Saag

I started this post – which isn’t even very long – three days ago and I’m only now finding the time to finish it. What’s more, I ate this dinner a week ago! I’ve always written up and published posts the same day as I’ve eaten the meal in the past. Unfortunately, that’s how busy I’ve been lately. The good news is that after a slump of a couple of months, I’m getting excited about cooking again so you should be seeing more from me. Of course, on the other hand, it’s about to be baby wildlife season which means the small amount of free time I have now is about to go away. But there’s good news there too because baby wildlife season means tons of pictures of baby raccoons – and maybe, JUST MAYBE (cross your fingers!), baby skunks – to share.

Enough blabber. On with the food. One of my favorite Indian dishes is saag, or spinach and mustard greens, but it’s often made with paneer, which is cheese, in restaurants, which means I can’t have it. What’s a girl to do but make it at home, right? Here’s what I did.

Saag

All the “1/2 tsp”s below? Yeah, I just wrote “1/2 tsp” as a guess. I didn’t really measure any of the spices.

10 oz spinach, chopped fairly well
1 small bunch mustard greens, chopped fairly well
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 heaping Tbsp grated garlic
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 dried chili peppers, lightly crumbled, or 1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp asofoetida
dollop vegan plain yogurt or vegan sour cream
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a large pot or skillet (a wok would work well) over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and stir a bit. When they start to pop, turn the heat down and add the fenugreek and cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until the fenugreek is beginning to brown, then add the turmeric and asofoetida, then the onions, chilis, garlic, and ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the greens, in batches if you have to, letting some cook down a bit before adding another handful. Add a little bit of water if seems a little dry. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until the greens are soft. Salt to taste. Stir in a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (this is optional but adds a little bit of creamy tang that you’re not getting from the paneer that is so often added to this dish).

Here is the saag with some perfectly cooked basmati rice (thank you, rice cooker!).

Also served with chana masala and some naan. Yummy and makes for a good lunch the next day or two.

I came home well after dark most nights this week. Leaving work after the sun has set is always depressing to me, but it gets better when I come home and see this:

The fat one is Torticia and the prim one is Gomez. 🙂

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Stuffed Butternut Squash

Wow, it actually feels a bit foreign to be writing this post. That means it’s been too long! I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks because I don’t like to make posts just to make them and I haven’t made anything worth talking about. But maybe I should start ensuring I make something post-worthy at least once a week. Here is what I made for dinner last night. It wasn’t perfect, but I suppose it’s worth a post.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash
1 small onion or 1/2 medium to large onion, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 link vegan sausage
1 cup mixed long grain/wild rice, uncooked

Slice the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, place the halves face down on a pan, and place in a 400-degree oven. Cook until soft, about 30-40 minutes. I did this in my toaster oven which just perfectly fits two butternut squash halves.

Meanwhile, cook the rice according to package instructions.

Saute the onion, celery, and “sausage” in some olive oil until lightly browned.

Here are my cooked squash halves. The one is scored where I was testing it for done-ness.

Scoop out the insides, leaving a bit remaining.

Chop up the insides.

Combine the rice and the squash insides with the sausage mixture.

Stuff the mixture into each of the squash halves, packing it down.

If desired, sprinkle with some vegan cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes.

This was tasty, but it really needed a binder. It felt like it was sticking together fairly well before I cooked it, but baking it dried it out and the filling got crumbly. So next time I’ll use an egg replacer or bread crumbs, or maybe mix in that cheese instead of sprinkling on top. And also maybe cover the squash up with foil.

And now, who’s a handsome cat???

The big news in these parts is Mark gave me my Valentine’s Day present early and IT’S A 2-WEEK TRIP TO FRANCE AND AMSTERDAM!!! We’re going in May. I’m so excited! We went to Amsterdam for a few days on our honeymoon …

… but we’ve never been to France. Suggestions of things to see, do, and/or eat in either place are very welcome! Also accepting suggestions of novels that take place in France and/or Amsterdam that I can read in the meantime.

I’ve heard Paris isn’t very vegan-friendly, so I’m sure Marseille will be even less so (we’re going to both cities). Fortunately we love bread and many breads, including the ubiquitous baguette, are vegan. Also, the French tutor I hired to help me remember my five years of high school and college French just happens to be a vegetarian and she totally knew what a vegan was, so hopefully I’ll be all set in the food-rejecting department. PAS DE BOEUF! PAS D’OEUF!

I’m also heading to LA in early March and the mountains with Mark’s family this summer…a lot of travel this year! Just the way I like it!

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Chipotle Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

For dinner tonight I got the idea to combine sweet potatoes and baby kale. It seemed very autumnal. I gave the internet a half-hearted search for ideas, but didn’t come up with much. Sweet potatoes and kale are not an unheard-of pairing, but a lot of the recipes I came across were soups or stews and I was worried about overwhelming my delicate baby kale. During the search, I did find an intriguing non-kale recipe, however: Smoked Chile Scalloped Sweet Potatoes.

The only problem? I think heavy cream is gross. It’s not even the vegan thing, although obviously it’s off limits because of that. Maybe it’s because I was raised on skim milk and I don’t recall ever even having cream of any sort, but I just think heavy cream – especially in a savory recipe – is disgusting. (I also tried whole milk once – before I was vegan, of course, – and almost threw up.) I don’t even want to substitute for it; I just think the idea of putting it or anything that is remotely like it in my food is abhorrent. And heavy cream is a pretty big component of that recipe. Fortunately, my vegan sub doesn’t just make the recipe safe for those who prefer not to eat animal products, it also makes it much healthier and a lot less…gross.

I cut this back to serve two as a side dish. If you’re serving more, feel free to double it.

Chipotle Scalloped Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from The Food Network

1 medium to large sweet potato, sliced thinly
1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used hemp, and not only that, I only had 3/4 a cup left so I thinned it out with 1/4 cup water, which was even better for making this dish as little like heavy cream as possible)
1 – 2 tsp chipotle powder, depending on your heat preference
1 tsp vegan vegetarian or “chicken” bouillon
2 Tbsp Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix (you really want to have some of this stuff lying around at all times)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel and slice the sweet potato about 1/8″ thick. A mandolin is a huge help here as uniform slices will look best and also cook evenly.

See? Nice and uniform:

Whisk together the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl.

In a small baking dish, layer a row of slightly overlapping sweet potato slices.

Add additional layers until all slices are used up.

Pour the “milk” mixture over the sweet potato slices.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.

Since I wasn’t putting them together in a single dish, I just simply sauteed the baby kale in a little olive oil with garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper. This was my first time trying baby kale. It’s gorgeous.

Baby kale is every bit as awesome as I expected it to be.

I didn’t cook the sweet potatoes and baby kale together, but you can be sure I ATE them together. I’m one of those people that happily mushes everything on their plate together – I don’t understand people who have “food touching” issues – but the sweet potatoes and kale were particularly awesome together. Also served with barley pilaf from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Mark said the sweet potatoes were great; “surprisingly great”. The surprising part wasn’t that I made something great (I don’t think), it was that the sweet potatoes were spicy. And smoky. Chipotle-y! This was a really good meal.

Halloween was a couple of weeks ago, but my friend Dave just sent me this lovely photograph, which he snapped Saturday night. It’s Renae, The Happiest Zombie Ever.

Creepy? Okay, to make up for it, here’s a nice, non-creepy squirrel on our patio:

And here is a skunk who wants to come in. AND I WANT TO LET HIM IN BECAUSE HE’S AWESOME. But I’m not going to. No, I’m not. I swear. It’s wrong to invite skunks into your home. No matter how awesome they are.

Maybe he could just come in for 5 minutes?

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Vitamin Greens

It seems I’m not the only one who had never heard of vitamin greens until I found them at the farmer’s market this weekend. So I thought I would report back with some information on the greens by themselves and not in a stir-fry. Last night I simply sauteed the remainder of the greens in some olive oil with garlic and salt. The verdict? They’re great! After eating one serving, Mark said to me, “I’m going to go upstairs and get some more of those green things.” Readers, I have NEVER heard those words before. More greens for Mark?! Amazing! Like I said in my previous post, they cook up like chard. Texture-wise they are like spinach. The taste is very pleasant. I don’t know if it’s the name, but I feel extraordinarily healthy eating them. I’m excited to buy them again.

Not sure why I think this really needs a recipe, but here you go. You can just cook the stalks right up with the leafy parts.

Sauteed Vitamin Greens

1/2 bunch vitamin greens, chopped
2 tsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
salt to taste

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the garlic and salt and cook for a couple of seconds, then add the vitamin greens. Cook until they are wilted, about 5 minutes.

I scored fresh cranberry beans, also pictured, at the same stand at the market. I used this recipe. The grain is a brown rice/quinoa mix. For lunch today I had the leftover grains, some leftover refried beans, a tiny bit of the vitamin greens I had leftover, and some homemade salsa, and that was a really nice lunch.

I’m still getting to know my new camera.

But so far my favorite feature is it allows me to shoot B&W.

I feel a bit weird saying that considering all the other amazing features it has, but when I used a film camera (digital cameras being non-existent, of course) in high school and college, I used B&W film more than half the time and I’ve really missed it. Sure, I could very easily have applied a filter to any picture I shot with my old camera to make it look monochrome, but first of all, I don’t like spending much time processing my photos, and second of all, it’s just different. I LOVE that I can see a B&W picture on the LED screen after taking it, and I even love I can’t ever change it to color.

Here’s the camera I learned on, or one of them. My father and my grandfather had identical cameras in the ’70s, and I inherited my grandfather’s when he died and my father’s when he replaced his with a newer one. So I often did this thing where I hid the other camera in my pictures. It’s not particularly well hidden in this shot.

Neither one of them had a working light meter so I had to guess at every exposure. There was also no auto-focus. I’m hard core! That camera is awesome!

I found a completely ridiculous picture of myself, “hidden” camera and all, that I shall share with you because it’ll be my birthday when most of you read this and everyone should be made fun of on their birthday, right? Also, it’s relevant to this blog because I’M COOKING! Which believe me, wasn’t a common occurrence when I was in high school. It was probably Spaghetti-O’s. Need help deciding where to start making fun of it? Well, there’s the hair, obviously. That’s almost too obvious. And what am I LOOKING at? You may think I’m sharing a laugh with a friend, but the fact of the matter is this is a self-portrait. There was probably no one in the room with me but my tripod. And how unnatural do I look stirring that pot? Obviously my love of cooking has not yet taken root, although I did show inklings of it when I became a vegetarian, which I would have been when this picture was taken. I really didn’t get more sophisticated than Spaghetti-O’s too often, though. You can also make fun of the wallpaper, but I wasn’t responsible for that; that was all my parents. Anyway, I’m sorry it’s so small, but it’s my birthday gift to you:

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Stir Fry with Tofu and Vitamin Greens

I love finding new vegetables. Yesterday’s trip to the farmer’s market yielded something called vitamin greens. The sign said they were a “mild member of the mustard family”. I wasn’t sure what to do with them but figured I couldn’t go wrong with an easy stir-fry. And I obviously didn’t go wrong because Mark claims to hate all cooked greens, but he had two servings and ate up all the greens in each of them. I still have half a bunch, so if anyone has any suggestions for other things to do with vitamin greens, let me know! And obviously you can substitute just about any other green in this recipe.

Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vitamin Greens

3 Tbsp dried fermented black beans
1/4 cup shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine) (can sub sherry)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 carrot, sliced
chili garlic sauce, to taste
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 lb tofu, chopped
1/2 bunch vitamin greens (or other greens)
3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 Tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water
1-2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Whisk together the vegetable broth, oyster sauce, and soy sauce in small bowl; set aside. Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl or cup; set aside. Put the fermented black beans in a small cup or bowl and add the shaoxing wine to soften them; set aside.

Chop the tofu.

Prepare all the vegetables by peeling (if necessary) and chopping.

These are the vitamin greens in all their glory:

Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add some oil. When it’s hot, add the onions and garlic and stir-fry for a minute or two.

Add the carrots and chili garlic sauce and stir-fry for another minute or two.

Add the bell pepper and again stir-fry a minute or two.

Next up the tofu:

Finally, the greens:

Stir-fry until the greens have cooked down.

Add the fermented black beans and cook for a minute or so, then add the broth mixture. Bring to a boil, then stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Top with the sliced scallions.

Serve with brown rice.

What do vitamin greens taste like? Well, I didn’t get a pure taste of it considering I hid it in a spicy stir-fry (maybe I should just cook the remainder up by themselves), but it wasn’t at all sharp or mustardy as I thought it might be as a member of the mustard family. It was definitely “mild” as stated on the sign. Really good, though. I’d say it was a bit spinach-like in flavor. They cook similar to chard. It might be a good green for trying on greens-haters, as it’s not overpowering. Mark’s getting a lot better about eating greens, but I was still worried he’d pick all the vitamin greens out of his stir-fry, however, he actually seemed to enjoy them. So vitamin greens are a huge winner in my book and I’ll be keeping an eye out for them. They tasted great and I liked the texture they had in the stir-fry. They are also apparently good in salads, which I may try tomorrow as well.

I dropped my camera this morning, heading out to the wildlife sanctuary. It only fell about a foot and it landed on carpeting, but a trip to the camera store later when I realized it was broken resulted in me finding out the lens was completely gone and the body would cost almost as much to repair as its current market value. Even though it was an entry-level dSLR, I loved it and hadn’t felt the need to upgrade, so I was kind of upset about this. It was a good camera. So, feeling sad, I went home and asked Mark if he’d bought me a birthday present yet (my birthday is this week), and when he said no sort of asked/informed him he was buying me a new camera for my birthday. So I very unexpectedly got a new camera today. What this means for you is probably an onslaught of posts, or at least a lot of pictures of my cats. Here, for example, is Torticia playing with a wax bean, which she removed from the refrigerator when I was in there getting stir-fry ingredients.

In retrospect, I should have just taken a video, which apparently I can do with my new camera. Woo!

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Two Dips

No, the title of this post does not refer to me and Mark. Nor Gomez and Torticia. No, in fact I made two dips for dinner tonight: baba ganoush and smoky herbed bean. Why? Who knows. Tonight’s dinner was all over the place. I had some eggplants from the farmers market I needed to use. I also wanted to clear out some of my dried beans because I’m expecting a shipment from Rancho Gordo next week. There were frozen falafel in the freezer. Frozen naan. More vegetables from the farmers market. I even made Mark some barbecued seitan. Somehow it all seemed to work together, though.

Baba Ganoush

2 smallish or 1 large eggplants (about 1 pound)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp tahini
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp smoked salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork.

Roast eggplant for about an hour, or until very soft, turning every 15 minutes or so.

They will have caved in on themselves.

Mince or press the garlic. This is waaaay more than you need; I was making several dishes requiring garlic at the same time.

Juice a lemon.

When the eggplant is done, let cool until it can be handled, then peel it and put it in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Process until smooth.

Makes about a cup, maybe a little more.

Smoky Herbed Bean Dip

8 oz dried white beans (such as cannellini), soaked (speed soaked is okay), or 1 can of beans
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley (a couple tablespoons fresh, minced, would be even better)
1 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp smoked pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh)

Cook beans until very soft – I used my pressure cooker. Drain beans and place in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.

Garnish with vegan “bacon” bits, and/or drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.

Here’s everything, minus Mark’s bonus barbecued seitan. I also made yellow wax beans. In retrospect, those falafel don’t make for a very appetizing photograph.

It’s hard to follow cat party, but if you don’t need the next four minutes of your life, you can watch Gomez get high, and Torticia not get high, on the ‘nip.

I want to keep you posted on Rica and Rowena Raccoon, but it is very, very, very hard to take a picture of active raccoon kits, especially with an iphone. This is the best I could do. They are waiting to be fed. Next time I’ll wait until after I feed them and they are at least a little quieter!

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Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

Mark and I recently returned from a week with his family at Folly Beach in Charleston. Apparently, while we were enjoying a week of absolutely perfect beach weather of sunny, upper 80 degree days and lower 80 degree ocean temperatures (bliss!), the Maryland and Virginia areas were suffering record-setting, scorching 100-degree days around Memorial Day – followed briskly by a cold front bringing in 50-degree nights and 70-degree days the second half of the week. Well, we’re home now and it’s back up to the upper 90s again: summer is here with a vengeance. This week has been weird because I wasn’t able to get to a farmers market over the weekend and I don’t know, I just find it difficult to buy vegetables in stores during the summer, so my refrigerator hasn’t really been stocked properly since our return. I had to go to Whole Foods out of desperation for fresh food today, and it was hot, hot, hot. I found myself looking at some heirloom tomatoes and wondering what I could make for dinner that would fit the weather and my relaxed, happy, tanned, and very warm mood. This is what I came up with:

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

1 heirloom tomato, seeded and chopped
1 (or better yet, 2) avocado, peeled and chopped
2 ears corn, cut from cob and cooked
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
1 cup whole wheat couscous
lettuce leaves, for serving/garnish

For the beans
1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked (quick soaked is okay)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 dried chili piquin, or other form of heat to your liking (optional)
1 tsp ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp tomato paste
smoked black pepper, to taste (optional)
vegan “chicken” bouillon (or other broth), to cover
or you can cook some beans (they needn’t be pintos, either) by whatever method and recipe you prefer

For the dressing
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp pickled jalapeno juice, or a vinegar you think sounds good
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 cube frozen cilantro (Trader Joe’s sells this), or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper or smoked black pepper, to taste

First, get the beans cooking. A pressure cooker is s huge help here. Place all ingredients in the pot, with the broth just covering the beans. I cooked them for six minutes in the pressure cooker, then quick-released the pressure, returned to the heat and cooked another 15 minutes or so, boiling off some of the liquid. Careful with those pressure cookers: usually I don’t care if I overcook pintos because I like them refried anyway, but for a salad you’ll want to retain a bit of a bite in the bean. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook until tender but still a bit firm.

When the beans are cooked, drain them if necessary, reserving any liquid. I had about 3/4 cup liquid.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together. Set aside for flavors to blend.

Cut the corn from the cobs and boil in water to cover for 10 minutes or until corn is tender. Drain, again reserving the cooking liquid.

To make the couscous, combine the bean cooking liquid, corn cooking liquid, and, if necessary, enough water to make 1 1/4 cups of liquid. I love it when I think to use cooking liquids for other purposes. If you aren’t using dried beans and/or fresh corn, you can use broth or water to make the couscous. Heat the liquid to boiling and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Prepare the salad: chop the tomato, avocado, and onion. Gently toss the vegetables with the beans, corn, and dressing. I use my hands.

Line each serving dish with lettuce leaves. Put some couscous on the lettuce, then top with the bean and veggie mixture. If you have it, sprinkle with just a touch of smoked salt flakes. Garnish with lime wedges, to be squeezed over the salad, and serve a hot sauce like Tabasco on the side.

Mark seemed quite impressed with the presentation of this meal. I told him it just looked nice because of the lettuce leaves, but he said it went beyond that and looked very “fancy”. I don’t know that it really looked all that fancy, but when I later asked him if he liked the way it tasted he said it tasted “like summer” and was (I was to quote him) “summertastic”. I don’t know if it’s just one of those married people things where we can read each others’ minds (it happens), or if I’m just good at making meals that say exactly what I want them to say, but “like summer” was exactly what I was going for. He also requested the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, so I know he liked it. I only had one avocado, but I think the one thing that would have improved this salad would have been a second one. I probably really should have made 1 1/2 to 2 times as much couscous for this amount of salad as well.

Our vacation was on one hand very comfortable and very normal: we spend a week at the beach with Mark’s family every year and it’s always wonderful, but on the other hand a little unusual for both Mark and me in that a) Mark didn’t touch a computer for 7 days and b) I didn’t touch my camera for nearly 7 days. We both did uncharacteristic amounts of relaxing. But here are some pelicans, also relaxing:

And here is a very cool, very old tree.

Now for a raccoon update. The bad news: Rachel Raccoon never collected two of the three babies. The good news: because I volunteer with a local wildlife organization and had been in touch with a raccoon rehabilitator about working with her even before the raccoon/attic incident, I got a crash course in feeding very hungry, very vocal baby raccoons, and then drove them to the rehabilitator myself. And Sunday I started helping the rehabilitator on what will be a regular basis, so I got to visit my babies again, and I’m going to help raise and eventually release them! They’ve been named Rica and Rowena – they are both little girls – and I’m not sure which one this is on my lap just after a feeding, but look, her eyes are open now!

Working with raccoons has been a great experience. When they are babies, they’re a lot like cats, and are very affectionate and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on Rica and Rowena’s growth over the upcoming months. I feel terrible they aren’t with their mother any more, but they’re in great hands with the rehabilitator and I intend to be the best (part-time) surrogate mother I can be, and in five months when they are old enough to be released, they’ll not only be in a great location, but right next to a county park that has special meaning to me and Mark. So that’s almost as good as their being in my yard, and really, probably safer for them in the long run. We have a LOT of wildlife around here, which I absolutely love, but we DO live in a suburban neighborhood. The park is probably nicer for them.

Finally, tomorrow will mark one year from the day we met Gomez and Torticia. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already, although at the same time I can’t imagine a life without them. We were really, really, really, really lucky: these cats are simply the most wonderful, perfect cats in the world. I can’t tell you how much I love them. As a tribute, I’ll be making a donation to the Northern Virginia SPCA this week in the same amount I paid for them last year (I’d give even more if rabies vaccinations didn’t cost a gazillion dollars, leaving me broke this month…) because I love these cats, I love the SPCA for bringing them into my life, and I want the SPCA to continue to bring other people and cats and dogs together to form bonds like I have with Gomez and Torticia.

(One of Mezzie’s nicknames is actually “Perfection”. He’s just simply perfect. He’s not just a cat, he’s the Platonic ideal of a cat.)


(I’ve mentioned before that I turn most songs into songs about Tigger. I still do; Tigger still gets sung about far more than anyone else, but Torticia has three songs. The Kinks’ Victoria is really “Torticia” (Torticia was my queen!). Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia is also really “Torticia” (Torticia, you’re breaking my heart!). But for one song, I don’t have to change the lyrics because her (nick)name is already in it: YOU’RE THE ONE FOR ME, FATTY – YOU’RE THE ONE I REALLY, REALLY LOVE!)

One last thing: if you haven’t seen it yet: Vegan Black Metal Chef. And if you liked that, Black Metal Library rockers. My day has been filled with an inordinate amount of black metal, which I don’t even like…unless it’s about vegan food or books!

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Sicilian Baked Tomatoes and Onions

Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen is probably my favorite cookbook to turn to when I want something simple but amazing, when I have fresh produce that I want to showcase. I love tofu and seitan as much as the next vegan – don’t get me wrong – but there is something very refreshing about a vegan cookbook with not a single mention of either one: it’s all “naturally vegan” recipes from the Mediterranean. When I needed to use up two tomatoes I got at the farmers market on Saturday, I thought immediately of the baked tomato recipes from this book. There are two baked tomato recipes; I made the Sicilian. I was in a quandary because I wanted to share the recipe, but didn’t want to alter its simplicity to make it enough my own. But then I found that it’s on food.com, so I guess I’ll go ahead and post it. But not without urging you strongly to check out this cookbook. It’s really good. As the author suggests in the book, I made the baked onions at the same time. The two recipes are nearly identical, so I’ve just combined them.

Sicilian Baked Tomatoes and Onions
slightly adapted from Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen

2 large tomatoes
2 medium yellow onions, peeled
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp smoked salt, or other flaked, kosher, or sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the onions.

Place onions in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes, then drain and set aside until cool enough to touch.

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, and use your finger to poke all the seeds out. Drain them as well as possible.

I also cored mine.

When the onions are cool enough to touch, cut them in half.

In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Put the tomatoes and onions into a baking dish into which they just fit.

Fill the holes of the tomatoes up with the bread crumb mixture and sprinkle some more on top. Also sprinkle the onions with the bread crumb mixture.

Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and onions.

Bake for an hour and a half (yes, really!). Let sit for a few minutes, or allow to come to room temperature, before eating.

Donna Klein suggest serving both of them together over rice or couscous (quinoa would also be good), which I’ve done before and it’s great. Tonight, though I was also having white beans and a salad, so I just served them on their own. The beans are pressure-cooked Great Northern beans, with sauted spring onions, a lot of garlic, imitation bacon bits, and sage, and a generous addition of Bryanna’s bacon salt.

This is the sort of thing I like eating when I want to feel particularly healthy! I served it all with Italian wine, and while it was cooking read some of a funny and very enjoyable Italian book.

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Russian Kale

I’m so glad the farmers markets are open again! I was so happy wandering around there on Saturday, even if not much is in season yet. (Half of the offerings seemed to be seedlings, or vegetables in progress.) I managed to fill my basket nonetheless:

One of the things I picked up was kale, but I wasn’t sure what kind of kale until I got home and did some research. It’s Russian kale, a gentler, more delicate variety.

Russian Kale

1 bunch Russian kale
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
red chili flakes, to taste
wine or broth to deglaze the pot
your favorite salt or seasoning salt, to garnish

Thinly slice the onion, and mince or press the garlic.

Wash and chop the kale.

Heat some olive oil in a pot, then add the onion …

… and saute until soft, then add the garlic and red chili flakes and cook another minute or two.

If necessary, add some white wine or broth to deglaze the pot.

Add kale …

… and cook, stirring, until wilted and cooked down a bit.

Continue to cook until the kale is soft and about a third of its original volume.

I bought Bacon Salt (the Hickory flavor is vegan) this weekend, which I thought I would try on the kale. If you don’t want to buy it, Bryanna has a recipe for it (of course she does; she has a recipe for everything!). I actually made Bryanna’s Friday night, so it’s kind of weird I found the real thing on Saturday. Anyway, it was pretty fun on the kale, but I don’t usually think vegetables need to or should taste like bacon, so by all means use your favorite regular salt, or whatever seasoning salt you like.

What’s absolutely amazing about this kale is Mark liked it. He doesn’t even know he ate kale; I guess he’ll be finding out when he reads this post. He never would have eaten if if I’d told him what it was, and in fact, I made asparagus as well figuring he wouldn’t touch the kale. When he asked what “the green stuff” was I told him it was “delicious yumminess,” which somehow convinced him to put a small amount of it on his plate. After eating the few bites he put on his plate, he excused himself while we were watching television to go upstairs and get a big helping of “the green stuff”! And he did! He went all the way up there and got a huge portion of it, all of which he ate! Russian kale, I love you!

I served this with glazed “ham”, but I can’t share the ham recipe because it started out as a disaster yesterday! I rescued it and ended up with something edible, but it was a mess at first. The glaze is the zest and juice of a tangerine, some agave nectar, champagne vinegar, and a touch of oil, whisked together, then poured over the “ham” slices, which had been studded with whole cloves. Baked at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, covered, for 45 minutes.

My little Tortellini:

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Ramp Soup

I worked from home today, partially to recover from last night‘s ridiculous commute. When I went to bed last night, I had intended to go into the office today, and so had packed a lunch, which included a bowl of some vegetable soup I’d made a pot of on Sunday night to use for weekly lunches. But when lunchtime rolled around and I was at home, I felt as if I were depriving myself of the opportunity to cook if I just heated up the soup I had packed. On the other hand, though, I was working and didn’t have time to cook. So what did I do? Made a different kind of soup, of course. There’s something wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with the soup I made, though, in fact, it was fantastic. You see, I had some ramps from last night left over, and what do I do with most leftovers? Soup!

Ramp Soup

1 lb potatoes, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 oz ramps, cleaned well, white parts chopped, green parts roughly chopped
4 cups vegan broth (I used “chicken” flavored)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
lemon wedges, for serving

Dice and chop the potatoes, celery, carrot, and ramps, and place in a soup pot. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft. Season with pepper. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. To serve, drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Here are all the awesome things about this soup:

  1. Next to no effort: a little bit of chopping, and then a little blending. In between, you can do other things. This was great for working from home: I got the satisfaction of a homemade soup, with very little interruption of my work.
  2. Fast: if you dice the potatoes small enough, and boil the water in a kettle while you chop, this can be ready in as little as 20 minutes.
  3. Fat-free: Not only did skipping sauteing the veggies save time, but there was no need to add oil.
  4. It involves ramps!
  5. It tastes great!

Really, this soup was great. I’ll make it again. I served it with a “chicken” salad sandwich, served on a Five Grain Levain roll (I try to keep a bunch of these in my freezer). I thought when I made the sandwich that it looked like a dinosaur head, but when I looked at the picture later, I thought it looked like a human skull. Either way I’m probably crazy, eh?

Other than my delicious lunch, today has been quiet. The cats are probably confused because although he’s at the office today, Mark works from home 95% of the time and I work from the office 95% of the time, so it’s unusual I’d be here and he wouldn’t. They don’t seem like they’re letting this oddity bother them much, though.

Torticia stuck her tongue out at me when I wanted her picture:

And I’m just boring Gomez:

Doesn’t he look like a bear?!?

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