Monday, September 22, 2014

MoFo Noshtalgia: How I Became a Vegetarian & 1970's Whole Wheat Bread

Way back in the day, as a wee California hippie child of the 70's - I was sent off for a week of overnight summer camp. I had been to a few bummer summer camps before this, and I wasn't at all sure that I would enjoy it... but as it turned out, I completely fell in love with this special summer camp and returned every summer for many years. 

The camp, called Hidden Villa, really changed my life. It was at Hidden Villa that I first met farm animals. In fact, it was my experiences at camp that eventually turned me into a vegetarian at age 14.

Every day we each had different chores to do around the farm. We had to feed the pigs, pick veggies from the veggie garden, care for the chickens, milk the cows (not vegan!), tend to the goats and sheep... I have always loved animals so much, and this camp was such a dream come true for me. I also made a lot of human friends at camp each summer - and I have a lot of nice memories of fun things I did with the other campers. But, truth be told, those memories really just don't compare to the strength and intensity of the memories I have of my time with the animals.

Getting to spend all day with so many special animals felt like heaven on earth. We got to take horse back riding lessons, which I enjoyed and which - to this day - makes me feel so comfortable around horses. I remember especially loving the time after the horseback riding lessons were over -- where we took off their saddles and rubbed the sweaty horses with a curry brush and they seemed so grateful for it. I loved having a chance to be so caring and kind toward such huge animals.

I was a little bit afraid of the pigs - partly because they were really HUGE and noisy (all that snorting!), but also because there were always lots of wasps or yellow jackets around the pig troughs, and I was really scared of those little guys.

My favorite chore of all was milking the cows. Nowadays, as a vegan, I have conflicted feelings about these memories... but for me it was all about the love of the cows. What I loved most of all was resting my face on the cow's huge belly while I sat on my little stool. The cows were warm and kind and huge, and they took big breaths in and out - so with my small head resting on their vast rib cage, I would feel those big breaths with my whole body. A combination of great gentleness and massive power. 

One year, when I was a young teen, one of the cows was stolen from the camp (who does that?!), during the time that I was there. His name was Bart and he was a special cow that many of us had known since he was a tiny little calf. I decided right then and there that I would never eat beef again, because I didn't want to accidentally end up eating my friend Bart. It wasn't long before I decided to stop eating all meat. The friendships and deep companionship I felt with the animals at camp really sealed the deal for me. I have such strong memories of feeling at peace in their presence. 

kneading kneading kneading

One of the other chores, which I haven't mentioned yet - but that I vividly remember, was being in charge of making the bread for dinner. There would be a team of us kiddos, who with the help of the counselors, were in charge of mixing, rising, and kneading the dough for the evening's dinner. I remember it so clearly! All the kneading and kneading and kneading.

So, in honor of my special summers at Hidden Villa Camp... I decided to make my own bread from scratch. In an effort to be extra authentic, I went looking for a whole wheat bread recipe from one of my older cookbooks. Finally I found a recipe for Whole Wheat Bread in the Enchanted Broccoli Forest that had the air of authenticity! 

mixing the sponge...

... after the first rise

Add in some whole wheat flour and molasses and oil, knead for "15-20 minutes" (???) and set to rise again...

...twice as big and looking like a seriously dense situation.

Split in two, and set to rise AGAIN. It looks like seitan! It looked so dense and heavy, I wasn't very hopeful at this point, but forged ahead anyway, just for a sense of completion.

and then - voila! 

Look at that! Two beautiful, dense loaves of hearty Whole Wheat Bread. Actually, it's so delicious!! And, just like I hoped, it completely tastes like the sort of whole wheat bread that I had at camp every summer - long before the days of no-knead artisanal breads. The flavor of this loaf is slightly sweet from the molasses, chewy, and robust. I actually I really love it.

I had a couple of pieces right away when the bread was fresh out of the oven. Now the rest has been sliced and frozen, so I can have a toasted piece for breakfast in the mornings... just to bring back the flavors of my childhood, and the flavors of camping with all my animal friends. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

MoFo: Roasting Peppers for the Winter

This time of year, the beautiful bell peppers are abundant at the farmers market. Red - Yellow - Orange - you can get them all! You can get green bell peppers too... but ain't nobody got time for that.

Every year, around this time I pick out a bunch of really beautiful peppers to roast up and then preserve for the winter months, when recipes calling for bell peppers are otherwise a sad reminder of happier days. This way, I can open the freezer in the depths of February, and beautiful, colorful beams of summertime will be mine. 

Here's a little tutorial so you can do it too!

First, pick out a bunch of really fresh, undamaged bell peppers. Cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the stems, seeds and pith. (tip: They will be easier to flatten out if you cut them along the fullest part of their lumps, instead of along the valleys between the lumps)

Next, take each half and use your hands to flatten it. It's really fun! You just kinda crush it and it flattens out. Spray on a little bit of oil with an oil sprayer... or you could brush some on. Just a tiny bit will do. ~ Preheat your oven to 400F.

Roast your peppers for 20-25 minutes, until the skins are wrinkly but not super charred. I usually rotate the trays at least once during that time.

Once you get them out of the oven, stack them all up on top of each other, and then cover them with a dish towel to steam for another 15 minutes or so. This helps the skins loosen.

Taking the skins off can be little bit annoying, but if you have some good music or podcasts to listen to, you can just take your time and try to be zen about it. Just go slowly and peel off as much skin as the peppers will give you. Don't worry if you don't get every last little bit off. Also, if there are any pepper juices that drained off - you should save it for something. That stuff is umami gold! I put all my roasty little pepper skins into my bag of veggie bits in the freezer that I use for making vegetable broth. The next batch of broth will be super yummy!

Finally, put all your roasted pepper pieces in a good quality freezer bag, and tuck them into the freezer. This whole project takes about an hour or so, but much of it is inactive - so you can be surfing MoFo posts or folding laundry or whatever. And, come wintertime, you'll be glad to have all those lovely peppers in your freezer!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

MoFo: My Prickly Pear Adventure, part 2

So! After yesterday's daring procurement of prickly pears... today was the moment of truth. After looking around online, I decided to try to make myself some prickly pear juice with my small batch of fruits.

The first step is removing the nearly-microscopic, nearly-invisible, barbed little spines of nastiness from the skin of the fruits. Some sites suggested burning the spines off over the burner, and others suggested rinsing them off under running water. Based on my last prickly pear experience - countless years ago - I decided to do BOTH of these methods.

 Burning off the spines was sorta hard, because I had to keep re-positioning my grip on the fruit with the tongs - to make sure I was burning them off. But, it was nice how they lit up in flames when they were burning. Begone foul jerks!

Here are the fruits after each being singed on the open flame. Burning off the fuzzy spines also made the skin of the fruit turn glossy and darker red, which is pretty. The little nubs where the spikes had been turned black, but there were still some errant fuzzy bits around and I wanted none of that.

 So, I also rinsed them and tumbled them around in the colander - a few times. I was so paranoid about getting all those nasty little pricklers off!

the color is undeniably beautiful

 Next up, I cut my fruits in half and plopped them into my food mill. In retrospect, I should have probably cut them into chunks, because it took forever to grind out the juice. The fruits have seeds inside which are really hard - you can eat them, but you wouldn't want to bite into one. And the skins must be avoided because of those prickers.

the finished product!

Using the food mill, I ground and stirred for a while and ended up with a couple cups of juice - from my small bowl of fruits. The seeds and skins are sorta slimy and mucilaginous - which gives the pulp a really slippery feel. In fact, even the juice itself has a slippery sorta mouthfeel.

The final verdict? Not worth the effort. The juice is okay, but nothing special or particularly yummy... and that was a lot of hassle. Plus, after burning off the pricklies, the juice actually has a faint smokey flavor, which isn't usually a quality I shoot for in my fruit juice.

Plus. Despite all my extreme efforts of proper technique, I have been getting stabbed and poked by invisible little thorns all afternoon long and it is driving me NUTS. Those little buggers hurt! Usually I can find them, and pull them out, but not always. And now I have this itchy feeling like they are all over me. I guess the moral of this story is that it is 100% impossible to avoid those devilish little barbs and prickly pears are a jerky fruit. They look pretty, but they are actually just like sirens on the open sea, and you should avoid them at all costs.

My final conclusion.

Friday, September 19, 2014

MoFo: My Prickly Pear Adventure, part 1

come hither, and yet - stay away!

A little over a year ago, I bought myself a new bike. I rode my bike all the time when I was a kid, and throughout college... but somewhere along the line, I had stopped. I really love my new bike, and I try to ride it instead of driving at least a few times a week. Lately, when I'm pedaling my way home after teaching, I have been passing this huge cactus, covered in prickly pear fruits (as seen above.) It's right there on the side of the road... huge... and looking like no one really wants these fruits at all. I started getting ideas.

Now, way back when I was a wee 13 year old, I was still a frequent bike rider. My friend Vivi and I were quite inseperable back then, and we rode our bikes all over the place together. One day, we went on an ambitious ride, a little north of town, to a special state park. At the park, we saw a giant cactus - much like the one in the picture up top - covered in bright red fruits. I really don't know what got into us, but we decided to pick some of the fruits. 


If you have ever done this - you know what I am talking about. The green parts of the cactus have giant pokey spikes on them that are easily visible and relatively easy to avoid. The enticing little red fruits have tiny, seemingly fuzzy little spikes that are as fine as micro-hairs - but they will cover your hands and barb into your skin and set your skin on fire and you will be SAD. We were so innocent! I have such a clear memory of Vivi and I just sitting down on the path and forelornly picking these tiny, nearly invisible little barbed hairs out of hands for what felt like forever. But we still had to ride our bikes home - which involves firmly gripping with your hands... so we had no choice but to stick with it.

For obvious reasons, I have been terrified of prickly pear fruits ever since that day.

...and yet, driven by a culinary curiosity, and a need for a new MoFo post - I decided to give it another go.

This picture is of my Prickly Pear Picking Preparation Kit:
1. a paper bag to put them in, that the little pokers-of-death can't poke through
2. long-reach tongs so as to avoid any actual hand-to-fruit contact
3. good sneakers so that no errant fuzzy poker can poke me in the foot.
4. (not pictured) fear and trepidation, mixed with fearless determination

here you can see those fuzzy little hairs that look so innocent
don't be fooled.

Isn't it beautiful? In the end, I picked about 15 small fruits or so. I picked up a lot of really nice looking fruits off the ground, because it was sorta hard to pull them off the plant with my tongs. The fruits are sort of delicate, with skin like a nectarine maybe - so gripping them with my tongs was bruising the fruit. I got a few good ones straight off the cactus though.

SO! Now they are all still sitting in the paper bag - awaiting their destiny. I looked online and lots of sites suggest burning the fuzzy spikes off the fruits by holding the fruit over a burner (with tongs, of course) - so I think I will try that. Then what? Maybe I will try to make prickly pear juice. Stay tuned for part two of this exciting adventure! Do you have any prickly pear tips for me? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

MoFo Noshtalgia: Root Beer Floats

summer memories edition!

 all loaded up and ready to take off...  road trip! 

When I was a little girl, every summer my family would go camping. My mom, dad, brother and I would pack up our old Toyota station wagon and drive 4-5 hours to "The Lair of the Bear," a campground for alumni of UC Berkeley (where both my parents went to university). Naturally, the camping was nothing but fun - but the drive was long and hot - straight through the arid Central Valley of California. 

the notorious shenanigans of the back seat

I'm sure my brother and I were restless kids, bickering with each other and constantly asking "Are we there yet?" over and over from the back seat. For a kid - a four or five hour long drive may as well be an eternity. I remember some fun car games like "Mad Libs" and little activity books that we could play with - but I also remember lots of squabbling and whining about my brother violating "my side" of the back seat. Ha ha. We were sort of terrible. This horrible torture was joyfully interrupted by our much-anticipated annual stop at the A&W in Oakdale for lunch and a root beer float.

(In case you don't know, A&W is basically a fast-food burger chain, but their specialty is that they also offer root beer floats. Otherwise, it's just kinda burgers and fries - as far as I remember)

peace falls across the land at A&W

Nothing breaks the hot, air-conditionless misery of picking on your brother (and being picked on by your brother in return) like a stop at the A&W. At home, we never went out to A&W, and we never had root beer floats. It was only many years later that I realized there was actually an A&W in my hometown, quite close to our house - but we never went there once. But there in the desperate heat of summer, in the middle of a long drive - that lunch stop was a godsend for all of us.

Suddenly all the whining stopped. Together in the cool of the air-conditioned A&W, we all enjoyed our lunch and savored our rich, cool, creamy root beer floats.

It is quite possible that I have not had a root beer float since those days. I truly cannot remember the last time I had one. I had it in mind to make a root beer float for MoFo, so I bought a couple cans of root beer, had some soy vanilla ice cream on hand in the freezer... and was waiting for the right moment. Yesterday I was out doing errands - fussing and driving all over, and stuck in traffic, and getting hungry, and it was SO hot, and I was getting more and more uncomfortably hot as the errands wore on. When I finally got home, I found Mr VE&T in the middle of a crabby spell - and suddenly I knew what we both needed: A root beer float!

ice cream floating in root beer, surrounded by foamy fun

It was so fun! First you put in the scoop of ice cream, and then you pour the root beer over the ice cream. It gets super foamy right away! You have to pour slowly! Somehow the combo of ice cream + root beer was both familiar and surprising - since it had been so long. Together, the flavors really sparkle on your tongue and it's rich and refreshing and cool and creamy. It was also a total 100% sugar blast, which I'm not totally used to these days - so be warned. What fun it was to have this special treat again. Perhaps I won't wait 25 years until my next root beer float!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MoFo Noshtalgia: Cinque e Cinque Sandwiches

The first time I ever had "cinque e cinque" was about 20 years ago, when I was a college student in Florence, Italy. A few years earlier, my parents had hosted an Italian exchange student and through that experience I had met lots of other Italian kids my age. It was great fun. So, when I arrived in Florence, I already had a friend in Livorno - about a one hour train ride away. That guy's name was Matteo - but that's about all I remember. What really matters is that Matteo introduced me to Nicoletta and she and I quickly became pals. We've been friends ever since! 

I just saw Nicoletta on my recent trip to Italy, and we realized that now we have been friends for officially over half our lives. Wow! Back in those university days, we used to see each other in Florence during the week, but on weekends, Nicoletta would travel back home to Livorno, and I would often see her there. (full disclosure: I also dated one of her friends during that time - thus I was frequently in Livorno. That boyfriend didn't last, but my friendship with Nicoletta did!). One thing she introduced me to in Livorno way back then, was their regional specialty, cinque e cinque. 
(you can read more about cinque-e-cinque in this old post)

I was determined to recreate this treat at home, and to share it with Mr. VE&T and with our friends... so we had a sandwich party! Even though cinque e cinque is really more like street food, we had a funny mixed-etiquette party with tapered candles and ginger ale out of cans. Ha ha! 

Based on my cinque e cinque experience this summer, and some online research, there are just a few critical components to an authentic cinque e cinque experience:

1. the bread
2. the torta di ceci
3. the eggplant
4. the beverage
5. putting it all together

 1. The Bread
I found one recipe online, but it was a pretty sloppy recipe full of things like "add some water," or "as much oil as you need," or whatever. My Italian pal Sara did some more skillful searching and found this recipe online - which I just translated with google translate (see below). The pictures on this site were helpful too. The recipe said it would make 10 sandwich rolls, but I only got 8, and they weren't huge. Maybe I didn't let it rise enough the second time? Either way, they were really yummy and I loved the salty hit from sprinkling coarse salt on the dough before folding it in half. I would like to try to make this recipe again. As you can see, a few of them turned out sorta lumpy, but a few of them were really perfect!

Pane Francese
for about 8 rolls 

500 grams of flour (I used half bread flour, half all-purpose flour)
400 ml. of water 
2 tsp active or instant yeast 
20 grams of Earth Balance 
1 tablespoon coarse salt 
1 pinch of salt
white flour and semolina flour

Dissolve the yeast in a glass with 100 ml. of water and a pinch of sugar. Let rest in a warm place and allow it to foam. 

Pour the flour and a pinch of salt on a work surface or in a large bowl. At the center pour the softened lard, the yeast mixture and the remaining water. Knead and work for about 15 minutes to obtain an even and elastic dough. Modeling a spherical shape, cover and leave to rise for at least an hour and a half before moving to the next step.

Spread the dough into a rectangle, keeping in mind that the smaller side of the rectangle will be roughly equal to twice the length of the rolls. Take coarse salt (if it’s too big, blend it up for a sec) and spread it on the dough. Fold the dough over itself from the smaller side. 

Then cut the strips, parallel to the shorter side, with a thickness of about two fingers. This will result in sandwiches shaped like a "u" Spread a cloth with white flour and semolina. In parallel to the short side of the canvas, creating folds in the center of which will be made ​​at a slight downward pressure on one or two rolls, depending on the length of the latter: raising the canvas to make another fold, flour, lay the sandwich and so on until you finish the dough. 

Cover with another towel and let re-rise for at least another hour and a half. Pick up the sandwiches with a spatula from the canvas and place them apart on a baking sheet sprinkled with flour. Bake in preheated oven at 350-375 F degrees for 15 minutes until in that the top starts to brown color.

 2. The Torta di Ceci

This recipe is direct from Nicoletta's mom. In fact, that torta pan in the back there is one that Nicoletta sent me, along with her mom's recipe, many years ago - when I asked her how to make torta di ceci. I love that chickpea flour is so easy to find nowadays. I love love love love love torta di ceci so much, and this batch came out super delicious. We didn't quite use all of it in our sandwiches, but every last morsel was eaten by the end of the evening - even the little crumbs out of the pan.

Torta Di Ceci 
(makes one pan)
  • 1 1/2 c garbanzo flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp good olive oil (plus a little extra for the pan)
  • 2 c water
  • black pepper
Whisk together the flour & salt, then whisk in the water and olive oil. Let stand at least 2 hours, and as long as overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees. Lightly brush a 12-inch tart pan (or pizza pan with 1 inch rim) with olive oil. Pour in batter and bake for 40-50 minutes until the top is crusty, lightly golden, and possibly cracked.

Sprinkle on generous amounts of black pepper and eat hot (or at least warm!)

 3. The Eggplant
I found some good eggplant tips on this pdf - and there are also some really beautiful and evocative pictures there of the spot where Nicoletta and her mom took me for cinque e cinque this summer (called Da Gagarin).

Grilled Eggplants
(enough for 6 sandwiches)

1 big Italian Eggplant, sliced in 1/4-1/2 inch slices
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2-3 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes

I mixed together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. Then I quickly dredged both sides of each slice through the mixture. I put them all in a baking dish and let them sit for the whole day to marinate a bit more. The website suggested pouring olive oil over them, but that is beyond my oil threshold. If you are truly craving authenticity, knock yourself out.

Then, right before eating our sandwiches, and while the torta di ceci was baking, we grilled the eggplant slices over medium-low heat - so that they would be soft and cooked through without charring. They turned out great!

The slices on their own were pungent and spicy from the garlic and red pepper flakes, but together with the carby roll and torta di ceci, those flavors were much quieter.

4. The Beverage
It seems that there are just a few beverages of choice to go with your sandwich: a beer, iced tea (in a can!), a Coke, or - many websites mentioned this - Spuma Bionda. Spuma Bionda is an Italian soda that you can't find here in the States, but the closest thing to it is probably ginger ale. So I had two of my friends bring ginger ale - which we drank straight from the can for a more genuine experience.

5. Putting It All Together
Now for the whole sandwich. I am warning you know : this is a total carb out. So just be prepared. We wimped out a little on the authenticity and decided to have a green salad with our carbfest. No regrets at all. You gotta keep a little balance in this life.

Here's how it goes:
slice of torta di ceci - sprinkled generously with black pepper
eggplant slices
another slice of torta di ceci - sprinkled generously with black pepper
Other piece of bread.

It was a little dry, possibly because we hadn't soaked our eggplants in a 3-inch bath of olive oil, so we drizzled a little more olive oil on the bread, and that was deemed good by all of us.

that's me and Nicoletta up there on the right
- college-aged-me wore big round glasses and had her hair in pig tail braids.

This whole evening was super fun. It was so fun to recreate such a special travel treat, to remember my friend Nicoletta - and the various times we've enjoyed cinque e cinque together, and to share one of my favorite travel treats with my special friends at home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

MoFo: Odds 'n' Ends Yumz

...Just a few delicious meals and treats we've enjoyed lately... presented in no particular order:

The Quinoa and Corn Chowder from Viva Vegan is one of my favorite dinners to make while there's still corn to be had at the farmers market. It's so lovely and colorful and bursting with textures and colors and nutrition and flavor! We probably have just a couple weeks left of corn time around here, so I'm hoping to make this one more time. For whatever reason, lima beans have become practically impossible to find around here - so I used frozen edamames instead, and they seemed like a good substitute.

I made these Norah's Lemon Cookies from Isa Does It for one of my yoga classes recently, and they were great! I really haven't investigated Isa Does It as much as I would like to... maybe post-mofo? I really love chocolatey and nutty cookies, but I also really appreciate lemony desserts. When I was a little girl, I remember always asking for lemon cake for my birthday. These cookies seriously deliver, with a strong lemon flavor that doesn't get lost at all! Plus, the icing has more lemon juice in it, so it's more lemon on top of lemon. Highly recommended!

An oldie, but a goodie - the Fronch Toast from Vegan with a Vengenance. I've simplified that recipe and I just use almond milk, instead of the half-soy creamer, half-rice milk combo that the recipe calls for. Guess what? It still turns out totally awesome and makes your day and makes you totally stoked like the king of the world who gets to eat French Toast. French toast is one of my A#1++ favorite breakfast treats of all. I make it rarely, but when I do make it, I fully revel in its glory. This was served with some homemade apricot jam, some maple syrup - and fresh fruit on the side. MmmMmmMmm.

Since this is an "odds 'n' ends" post, here's an odds 'n' ends doodle of me practicing yoga today. We were working on rajakapotasana in class today, and - as my teacher put it - I came "so close!" to touching my feet to my head. Alas, close but no cigar! I'm smiling here, but I doubt I was smiling when I was actually doing the pose - I was working so hard and concentrating on doing it well. Either way, it still felt great!