“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.

 

Vegan Brunch, Europe, Cardamom

Jeff is joining us in vegan Lent this year. It’s cute because he’s asked me a few times this week, “So…how’s it going for you so far? It’s good for me!” And each time I’ve responded with a half smile (at his energy and ambition) and a hesitant, “It’s good….”…visited by memories of the *wanting cheese/crying in my priests office* incident from a few years ago….nonetheless….one week in….it’s good. It always is. This is the time when I feel clean….which is ironic because Pascha is still so far away. And clean usually comes after. But, in the in-between…after the energy and the ambition, there is a development of sadness and longing. Which is ironic. Or not.

Nonetheless…..with all of our energy and enthusiasm….we had a vegan brunch this weekend. At my house. To plan a trip to Europe. It was a wonderful morning. The first component for a successful vegan brunch is great people…the sort you love and you can be around in leggings and not feel judged. The second is great wine. We had both.

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We had sweet potato-black bean tacos…..the filling was a pretty basic mix of sweet potato, black beans, onion, cumin, chili powder and chipotle pepper powder.

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I wanted to try my hand at a faux-cheese, so I mixed tofu, nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes and salt and fried them in a pan with some faux-butter. It wasn’t bad. Pro-tip regarding tofu….it must be squeezed of liquid, frozen, thawed, and then squeezed again to be most palatable. A tip that would have been super helpful during the 13 years that I was a vegetarian and choked down tofu pretending to like it in the name of non-violence to the earth and non-hardened arteries.

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Next, I mixed some vegannaise with lime, salt and cilantro. This condiment I stole from Marie Catrib, dear woman that she was, may her memory be eternal. It got a “THIS is VEGAN!?!?” That made me smile.

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that’s the mezzaluna my family bought me for christmas. i like it very much.

And then we ate and talked and got busy with making excel spreadsheets about pros and cons interrupted by stories of our travels past.

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here you can see both my crumbly faux cheese and Janalyn’s yummy cilantro tea with lemon, honey and cinnamon.

And then I made Turkish coffee. In a pot that was another Christmas present from my wonderful family. Just between you and me, I got the cardamom pods.

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Some people who are superstitious might think that my getting the cardamom pods means something. My dear situ may have said that it will keep the evil eye away, or my awesome friend John might say that it just further evidence that “It’s your year, kid!” cause he likes to say those things to me. But I’m not superstitious. Mostly I believe that the cardamom pods in the bottom of my cup are a thumbs up, saying that my Turkish coffee was really good. (Because it really was.) And that this year I will go to Europe with people that I love. And that this Lent, as every other Lent before, will begin with energy and ambition and feeling clean, and will end with sadness and longing. But that clean, and not just clean, but renewal and hope, will come again.

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?

Odds, Ends and a Fancy Dinner

As Alicia and I ascended the stairs at the gym this week I informed her that Jeff and I were organizing a fancy dinner this weekend. “Fancy dinner?”, she repeated, smirk spreading across her face, “Are you going to wear puffed sleeves?” Alicia is a phenomenal human being for a few reasons…one being her timely Jane Austen references. I explained to her that nearly a year ago I saw this awesome recipe in a fall-time Bon Appetit, and had been talking about making it ever since. Hence, fancy dinner. But before that….here are some odds and ends, since the last time I posted….

this is a typical late-summer share....

This is our typical late-summer share….

while cooking, I tossed all of my brightly colored stems and odds and ends into a vat of water, simmered for an hour or so, and PRESTO....an optimally healthy, organic veggie broth.

I always hate waste, so I’ve recently begun tossing all of my brightly colored unused portions of veggies into a vat of water, simmer for an hour or so, and PRESTO….an optimally healthy, organic veggie broth emerges from “scraps”.

CSA eggplant, CSA heirloom tomato and mozzerella stack, atop  CSA field greens

A late summer saturday lunch….CSA eggplant (tossed in gf cornmeal and parmesan) CSA heirloom tomato and mozzarella stack, atop CSA field greens with a  balsamic drizzle.

the beginning of a sunday dinner....

The beginning of a sunday dinner….

CSA cabbage, CSA raddichio, CSA kohlrabi, CSA broccoli, CSA green onion and CSA chive salad (which was eventually tossed with a buttermilk-bleu cheese dressing)

CSA cabbage, CSA raddichio, CSA kohlrabi, CSA broccoli, CSA green onion and CSA chive salad (which was eventually tossed with a buttermilk-bleu cheese dressing)

buttermilk-bleu salad with granny's, walnuts, steak and sausage

…and this was the buttermilk-bleu salad with granny’s, walnuts, steak and sausage.

Appeitizer for family dinner night...CSA frisee, buratta (my family loves cheese), olives (the love olives even more), and some rather unslightly homemade gf toast points. Making gf anything sexy is nearly impossible.

The beginning of a family dinner night…when both sister and brother were in town…CSA frisee, buratta (my family loves cheese), olives (they love olives even more), and some rather unsightly homemade gf toast points. Making gf anything sexy is nearly impossible.

creamy, awesome buratta, and it's "little rags"...

Creamy, awesome buratta, and it’s “little rags”…

we drizzled the burratta with truffle oil from Rome, thanks to my sis and bro in law! it was sooo delicious!

…we drizzled the burratta with truffle oil from Rome, thanks to my sis and bro in law! It was sooo delicious!

entree for the fam: CSA Eggplant Caponata (with CSA leeks, CSA bell peppers, onion, basil, oregano, capers, raisins, chocolate and CSA tomatos) over CSA greens-pesto rissotto

The entree was a  CSA Eggplant Caponata (with CSA leeks, CSA bell peppers, onion, basil, oregano, capers, raisins, chocolate and CSA tomatos) over CSA greens-pesto rissotto

we took photos for about 5 hours before we found one we all liked.

…we took photos for about 5 hours before we found one we all liked…a slight waste of time, but good memories made.

when my sister and I were little we used to make crepes for breakfast nearly every Saturday. when she stayed with me recently I made this autumn-ified version...paleo pumpkin crepes with pumpkin mousse filling...and apple-maple chicken sausages

When my sister and I were little we used to make crepes for breakfast nearly every Saturday. When she stayed with me recently I made this autumn-ified version…paleo pumpkin crepes with pumpkin mousse filling…and apple-maple chicken sausages. it was a pretty great throw-back.

CSA cabbage and bell pepper tossed with a peanut-coconut curry with tofu and yummy broccoli a la Janalyn

A vegan, weeknight dinner: CSA cabbage and CSA bell pepper tossed with a peanut-coconut curry with fried tofu and yummy broccoli a la Janalyn.

our first celery root came last week!!! (another wonderful indicator of autumn...)

Our first celery root came last week!!! (a reason to celebrate, and another wonderful indicator of autumn…)

This is a mash: a CSA potato, CSA celery root, CSA leek, CSA garlic, CSA chard and CSA kale mash

This is a mash: a CSA potato, CSA celery root, CSA leek, CSA garlic, CSA chard and CSA kale

after eating the "mash" as a side dish for a couple of days, I finished the remaining bit by re-purposing them into root veggie pancakes....served alongside a peachy-maple bacon french toast bake.

…after eating the “mash” as a side dish for a couple of days, I finished the remaining bit by re-purposing it into root veggie pancakes….served alongside a peachy-maple bacon gf french toast bake.

and while we're discussing carb-heavy mornings...pumpkin-pecan french toast bake for a lazy Saturday brunch with college roomies....we fell into comas after.

And while we’re discussing carb-heavy mornings…I experimented with a gf pumpkin-pecan french toast bake for a lazy Saturday brunch with college roomies….it received two thumbs up, and we fell into a collective coma after.

And, finally……FANCY DINNER: The Autumn Chapter

Allow me to begin by saying, despite being bewitched by the aforementioned Bon Appetit recipe….I had never, in fact, cooked a whole chicken. I spent 12-ish years as a vegetarian, and although I began eating meat again a few years ago, I wasn’t sure how ready I was to encounter the undeniable “animal-ness” of the chicken that one must, when one needs to cut through joints and bones, and as well, act in sort of a gynecologic fashion, via stuffing the cavity. Nonetheless, I took the plunge. Well, half the plunge. I forced a friend to cut through the connective tissue. That was too serial-killer-esque for me.

my "stuffing" herbs: CSA celery root tops, CSA parsley, CSA sorrel and thyme

my “stuffing” herbs: CSA celery root tops, CSA parsley, CSA sorrel and thyme

that was not my favorite part.

that was not my favorite part.

then, I made the salt-egg white "dry brine" and essentially made a sand castle around the chicken. mush less picturesque than the photo in BA.

then, I mixed the salt-egg white “dry brine” and essentially made a sand castle around the chicken….much less picturesque than the photo in BA…

next, i tossed CSA kuri pumpkin, CSA celery root, CSA golden beets, CSA fennel and CSA leeks with olive oil and herbs de provence, and placed them in the oven with the chicken.

…next, I tossed CSA kuri pumpkin, CSA celery root, CSA golden beets, CSA fennel and CSA leeks with olive oil and herbs de provence, and placed them in the oven with the chicken.

then i had a glass of wine and admired the view from my window.

Then I had a glass of wine and admired the view from my window.

the chicken finished cooking, and became even more sand-castle-esque...

the chicken finished cooking, and became even more sand-castle-like…

...we snacked on two delicious goat cheese app's by Jeff (tomato-basalmic and date-pine nut)

…we snacked on two delicious goat cheese app’s by Jeff (tomato-balsamic and date-pine nut)…

...then kyle began cracking into the salt-crust....there were some jack-hammer moments....

…then Kyle began cracking into the salt-crust….there were some jack-hammer moments….

...we had some delicious side dishes in addition to the roasted veggies....broiled CSA delicata squash with cream and parmesan...

…we had some delicious side dishes in addition to the roasted veggies….broiled CSA delicata squash with cream and parmesan…

..and a CSA kohlrabi and apple slaw with caraway vinagrette...which was so great, and another tolerable way to eat the loathsome alien turnip...

..and a CSA kohlrabi and apple slaw with caraway vinaigrette…which was so great, and another tolerable way to eat the loathsome alien turnip…

This was also Jeff's first opportunity to use his porthole. We agreed that this infused bourbon tasted very completely like fall....

This was also Jeff’s first opportunity to use his porthole. We agreed that this infused bourbon tasted very completely like fall….

And as well all know, a fancy dinner ends with a fancy cheese course....

And as we all know, a fancy dinner ends with a fancy cheese course….

..."fancy" cheese = cheese with interesting labels. Many apply this rationale to wine as well. We're ok with that.

…”fancy” cheese = cheese with interesting labels. Many apply this rationale to wine as well. We’re ok with that.

...then, in classy fashion, we opened the porthole and ate the bourbon infused fruit with our cheese...

Then, in classy fashion, we opened the porthole and ate the bourbon infused fruit with our cheese…

I came to an interesting realization at the end of the night....we had all met during our undergraduate work at a religious institution. A few of us have left that denomination, and a few of us have left religion all together. But, we agree on fancy dinners....(the irony of the "rustic-ness" of this meal was high-lighted)...and we disagree about the existence of the spiritual realm, and we're pretty honest about it.  But at the end of the night we made plans to be together again....in winter...which is good.

I came to an interesting realization at the end of the night….we all met during our undergraduate work at a religious institution. A few of us have left that denomination, and a few of us have left religion all together. We agree on fancy dinners….(the irony of the “rustic-ness” of this meal was highlighted at one point in the evening)…and we disagree about the existence of the spiritual realm…and we got pretty animated about it. But at the end of the night we made plans to be together again….in winter…which is good.

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?

Teaching and Cooking: Need an emulsifier

So….a few weeks ago, after bemoaning a vinaigrette that didn’t turn out in the way that I’d hoped,  Jeff educated me about the value of emulsifiers.

Suffice it to say…when working a full-time job (a new one at that), and attempting to be a (non-awful) part-time professor for the first time, and trying to keep up with cooking the CSA foods, and the blog….an emulsifier is needed. I’m not sure at this point what it will be….(maybe other urban family members writing in my stead for a few months!??!?!?)…..but without one, this space will become awfully meager….at least until January.

Our recent pick-ups have looked something like this….

this one is actually a couple of weeks old...our most recent pick up included more tomatoes, additional cabbage and some spicy peppers

This one is actually a couple of weeks old…our most recent pick up included more tomatoes, multiple spicy peppers and lots of broccoli.

We had an urban family dinner which resulted in these delights….

Polish Cabbage Noodles: (I think there is an official Polish name for them, but I wasn't raised with it) This is essentially cabbage and onion sauteed in butter, garlic, salt, pepper and caraway seeds added to egg noodles (I used gf pasta) and sour cream stirred in at the last minute (I substituted plain greek yogurt).

Polish Cabbage Noodles: (I think there is an official Polish name for them, but I wasn’t raised with it) This is essentially (CSA) cabbage and onion sauteed in butter, garlic, salt, pepper and caraway seeds added to egg noodles (I used gf pasta) and sour cream stirred in at the last minute (I substituted plain greek yogurt).

Tomatoes and summer squash, gutted and stuffed with rice, sausage and cheese.

(CSA )Tomatoes and (CSA) summer squash, stuffed with rice, sausage and cheese.

Eggplant and veggies curry with red rice blend

(CSA) Eggplant and (CSA) veggie curry served with a red rice blend

Some other uses for late summer veggies….from my meals this week….

Broccoli, napa, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, siracha, rice noodles. Simple. Perfect.

(CSA) Broccoli, (CSA) napa, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, siracha, rice noodles. Simple. Perfect.

Summer squash and zucchini are aplenty at this time of year, and I usually need some variety...in this dish I sliced them super thin (while raw) and tossed them with peapods, gf orzo, olive oil and vinegar, and added some herbed goat cheese just before serving.

(CSA) Summer squash and (CSA) zucchini are aplenty at this time of year, and I usually need some variety…in this dish I sliced them super thin (while raw) and tossed them with pea pods, gf orzo, olive oil and vinegar, and added some herbed goat cheese just before serving.

By this time of year I;m struggling with greens...this is my kale, chard, beet greens, green onion and garlic sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper and processed, and added to scrambled eggs...perfect for at-work breakfast.

By this time of year I’m struggling with greens…this is my (CSA) kale, (CSA) chard, (CSA) beet greens, (CSA) green onion and garlic sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper and processed, and added to scrambled eggs…perfect for at-work breakfast.

Pico...the perfect way to use sub=par tomatoes and the jalapenos we're getting. Also great on the aforementioned eggs.

Pico…the perfect way to use sub-par (CSA) tomatoes and the (CSA) jalapenos we’re getting. Also great on the aforementioned eggs.

Panzanella: A favorite end of the summer meal....roasted garlic, kalamatas, (CSA) arugula, basil, (CSA) heirloom tomatoes, (CSA) bell peppers, and toasted gf bread tossed in an emulsified(!) vinaigrette, with mozzarella and prosciutto.

Panzanella: A favorite end of the summer meal….roasted garlic, kalamatas, (CSA) arugula, basil, (CSA) heirloom tomatoes, (CSA) bell peppers, and toasted gf bread tossed in an emulsified(!) vinaigrette, with mozzarella and prosciutto.

Bibimbap at Home

It all started a few months ago when I opened my mail box, found a Bon Appetit, and engaged my monthly ritual…pouring a big glass of wine and slowly turning each page…reading, observing, examining, imagining. I love this day, this ritual, every month. As soon as I finished I walked next door, turned to the ‘Bibimbap at Home‘ spread and handed it to Jeff, as he had recently had it at our favorite neighborhood bar and couldn’t stop raving about it. We decided we needed to do Bibimbap Urban Family Style.

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I decided to attempt to make some spring rolls because an appetizer sounded nice, and because we have been receiving two (CSA) cabbages a week for about a month now, and I’m running out of ideas of what to do with them! I followed a Thai recipe for spring rolls, using rice wrappers (so they are gf!), and a cabbage-onion-carrot-ginger filling. I processed the filling…I should have shredded it. I will make this adjustment for next time.

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Bibimbap is perfect for a potluck, and for varying levels of comfort with cooking, because the toppings are both simple and complex…we had enoki mushrooms, siracha sprouts, fried tofu, sesame (CSA) carrots, scallion slaw, marinated portobellos, (CSA) zuchinni, garlicky (CSA) greens, bulgolgi beef and gochujang…a wonderfully spicy-sweet, pepper-date spread which made everything taste phenomenal, and paired well with a slightly sweet white from South Africa that I happened to be drinking that evening (while flooded with memories of my beloved Stellenbosch).  Jeff and Danielle made a vat of kimchi,…another nice use for the (CSA) napa that we’ve been receiving nearly weekly for a couple of months. We opted not to make fried eggs for the party, but I want to be sure to include them next time.

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IMG_1485As always happens at the end of our get-togethers, we looked around at one another and asked, “Why don’t we do this more often?” We decided that we are committed to doing so…so, more corporate cooking adventures to come. I only wish that I could accurately represent in words the aura created on such nights… old friends, good conversation, strong drink and the creeping crisp breeze, sneaking into our windows as the sun sets…all at once a welcomed refreshment and  a reminiscent beacon…of summers end.