good and Mark really enjoyed Backup Dinner. He informed me it had a “good taste,” which he “assumed [I] was going for.” I agreed: yes, I usually do go for “good taste” when cooking. It turns out “good taste” to Mark means “complex, with different layers of flavor.” In this meal, Mark tasted salty, sweet, spicy, and … bitter. It took him a while to come up with the word “bitter”, but I thought it was interesting because I never told him the squid tentacles were really called “bitter melon” because I knew there was no way in hell he’d eat something called “bitter melon”. Yet he was gushing about how much he loves “bitter tastes”, even though “most people don’t”. SO HE SHOULD HAVE LOVED THE BITTER MELON, NO? Anyway, in conclusion, bitter melon is very … interesting.

In other news, today was largely a day of photography, and it follows that you will be subjected to pictures. No animals today; I didn’t get any good animals shots at the wildlife refuge this morning. But Great Falls, on the Potomac, was looking mighty spectacular today. I narrowly avoided a storm, but was rewarded with great light. These look much better in high-res, so if you are so inclined, you can click on them for the full-size version.

From Overlook 2:

Looking in the opposite direction, after the falls:

If you look carefully, you can see kayakers:

From Overlook 3, at a pretty wide angle:

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Stuffed Globe Zucchini, and RIP Grandmother

So, my grandmother passed away on June 7. I didn’t mention it earlier because I was trying to think of a good food-related tribute to her. The problem is, although she liked to cook when I was younger and I always looked forward to special treats like roast beef when we visited (yes, I liked meat when I was little; I liked everything), it’s been really hot here and I just haven’t been in the mood to make some spectacular seitan roast.

But then I realized that seitan roast wasn’t really the right thing anyway. The one food that always makes me think of Grandmother is butternut squash. I lived with Grandmother for my first two years of college because her house was much closer to campus than the parental homestead. Honestly, it wasn’t a great arrangement: I was too wild for her and she was too restrictive for me. I think everyone was a lot happier when I moved into an apartment with a friend. But there were some high points in there. For example, although she’d never really had to cook regularly for a vegetarian before that time, she never once hassled me about my diet and instead went out of her way to buy me fresh vegetables and when she found things she hadn’t used before, she learned how to cook them, just for me. In particular I recall that the first time I ever had butternut squash was when she cut one in half, roasted it, and topped it with butter and a little brown sugar. I loved it! I remember, for some reason – it’s a weird thing to remember, once looking at my fingernails and noticing they looked really good and thinking to myself, “wow, I look and feel so healthy; it must be all the fresh food Grandmother is making me.” I don’t know how true that is, considering I just as often stuffed my face with pizza, french fries, and beer like any other college student, but now that I think back on it, the time I spent living with her was probably the first time I started thinking about vegetarianism from a health standpoint, and the first time I felt healthy effects from it. I never buy a butternut squash without thinking of Grandmother, and I almost always make it the same way she made it for me.

Unfortunately, butternut squash is not in season and there are none to be had. But I made something for dinner the other night that I thought was in the same spirit of things and probably similar to a dish Grandmother made for me when I lived with her. It might not be a recipe I got from her (and once she discovered the internet, she did email me tons of vegan recipes she found online), but I think it’s something she’d be happy enough to be remembered by.

Stuffed Globe Zucchini
Globe zucchini are a farmers market favorite and are ideal for stuffing with stuff.

2 globe zucchini
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup vegan sausage, crumbled
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
spaghetti sauce (or use tomato sauce and add some seasonings of your choice)

Another reason this meal had a grandmotherly feel to it was it was very frugal, and having lived through the Depression, Grandmother was a fairly frugal person. It took me no time at all to assemble because the rice and sausage were left over from the night before and the spaghetti sauce was part of a small bit I found in my freezer, which I removed to make room for a large May Wah shipment I ordered on a whim when they sent me an email about a sale. So to make the filling all I did was mix everything together with the chopped insides of the zucchini. But I’ll describe the steps as if I were making it from scratch.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a small bit of oil in a skillet and brown the sausage and onion. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two, then stir in the rice and cook another minute or so. Finally, stir in the spaghetti sauce. Set aside.

Slice the top off each zucchini, then use a knife or a serrated grapefruit spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a medium-thick wall all around. Chop up the “guts” you removed and add about half of it to the rice mixture. (You can save the other half for another use.) Spoon some of the rice mixture into each zucchini, trying to compact it a little bit. You can mound it up a bit as well.

Bake for about 45 minutes, then remove and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. I baked mine in the toaster oven, which was a perfect fit and didn’t heat up the kitchen. Since the tops of the zucchinis were so close to the top of the toaster oven, though, I covered them lightly with aluminum foil to prevent scorching.

I served it with a couple of vegan “drumsticks”, just because the May Wah shipment had arrived and I figured I’d better get started on eating it.

I asked my mother to send me some pictures of me and Grandmother together. She sent me a bunch but I liked this one because Grandmother has a cat on her lap. My love of cats was directly inherited from my mother, who inherited it from her mother. That side of the family has always grown up with cats, and in particular, Siamese cats. (Which I think Jes will like.) The handsome man is my grandfather, whom I called Bobby in imitation of my Grandmother (toddler Renae liked the sound of the word “Bobby”), and who died way too young.

I was struck that almost half of the pictures Mom sent were pictures of Grandmother reading to a little Renae.

I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a totally awesome kitten shirt in this picture.

No wonder I’m a bookworm!

Another thing that stands out about my grandmother is she was always on the forefront of new technology. She was the first person I knew to get cable television and we’d all crowd around her set and watch MTV when it was in its infancy. I’m not old enough that electric typewriters were a “new technology”, but I had a weird typing obsession as a kid so she taught me how to touch type and bought me an electric typewriter. Because I was the type of child who asked for a typewriter. While we had a standard Atari game console, Grandmother had an Atari computer. I was online before just about everyone I knew, but my grandmother’s was probably the second or third email address I ever sent email to. One thing she didn’t seem to believe in was a paperless society, because she has binders full of printouts of every single web page I’ve ever had, most of which are just embarrassing. I was flipping through one such binder one of the last times I was at her house and she had printed out a review I wrote of Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend. It was a very negative review – more of a rant, really – but still I was wondering why in the world she’d want to read, let alone print out and preserve for posterity, such a thing. The reason is, her granddaughter wrote it; that’s the only reason she needed. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is she was a very progressive lady in her way. Definitely not a technophobe like some members of generations older than mine (I’m looking at you, Dad!).

Rest in peace, Grandmother. Thanks for reading to me, teaching me to type, letting me play your video games, watching MTV with me, taking me on trips to look at tiny ponies, tolerating (to some extent) me living with you, feeding me, introducing me to butternut squash and a myriad of fresh vegetables, reading my websites, sending me email, and the very Grandmother-like binder I have full of vegan recipes you found online and emailed me after I told you I’d gone vegan and what that meant. Many of those recipes were the very first vegan dishes I ever cooked, in fact, the first real cooking I did. So there’s a little of you in I Eat Food.

In other news, Mark and I were unluckily caught in the derecho Friday night. I was driving on I95 South, coming home from Baltimore and watching what we thought was just heat lightning constantly light up the sky, when without a shred of warning, a sudden hurricane-force wind pushed our Jeep over into another lane. Fortunately no one else was there, but it was scary. So I pulled off into a parking lot away from trees and we sat it out and watched it. I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures. News radio warned us of complete and utter mayhem, with millions of power outages, thousands of downed trees, accidents, and other travel nightmares, but although it was very, very, very dark, once we got back on the highway, our drive was relatively easy. Luck wasn’t with those on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway, but for us on the outer loop there were only a couple minor disturbances. And although it looked very much like we would be coming home to a dark house with no A/C during this record-breaking heatwave, we were again extremely lucky to have power once we finally made it home. So we are feeling very fortunate. Most of our neighbors are not as lucky. In fact, there is no power or water at the raccoon sanctuary, so let me tell you: today was fun. I’m actually heading back there now to take the raccoons more bottled water from our house, as well as some laundry I did for them. These are some wild raccoons that were restless in the heat around high noon today:

Raccoons usually come out at night, but they will make appearances during the day: it does NOT mean they are rabid. (That’s today’s Raccoon Fun Fact!)

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Garlic Scape Pesto, Roasted Purple Cauliflower, and nourriture à Nice

Just so you don’t think there will never be anything but vacation and animal pictures on this blog, first a couple sort-of recipes. Last weekend at the farmers market, in addition to my normal basket full of stuff, I scored both a beautiful purple cauliflower …

… and some garlic scapes. This is the first time I’ve ever found garlic scapes at the market! (I have bought them in Asian grocery stores, however.)

There aren’t any new farmers this year but the market seems better than last year; the farmers seem to have a wider variety of vegetables. Which is so very welcome, because believe me, after attending the farmers market in Nice, I was bracing for a big letdown once I got home and went to my own market, even if I had been missing it dearly all winter.

The cauliflower, I just cut up into florets, drizzled some olive oil and fresh lemon juice over them, and sprinkled them with some sel de provence I got in Nice (by the way, I’m going to say “Nice” about a million times in this post; I LOVED Nice) …

… then I roasted it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a while – maybe half an hour? Until it was done. The magenta coloring on some stalks is from the lemon juice.

The garlic scapes I roughly chopped …

… then I put them in the VitaMix (a food processor would work, of course) with about 1/3 cup cashews (the only nuts I had in the house; I’d have used pine nuts or walnuts if I’d had them), 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, a little salt, a bit of lemon juice, and 1/2 cup olive oil …

… and processed until smooth.

I took some whole baby potatoes (also from the farmers market) and boiled them for about 5 minutes, then drained the water and banged them around in the pan a bit (a tip I read in another blog somewhere but I don’t remember where), then put them in a baker and drizzled with a bit of olive oil and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.

Then I took them out and stirred in some of the pesto, then returned them to the oven and baked another 10 minutes or so.

I served both with a rice and lentil pilaf, into which I stirred leftover pizza toppings from the night before, which included spinach, caramelized onions, and garlicky sun-dried tomatoes (which I’d made as a take on some amazing sun-dried tomatoes we bought in Nice.

I got more garlic scapes at the market this weekend – not one but two vendors were selling them! What are your favorite ways of using them? I’d love to hear. I’m thinking about pickling some.

Now, Nice Nice Nice. Nice is soooo nice. After a week in Paris, we hopped on a train to Nice, on which we met up with Brad and April, who you’ll recognize as our fabulous hosts in Amsterdam from prior posts and who had come to join us in splendid Nice. Situated in the French Riviera and very close to Italy, Nice has a huge Italian influence. As it’s right on the Mediterranean Sea, many of the restaurants predominately feature seafood. Neither seafood restaurants nor traditional French restaurants cater very well to vegans, but the good news is the heavy Italian influence means pasta abounds, and every Nicean restaurant we visited had a vegan pasta-and-tomato-sauce dish. Mark and I ate a lot of pasta in Nice, to the point of getting a little tired of it, although somehow we managed to go to various restaurants in such an order that the pasta-and-tomato-sauce dish in each one was better than the last, which helped.

Our first night we unloaded our bags in our terrible hotel, then walked to the boardwalk and wandered until we found a reasonably priced beachfront restaurant with outdoor seating and a pasta alla pomodoro on the menu. This was easy to find. After a long day of travel, with a bottle of wine, this simple meal was just right.

I’m a terrible food blogger and didn’t manage to record the names of any of the restaurants we visited in Nice…although you’ll find similar dishes anywhere you stop. Another dinner was in old town Nice (Vieux Nice), in one of the restaurants that turns the tents for the daily market into outdoor seating in the evening. Mark got the linguine with vegetables, which was really good.

And I got the risotto, which was made with olive oil and no cheese, to my surprise! It had mushrooms in it, which I hate, but they were easy enough to eat around and I was just so happy to be able to order risotto that I didn’t care. In fact, on very rare occasions, I am able to eat mushrooms without gagging, and I believe this risotto may have been one of those exceptions.

We found ourselves in Monaco one day (it’s strange how these things happen over there; you wander off and suddenly you’re in another country), where food seemed to be a bit limited, but soon another Italianesque restaurant saved the day and Mark and I got penne all’arribiata, which was surprisingly delicious. Well, I always think penne all’arribiata is delicious, but I was surprised by how delicious I found it after eating Italian food for several days in a row. Love the huge branch of rosemary it came with!

Brad and April had pizza in Monaco (you can see a bit of April’s in the picture above, and in fact, if you look really hard, you can see a bit of Carrie the poodle as well!) and I’ll be honest, I was quite jealous. It’s rare I’ll look enviously at someone’s non-vegan meal because meat and – it’s true – cheese gross me out. But pizza done right (I’m not talking about Dominos pizza, but GOOD pizza) is something I will covet. So the next day in Eze (oh, beautiful, beautiful Eze), when we stopped for lunch in a lovely outdoor cafe at the top of the hill, amongst the medieval ruins, I worked up the nerve to ask the waiter if it was at all possible to get the roasted vegetable pizza without the cheese, and guess what! He didn’t think it was a crazy request at all! He just said “certainly!” I would have preferred a “real” pizza crust (this was one kinda crunchy like toast), but IT WAS PIZZA AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.

I accompanied my pizza with a panache, which is apparently the French version of what I would call a shandy: lemonade + beer, where lemonade = Sprite-like beverage, as in British-English, not American lemonade. Refreshing!

If you are vegan and thinking by now that the French Riviera must be really boring to eat in – pasta, pasta, and more pasta, unless you work up the nerve to ask for cheeseless pizza – well, rest assured that like any other city, Nice has ethnic restaurants that will often have vegetarian options. For example, we found a Chinese restaurant that had several vegetarian dishes, including this Tofu Piquante …

… and sauteed noodles with legumes.

We also went to an Indian restaurant, which was quite good, but the pictures I took were blurry, probably because I was exhausted and starving at the time. But just know you’ll do fine as a vegan in Nice. You might have to pass more restaurants by than you would in, say, L.A., but there are plenty of options. It might be harder to be vegan AND gluten-free as a lot of those options are pasta-related, but I think gluten-free in general is probably harder in much of Europe than it is here in the States.

Nice and Eze were so incredibly beautiful I am going to have to do a final vacation post with a few breath-taking photos later this week, but I’ll finish up this food-related post with a bit about the market, and a traditional Nice snack that is – believe it or not! – vegan. The views were enough to make me want to move to Nice, but attending the market was what really put me over the edge. The open air market operates all morning six days a week (on Monday it is replaced with a flea market), in the old section of the city. At one end, there are many stalls with flowers, although their perfumes were a bit overwhelming and drove poor Mark out. Then you come to several stalls selling dried lavender in just about any form you can imagine, soaps, and some touristy-type things. Then there are a couple of stalls with an amazing array of bulk spices. This is a stall full of dried peppers and other chile-related products.

Finally you get to the produce. It’s all gorgeous. We bought some cherries and wandered around the market eating them and I’m pretty sure they were the best cherries I’ve ever had.

Nestled amongst the produce stalls is a socca station, where a socca-making lady is kept extremely busy. Socca is a Nice specialty made from chickpea flour and it’s generally vegan. I had to stand in line for quite some time to get some at the market (though the market is not the only place to get it). From my place in line, I watched a couple of batches being made. The final portion of this batch was sold before it was my turn.

Fortunately, she whisked up another batch and poured it onto the large cooking tray (under which there is a fire), then drizzled it with olive oil.

When it was finally my turn, I ordered the last three pieces from the batch above, to share with Mark, Brad, and April. Before being cut up, it was sprinkled with ground black pepper, which, combined with the texture, led me to think of the white part of fried eggs when I was eating it; I suppose my mother used to put ground pepper on our sunny side-up eggs when I was a kid. Socca was really good. I think Mark would like me to make it at home, but although I probably will try David Lebowitz’s recipe (linked to above) I think it’s one of those things that you’ve really got to get on location. If you go to Nice, it’s a must-try.

Oh, Nice. I miss you so. Here’s a teaser for what will be my final vacation post. One day I would like this to be home, not a vacation!

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