Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Tender Tennessee Christmas


Elvis display at the liquor store

Surprise! I took an unplanned, last-minute trip to visit my parents for two days, Christmas Eve and most of Christmas. Originally, we were going to be with Alex’s parents on the big day but things changed a little and I was happy to squeeze in a little visit with my fam.



My mom had decorated the house and the pup enjoyed the gas fireplace.


We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner (roasted vegetables and “penny” pasta). We also had a nice lunch before heading to the airport on Christmas Day.

We flew in Thursday night and stopped by Fuel CafĂ©. When I read on Vegan Crunk that their veggie burgers were better than Huey’s (which is just a few blocks up the street), I knew needed to stop in. The restaurant is in an old service station that’s been what seems like a series of restaurants.


(Excuse the blue lighting over everything; it didn’t feel so obnoxious at the time.) We enjoyed the fried tofu appetizer – my parents, who were there about half an hour before Alex and I arrived, ate a plate full while they were waiting on us and suggested we get our own.


This veggie burger was really good. The fries were better. My father made friends with the waiter before we arrived, and he learned that there has been quite a stream of folks coming in to try the burger.

What can I say? It was good, but next time I’m in town, I’m heading to Huey’s. Maybe I’ll alternate. I don’t think it’s fair to compare, because the other place is a long-time favorite for me and I’ve been eating their veggie burgers since before I was vegetarian. Plus I only make it Memphis twice a year these days.

And of course, no holiday travel would be complete without delays. Christmas night I spent three extra hours at the airport, which thankfully is more comfortable than a rental car.


Veggie sub and barbecue chips at Lenny’s.

Don’t fret, I’m still gathering my thoughts on sharing food from Italy. Right now it’s a little overwhelming and I’m otherwise occupied. I hope everyone out there is enjoying the end of the year and getting as much snow as you want.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Home at Last

I am back home. I didn’t mention where I was going. I was in Italy last week on family vacation and had a pretty good time all in all. Now, I’m catching up at work, spending time with my cats, and going through my photos. I am very excited to share the food I enjoyed, but for now, here are some of my favorite non-food photos.

I stood out as a tall, light-haired person. My feet hung off the ends of the beds. During the entire trip, I only saw one other redhead. And I was looking. I had Alex take this photo of me under a hanging light that I thought was about an inch over my head, but this photo makes the distance appear almost reasonable.


This photo looks crazy, but I like it. We’re waiting in the courtyard for Alex’s mom to get ready for supper after a nap on our first day in the country. Alex’s sister and her boyfried are laughing at Italian curses in a phrasebook.


We started our trip in a small town in the hills on the Adriatic coast, with a pretty little compact town and farmland all around. We saw lots of parasol pines, grape vines, and olive trees. The scenery was more beautiful than I could have imagined, and I enjoyed some mild weather until we headed up north.



And on the public transportation, other kinds of beautiful scenery.


Alex, his father, and I were the “dream team” as the family divided down the middle for much of the trip. Below, Alex and his dad on the banks of the Arno River in Florence, and then me and his dad after we climbed all the stairs to the very top of the Duomo.



We ended the trip with a visit to Alex’s aunt and uncle’s beautiful home, and on our tour of their gardens this cat kept climbing trees. Here’s Alex’s mother taking a photograph of it.


We were also stuck in a snowstorm and in the car for 23 hours. More on this separately.


I’m trying to figure out how to organize my thoughts on the food. Something like, “Can you really get tired of Italian food?” Or, “How much pasta can one person eat?” Maybe it will be, “I learned the word for eggplant and used it every chance I got.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.*

This has not been the greatest food week for me. Instead, I’ve been trying to eat everything perishable from my fridge, which still doesn’t look too terribly empty,


Tossing anything I have left into a pot and calling it soup,


Don’t try this at home, kids: sweet potatoes, carrots, lima beans, onion, garlic, pinto beans, broth, and coconut milk. We’re eating it. Sweet Alex tells me he likes it.

Gathering packable snacks, choosing books, and syncing my iPod,


It’s almost travel time! What is it with cats and suitcases?


What are your best travel tips? If they include not announcing your imminent departure on your blog, oh well: I thought about it and decided I don’t have anything you want. If you drop by, please play with the kitties. They get lonely. But beware the wrath of Twinkie Weener.


*(Cincinnati’s own?) Elizabeth Drew

Monday, December 6, 2010

The beginning of winter and the end of Thanksgiving leftovers

You really can make anything into a patty. Getting patties to hold together was a serious challenge for me in the past, but now? Easy. Maybe I’ve finally learned how to be gentle.

When I read about the sweet potato and white bean patties Jenny was making, I knew I needed to give them a try. That, and I had six large sweet potatoes on the shelf and leftovers from Thanksgiving in the fridge. I needed a way to use up what I had and get some variety at the same time.


I used mashed sweet potatoes, cannelleni beans, bread crumbs, and some sauteed diced onions and garlic. I seasoned the mix with salt and garam masala and ate my patty with leftover collards. Alex ate his with ketchup.


We got our first snow this weekend, and I made homemade tomato soup for the first time. Tomato soup + sweet potato patties doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was a great meal on a cold night.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Southwest Stir Fry

I decided to try this as a different way to cook some of my favorite foods (black beans and corn). Then I decided to search the web to see if I was unknowingly copying someone else’s idea of a southwest stir fry. The first few results were very different, so I’m in the clear. Actually, I’m so far into the clear that maybe I should come up with another name for this.

This dish isn’t too different from times I make black beans and rice, and it’s not terribly different from a Chipotle burrito bol. This is just another chance for me to put together some of my favorite foods. I think it’s better than either one.


We started by frying the tofu cubes, cooking the rice, and cooking the collards (for some reason I wanted these as a side dish). After that is done, this is super easy.

My stir fry is onion, green bell pepper, mushrooms, black beans, corn, and diced tomatoes and green chiles (canned, like Ro-Tel).

Oh, yes, and I made a little dressing to go on it. I really like making my own dressings because I like them so thin.


This was simply a spoonful of Vegenaise cut with the juice from the canned tomatoes and ranch-style seasoning. Right now, this means garlic powder, onion powder, salt, smoked paprika, and a little cumin. And lots of black pepper. I’m still working on my favorite ranch proportions, but I love how easy it is to mix up a little batch just as I need it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My MoFo Finale: A Vegan Convert! (Not quite)

Okay, I don’t really need a vegan conversion, but I do want to stomp out some unfounded badmouthing of vegans. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may remember a post from last August which was spurred by this tweet:


Taste of Belgium is a local waffle shop with a location in our city market, Findlay Market, as well as other fairs, farmers’ markets, etc., and a location at the Columbus city market and The Ohio State University.

Honestly, I don’t know if they ever went for the t-shirts, but they did something better.

Seriously better.

Get ready, you’re not gonna believe this.

They veganized their waffle recipe and now you can get vegan Belgian waffles. This started just in time for World Vegan Day and the waffles are available at Park + Vine.


Wow. This makes me ridiculously happy. Not only did dropping the anti-vegan message put this unfunny joke into context (maybe they’re seeing local vegans as a lost customer?) but it shows with a little thought how easy it is to make a compassionate, delicious, waffle. I bought a four-pack.


Vegan waffles, no big deal, right? Wrong. I make waffles and moffles at home, but this is something different from what you’d put syrup on and eat for breakfast. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but Belgian waffles are dense and sweet, with sticky caramelized sugar on their crisp exterior. The inside is sweet, warm, and soft like a heavy doughnut. I ate more than my fill of Belgian waffles as a student in Belgium 9 years ago, and since then this is the closest I’ve come. My heart is warmed to think that after getting a little upset at their tweet, I get a good waffle. It’s what we all want, right?

This concludes my first-ever MoFo, and probably the last time I will challenge myself to post every day for a month. Maybe next year I can see if Cincinnati has any local vegan foods that aren’t desserts or produce.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Made in Cincinnati

I have two exciting treats to share with you, both made right here in Cincinnati, Ohio, believe it or not. Both are relatively new, and both are worth some attention.


First up, graham crackers. No, not your regular thin, perforated crackers in cellophane that always rips down the side. Unlike those grahams that start crisp and get soft as they age (c’mon, you know what I’m talking about), these grahams start out thick and chewy and soft. And you don’t have to worry about them getting stale. There won’t be leftovers.

These holiday trees are delicious. I probably ate about half of one of these large cookies after photographing it because it just smelled so good! I couldn’t wait. The crushed peppermint, the chocolate icing, and the soft cookie were just amazing. I’d read how great these grahams were, but I never quite went for all the hype (after all, how often do I even eat dessert?) – but these are wonderful.


Meet Grateful Grahams. This is a pretty cool story; this woman turned her love of baking into a side business that only launched around Earth Day this year. Now, she’s announced on her facebook page that she can’t accept any more private holiday orders – she’s got enough! Way to go.

You can still buy Grateful Grahams locally, at Coffee Emporium, Park + Vine, Joseph Beth, or Lucky John Market. Plus you can order online at Pangea Vegan Store or Vegan Essentials. And I’m not going to say an Amazon link didn’t come up when I did a search.

If you can believe it, we have yet another vegan dessert maker in town: Phro*ZEN ice cream, featured last week in VegNews Daily.


Phro*ZEN vegan desserts was started with two sisters, the belief that everyone deserves happiness, and that happiness can be found in the simplest (and sweetest) things. We hope that you’ll find a little joy when you try our desserts, and you can feel at peace knowing that no animal products are used - after all, they deserve happiness too.

Again, I went for a holiday chocolate mint flavor: Merry Mint Chocolate Mantra. And I’m not going to say I wasn’t just tickled to see the cute heart under the lid -- sorry to spoil the surprise if its supposed to be a secret. This is a soymilk-based ice cream that was just as creamy as anything I’ve had, and it was full of chunks of chocolate and candy cane pieces, just like the locals like at their non-vegan ice cream parlors.


No, I don’t work for the Cincinnati tourism board, but December 19th will mark my three-year anniversary in the Queen City and it’s kind of neat to see how many cool things there are in town. I hope that if I leave, I find as many neat things and as supportive a community in my next city.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Brunch: Melt

To conclude MoFo, I’ll be posting a local treasure or treat each day. I know I could have covered more than three days, but Ima start with that as my theme is the product of a little Thanksgiving-induced cooking hiatus (I’m eating the leftovers until they’re gone, and then I think I just want soup).  I used this idea as an excuse to buy several treats I’ve been meaning to try, and I can’t wait to share them. But first, let’s start with a treasure I’ve mentioned several times before.

My parents left this morning to drive back to Tennessee, but first we went out to brunch at Melt. I like Melt’s brunch, but since I’ve learned to make tofu scramble, we don’t go out for brunch very often.

The good thing about taking my folks to Melt, though, is that no one is forced to eat tofu. Two of us ordered vegan meals, one vegetarian, and one neither. We all enjoyed our food and we all chose what we wanted. My father ordered the vegan sausage and biscuits and gravy, and he was probably surprised to see that the gravy was brown, but he liked it even though he mentioned it was a little sweet.

restaurant 018

He and I seem to have similar tastes: I typically order this meal. In fact, the photo is recycled from a previous visit. You get two large, fluffy biscuits with plenty of gravy dotted with sausage pieces.

I ordered the rosemary redskin mess. This is a mess, so please trust me that it is delicious! They take roasted redskin potato wedges, seasoned with rosemary, and top them with spinach, onions, mushrooms, peppers, tofu scramble, tomato slices, and top it off with their smokey cheezy sauce. Even though this looks yellow and brown, it’s incredibly delicious.


This was a great conclusion to our food-centered weekend visit. I say food-centered, but really we had a good time. We took a little road trip to Madison, Indiana for the Candlelight Tour of Homes, we went to a concert at the Blue Wisp jazz club, and we watched plenty of football.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Restaurant: Salt of the Earth

As much I love my Thanksgiving leftovers, by Saturday lunch I was ready for a different kind of food. So, I brought home takeout from Salt of the Earth. This is one of those places that Alex loves because of some vegetarian deliciousness like their standard veggie sandwich and a special cole slaw. However, they typically have rotating vegan selections in their cold case. On this trip, I got a polenta pizza.


This dish has a thick base of sun-dried tomato polenta, and it’s topped with seasoned crumbled tofu and roasted vegetables.


Salt of the Earth is certainly more vegetarian-friendly than vegan-friendly, but the food is always superb. My parents and Alex all ordered vegetarian selections and were very happy with the food.

Salt of the Earth on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Dessert: Derby Pie

I have had pumpkin pie once, maybe twice in my life. And when the opportunity for more has presented itself, I’ve politely declined. Give me a fruit pie, a sweet potato pie, or a chocolate pudding pie, but not pumpkin. I particularly love pecan pie and chess pie – but neither of those are readily veganized.


I first had a Derby Pie in college, and it was frequently requested among my schoolmates. This pie is chocolate, pecan, and bourbon. Often, I’m a pecan purist, but when I came across a recipe for a vegan pie that sounded like a Derby Pie, I knew I had to make it. I am so, so glad I did.

This was exceptionally good. As you can see, my pie is chocked full of pecans. I followed the recipe with only the slightest changes, and maybe there were too many pecans (I’m not the most precise in measuring). I also used Karo corn syrup in place of the maple and agave as I didn’t want to throw in another competing flavor, plus I had a coupon for Karo. That, and Alex didn’t believe me when I told him my grandmother used to give us corn syrup to put on our pancakes.

The pie looks rich, but it really wasn’t too sweet. That may have something to do with my other adaption: as I was using corn syrup instead of agave, I wanted to make sure I didn’t make it too sweet. So I substituted some of the syrup with more whiskey! Still turned out well, even if the filling bubbled over the edge of my crust and then fell back, leaving little craters in between some of the pecans.

If I could have had a slice without leaving evidence that I had done so, I would have liked to have tried a piece before Thanksgiving to rest my mind about whether this would taste good. In the end, though, it didn’t matter; the pie is delicious and I still have several slices to go.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Thanksgiving


This is a typical Thanksgiving, for me. For the past seven years or so, I’ve pretty much done small Thanksgivings, either by myself (yes, really) or just with a few other people. This year, there were four of us - my parents, Alex, and me, at my house in my tiny kitchen.

Its good when the plate is loaded with a variety of tasty eats, and this is one time of year that I don't mind my foods touching. I made many of the things my family typically enjoys, with a few changes to accommodate Alex’s requests, and of course everything was vegan. Clockwise, starting at 12:00 on the plate, we had:

  • Cornbread dressing, made with cornbread, biscuits, celery, and onion
  • Paula Deen’s corn casserole with vegan analogs (Better Than Sour Cream, Earth Balance, no cheese)
  • Broccoli Casserole with a Daiya cheeze sauce similar to what I used as the macaroni and cheeze base, with cashew cream in place of soymilk
  • Roasted sweet potatoes with maple and pecans
  • Roasted Brussles sprouts
  • Tofurkey with vegetables accompanying it during the roast (onion, carrot, celery)
  • Cranberry relish
  • Mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and mushroom gravy

All four of us enjoyed the meal. My parents even enjoyed the Tofurkey – my dad went back for seconds! I had offered to get some (pre-cooked) turkey for them, and thankfully they declined.

The cats are not enjoying the company; they’ve hidden themselves out of sight and are keeping each other warm in a bed built for one and have only come back into the open now that my folks have returned to their hotel:


I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving, or a wonderful Thursday. I’ll share the details on the Derby Pie tomorrow – it was delicious! Right now, I have a lot to be thankful for, but on a lighter note - I’m thankful I’m not a Bengals fan. Cincinnati sports teams have broken my heart one too many times.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a silly way, I am thankful that I was able to take Wednesday off from work. Up until lunch on Tuesday, I was a little worried about the amount of cleaning and prep I wanted to get done before my parents arrived Wednesday evening.

I spent today prepping for Thanksgiving. And cleaning – you can see brooms and vacuums in the background here.


Here we have a Derby Pie, pumpkins, cornbread and biscuits, and cranberry relish. I sure feel like I worked harder than this looks like – I made pumpkin chili (with the fresh pumpkin) for supper tonight with my folks.

The cornbread and biscuits are for dressing, and the cranberry relish is something my mom used to make but is almost exactly like this recipe. The Derby Pie is a complete experiment and if it wouldn’t be evident that I’d sampled some, I’d sure have a slice before I serve it.

My parents are in town, visiting for Thanksgiving. We’ll be making a Tofurkey and enjoying some vegan sides. I haven’t seen my folks since July, so this will be a nice visit. And the pumpkin chili has been eaten (and enjoyed!). Have a great holiday, or just a great weekend.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Welcome to the Cal-Zone


Whenever I ask Alex what he wants to eat, his first answer is almost always pizza. We run into trouble, though, because he likes to go out to a restaurant and I like to make my own. I decided that one easy way for us to each have our own pizza-type-thing was to make two calzones.


Let me tell you, learning to make my own pizza dough has changed my life. Is that too dramatic? Well, I certainly feel like a more accomplished cook, and I also feel empowered to make my own pizza creations. I didn’t develop my own recipe, though. I use Mario Batali’s, but I sub out the honey and use half whole wheat flour. I do use the wine. I love opening a bottle because the recipe calls for it.

In my calzone, you will find meatless balls (Trader Joe’s brand); sauteed mushrooms with lots of garlic; spinach; and (jarred) tomato sauce. I also included a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

The dough didn’t get soggy, and in fact it was so crisp that I was able to eat each half with my hands. No need for that fork you see in the background.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Supper for One

I remember hearing a piece on the radio about the book What We Eat When We Eat Alone and thought the idea was pretty interesting. The book, by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin, contains both stories and recipes. You can imagine: some people are accustomed to eating alone and either relish it or not; others take a meal alone as a chance to eat something their dining partners dislike or to enjoy a secret indulgence. Sometimes it may be as simple as takeout, leftovers, or cold cereal.

I don’t eat alone often, especially not for supper. When I’m alone for lunch I almost never cook. This time, I decided to make myself an easy but hearty meal.


This was easy because I simply steamed a couple of red potatoes, cooked up some kale, and the sausages were almost ready to go. I make big batches of sausages along the lines of the chorizo in Vegan Brunch and keep them in my freezer. Pop one out, thaw it, then split it in half and brown it in a skillet and devour. I doused everything with a mustard-Vegenaise sauce that’s heavy on the dijon and poured most generously over the sausage.

If you want to hear the interview, it was on The Splendid Table and you can listen here. I haven’t read the book, but there is a video advertisement for it on the Amazon page that introduces the book as contrasting what you eat when you’re alone with what we talk about being healthy. That kind of reality-television twist on what was initially interesting decreases my desire to read the book. So instead, I’ll ask you.

Whether you’re accustomed to eating alone, perhaps enjoying saltines and jelly over the sink like Carrie in Sex and the City, or it’s a rare occurrence that you dread or love, what do you eat when you eat alone?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

MoFo Nachos

This post is yet another in the series of me being too awfully busy to write a proper post, but still enjoying the challenge of posting every day. I was away from home all day today and came home hungry – for nachos.


I love to pile chips on a cookie sheet and toss everything in the oven. This is blue and yellow corn chips, chipotle salsa, smashed pintos, diced tomatoes, and Follow Your Heart shredded cheddar. Cold toppings include lettuce, cilantro, Follow Your Heart better than sour cream, and homemade guacamole. Pair with a beer and enjoy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Urban Vegan’s Gobhi Aloo


I made this recipe from Urban Vegan; this is a simple flip on Aloo Gobhi because it’s more cauliflower than potato. This was pretty good, and quick, but not quite as quick as this post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

One More Round: Restaurant Food at Home


This goes way back to last May, when I visited The Chicago Diner. At the time, I was kicking myself for choosing a quesadilla when faced with more choices from their extensive vegan menu than I could wrap my head around. Still, it was really good. And even as I said to myself that I could make it at home, I never did. Until now.

I stuffed my tortilla with smashed sweet potatoes, steamed spinach, black beans, and grilled onions. After the photo, I added some spicy salsa. Yum! I should make this again.

Have a great weekend – I’ll be around!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Restaurant food at home: 2 of 2

I really enjoy eating out. Yesterday’s pasta was a dish ordered out of desperation, on vacation. When I find a good restaurant, I love love love eating out. I’m not quite ready to say that my favorite dish is whatever someone else cooks*, but I still love not having to cook - on occasion. I go out usually once a week, sometimes twice. I’ve found a generous handful of local restaurants I like, and there are more I’m eager to try. So tonight, I share with you something I’ve enjoyed when eating out but have never made for myself. It turned out pretty well.

I have eaten wheatberries only two times before this. That is inexplicable, because although I enjoyed them, I had not eaten them again until just now. My first time was at Third Avenue Cafe in Louisville, and the second was at Myra’s Dionysus here in Cincinnati.

So I buckled down and halfway recreated something I had at two restaurants at home.


My home version isn’t quite as chock-full of goodness and the Third Avenue version that included celery, onion, and carrots, or the Myra’s version with black eyed peas, dried cranberries, onion, garlic, mint, and lemon tahini dressing. Mine, though, was still absolutely delicious.

I didn’t measure, but here’s the ingredients:

  • Cooked wheatberries
  • Cooked edamame
  • Apple
  • Dried cranberries

This is dressed with lots of apple cider vinegar and a little olive oil. It was delicious. I actually didn’t look back at the previous salad ingredients until I was composing this post. This salad is best enjoyed at room temperature, but it’s okay chilled as well. I know I couldn’t wait to eat my leftovers and it was pretty good straight from the fridge.

*I heard Mario Batali say this on The Splendid Table. I understand the sentiment, but I don’t agree.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Restaurant Food at Home: 1 of 2

When I was in San Diego earlier this month, there was a lot of – um – tension about where to eat. That’s putting it politely. We were all on edge: tired, hot, sunburned, and hungry. We ended up eating our final dinner in town at Jimmy Love’s, which is more of a nightclub than a restaurant.

We still had a handful of menu options and I ended up getting the spaghetti pomodoro. It was surprisingly good. That was one of those dishes that reminds me how good plain marinara sauce with lots of tomatoes can be. Let’s be honest, though, it was not worth the $15 it cost, but it was better than I expected from a menu that misspelled tomato.

So I recreated it at home, but I made it better.


This is Alex’s plate. He likes for me to photograph his food sometimes, too, and in this case his Ninja Warrior training, hungry-man portion is perfect to show all the tomatoes.

I riffed from a recipe from an Italian restaurant we frequent, often with Alex’s mom, in Philadelphia, Ralph’s. They actually have a few recipes on their website, including the marinara. It’s so simple there’s no reason to keep it a secret, and Ralph’s is never short on customers. And if I were Italian instead of Southern, I probably wouldn’t have to bother looking up the recipe.


This is my plate, on which you can see the portabella slices. I sauteed half of the grape tomatoes with garlic and onion, then added some tomato sauce and the seasonings and cooked for an hour. I finished with fresh basil and the other tomatoes, which I just heated through. The spinach and mushrooms were cooked separately. So simple that the only reason for my lead-in was to tell a story. I have another restaurant recreation for you tomorrow. It’s actually more interesting.

Buon appetito!

When you eat out, do you enjoy another person doing the cooking, or do think how you could do better? I do a bit of both, depending on where I’m eating.