appetizers

what you actually need in your kitchen / rawesome sour cream

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DSC_0032When I see dust-laden piles of paper on a desk, random crap pushed into dark corners, or tchotchkes lining a window sill, a feverish desire overcomes me. My pupils dilate, my heart whooshes blood into my eager hands, and I try my best to suppress the urge to tear through it all. Because this typically occurs in other people’s homes…and you can’t just reorganize someone else’s stuff. That would be weird. In my own space, however, I can sort and clean until I fall into a heap on the couch after deciding what to do with my old textbooks. And I can donate knick knacks with maniacal glee. Translation: miniature statues of animals, crocheted pillows with written sentiments, headlamps (really…), stationary with my name etched across in whimsical floral-accented cursive, geodes and other earthen matter, ill fitting too small clothing, key chains or lanyards, and scrub brushes painted to resemble creepy clown-faced women. I do have my fair share of bric-a-brac (aka unicorns of various shapes and sizes, perhaps a wooden cat, and yes, a faery with wire wings), but I arrange these items with an eye for minimalism, and the same holds true for my kitchen…

When you get married, you are allowed to sign up for a registry, and with this right bubbles up an insane need for useless items…because you can, and because your mother said “every wife should have one of these _____(enter unnecessary item here). Translation: a molcajete (because a regular old mixing bowl just ain’t good enough), overpriced formal china (for all those 12 person dinner parties that you never have), silver flatware (because the advent of no need to polish stainless steel is an insult to grandmothers everywhere), 12 piece knife block set (because you need 12 different knives to chop an onion), a tortilla warmer (just.stop.now.), a slate cheese board (negative. and you should stop eating cheese anyway), and a rooster shaped timer (this is also a tchotchke).

So, to help brides and grooms to be with their kitchen registries, and in fact, to anyone wanting advice on what to put in their kitchen, I have compiled a list of necessary items here.

Now that you’re armed with the tools to make you a kick-ass vegan chef, why not wow your friends with rawesome sour cream? Serve with chips and salsa for a Mexican-inspired taste explosion without the nasty dairy.

DSC_0034Rawesome Sour Cream 

1 cup raw cashews, soaked for an hour or overnight

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon onion powder

1-2 shakes of garlic powder

Large pinch of sea salt

Enough fresh water to facilitate blending (less than 1/4 cup)

Drain soaked cashews and rinse with cold water. Add them to your blender along with all of the other ingredients. Start on low variable speed and increase to high, pureeing until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Chill in refrigerator before eating. Serve with chips (I highly recommend these) or add to tacos, burritos, or anything else calling for sour cream. Makes enough for 4 unicorns celebrating cinco de mayo with their molcajete and tortilla warmer. DSC_0031

babies! / baby spinach salad with creamy cashew dill dressing

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DSC_0227Now I will talk about something that I have no business talking about: babies! The reason I don’t? Well, I don’t have a child myself, nor am I expecting one, but they’re an ever increasing familiarity in my life these days. At first, I’ll admit, babies used to scare me. Translation: they are impossibly small, warm, and they smell differently, not to mention they are mostly hairless and may cry out, poop or cry at any given moment; none of which I am equipped to prevent or stop. How is that not terrifying? But lately I have been channeling my inner, mature adult self, urging her to claim bravery in the face of the small human child. I am even brave enough to say that I want my own little hairless being, but it still makes me uneasy to even utter the words. Why? I have no idea, considering that, let’s be honest, our only real purpose on this little planet is to reproduce and secure our continuing existence and domination over other beings, especially furry ones. In fact, when I begin to mull this over I can’t believe how separated we have become from our instinctual natures and basic needs and wants. But don’t worry, I’m not going to get all philosophical on you because all you really want to know is how to make this kick ass recipe for spinach salad with creamy dressing, right?

But before I do, I need to clarify why the word “baby” even popped into my head. A brilliant and talented friend of mine recently started a farm-to-table style gourmet baby food company in Boston called Lovage (that’s an herb if you didn’t know). Her yummy blends are artfully simple and packed full of the natural brilliance of vegetables and fruits – no alterations required to be nutritional powerhouses for your small furless one. If you live in Boston or the Boston area, be sure to check out her company! Feed your baby locally sourced and locally made fresh food! Hooray! You will also find my recipe for spinach and pear salad with cashew dill dressing on her monthly newsletter, along with everything to do with preparing for and raising an eco baby, just the way mother nature intended.

DSC_0233Baby Spinach Salad with Creamy Cashew Dill Dressing

For the salad:

5 handfuls of baby spinach

3 radishes, ends removed & chopped

1 avocado, pitted & chopped

1 pear, cored & sliced

1 handful of raw walnuts, toasted

Freshly cracked black pepper & sea salt to taste

For the dressing:

1 cup raw cashews, preferably soaked overnight or for at least an hour

½ cup water

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

1 T raw coconut nectar or unrefined sweetener of choice

1 small clove of peeled garlic

2 tsp onion powder

1 small handful of fresh dill

Large pinch of sea salt

Drain and rinse soaked cashews under cold water. In a high speed blender, add all dressing ingredients. Puree on high until velvety smooth. To toast walnuts, crumble them in your hand and toss in a dry skillet over a low flame. Cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt and set aside. To assemble dish, toss salad ingredients with dressing and top with toasted walnuts. Makes enough salad for 2-4 furry unicorn babes.

Tip: use extra dressing as a dip for crudité or as a delicious spread on toasted bread and sandwiches!DSC_0223

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why I don’t like gyms / greek bean salad with tofu feta

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So I’m not really a fan of gyms. Translation: a large grey box where humans donning synthetic, dry wick clothing bounce around in place on Star Wars-ish looking machines covered in sanitary spray and old sweat. I’ve signed up at many gyms over the years, each time with a renewed sense of determination that I can and will be like the rest of the world, and find joy at the prospect of running in place inside an overheated, noisy petri dish of human sweat. But I never do. Perhaps it’s the germs, or the potential for crowds, or the sanitary spray that goes on everything, or the big guy who sweats like a beast and then doesn’t clean his machine, and it’s the only one open.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to sweat; I love the burning feeling you get in your chest that simultaneously hurts and satisfies when you reach the height of your endurance. But I can’t do that inside on a lifeless manmade object that tells me how many calories I’ve burned. I feel like a hamster on a wheel, like Sisyphus on his hill, forever compelled to roll that stupid boulder to the top only to watch it fall back down again. There’s no sense of accomplishment, no rush of excitement when the red glowing numbers on my machine flash meaningless data at me or the miniature television plays E! News, and insults women across the globe by its fascination with Kim Kardashian. In a world where we already do almost everything indoors, short of walking from our homes to our cars, how can I stuff myself into another sunless grey box?

And since it’s nearly spring, and the first green shoots of crocus have sprung from the damp, cold earth, I feel even more compelled to run outside and breathe the fresh air. I also feel like eating something crisp and refreshing. Solution? A high protein blast of Greek bean salad with tofu feta! This salad is a cinch to make and will satiate your belly long after that gloriously muddy hike with your pup. This dish would also be perfect as crudite on whole wheat toast, or as a topping for pasta. Here I’ve served the salad over a giant collard leaf, but I recommend trying it tossed with baby arugula or some crisp romaine. Warning, this recipe makes a lot of feta. I suggest only using half of it for the salad, then storing the rest in your fridge for later use as a delicious protein-rich topping or snack!
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Greek Bean Salad with Tofu Feta

For the salad:

1 can navy or cannellini beans, rinsed

1 tomato, chopped

1 handful kalamata olives, chopped in half

2 T red onion, diced

1/2 cucumber, diced

2 handfuls romaine or arugula lettuce *optional

For the feta:

1 block extra firm tofu, crumbled by hand (I highly recommend The Bridge, a local CT company!)

Splash of fresh water

2 T chickpea miso (I recommend South River Miso Company)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp sea salt

1 T dried italian herbs

2 T nutritional yeast

In a mixing bowl, whisk together all feta ingredients except for the tofu. Now gently fold in crumbled tofu and coat with mixture. In a salad bowl, add all salad ingredients and 1/2 of the tofu feta. Season with extra red wine vinegar if needed. Makes enough for 2-4 mud-covered unicorns experiencing post-hike bliss.

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everyone’s still talking about the election and I’m like “hey, I made fennel & spinach salad with poppy seed dressing!”

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Since the election is over, I thought I’d talk politics. Ha! Just kidding. I’m so burned out from all the political mumbo-jumbo that I’m seriously considering living in a hut in the woods somewhere. Except just writing those words conjures images of Cabin Fever and Misery type horror movies. So I’ll stay and tell you something of vital importance: Obama has very large ears and a great smile. Romney always looks like has to pee, but is charming in that smug businessman type of way. There, I said it. Okay fine, do you really want to know my thoughts in a nutshell? Focus on the economy and leave the social issues out of it. Let Americans love and marry who they want, smoke marijuana if they want, speak their minds if they want, wear unitards and walk backwards if they want. I’m vegan and I love you, but don’t tell me what to do. I’ll cook you yummy food and be your friend, but only if you hug unicorns, believe in faeries, and laugh and dance. Name me that party and I’m so in.

And speaking of parties, last night I joined forces with Kathryn from The Inner Space pilates and yoga studio and Kim, owner of The New England Pasta Company for a holiday cooking demo led by yours truly. My good friend Kathryn led an informative discussion on mindful eating during the holiday season and Kim offered up her beautiful kitchen for the demo. The menu was 100% vegan and free of gluten, sugar, and night shades! Hooray!

getting ready to demo my vegan holiday menu!
garnishing the baked apples with micro parsley and cranberry sauce
baked apples with savory herbed tofu stuffing & micro parsley!

In addition to the baked apples, I prepared a simple but decadent warm fennel & spinach salad with toasted hazelnuts and rich poppy seed dressing. Cashews and a Vita-Mix play the lead roles in creating a creamy, I-can’t-believe-this-doesn’t-have-dairy-in-it masterpiece dressing.

rockin’ some cooked fennel for my salad
toasted hazelnuts coming out of the oven
warm fennel, pear & spinach salad with toasted hazelnuts and creamy poppy seed dressing!

Warm Fennel & Pear Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts and Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

for the salad:

6 big handfuls of baby spinach leaves

2 pears, cored and thinly sliced

1 cup raw hazelnuts, toasted in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned

1-2 bulbs of fennel (depending on size), tops discarded and thinly sliced

Pinch of black pepper

for the dressing: 

Combine the following ingredients in a high-speed blender…

3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked if preferred

1/2 cup water

3 T extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 T coconut nectar

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt

Once dressing is creamy and emulsified, remove from blender and pour into a large bowl. Now stir in 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds and toss with the spinach leaves. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, add a splash of olive oil and turn the flame to medium heat. Once hot (look for striations in the oil), add sliced fennel. Cook for a few minutes without stirring until it begins to brown. Add a pinch of sea salt, flip, and cook the other side. When the fennel is crispy and brown, turn off flame and allow fennel to cool slightly. To arrange salad, place four or five slices of pear on each salad plate and top with dressed spinach, hazelnuts and warm fennel. Serves 4-6 unicorns who wish they could’ve voted for a vegan president.

thank you Kathryn & Kim for organizing and contributing to a great demo!

inoculations from hell / grilled watermelon salad

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So my family and I are going to visit Africa. When I think of Africa I picture lions, zebras and elephants like any other ignorant foreigner, but I also picture giant anacondas, typhoid fever, and lots of bottled water. In a nutshell, we have to get inoculated. This word sounds harmless enough- perhaps even enjoyable because of its similarity to words like intoxicated, innocence, and inner-tube. But let me be clear: getting inoculated has nothing to do with pleasantness and everything to do with large needles.
The office for infectious disease smells like its filled with them (translation: a too warm grey blue box reeking of latex and dirty people). I check in with a lady wearing scrubs decorated with kittens playing with a ball of string and chuckle at her perfectly executed presentation of the stereotypical hospital receptionist (translation: overweight middle aged she-man who used to care but now just rescues cats and watches reality TV). She’s tucked behind a glass window (I can’t help but notice the fingerprints and dried spit before she slides it open and hands me a clipboard). “Just grab a pen from the jar,” she tells me. I look at the jar of used looking pens and scolded myself for hesitating. It’s just a goddamn pen, I tell myself. I am here for disease prevention…disease prevention. I keep repeating this in my head to drown out my inner chorus of: this place is festering with disease…this place is festering with disease. The paper on the clipboard asks me if I have AIDS, if I’m pregnant, if I’m allergic to anything, if I take blood thinners or anti-psychotics, if I’m depressed, if I have heart disease…
No, I say to myself, but I’m a panic stricken vegan with germaphobia!
My unicorn friend is eating the fake green hanging plant in the corner. I roll my eyes and sarcastically ask him how a plant can grow without light. Green plants can grow anywhere, he argues, while chewing on a plastic leaf. I snort and turn my attention to the wrinkled Good Parenting magazine on the side table. I open it with my fingertips and discover that a few pages have been ripped out. Who rips out magazine articles? I wonder briefly. After learning that the first year of a baby’s life costs around 50k, I pick up a pamphlet on HIV. It takes me about 2 minutes to convince myself that I have it.
The doctor emerges from behind a grey door. He’s just finished up with my sister, who’s in some sort of post traumatic shock (translation: she doesn’t like hospitals or people generally, especially people who tell her to be very still for any period of time and stick her with large needles). I can’t say I blame her. Her boyfriend is smiling and tells us that the needles were “This big!” (gesticulating wildly and giving the impression that the needle was the length of a large cat).
My unicorn friend and I follow the doctor into his small office and I immediately feel claustrophobic. It’s another grey blue box. It has a window that looks out onto more grey buildings, and his desk is completely hidden beneath never-ending stacks of papers and charts cloaked in dust. A few family photos have managed to hold onto the edges of the mahogany surface. The wall opposite the window has a bookshelf lined with thick boring books that no one ever reads. The doctor tells us to have a seat, then launches into a freaking dissertation about the importance of vaccines when traveling to Africa. I want to say, Yeah, I know all this, that’s why I’m here you idiot. No, I don’t want to get Hepatitis from fruit salad or Typhoid fever from bacteria infested water. Yes, I’m fine with getting Tetanus. And Polio. Yes, yes…just DO it already! The longer I sit in this grey blue box of dust and disease, the more likely I’m going to contract a Staph infection! My unicorn friend calmly asks if the scar on his arm from a previous vaccination reaction will be an issue. I groan as the doctor goes into a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of vaccination reactions. I am stuck to my seat with sweat. I need to get out of here. After what seems like a full calendar year, the doctor asks us if we want to watch him prepare the inoculations. “Is it interesting?” asks my unicorn friend. My eyes swell like two glass orbs and I nearly shout, “Jesus, you don’t have the shots ready yet?”
Suddenly I picture a petri dish writhing with a typhoid amoeba monster and our sloth of a doctor coaxing it into a giant needle with soft encouragement. Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I grab my unicorn friend by the mane and drag him to the waiting room. It’s cooler in there at least. The lady with the kitten scrubs beams at us and I’m reminded of the fact that no one else has come or gone from the office since we arrived 108 hours ago. How many shots does this guy dole out per day? I wonder with increasing fear.
20 minutes have passed and I’m eyeing the air vent like it’s a MRSA filled enemy, floating into the grey blue office like the Ebola virus from Outbreak, just when Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo realize that it’s airborne…
Come on in, says the doctor with a toothy grin. I am fairly certain at this point that I am in Hell and this doctor is Satan and all I’m going to do for the rest of eternity is wait for and then receive shots in his infernal office.
The exam room is blindingly bright from the neon light buzzing overhead. There’s a bed covered in stiff white paper and a framed print of one of Monet’s waterlilies. I sit on the edge of the bed with a loud crunch after deciding that I’m getting the damn shots first. Two in each arm, Satan says with a smile. Oh, you sadist sloth! I want to yell. When the first needle goes in, I try to ignore my sister’s earlier bravado about vaccine reactions and subsequent paralyzation of the legs. They hurt like hell, but its pure bliss compared to sitting in Satan’s dusty office or the grey blue waiting room filled with MRSA.

Now that you’ve been to Hell and back and have enough vaccines to roll around in Malaria-infested waters with hippos and anacondas, why not invite them over for some grilled watermelon salad? I was very skeptical about grilling fruit at first, but now I realize that when you grill fruit it actually caramelizes and makes it even sweeter. A punch of balsamic reduction and some cashew cheese (Dr. Cow makes the most delicious vegan cheese I’ve ever tasted. Look here: Dr-Cow | Products | Aged Cashew Nut Cheese.), and you’re in for a serious flavor explosion.

Grilled Watermelon Salad with Cashew Cheese

1/2 (5 pound) watermelon, rind removed and cut into about 8 squares
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & fresh pepper to taste
2 cups arugula
1 container Dr. Cow cashew cheese sliced thin (or “cheese” of your choosing)

Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to a think syrup and set aside. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat. Drizzle enough olive oil over watermelon slices to coat and place on hot grill. Grill each side about 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Season with sea salt. To assemble, put a handful of arugula on a plate and top with two slices of grilled watermelon, a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a few pieces of cashew cheese. Serves 4 unicorns with sore arms and paralyzed legs.