Tuesday, October 11, 2016

VeganMoFo 2016: MiniMoFo Challenge

Here we go again. November 2016 will mark this year's Vegan Month of Food, or VeganMoFo. I am quite excited, as always, but also a little weary only because my full-time job is exhausting and will most likely require me to bake more pumpkin and pecan pies than I have ever imagined I would in entire my life. But, alas, VeganMoFo is one of my favorite things to participate in and I can only see myself trying as hard as possible to stay involved in the challenges every single day.

I have participated in MoFo for the last handful of years on a few different blogs. Here you can find all of last year's blog posts (more were on Instagram). In 2014 I stuck to an Amelie theme but those posts were on a blog that is now defunct. Here you can find some of my many prior uses for a gigantic apple haul (from 2013). Here you can find my recipe for the best tomato soup I've ever eaten (also from 2013). During VeganMoFo 2012 I did not participate because had recently graduated from college and returned to my hometown for prolonged medical care and to figure out what to do with myself and my life.

I found out this morning that The PPK (Post Punk Kitchen), Isa Chandra Moskowitz's primary website for as long as I can remember, will be shut down and replaced with her more 'professional' website. I 100% completely understand the thought process behind this, but I wanted to take this opportunity to muse a little bit about The PPK.

The summer of 2010 was when I first really began my love affair with Post Punk Kitchen and Isa and Terry's cookbooks. I decided to buy Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World via Amazon and bake cupcakes for me and my college roommates and friends. I really enjoyed sharing my delicious creations with others and so this led me to buy more cookbooks and further explore vegan cooking and baking. I honestly believe that the style and ease of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and The PPK are what have led me to where I am today - getting paid to bake.

Cupcakes from August 2010.

My baking in 2010 was abruptly halted due to severe head injuries I sustained in late August of that year. The night before the car accident that changed my life, I baked cupcakes: banana cake with chocolate mousse, topped with berries and almond. They look messy to me now, after having gone through culinary school and my experience working in bakeries, but I can still recall how they must have tasted. I still remember being proud of them and sharing them with my best friend.

Thomcord grape cobbler.

I have only emailed Isa once. Let's be clear: I have never met her. I closely missed seeing her on her Isa Does It book tour when I moved from California to Portland, and I have plans to visit her restaurants, but I have never met her. A handful of months ago she visited Portland and was literally a few blocks away from my apartment eating dinner (I only knew this because she posted about it on Instagram); this is the closest I have ever physically been in proximity to her. I kind of fear the day I finally meet her if only for the fact that I would have no idea what to say or do. I admire and respect her a lot and her recipes have helped me to learn and heal and try new things and contributed to how I have shaped my culinary style. I can be incredibly awkward when interacting with new people so I know when we meet I'll have to really think about what I could say to her that will convey that I am more grateful than, say, obsessed

Anyway, when I emailed her, I sent her the above picture and explained that I made her blueberry cobbler recipe with thomcord grapes instead of blueberries and it kind of blew my mind and baked up beautifully. She responded to my email and it made me feel good.

The PPK and VeganMoFo are important to me because thoughtfully preparing vegan food is important to me. Being in the kitchen helps me to decompress, and the community aspects of the PPK forums and MoFo are an added comfort. The only thing I wish was different? I wish I had more personal time to dedicate to these pursuits. 

The current preliminary MiniMoFo challenge is as follows: Make something to welcome autumn. This fortnight, make something using that fresh autumnal produce. We’re hoping to see lots of squash, pumpkin, maybe even some Halloween treats!

I am currently working on a little project in which I 'finish' Isa Does It; I'm trying to make all of the recipes in the book before The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook is released. After today, I have 20 recipes left & 30 days to execute them. So, naturally, tonight I chose to make one of those recipes: Sweet Potato and Red Curry Soup with Rice and Kale.

As soon as cooler weather rolls around, I feel like I can't start making soups and stews quick enough. The fresh produce I utilized? Onion, ginger, garlic, kale, sweet potato, and lime juice. To me, nothing says 'fall is here' like walking in from the cold weather to make a big pot of hot eats with fragrant spices that fill the house with warmth and hunger.

Sweet Potato Red Curry Soup with Brown Rice and Kale,
garnished with seared tofu and sriracha.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Comfort Food Classic: Mac & Cashew Cheese

Mac & cashew cheese with peppers & peas, dusted with sweet paprika & dried parsley.

For the past five years, I have always referred to the same recipe as the end-all-be-all of vegan macaroni and cheese. I have tried out many other recipes that seemed promising but ultimately fell flat. This macaroni & cashew cheese is what made me fall in love with using cashews for richness and creaminess. This recipe is what made me realize, 'Oh! Vegan cheese can be seriously f*cking delicious!', and I never looked back.

The first time I made this I nearly ate the entire batch by myself and I can tell you with confidence that the leftovers are still enjoyable even when they're cold straight out of the refrigerator. Discovering this recipe was one of those pivotal moments for me that made transitioning to veganism that much more accessible. Finding methods of cooking and recipes that may even surpass prior techniques prepared with animal products is what causes the choice to adhere to a vegan diet to become a lifelong adoption. The appeal to my tastebuds along with the knowledge that both my heart (no cholesterol!) and the animals are happier for my plant-based choices keeps me motivated and inspired. I can tell you with complete honesty that I have never craved any dairy-ladden mac and cheese since I've found this golden nugget of a recipe.

I came upon the original of this recipe in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table, who actually adapted it from The Real Food Daily Cookbook by Ann Gentry. Patrick-Goudreau notes in her book that she only modified the recipe slightly, and I have only modified her version slightly as well. My modifications make the recipe more streamlined (in my opinion) but they don't compromise taste one bit. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use any type of pasta and add any delicious mix-ins you have on hand. You can also certainly bake this mac as a casserole with seasoned breadcrumbs or grated vegan cheese on top, but I find it tastes better straight off of the stovetop. This makes enough for 4 servings or more if you're serving it as a side dish. You can also easily double the recipe for the holidays or any larger social gatherings.

Homemade mac & cheese with roasted brussels & smokey spicy tempeh.

Mac & Cashew Cheese
Yield :: 4-6 servings 
Adapted from the 'Creamy Macaroni and Cashew Cheese' recipe in The Vegan Table.

Continue for the recipe!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Through Jealousy & Fear: Embracing Truth

I sometimes find myself battling an inner dialogue characterized by jealousy & fear. Here's how it can go: someone demonstrates a skill in the kitchen I'm not sure I have, I become jealous, then angry at myself for being jealous, then naturally I become afraid that I may be a fraud & not talented enough to be in a professional kitchen. For a moment seemingly suspended in time, I believe that I am only 'faking it' and don't deserve the good fortune that has fallen into my lap. 

This is quite obviously a slippery slope thought process that inevitably leads to me feeling quite negatively about myself. In these moments, I mentally shut down. I lunge into my work & pretend these emotions don't exist.

 Jealousy & fear are hard things to admit to. Lately, however, I have been trying my best to acknowledge the jealousy & fear - unpack why it is I may be feeling these things, consider the reasons why on an intellectual level these emotions are not helpful, and proceed to push through them to reveal instead why I admire what I was initially jealous of. I admire those decorating skills because I haven't really seen buttercream flowers piped like that before, for example. Or maybe I admire their creativity in developing new flavor combinations.

These feelings, of course, are not relegated to the kitchen. Unfortunately, I am guilty of harboring jealousy with regard to many different things - such as owning a nice house or having a charming, extroverted personality. Many of us are prone to jealousy; I know for a fact that I'm not the only one out here who feels these things. The primary reason I become jealous, I have found, is because I'm afraid of some revelatory truth twisting my mental state into something (or someone) I no longer recognize. I'm afraid of suddenly becoming self-aware in a way that confirms I am nothing extraordinary, nothing notable, all ordinary & fruitless.

So, I'm kind of afraid of the truth. I have a fear of truth when in all likelihood truth is a lot less sinister & emotionally devastating than my psyche imagines it to be. I balance lead-footed anxieties on my shoulders that consistently mutter, I am not good enough, when in reality nothing I can logically think of proves this to be true. I am, in all likelihood, just as good enough as anybody else.

Many people must struggle with similar inward uncertainty & panic. When I'm overwhelmed, I attempt to console myself: I do not have to be what you want me to be. Or, rather, what I imagine you want me to be. (The 'you' in this situation, of course, could be anybody.) Trust the good in people. Stop comparing to win. Encourage in the face of insecurity.

Nikki Allen wrote something on her blog last month that struck a chord with me: "You will not stay the same, and you shouldn't anyway." 

I don't imagine that one day I'll wake-up & suddenly never be jealous again, but openly acknowledging & deconstructing jealousy gives it less power & allows me to feel lighter & understand myself better. Jealousy is natural when you have goals you wish to reach & a lot of work to do in order to achieve those goals. My aim is to turn that jealousy into inspiration & use it to motivate me try harder, go further, dream bigger.

We're all in this together.