Monday, November 14, 2016

Decadent Food Dreams (MoFo Days 11, 12, 13)

Isa's Green Lasagna Rolls that I have made twice & are so so delicious & 100% worth the effort.

Prompts: 11) Where does your favorite food come from? 12) What would you eat on your dream holiday? 13) An alien lands on your doorstep. What are they going to eat?

Toasted almond & green tea biscotti I baked for a friend.

My favorite cuisine was difficult to pin down because I love so many different types of meals, but I think my preferred cuisine as of late is Italian-inspired. Espresso-soaked tiramisu with a perfect balance of tangy creaminess & deep chocolate bitterness. Biscotti, a cookie designed specifically with coffee in mind. The wonders of homemade pasta & gnocchi. The brilliance that is vegan piccata over mashed potatoes. Eggplant parmesan. Fresh pesto, hot crusty pizza, cold beautiful gelato. Vtopia's mozzarella, caprese. Minestrone. Focaccia. Risotto. Polenta. Pairing a gorgeous simmering dark red marinara with a robust red wine. The fantastically heavy casserole dish full of heartily rich & satisfying lasagne that could feed you & your whole family for at least two days. It's all just so absolutely inviting & fulfilling.

The tiramisu at local vegan restaurant Portobello, photo via Yelp.
Best tiramisu I've ever eaten, vegan or not.

Isa's seitan piccata. I really love her recipe for chickpea piccata in Isa Does It.

On my dream vacation, I would uncover buttery-decadent-delicate traditional French food done the vegan way. As a baker who is constantly thinking about pastries, I would love to be able to walk into a 'traditional' French eatery to discover that I could eat every-beautiful-thing without worrying about eggs and dairy. I found this top 10 list of vegan eats in Paris from which I found Gentle Gourmet Cafe, a 100% vegan restaurant that serves faux-gras & so many decadent-sounding menu items (check out their instagram for some stunning dishes). So, on my dream holiday, I would be in Paris drinking wine & coffee & eating croissants, faux gras, baguette, vegan cheese, French truffle, cream sauces, macarons, & all the locally grown fruits & vegetables. Then I would cry.

Photo via Gentle Gourmet on Facebook.

My partner & I are planning a trip to Europe next year, so I actually may be able to eat vegan in Paris! I have also discovered the helpful Paris Vegan & Paris by Vegan, so suddenly eating plant-based in France seems like such an easy & enjoyable thing to do.

If I had to feed an alien right at this moment, I would hope they would enjoy two of my favorite things, made their best when consumed alongside each other: coffee & pumpkin pie coffee cake.The coffee cake is beyond moist to the point that it almost tastes like pumpkin pie filling and is given crunch with a nutty streusel topping.

Bon appetit, alien!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Something Different, Something Fusion: Gumbo Spaghetti (Days 9 & 10)

Vegan Gumbo meets Cincinnati Chili! Okra Gumbo from Isa Does It over spaghetti
with diced onions & Miyoko's Kitchen artisan cheese in Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash.

Prompts: 9) Cook a cuisine you’ve never tried before. Or, one you don’t make often enough. 10) Take two cuisines and make them work together.

I have never prepared nor eaten gumbo before. I have been eyeing Isa's recipe since she originally posted it on her blog five years ago, but for some reason haven't made it...until today. I also recently learned about Cincinnati chili:
"[...] a Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce used as a topping for spaghetti (a 'two-way') or hot dogs ('coneys'), both dishes developed by Macedonian immigrant restaurateurs in the 1920s. Ingredients include ground beef, stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, other Mediterranean spices and sometimes chocolate in a soup-like consistency. Other toppings include cheese, onions, and beans" (Wikipedia).
Vegan Cincinnati Chili from Oh My Veggies,
a photo which happens to feature one of my favorite beers (Old Rasputin).

I have also never eaten Cincinnati Chili. Even though I am admittedly unfamiliar with how both dishes are 'supposed' to taste, I decided to 'fuse' them together & hope for the best. The result? I cleaned my plate! Unlikely combination, but definitely a work of genius.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Homefries & Bhindi Masala (MoFo Days 7 & 8)

Eat Your Feelings Election Day Cake I made at work today:
Red & blue velvet cake layers with a white cake layer in between, blueberry compote,
sliced fresh strawberries, vanilla buttercream, small amount of sprinkles, fresh berry garnish.

Prompts: 7) Make a food from your own country, state, or hometown. 8) If you dug straight down, where would you come out? Make something from that country!

Breakfast for Dinner: homefries,  homemade smokey ketchup, scrambled tofu with caramelized
onions + green chili + garlic + carrot + tomato + cilantro + spices. Homefries are the first thing I
ever remember cooking; I remember peeling & chopping potatoes on weekend mornings
as a kid with my Dad.

Breakfast is a meal
that inherently reminds me of American diners. I grew up eating hashbrowns or homefries nearly every week, my parents habitually cooking weekend breakfasts in cast-iron skillets in the early morning. In my hometown, if I was hanging out with friends late at night, we would often drive to Denny's since it was the only thing open & order cheap coffee & pancakes. To this day, I crave the veganized version of an All-American Breakfast: scrambled tofu, potatoes, toast with butter, & veggie sausage/bacon. Or buttery pancakes dripping with maple syrup & a side of salty fake meat. Or biscuits & mushroom gravy with potatoes. I love it all.

When I Google-searched 'what is on the other side of the world', this is the response I received:
"[...] if you dig straight down and through the exact center of the earth from anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States, you'd come out in the Indian Ocean."
The Indian Ocean. Not quite a country, but since 'Indian' is in the title, I decided to make the Bhindi Masala recipe from Isa Does It. I have only made Indian food a few times at home, dishes I could easily count on one hand: chana masala, kofta, & naan. I have also never cooked or eaten okra before, so I was excited to try out this recipe. The result was a rich & satisfying dish thickened with a chickpea flour roux & stirring with a subtle yet nuanced flavor profile. While I made the recipe, each step made me feel like I was purposefully building flavor notes on top of one another - & I was. Definitely something I will make again when fresh okra is in season.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

On Eating Out, Late Night Snacks, & Sunday Suppers (MoFo Days 4, 5, 6)

As @isachandra writes, "a taste of summer any time of year"🍑 Warm Peachy-Raspberry Cobbler
from #isadoesit with cinnamon sugar sprinkle & melty burnt sugar vanilla ice cream!

VeganMoFo Prompts: 4) Where do you eat when you want someone else to cook for you? 5
) Tell us what you’re midnight snacking on! 6) Something that always cheers you up.

Oh! You Pretty Thing pizza from Associated:
tomato sauce base, vegan sausage, curly endive, marinated peppers.

I am fortunate enough to currently live in a city that is extremely vegan-friendly so I have a seemingly unlimited amount of options. My personal favorite restaurants & dishes include:

As you can tell, these are very comfort-food-type meals. When I eat out, it's usually because I'm too tired to cook & I'm also very hungry & want satisfying food now. Most of these places are also very close to my apartment. Like, I could walk to most of them and arrive within 30 minutes or considerably less. My favorite places also often feel like a home away from home.

Let's be honest: I usually go to bed before 10pm since I wake up so early for work, so there isn't much 'midnight snacking' going on. When I do snack though, I most often grab Juanita's & Zuniga's from Food Fight Grocery across the street from my apartment. I also recently bought dried cranberries at Trader Joe's for the first time & they're damn tasty & addictive. Sometimes I also buy whatever nondairy ice cream they have at my local Grocery Outlet & nibble on it before bed.

I wrote about comfort food on the first day of MoFo, but what I failed to mention was the concept of a big Sunday night supper - something to soak up those last rays of weekend cheer & give you that belly full of pleasure that will help you to sleep well & supplement your motivation to go to work or school the next day with the rejuvenating satisfaction of a weekend well-spent. The meal that cheered me up this Sunday night: buttery Pumpkin Dinner Rolls (proofed for 26 hours! recipe via The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner), Red Lentil Thai Chili (recipe from Isa Does It), & Peachy-Raspberry Cobbler (also from Isa Does It) with burnt sugar vanilla ice cream for dessert. Every recipe was easy & incredibly delicious. The Thai Chili, however, was perfect & surprising with its nuanced flavors. Isa loads it up with onion, red bell pepper, red lentils, garlic, sweet potato, tomato, kidney beans, coconut milk, chili powder, & red curry paste - & the result is a beautifully rich stew. Highly reccommended!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to Easily Have Dinner in Front of You AKA I Don't Want to Leave My Apartment or Make a Mess AKA Just Throw a Bunch of Stuff in a Bowl (MoFo Day 3)

VeganMoFo Prompt: What’s your “easy cook” meal? That you make when you can’t be bothered to cook much?

Today has been day 9 of a 10 day work week. I am quite tired. My apartment needs to be swept & mopped & tidied. I'm running out of groceries (read: fresh produce) & I'm eagerly awaiting my next paycheck.

I have just a few options to consider to figure out what I will make for dinner. Usually, the first thing I do is take inventory of what 'proteins' I have at my disposal. Today I have: Brazil nuts, pine nuts, lentils, seitan, raw cashews, hummus, tahini. The second thing I do is figure out what grains or starches I have. Russet potatoes, rice, pasta, flour, cornmeal. Third, I consider the fruits & veggies I have available. Fresh garlic, onions, carrots, lemons, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, a can of artichoke hearts, a can of pumpkin puree, kalamata olives, good salsa, raisins, dried cranberries, frozen corn, blueberry preserves. Finally, I quickly piece together all of the meal possibilities in my head while also considering  1) my willingness to put forth whatever level of effort the meal will require & 2) what I'm in the mood to eat.

When I'm tired, I love one-pan endeavors with minimal prep & clean-up. I also love preparing foods that I don't really have to think about, meals that I've made so many times that I could do it without thinking. This usually cuts me down to 3 categories: breakfast for dinner, a bowl, & soup/stew.

Here are the current options that my mind jumps to when reviewing the above available ingredients:

  • Pasta with olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, onions, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, & kalamata olives.
  • Rice bowl with cooked lentils, roasted carrots & onion, a dollop of hummus on top or a tahini-miso dressing.
  • Rice bowl with seitan & sauteed onion, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, hummus/a garlicky tahini dressing.
  • Mashed potatoes with miso-lentil gravy, steamed carrots.
  • Mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes with lentil loaf, steamed carrots.
  • Hash with seitan, onion, garlic, & carrot, topped with salsa & hummus or a garlicky tahini dressing.
  • Lentil soup with potatoes, garlic, onion, carrot, corn, & pumpkin cornbread.
  • Pumpkin waffles or pancakes with Brazil nuts, fresh ginger, dried cranberries, & rice paper bacon.
  • Creamy pumpkin alfredo pasta with onions, garlic, ginger, & seitan.
  • Carrot cake pancakes with Brazil nuts, raisins, & rice paper bacon.
  • Seitan & waffles.
  • Puffy pillow pancakes & blueberry preserves, Brazil nuts, rice paper bacon.
  • Corn Johnnycakes with rice paper bacon.

...there's probably more I'm not coming up with, like some sort of lemony pasta dish, but like I said before - I'm tired. Looking at this list, what appeals to me? Let's cut it down: I'm not hungry for pasta, so those are out. I don't really want to take the effort to make lentil gravy or lentil loaf, so those are out. Not really into hash at the moment. A rice bowl, soup, or some sort of pancakes sound good. 

This is when I consult with Keith, since I'm cooking for the both of us. "What sounds good to you?" Rice bowl with seitan & veg it is.

Bowl set-up for four servings: two for dinner, two for tomorrow's lunch.

What I had to do: get the rice going on the stove, throw onion + seitan + garlic + salt & fresh cracked pepper in a skillet, prep the veggies, blend together the tahini-ladden hummus, then put it all into bowls & tupperware. BOOM. Took 40 minutes, but only because that's how long brown rice takes to cook.

The end result: Brown rice splashed with a little balsamic vinegar, seared seitan & onions, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, carrot ribbons, sun-dried tomatoes, the last of some garlic & herb hummus blended with tahini/miso/& water, toasted pine nuts. Now I can get some sleep!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How to Make Friends: All You Need is Pie (MoFo Day 2)

Pumpkin Pie with nondairy whip, a dusting of pumpkin spice, & pepitas.

VeganMoFo Prompt: What’s your go to “impress me” meal?

I don't really go about trying to impress people. I mostly just try to do my best & overall I choose to do what makes me happy, which just happens to be spending time in the kitchen creating new recipes. What makes me happiest, however, is baking a pie. You really know I care about you if I bake you a pie.

Ever since before I attended culinary school, pie has been my favorite thing. I loved pie because it always implied that something special was happening, that the next season's harvest had finally arrived, or it signified an edible gift for someone close to me. Nowadays, I also love pie because of its endless variations: fruit pie, custard pie, cream pie, lattice crust, crumb pie, cookie crust, graham crust, traditional, a contemporary twist on an old favorite, raw desserts - the flavor combinations and choices for adornment are seemingly limitless. What I also love about pie is its simplicity: crust, filling, then its topping & perhaps a garnish. There is something so beautiful about a dessert so transparent - yet it also requires a bit of skill.

Several times I've had people approach me about the woes of pie dough gone wrong. "I rolled it out & into a shape I couldn't even describe to you, but it wasn't a circle." "I tried to transfer the crust to the pie plate & it tore all over the place." "The dough kept melting when I was trying to roll it out!" "The dough kept cracking when I tried to roll it out!" "The apples weren't cooked enough but the crust was golden." "The crust was soggy on the bottom." "I wish my crust was flakier!" These are all reasons why, when you successfully bake a pie, you may in fact impress people.

For about a month, from mid-September to the end of October, I worked at a pie shop & learned more about pie & how to treat it better. I learned, once again, that gluten development is an important thing to keep in mind. I was told to "err on the side of darkness" when it came to taking a pie out of the oven, meaning: don't be afraid to let the crust become a darker shade of brown because if it is, it's less likely to become soggy later. I learned that a solid crimped edge takes practice. I also learned that, despite my devoted love of pie, I'm not meant to work in a pie shop.

When your life is saturated with something, that thing becomes a little less special. I didn't want to become sick of pie. I didn't want pie to loose its magic.

Moral of the story: bake pie for the people you love. Or hire me to make one for you. Whichever. #piemagic

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Comfort Food Classic: Cornflake Seitan (MoFo Day 1)

Quinoa, mushroom gravy, cornflake seitan, & roasted asparagus.

VeganMoFo Prompt: What is your favorite food? Make it and share!

Asking about a favorite meal is like asking about a favorite song, a favorite movie, or a favorite book: there's too many options to choose from & each choice is predicated upon several different factors, such as mood or the season or a fond memory. For example, today I might say my favorite movie is Psycho since it was just Halloween & I've been listening to a lot of murder podcasts recently, but next week I might say its Tangerine. Favorites are ever-changing.

As far as my current favorite food goes, one thing is pretty consistent: my favorite foods are those that comfort me in the moment. I think this makes a lot of sense considering my history with bulimia. When I was ill, to deal with anxiety and uneasy emotions I would turn to food in an unhealthy way for the prolonged yet also temporary comfort it afforded me. As a study cited in a post on the Science of Eating Disorders blog explains: 
"BN[bulimia nervosa]-events commonly occur on days with significantly 'worse' moods and, even at the moment when mood is best on BN-event days, moods are more negative than on days when no BN-events occur. [...]Mood significantly worsened [...] leading up to BN-events but improved (significantly more rapidly) following the event. [...]bingeing or purging behaviors are strongly negatively reinforcing as they allow escape/avoidance of a strongly negative affective state. This (local) reinforcing pattern provides support for the persistence (and resistance to change) of binge and purge behaviors, yet is also consistent with the view that such behaviors are not effective overall (global) coping efforts." 
While binging and purging behavior did not solve any lasting issues I may have had, it did offer temporary relief. I found myself primarily concerned with food & its taste & how to get rid of it, if only for a little while, instead of whatever 'real' uncomfortable or unsettling feelings that led up to the symptomatic episodes. I don't binge or purge any longer, but I am still guilty of turning to food to do more than satisfy my hunger - but the difference is that now I can harness the effects of comfort food in a positive manner.

My favorite meals vary greatly, from a pint of Ben & Jerry's nondairy PB & Cookies eaten straight  out of the carton to a juicy ripe peach handpicked from its tree to a homemade stuffed seitan roast with mashed potatoes prepared in my own kitchen in the dead of winter. A good plate of Mexican food feels like home, chile rellenos & salsa & fluffy rice & perfect refried pinto beans. Fruit pie reminds me of my Dad. I love the smells & sensations of a weekend breakfast, hot coffee & anticipation & sheer pleasure filling the air. A hot cheezy pizza delivered on a lazy Friday night & scarfed down while half-laying on the couch. When someone prepares a meal, any meal, for me that I didn't expect. A big pot of soup or stew that somehow could not be improved upon in any way because it tastes so damn good & warms your insides up in the exact way you've been craving all day. Fresh garlic naan, kofta. Veggie sausage & watermelon on the 4th of July. Summer evenings with big salads & beers. Creamy pesto lasagna. Food that takes me by surprise. Food that makes a mess, food that is quick & easy, food that takes all day to prepare. Just food that makes me feel good, like a favorite song or a line in a poem.

So tonight my comfort food is this: A bed of quinoa as a canvas. Roasted asparagus for greenery & depth. Cornflake seitan, because I have childhood memories of my mother preparing seasoned cornflake chicken for dinner & because I am 100% in love with Doomie's fried chick'n (if you know me, you know I dream of their fried chick'n) & its deep-fried crunch. Mushroom gravy, because biscuits & gravy was breakfast nearly every Sunday morning when I was growing up. A pinch of cayenne for color & spice.

The best foods are cared for, whether planned meals or impromptu treats. We love them for the sensory experience in the moment as well as what those sensations evoke. This reminds me of one of the first meals I made for just Keith & I, the Good Gravy Bowl from Isa Does It: a cooked grain or mashed potatoes, faux meat (I think I used Gardein Beefless Tips), broccoli, miso lentil gravy. It also reminds me of the fact that the first meal my mother ever made for my father was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, & gravy.

Cornflake Seitan
Yield :: 4 servings

Continue for the recipe!

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.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Choosing & Distorting Food: Confidence in the Kitchen

It's been a long time since I've written, and part of the reason is because while I'm interested in relaying tried-and-true recipes I'm also currently more interested in other things. Like my laundry, my cat, sleep, applying myself fully when it comes to work, applying myself fully in my romantic relationship, keeping in contact with friends and family, contemplating my personal and professional future, etc. Essentially: these days I'm most interested in taking care of myself and making room for growth. Boring as hell, I know, but it's fucking taken a lot for me to get to this point.

Food has been my go-to for comfort for a long time, which is not all bad. As I have written about before, I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder at seventeen and was later re-diagnosed at twenty-two by another therapist with comorbid bulimia nervosa and post-traumatic stress disorder. I am now twenty-seven. Needless to say, I have a long push-and-pull history with food - but so do many others. Somehow I have been able to recover from a life where food was something to be hidden and ashamed of. By working on myself consistently and feeding on the confidence and support of those around me, both friends and strangers, I have been able to slowly shift from distorting food into something dangerous to choosing food as a vehicle to both physically and mentally nourish myself.

This sounds arbitrary for its overuse, but finally-really choosing recovery after so many years is what made all the difference. Various factors contributed to my successful recovery, the most notable being:  1) I reconnected with the love of my life (who I am now very recently married to) and 2) I received a large monetary settlement related to the event that caused my PTSD and thus was able to pay off my student loan debt, move to Portland, and go to culinary school. If one or both of those things (having my partner's support &/or being financially stable) had not happened, I could have very well stayed holed-up in my small town bedroom and remained quite sick. Ugly yet somehow fortunate things have happened in my life, but I have landed in a city I love with an apartment I love shared with a person I love creating food that I love...and it's so surreal. But don't think it didn't take a million tears, certain privileges, and hard work to get here.

Trading shame for pride is a difficult goal for anyone to aspire to.  Choosing food as a means of expression & nourishment instead of distorting food into some kind of symbolic enemy has made all the difference; I have finally chosen to embrace what excites me most & I feel much healthier & happier because of it.

Books, articles, entire blogs, songs, and probably all other avenues of media are often dedicated to the intersection of confidence and the body, but where can one explore confidence as it relates to food that isn't tied to 'clean eating', dieting, or fitness? I personally look to cookbooks, cooking-related television, food writing, vegan blogs, etc., & try my best to find confident, mentally healthy, kind people who are excited to be in the kitchen. Often major professional cooking outlets are dominated by white men: see this resource guide, the list of Michelin starred chefs, James Beard award winners, Food & Wine's featured chefs, etc. Reviewing this proof that a person has to actively search to find a successful, confident, non-white, non-cisgendered-male who harbors a truly positive relationship with's no wonder that so many females and non-conforming individuals have a tough time being confident and choosing to nourish their bodies.

I am nearing a small yet important crossroads in my career. I'm looking for a new job, a new project, something that challenges me to grow and learn as a person who prefers to spend an inordinate amount of time elbow-deep in flour. I love the bakery I currently work for; it's full of kind and extraordinary people who are passionate about so many different things. However, I need to take care of myself. I know that taking care of myself means I need to expose myself to new methods & new chefs. I need to be excited again, to fall headfirst into the unknown. I owe it to myself to take chances & pursue terrifying yet thrilling opportunities. I want to increase my confidence by further developing my skills in the kitchen. I owe it to myself to work hard & aspire to be 'great', whatever that means.

This is a difficult process.  It's tough for me to look to myself, identify what I honestly want, decide that I deserve it, believe that I deserve it, & convince other people that I can absolutely deliver what it is they're looking for. The beautiful thing is: only good can come of this. I have to trust that whatever extreme effort I put out into the world, the world will return in kind.

So here's to chasing dreams.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On Books, Kitchen Love, & Pot Pies

Assorted pastries I have made over the last few months:
spelt oatmeal spice cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and coconut almond topping,
blueberry chai cheesecake and a coconut cream pie,
peanut butter mousse tarts with chocolate ganache, and a savory filled croissant.

I've finally began watching The Great British Baking Show and it's causing me to reexamine my baking techniques and commitment to pastry arts, pushing me to lean into more challenging endeavors and dare myself to try that much harder. I'm attempting to carve out my niche: vegan comfort food with a special appreciation for pies. With all the culinary talent out there, I still feel like such a novice when it comes to pastry arts because there is so much I have yet to experience. To know everything about vegan cooking and baking is impossible, but I am determined to continue absorbing as much as I can.

Somehow I found myself walking over seven miles today. I left my apartment before 9am to take advantage of a rain-free Portland day like a child scrambling to turn on Saturday morning cartoons. A good portion of my day included wandering around Powell's Books and discovering new inspiration for my heart and mind. The following are books of interest that I hope to purchase and/or borrow from the library this year...

Vegan & Food-Related Books

  • Plum // I almost ate here when I visited Seattle earlier this month. After stumbling upon their cookbook, I wish I had!
  • Baking With Julia // I love baking & Julia Child. The End.
  • The Everything Vegan Wedding Book // I'm mostly just curious.
  • Food52 Vegan // I'm interested in what Food52 has to contribute to the vegan community.
  • Vegan Eats World & Salad Samurai // I've never bought a cookbook exclusively by Terry Hope Romero & I think I'm overdue.
  • Teff Love // I need to get to one of my local Ethiopian restaurants, and after determining that the food is delicious (it probably will be, let's be honest), I need to get my grubby hands on Kittee's beautiful cookbook.
  • Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen // Indian recipes by Richa!
  • Afro-Vegan // I've been thinking about this cookbook for months. Bryant Terry was also featured in the Soul Food Junkies documentary.

Women-Centric Books

  • But You Did Not Come Back // A holocaust memoir.
  • Notorious RBG //  You've probably heard of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg cult following.
  • M Train // Patti Smith's latest.
  • Girl in a Band // Kim Gordon's memoir.
  • A Story Lately Told // I've heard that Angelica Houston has fantastic stories to tell.
  • Rocket Girl // The story of America's first female rocket scientist.
  • Zami // I admittedly need more Audre Lorde in my life.
  • The Girls Who Went Away // "The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade"
  • Bad Feminist // I haven't gotten around to it yet, but somehow I feel like I 'have to' read this.

I've also been swooning over these Martha Stewart dessert plates that resemble doilies. After much contemplation, I finally think that I'm ready to make the plunge and buy my own 6 quart KitchenAid stand mixer. My partner also bought me this gorgeous copper cooling rack (also pictured below). I feel so spoiled. When I allow myself time to reflect, I realize that life is treating me very well.

I made Spicy Tempeh Pot Pie with a flaky-buttery coconut oil crust for dinner! The filling consisted of marinated tempeh, potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, jalepeño, garlic, thyme, dill, rosemary, sage, and a few other ingredients to marry all of the ingredients together. So good! I haven't eaten a pot pie in quite some time so this dinner was a welcome treat. We must savor winter foods while we can, right?

Until next week,
xo Jenny

Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 Update

Sweetpea's outdoor sign when it snowed in Portland a few weeks ago.

I've been working quite a bit this winter and my responsibilities in 2016 will only continue to grow. I began as an intern at Sweetpea Baking Company in October 2014, started a wholesale baker position in February 2015, and then was presented the opportunity to work as a morning retail baker this past September. The holidays were a hailstorm of pies and cookies and aching feet. This month I was offered the wedding cake coordinator position to take on in addition to my retail baker duties and I have accepted this privilege with a full heart. Time and time again, Sweetpea bestows me with opportunities to advance my culinary education and continues to make so many of my vegan-baker-dreams come true.

Savory filled croissant.

That being said, I haven't been writing like I used to and it has definitely influenced my well being. I took a vacation recently and realized how difficult it is for me to be alone with my thoughts - which I acknowledge isn't a healthy state to be in. I'm always trying to keep my hands busy, and therefore my mind busy, with cooking or cleaning or errands or gratuitous Netflix choices. I have a hard time just being and I attribute this to my lack of writing and connecting to myself and others on a more intimate level. If I'm not journaling or asking myself regularly what my goals are, I'm probably not doing great. Work tires me out so most days I just want to come home, shower, eat dinner, stare at the T.V. for awhile, then go to sleep. This routine doesn't nurture my sense of self and thus leaves me feeling hollow. So that's why I'm checking-in with my blog: to care for my ambitions and slowly get back into the rhythm of posting regularly. 

My writing desk.

I may begin to incorporate more personal updates onto the blog and perhaps some reactions to vegan products and local establishments. I want to write and hopefully some people out there in internet-land would like to read what I have to say. Three cheers for self-care, yes?