New Beginnings

Dan and I moved last week.  Away from our urban family, out of our historic neighborhood, and to, well…not quite the suburbs.  We are still technically in the city but our proximity to the suburbs isn’t counted in miles but in blocks.  It’s all very residential and the nearest restaurants are all…chains.  Yikes.  But despite the suburbanness of it all, we are very happy with our new location.  We have lots of trees and birds (I saw a woodpecker a few days ago) and we have more space and this new apartment has great lighting at dinner time.  Here is the proof.

DSCN4277[1]Salade Niçoise, always a favorite

OK, so there was a little glare. But that darling gem of a dinner was made with our first CSA vegetables and eggs from our first seasonal trip to the farmer’s market.  It was as beautiful to eat as it looks in that photograph.  And its simple beauty, and the streaming sun, and the birds singing in the trees out our window made every bit of the dinner as joyful as any day I can remember.

Even our two year old, with rays of sunshine flowing through her hair, loved to eat it.

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Here she is showing off one of her tomatoes.

The beginning of CSA season, a new home, my birthday next week, and a new baby in two months or so. Our life is full of new beginnings right now.  May they all be as full of love and happiness as this simple dinner was.

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“Cheese is the reason I could never be vegan”

Fact: I am not a fan of vegan cheese. (Should I call it cheeze, like the packages always do?)  I’ve heard rumors of good cheeses -mostly available in California or in cities bigger than Grand Rapids- but in the stores and pizza shops around here the available cheeses are always bland and funny textured.

So, a couple of weeks ago when I was at the Reservoir Lounge (great GR restaurant with a separate vegan menu) I was amazed at how good their house-made vegan mozzarella was. AMAZED.  It tasted good. It melted. It was chewy.  You know, like cheese.  Since the chef made the cheese in-house, I decided to do some googling to see what recipes I could try to make at home.

What I found was Miyoko Schinner’s Easy Buffalo Mozzarella -made with soy yogurt, cashews, and some thickening agents it looks like buffalo mozzarella and it has rave reviews.

Caprese Salad with vegan buffalo mozzarella.   Credit: Miyoko Schinner

Caprese Salad with vegan buffalo mozzarella.
Credit: Miyoko Schinner

And then the real discovery happened.  Miyoko Schinner has a book titled, Artisan Vegan Cheese, which is about making real, cultured, aged cheeses.  REAL cheeses make with plant milks and nuts instead of dairy milk. OK, OK, some people will pick at my use of the word “real” since there is no dairy involved, but for me cheese is about the sharp, cultured flavor that bacteria and aging create.  I don’t want a fake cheese (plant or dairy based) that uses artificial flavors to try to approximate the taste of cheddar. I want a real, natural cheese that has been able to develop its own flavor and I don’t really care what kind of milk it was made out of- cow, sheep, goat, soy- I’m on board with all of them.

The fact of the matter is, vegan food is amazing except when we get an inferiority complex and try to serve a food that is too close (and yet too far off) an approximation of some non-vegan thing.  Winning over omnivores like me means leaving behind sad replacements and creating food that I’ll eat even if the animal-based product is available.  We need to work on creating a food culture that is delicious, gourmet, artisan, etc. all on its own.  So, for me that means ditching the Daiya and trying my hand at aged cheeses. (Note, I’ve never purchased Daiya except at restaurants because I really, really dislike it. Bleh.)

So, what do you need to make vegan cheese?
1) Rejuvelac -a liquid made by sprouting a grain and letting it ferment.  I’m making some out of quinoa right now
2) Non-dairy yogurt (I have to make my own because I can only find flavored yogurts around here)
3) raw cashews (I’ve read that you can also sunflower seeds, but all of Schinner’s recipes use cashews)
4) coagulators – agar agar, carrageenan,  xanthan gum, tapioca flour
5) various flavoring agents, salt, white wine, miso, nutritional yeast, herbs and spices

I started my rejuvelac and I won’t be able to make any cheese until it’s ready.  I’ll keep you posted.

Rejuvelac step 1: soak 1 cup of quinoa in filtered water for 8-12 hours.

Rejuvelac step 1: soak 1 cup of quinoa in filtered water for 8-12 hours.

 

Urban Family Eats: Vegan Addition

Farm season is a distant dream here in Michigan.  All the snow and subzero weather means we’re lacking in farm fresh produce but it doesn’t mean we’re limited to meals filled with meat and dairy. Right now the urban family is getting ready for Lent, a time of year that three of us (Amanda, Dan, and Rachel) usually eat a vegan diet, and a time of year that I (Rachel) get really excited about.  With some slight variation between our different religious traditions, the Lenten fast this year begins on either March 3 or 5 and continues through April 19.  (Clarification from Amanda: she says that Orthodox Christians ease into Lenten fasting, this year the last week in February will be a no-meat week for her but she’ll still have dairy until March 3.)  This year Jeff is going to try his hand at a vegan diet, too, so we decided it was the perfect time to write a few notes about how and what we are eating.

I’m pretty sure that eating vegan during Lent is supposed to feel like a deprivation, it is a fast after all, and during my first vegan Lent I definitely felt like I was deprived.  But that was only at first.  Once I learned to cook good plant-based food I actually started to really, really LIKE eating vegan. I liked it so much that the next year I convinced my husband to go vegan, too.  Then we did it the year after that. Now, five years later I like it so much sometimes I think I could eat vegan all the time.

What I’m saying is that I LOVE vegan food and so when it comes to veganism as a spiritual practice it’s more alms than fasting for me.  More about giving back to the world than about deprivation.  Eating vegan allows me to cease violence against animals and it allows me to the help the environment.  Eating vegan helps me be more thoughtful about my food choice because I have to break with my habits and create new ways for my family to eat.

Lent starts in just a week and a half so Dan and I are getting our pantry in order.  We have stopped buying meat and dairy and we are stocking up on things like beans, vegetable stock, and nutritional yeast (more about weird ingredients in another post).

So friends, what do you think? Does my post have you excited for vegan food? Are you skeptical about my level of enthusiasm?

Farm Baby

We’re back!

It’s been many weeks, but Dan and I are back with our Week 20 update.  Fall is finally starting to show its face around here; the weather is colder and today is a very dark rainy day.  We have had the lights on in the house since we woke up this morning.  We are still getting used to living in the soft yellow electric light rather than in the bright light of the sunshine.

The rain kept Ginny away from the farm today (which is too bad because she loves seeing the goats), but staying away from the farm didn’t keep her from exploring the vegetables we brought home.  She liked the coolness of the wet leaves on the celery.
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And she liked the taste of them.
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What we got this week:

a stalk of Brussels Sprouts
5 green Peppers, 1 yellow pepper, and 1 hot pepper
2 Leeks
3 lbs of Rutabaga
3 Celeriac, plus some Celery still attached
1 purple Lettuce
1 Tomato
1 Eggplant
Cilantro
4 lbs Potatoes
1 Butternut Squash
1 Delicata Squash
1 Kohlrabi

I love root vegetables more than most things, so I am looking forward to cooking with the rutabaga and celariac.  

This week the farm is having a potluck harvest celebration (with an apple cider press!) and I’m trying to figure out what to make for it.  Suggestions?

CSA Weeks 9 & 10 -Rachel and Dan

My sister got married this past Friday! The weather was perfect, everyone was very happy, we got to see our family and friends and make new family and friends.  It was very lovely. And my sister’s new husband (also named Dan) is a wild-about-food, gardening, bee-keeping, vegetable lover.  So we like him a lot.

Unfortunately, since we went up north on Wednesday (the day after our CSA pick-up) we didn’t eat any of the vegetables we got last week, other than the handful of u-pick cherry tomatoes, which we ate before we even left the farm.  We got back on Sunday, still didn’t eat any veggies, ate pizza on Monday because of our crazy schedule, and then picked up more vegetables on Tuesday.  We are overflowing.

We also have nearly 5 dozen eggs from our egg share.  Time to make angel food cake, or something.  Maybe a meringue.  Maybe angel food cake topped with meringue.

Week 9
Scallions
Basil
Swiss Chard
Kale
Eggplant
Parsley
Summer Squash
Zucchini
Radicchio
Carrots
Mixed Greens
and hand full of u-pick cherry tomatoes

Week 10
Kale
Swiss Chard
Scallions
Golden Beets
2 heads of Garlic
Lettuce
Colorful Carrots
Broccoli Raab
Arugula
11 cucumbers
2 zucchini
3 summer squash
radishes
eggplant
2 quarts of green beans/dragon tongue beans
1/2 quart cherry tomatoes

I’ll leave you with a picture from my sister’s reception -she and her husband canned jam as wedding favors.  Lots and lots of jam.
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Putting Up Food -raw frozen foods

Here is something I forgot to mention about cabbage: you can freeze whole heads (also works with radicchio) with no blanching and no fuss.   Just pop a whole cabbage (small is best) into the freezer and when you want to eat it, take it out and let it float around in a tub of cold water until it is unfrozen.  Peel off and discard the outer leaves.

Other things you can thaw raw:
Kale: especially hardy dinosaur kale.  You can add it frozen to soups, or thaw it before cooking.  Be sure to chop it up before freezing.  Be warned that if you add it frozen it will darken the soup color considerably.  I usually thaw and rinse the kale first to avoid the weird coloring.

Peppers: All varieties.  Hot peppers can go straight into the freezer, just take them out and slice them frozen when you are ready to use them. 
To save space, slice bell peppers before freezing them.  Add them frozen or thawed to whatever you are cooking.

Herbs: chop and freeze with a little olive oil (in an ice cube tray or other small container).  But beware, fats take on the taste of the freezer so be sure to move the olive oil cubes to a freezer bag as soon as they are frozen.  

Summer Squash: Slice and wrap them up in freezer wrap.  Keep zip top bag of squash packages in the freezer. 

Whole tomatoes -The skin will peel right off them when you cook them later.  

We blanch pretty much every other vegetable we freeze.  Blanching generally helps the vegetables keep brighter colors.  It also kills microbes and helps the vegetables keep longer.

Let’s face it though, if you are a lazy cook like I am, then you will want to know a few things that freeze well without blanching.  If you get kale and chard and arugula and lettuce and mixed salad greens every week then you will want to know that you should just freeze the kale on day one and eat the softer greens fresh so that you can avoid the hassle of having to prep them for freezing.  

And after you spend many lazy weeks freezing all that kale you will want to know that I have a winter kale recipe that will use up every package of frozen kale that you put up.  But, that is a recipe for another post.
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Weeks 7 & 8 and a Cabbage Recipe

“Cabbage: a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.” -Ambrose Bierce

News from the farm: We have finally reached fruiting season.  The cucumbers and summer squashes are rolling in already and we currently have two weeks worth in our fridge because we haven’t done anything with any of them yet. Also, I have been anticipating u-pick peas but no word on them yet.  I keep meaning to ask our farmer about it, but I always forget.  I’ll be disappointed if there aren’t peas this year.

Have you read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?  She creates a chart in the book to help you remember when different veggies are in season.  She calls it the “Vegetannual”.

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See, there are peas in July, where are my peas?

Week 7 pick-up
Scallions
Kohlrabi
Summer Squash
Zucchini
Salad Cucumbers
Pickle Cucumbers
Lettuce
Bell Pepper
Broccoli
Basil
Swiss Chard
Kale
Fennel

Week 8 pick-up
Scallions
Swiss Chard
Kohlrabi
Basil
Summer Squash
Zucchini
Arugula
Mixed Salad Greens
Kale
Salad Cucumbers
Pickle Cucumbers
Beets

Do you want to know why we haven’t eaten any squash?  It’s because I’ve been trying to make us eat ALL of the cabbage.  Stir-fried and in slaws, sauteed in butter, and in bubble-and-squeak, but so far my favorite thing to do with it has been to roast it and put it in a lemony-garlicky salad.

Roasted Cabbage Salad
In a hot oven, roast
1 small cabbage, cut into bite sized chunks
1 1/2 C sliced carrots
1 C garlic scape pieces (optional)
make a simple vinaigrette out of
lemon juice
olive oil
pressed garlic
salt and pepper
Toss roasted veggies in vinaigrette and serve.  This is good hot or cold.