May 24, 2016

What we eat when there's 'nothing to eat'



Everyone knows that feeling of not being able to think of anything to make for dinner — or lunch or breakfast, whatever. People who are afraid to become vegan or vegetarian often cite it as an excuse, as in, "WHAT WILL I EAT?" Though naysayers like to hold it up as a vegan problem, really, it's just as much a problem for omnivores. Did you never have cereal for supper? Or ice cream, for that matter? Not every meal can be an exotic five-course affair, for heavens sake. Fancy dinners are probably the exception rather than the rule in most homes, though good eating doesn't have to be fancy. We vegans have to start showing more of the simple, odd, basic things we eat, in addition to the more elaborate cooking we do, so everyone feels more comfortable with typical everyday fare. Who has the time or energy to create elaborate meals every night? Not me.

When we can't think of anything to cook at our house, we often make broccoli bowls from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Celine Steen and Joni Mari Newman. In fact, when I open the book, it opens right to the grossly stained page where the recipe lies. About five years ago I tested recipes for the book, and we've been making broccoli bowls ever since. It's our go-to meal when there's 'nothing to eat.' It's meant to contain seitan as a substitute for beef, but we use whatever we have on hand — tofu, soy curls, chickpeas. Sometimes we fill the bowls with rice and sometimes quinoa. The simple-to-make sweet and tangy sauce turns everything into premier comfort food.



Miso soup is another fast 'there's nothing to eat' meal. It can be made with whatever veggies are in the fridge and augmented with any grain or noodle. We especially like it with mung bean noodles. Miso soup hits the spot when we're feeling cranky and under the weather, or just plain tired.



Sautéing tofu and mushrooms and serving with raw greens makes a fast and tasty lunch. You can create a quick coating for the tofu with coconut, tamari and spices to give it extra flavor. Sprinkle it with your favorite herbs or spices.



One day I was throwing together tofu and rice noodle leftovers with a few ingredients that would be found in a fresh spring roll, when I was suddenly seized with the need to EAT a spring roll. Lucky for me we had a package of rice paper spring roll wrappers in the cupboard. I quickly soaked and wrapped two huge rolls and we feasted on them for lunch. They weren't the prettiest spring rolls on the block, but they were delicious. Unfortunately, the photos didn't capture their inner beauty so I'm showing you the plate of ingredients I would have eaten — affectionately known as 'spring bowl' — had I not decided to make actual spring rolls.



Stir-frys are another unglamorous but excellent way to quickly turn assorted ingredients into a tasty and nourishing meal. (It looks like all we eat around here is broccoli, but that's not true. In fact, last night we had asparagus, roasted potatoes and barbecued tempeh. I swear.) A stir-fty can be made with nearly anything. This one contains white beans and peanuts along with the veggies and was served over quinoa.



Today I was faced with the third day of leftover stir-fry (see above), an although it was tasty, I just couldn't eat it again. I put it into the food processor with hemp seeds, brown rice flour and a little ketchup to moisten the mixture, and turned it into burgers. The burgers were lightly dredged in more brown rice flour, and cooked in a little oil on a cast iron griddle.They were crispy on the outside, tasted great, and I had a terrific lunch without having to eat the darn stir-fry again — or waste it.

None of these meals were time consuming or fancy — I might not serve them to impress guests — but they were all delicious, easy and satisfying.



May 17, 2016

Creamy rice pudding



The first time I ever made rice pudding, I was in high school, and living with my family in Philadelphia. I don't know what possessed me to make it, as I really didn't cook much beyond heating a frozen pizza or making a sandwich. I must have read about it somewhere, and was seduced by the homey, comfort-food aspects of dipping a spoon into a creamy homemade pudding that didn't come out of a box. There's just something soothing and gentle about a creamy bowl of rice pudding.

My mother was a competent but basic cook who, although she always baked us a cake on our birthdays, didn't make desserts very often. I think she was an early adapter of a low-sugar diet, trying to keep us healthy on a steady diet of meat, potatoes, salad and frozen vegetables. Other than potatoes, she wasn't a big fan of starches like rice or noodles. She would never have made rice pudding.

Motivated to make the pudding on my own, I retrieved my mother's tattered old copy of The Settlement Cookbook*, and looked up rice pudding. The recipe I found for traditional rice pudding, contained a half-cup of white rice, a half-cup of sugar, a half-teaspoon of salt and a quart of whole milk. It all went into a casserole dish to be baked in the oven for two hours at 325˚F. (I know this because I just searched for it on the Internet, not because I have a stellar memory!) I fervently hoped, but didn't quite believe, the white liquidy puddle in the casserole dish would actually turn into pudding. I think I checked it every 15 minutes, which may be why it took a lot longer than two hours — but, much to my delight, it did eventually become creamy and delicious rice pudding. I never made the recipe again.

Many years later, as a vegan, I found a complex recipe for vegan rice pudding that involved agar-agar, two flours, two sweeteners, at least two pots and who knows what else. Although it was scrumptious, I think I only made it once or twice. Having just found the recipe again, buried in my files, I can see why — too much trouble.



I'm sure I've mentioned on these pages in the past that I have become the official dessert maker when our family gets together for dinners. I used to always make cake, but lately I've been looking for ways to change it up a little. I've made crispy rice bars a few times, chocolate cream pie, and just recently was inspired to make rice pudding. I found a recipe made with sticky rice and coconut milk, adapted it, and topped it with blueberry sauce made from frozen blueberries. It was delicious, and I intended to blog about it, but neglected to write the recipe down, and couldn't even remember where I had first seen it. I just now found the original recipe (not my changes which I forget) on my Evernote app, where I had saved it! The pudding, perfectly simple yet luxurious, contains 1/2 cup of sticky rice, one can of coconut milk and 1/4 cup of sugar (I used coconut sugar, which is why the white rice looks kind of beige.). It is just one element of an elegant rhubarb rice pudding tartelette recipe found on Seitan is My Motor. Rather than trying to re-create the pudding as I made it, I'm going to recommend you click over to Constanze's (Mihl's) gorgeous blog and make her original version. The pudding is not extremely sweet, so if you have a big sweet tooth, and you're making just the pudding, you may want to make it sweeter, or make a sweet topping, like I did. Constanze's petite rhubarb tarts are so tempting, though, I think you should find some rhubarb, and make the recipe as described!

Do you enjoy creamy, gentle desserts like rice pudding?

*This is the version of The Settlement Cookbook I remember from my mother's kitchen. It's been revised many times since then, but my mother's book looked just as decrepit as the one in the photo — pages dogeared and loose.

May 10, 2016

Jackfruit: the Jackfruit Company

Tex-Mex jackfruit and leftover steamed cauliflower, simmering.

The first time I tried jackfruit was in a vegetarian restaurant in Madison, Wis. I had a  jackfruit quesadilla, and I loved it. That was several years ago, and it's taken me until recently to finally buy a can of jackfruit and make something in my kitchen. I don't know how the restaurant got the texture to be satisfyingly chewy, but the stuff that came from the can had a texture similar to silken tofu, and though I love tofu, the jackfruit gave me a slight case of mouth-shudders — the jackfruit was most unappealing to me. I suddenly understood why some people can't abide the consistency of tofu. Jackfruit is similar to tofu in that it picks up whatever flavor you throw its way, but for some reason, although the taste was delicious, I found the mouth feel off-putting. I had purchased the recommended type of canned jackfruit, cooked it as directed by my recipe, and failed to find it pleasant eating.



When the Jackfruit Company offered to send me coupons to try their refrigerated, prepared jackfruit, I was excited — maybe I would find a more user-friendly product than the canned variety. Here is a quote from the Web site:
Meet Jackfruit! It’s the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, with some weighing in at 100lbs or more. Our founder, Annie Ryu, is the visionary leader responsible for bringing this ancient commodity to the world market.

The Jackfruit Company story began in India, where Annie traveled in 2011 on a medical student mission. She saw her first Jackfruit at a local market. A closer inspection and taste piqued her curiosity about the fruit in the Indian diet. She learned that the majority of Jackfruit grown there went to waste, and despite its various uses the fruit wasn’t fulfilling its potential. Annie felt there had to be a way to use it to improve health, farmer’s livelihoods and our eco-footprint – so she did.

Annie is a social entrepreneur – a business developer with a conscience. She used her new knowledge about Jackfruit to develop it into a healthy main dish for vegans, vegetarians and anyone looking for nutritious meat replacements. It is soy, gluten, nut and cholesterol free. It is low calorie and rich in fiber, too. Because it is harvested before it ripens, there’s no sugar in the fruit. It adapts to spices and flavorings and looks like shredded meat, but it’s cruelty-free!

The Jackfruit Company, in partnership with Global Village Fruit, is now the largest supplier of Jackfruit products in the world. The jackfruit tree makes it easy to sustainably source. It is wholly adapted to its environment and doesn’t need to be replanted each year, inspiring farmers to plant even more trees as a future investment in their supply chain. Over 300 farms currently supply the fruit we use to create our delicious, meat-less meals. We continue to connect with families all over India to strengthen our farm to factory supply chain, growing by the hundreds to provide income and opportunity for thousands of farming families.

Homemade blue corn tortilla with jackfruit and toppings.

Sounds great, doesn't it? We acquired two flavors at Whole Foods with our free-product coupons — Tex-Mex and BBQ. Because we like tacos so much, we started with the Tex Mex flavor, and I made a batch of blue corn tortillas. The tacos were great, flavor-wise —the seasoned jackfruit perfectly complimented the other taco ingredients. But the texture was still mushy and unpleasant to my tongue. Maybe I just don't appreciate jackfruit, even though I want to. I think if you are already a jackfruit lover, having the makings of a few easy-to-prepare meals in the refrigerator would be a great time-saver.

Tex-Mex rice and veggies.

I'm not a quitter and don't give up easily — (I'm still trying to 'enjoy' fennel) — so I wanted to give the leftover jackfruit another chance. I made Tex-Mex rice for lunch. Sautéing the jackfruit seemed to firm it up a tiny bit, but not enough, though I did enjoy the great flavor of the dish. Even without adding any extra seasonings, the quarter cup or so of leftover jackfruit I added to the rice and veggies was enough to give it a wonderful taste.

Click on the photo to enlarge it for easier reading of the nutrition label.

We still have another package to try, and maybe I will become a jackfruit cheerleader, yet. Are you already a fan? My question to you is, if you cook with jackfruit, what is the texture you usually achieve, and what do you do, if anything, to create a more chewy texture?

Are you curious to try a Jackfruit Company product? I have two $1 off coupons to share. Check the Jackfruit Company store locator to see if the products are available near you, and if they are, and you'd like one of the coupons, mention it in your comment. I'll randomly select two people to get coupons — assuming there are more than two comments! Note that most, but not all, flavors are gluten-free, so check before buying if that is important to you.

April 25, 2016

Our dog has liver failure



I've tried to write this post for months, but am always stopped by a wave of sadness, or a dislike of sharing bad news, or all of the above plus the last time I tried, a ghastly black spider speeded across my desk. (A poisonous hobo spider, I think!) But with so many animal lovers out there, and so many people knowledgeable about animal health, maybe someone can offer advice — or sympathy.

Callie is our beloved little rescue dog whom we adopted three-and-a-half years ago when she was about two. We connected on petfinder.com. She's the sweetest, gentlest dog we've ever had. Her mission when we go for a walk, besides peeing and pooping as much as possible, is to befriend every dog and person she sees. Although she's willing to calmly walk on by if friendship isn't in the cards, she's so cute that strangers are often drawn to her and want to share her affection.



About seven months ago, she stopped eating, started throwing up, lost weight and was lethargic. After a series of tests, we were referred to a specialty clinic, with a diagnoses of liver disease.The new vet said Callie had liver failure. She had an ultrasound, a liver biopsy and blood tests, but it wasn't certain if she was suffering from a congenital condition, a chronic disease or a liver insult — a toxic event triggering a liver failure response. Other diseases were also ruled out. A toxic insult could be something like eating a poisonous mushroom or insect she found outside. She prefers to stay near us when outside, and rarely goes out by herself, so it seemed unlikely she ate something toxic at our house, but it's possible she could have gotten into something at the house where we occasionally board her. We don't know.



She was put on a great number of medications because her health was so precarious, and I had to make myself a chart to keep track of her drugs and dosages. She was on steroids for a time, which made her a little crazy. She had to wear diapers. Her fur got very thin and started to fall out in clumps. I had to get food into her because she had lost so much weight, and our pantry looked like a specialty pet food store, with so many choices with which to tempt her. She rejected everything, even home-cooked offerings. I became a human feeding tube, sticking food down her throat. Finally, she started to eat small amounts on her own, and slowly started to gain back the weight she had lost. Her blood work gradually started improving, and we were so happy. She was put on a liver-specific prescription diet, and many of her medications were discontinued until only the liver support meds were left. Her hair grew back and she looked healthy and happy again.



Her March blood work results were so good, her veterinarian was surprised but happy, and scheduled more blood tests for the end of April to further check her progress. Unfortunately, the most recent results indicate severe liver issues and the vet wants to do a new ultrasound to see how extensive Callie's liver damage is. I won't go into all the medical details, but we are heartbroken and confused. She looks and acts perfectly fine, but her blood tests indicate her liver is failing.



If we do another ultrasound, which we probably will, we may know more about her chances for survival, but at this point it doesn't look especially great. The other piece of this depressing scenario is the unbelievable, shocking cost of veterinary care. If I could go back in time, I would definitely sign up for pet insurance.

I'm giving Callie all the love, kisses, pets and walks I can, for as long as I can, and trying to remain optimistic.


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