easy vegan recipe

concerning airplanes / fried green tomatoes

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DSC_0005This is basically what happens when I ride on an airplane.

First, I notice the smell – something along the lines of elementary school meets hospital: a stale bag of Cheez-It’s, finger crumpled magazines, and stagnant I-wish-I-were-anywhere-else humans melting into motley patterned, under cleaned seats. I sit down and remind myself that I don’t care about any of this, or the turbulence, or the fact that my life is in the hands of a random pilot who in my mind is the blow-up auto-pilot from Airplane!. When the plane turns on I feel like I’m in a motorized lawnmower; it feels shaky, loose, and completely unsafe. I think about the people who fix planes; I think about the giant bolts that hold these sheets of metal together; I think about engines and birds flying into engines. Luckily, I’m saved by the drink cart. I order a Budweiser and tell my husband that I’ve decided flying no longer bothers me one bit. He smiles with encouragement.

When we take off, I scan the plane for flight attendants. Firstly because they look like they’ve been teleported from a bygone era, and secondly because their wide smiling expressions of calm make me feel better. They do this all the time, I remember, like everyday. But then there’s turbulence. Now I know that it’s just pockets of differing air pressures and has nothing to do with the safety of the flight, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I know all that, but it still feels like a giant motorized steel tube with wings is dangling around at 35,000 feet, the auto-pilot just deflated, and a bird got sucked through the engine. I hear the ominous tone of the fasten-your-seat-belt sign and subsequent illumination of the alarming red florescent lights, and quickly finish my beer. Moment’s later, the elusive pilot restates the obvious: “Hello folks. Looks like we’re hitting a little patch of turbulence, but it’s nothing to worry about. Please remain seated and enjoy the flight”. I instantly think of a doctor with a giant needle saying, “this might pinch a little, but stay still and it will be over before you know it”. I feel like an idiot, like a lemming following another lemming off the side of a cliff because he told me it would, “only hurt for a second and then be over”.

The muffled clip-clop of red pumps over worn-out blue carpet lurches me back from my rambling conscience. “Chicken or fish?” she asks. I tell her I requested the vegan meal. She purses her lipstick smeared mouth and asks another flight attendant for help. The dreaded vegan meal always throws them for a loop. I never expect to get one, but I always ask, in the very least because it distracts me from the image of myself soaring through the atmosphere in a motorized steel tube with wings and faulty bolts. I end up with a pasta primavera of sorts, glued together with cheese.

Now that you never want to fly ever again, why not stay at home at fry up some delicious fried green tomatoes? My garden is bursting with hard, green tomatoes and since I don’t feel like waiting for them to ripen, fried green tomatoes are the perfect solution! Chickpea flour and brown rice flour provide the breading, while a buttermilk inspired nutmilk mixture help it all stick together.

DSC_0007Fried Green Tomatoes

3 unripe, green tomatoes

For the flour mixture:

1⁄2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1⁄2 cup brown rice flour

2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds

Large pinch of each: paprika & cayenne pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt

Black pepper to taste

For the “buttermilk”:

1 cup unsweetened soymilk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

For frying:

1⁄2 cup refined coconut oil

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Combine flour mixture in a small bowl. In another bowl, add soymilk, apple cider vinegar and ground flaxseed, and whisk until somewhat emulsified. Cut tomatoes in 1⁄4 inch slices and dredge one at a time, first in the flour mixture, then in the soymilk mixture, and once more in the flour. Heat oil in a large nonstick or cast iron sauté pan over a medium-high flame. Test the oil with a small pinch of flour; if it bubbles, the oil is ready. Carefully place dredged tomato slices in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove fried tomatoes from the pan and lay on some paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve hot with Dijon mustard or with a vegan tartar sauce. Makes about 12-15 fried green tomatoes, depending on how big the tomatoes are, or enough to feed 5 unicorns with aviatophobia.DSC_0010

happy valentines day / rawesome gingerbread cheesecake hearts

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IMG_0879I will withhold my urge to shout out my feelings regarding this hallmark holiday of consumer ignorance, and will instead make desserts shaped into hearts. But can I just make one suggestion? Instead of spending your dollars on pesticide-laden roses and sugar-filled chocolates, make this day about telling others how much they mean to you. In my opinion, the best way to show your love for another person is to cook for them (and massage their feet…AFTER dinner, obviously). If however, you still feel the pressure of splurging on material gifts, please support local, greener companies. And hey, who says chocolates need milk in them to taste out of this world amazing? Check out Dee’s One Smart Cookie in Glastonbury or order online from Lagusta’s Luscious in New Paltz, NY.

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housemade chai tea latte

But before I share my scrumptious gingerbread cheesecake recipe, I want to tell you about two lovely restaurants that my husband and I recently visited…and adored. The first is Cafe Evolution in Northampton, MA, a gem of a vegan cafe and bakery with crazy good homemade bread and even crazier tempeh B.L.T.’s. The cafe is located in an old, warehouse a little outside downtown Northampton so it’s easy to park and there’s less of a chance of running over a hipster. The inside smells of wheatgrass, fresh bread and coffee…in a word, heaven! I ordered a housemade chai tea, which was delicately spiced and generously topped with frothy soymilk and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Then I had a bowl of their soup of the day, a partially pureed garbanzo bean and kale delight with subtle hints of curry. It was creamy and had loads of kale = perfection. For my main, I ordered a giant mixed lettuce salad with baked tofu and lemon tahini dressing. It was crisp and delicious, but Tom’s tempeh B.L.T. was the clear winner. Loaded with baked tempeh, creamy aioli, avocado, tomato, and lettuce – not to mention stuffed between two slices of their to die for homemade bread – made for one hell of a vegan sandwich. The best part of our visit, however, was when we were readying ourselves to leave, and came across a book in the children’s play area near the entrance to the restaurant. The book was called That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals. I had heard of the book before, mostly because it caused quite a stir amongst conservative parenting groups concerned with the honest, no frills message to children on where our food comes from and how loving and intelligent these sentient beings really are. Tom and I read the entire book, which, in addition to being thoughtfully written and conveying the most inspiring message, was beautifully illustrated. I highly recommend picking up a copy!

Our mostly eaten salad and tempeh B.L.T.
Our mostly eaten salad and tempeh B.L.T.

The second restaurant we dined at was in Cambridge, MA, called Veggie Galaxy. Decorated with old vinyl, Elvis inspired artwork, and a Jetson’s feel, this funky diner was a refreshing find after countless bamboo-new-age-I-love-seaweed-karma type cafes. Don’t get me wrong, I love these places too, but sometimes a good retro hipster joint is just what the vegan nutritionist ordered. And speaking of vegan nutrition, the great thing about this place is the quality of the food. I expected a fast food vegan type of experience, but instead we were surprised by housemade ketchup, a baby arugula side dish, and a mouth watering housemade seitan reuben. I love reubens, but they are typically made with tempeh, so I was excited to try their seitan version. Spiced with fennel seed and homemade vegan cheese, this sandwich literally blew me away. IMG_1023

Now that you’re dreaming of seitan reubens and tempeh B.L.T.’s, why not make some rawesome gingerbread cheesecake hearts! I know that doesn’t make any sense, but hey, it’s Valentines Day! Cashews, dates, lemon juice, and a whole lot of gingerbread spices make this raw wonder a gluten free and vegan dream come true. All you need is a high speed blender (buy a VitaMix already!), a food processor, and heart shaped cookie cutters! Hooray for not having to bake!

Rawesome Gingerbread Cheesecake Hearts

For the crust:

1 cup cashews

¼ cup pecans

¼ cup almond meal

1 cup dates, pitted

1 tsp ginger powder

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

pinch of sea salt

Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until crumbly and moist.

For the filling:

1 ½ cups raw cashews, preferably soaked for an hour or up to overnight

2 T coconut nectar

2 T virgin coconut oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

juice of 1 lemon

½ tsp pumpkin pie spice blend

up to ¼ cup water to facilitate blending

Combine and blend in a vita-mix or high speed blender until creamy. Allow to set in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. With a heart shaped cookie cutter, press crust into mold until it fills it up halfway. Press down firmly. Fill the rest of the mold with the cheesecake filling. While holding the mold, gently press on the bottom side of the cheesecake heart and push it out of the mold. Sprinkle a few crumbs of the crust mixture on top if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in freezer until ready to serve. Makes 10-12 hearts or enough for a small blessing of love sick unicorns. (A blessing is what you call a group of unicorns, in the same way that you call a group of buffalo a herd. Thank you Michael from The Fairy Shop in Boston, MA for that invaluable piece of unicorn knowledge!)

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why plants don’t have feelings / sprouted wheat bagel with cashew cream cheese & maitake mushroom bacon

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DSC_0084 Whether you’re vegan (VEE-gan not VAY-gan, which sounds like we’re from another planet) or not, chances are you’ve probably heard some wild accusations about it. Translation: we only eat hummus, we are from white, wealthy families, we all have tattoos, we are skinny and pale, we don’t eat carbs, we are angry at everyone who isn’t vegan, we only ride bicycles, we love animals more than people, we are hipsters, and we are self righteous liberals. While some vegans may fall into these categories, this is a gross generalization of a growing demographic that in my experience, are a diverse and wonderful group of individuals.

I am not quite ready to go back to college, and be the group of dinos eating the beef surrounded by the veggies. 

So why all the judgement?

Like religion and politics, food is very personal. Your plate is as powerful as slapping a blue elephant sticker on your car or wearing a cross around your neck. People notice and sometimes, take offense. This is the reality of our world, and there’s no reason to flip out because someone disagrees with your diet choices. If the goal of veganism is compassion and respect for all living things, then we must embrace and accept our own species first! But sometimes, this can happen…

After noticing the tempeh reuben on my plate, a seemingly innocent diner observes: “You’re a vegan?”

“Yeah,” I reply.

“But what about plants?” cries the diner with a shocking amount of passion. “Plants can feel pain too!”

“*$%&#!@&$^%#@!” <– exclamation inside my head.

What I actually say –> “Plants don’t have a central nervous system, which means they cannot feel pain in the same way that sentient beings can.”

This is a generally accepted principle, however, there are still some people who argue that plants do feel something when harvested. But even if that is true, it still leaves us with the same options: eat plants & animals (who definitely feel pain and suffer needlessly), or just eat plants. For me, the choice was easy.

Now that you’re feeling moody and want to throw hummus at everyone, why not blow their minds with a creamy, fluffy, and indulgently thick cream cheese that will make you feel like you’re in a Philadelphia cream cheese commercial from the nineties! Cashews play the leading role in making this oh-so-dreamy spread, along with my good friend, the bagel. I adore Alvarado Street Bakery sprouted whole grain onion & poppyseed bagels. Seriously, buy these bagels and let them change your life for the better. Toasted and topped with a huge dollop of herbed cream cheese and crispy maitake mushroom bacon and you are in for a serious taste bud explosion!

Did you say cream cheese?
Did you say cream cheese?

Sprouted Wheat Bagels with Cashew Cream Cheese & Maitake Mushroom Bacon

1 bagel, sliced & toasted (I recommend Alvarado Street Bakery Onion & Poppyseed Bagels)

2 cups raw cashews, covered with at least 4 cups of water and soaked overnight

1 1/2 tsp probiotic powder (you can buy a jar of probiotics in capsule form at many natural foods stores; just open capsules and pour out powder)

1/2 cup fresh water

1 T dried herb blend (I recommend Penzey’s Fox Point Blend) or 1 T fresh chives, minced

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 container or 2 loosely filled cups of maitake mushrooms, split apart by hand

1 tsp olive oil or refined coconut oil for sauteing mushrooms

pinch of sea salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste

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DSC_0056After the cashews have been soaked in water overnight, drain and rinse, then place them in a high speed blender. Add the water and probiotics and blend on high until creamy and smooth. Pour into a small mixing bowl and cover with a piece of cheesecloth. Leave in a cool, dark place overnight.

Remove cheesecloth from fermented cashew mixture, and stir in the seasoning blend and salt. Set aside. In a saute pan, heat oil over a medium flame and add mushrooms. Allow them to brown for a few minutes before stirring with a wooden spoon. Once they are crispy, turn off flame and place on a paper towel to drain.

To serve, spread a generous dollop of cream cheese on a toasted bagel and top with maitake mushroom bacon. Makes about 2 cups of cream cheese, or enough to serve 4 merciless plant eating unicorns.

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