Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stupendous Hash Browns

Saturday Breakfast

Last weekend I read this article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I almost always enjoy their food articles and recipes, but I don't often attempt any of the recipes myself. A lot of them are meat-centric. A lot of them are complicated. Some of them are both. This one for hash browns, though, intrigued me. Probably because any hash browns I've attempted to make in the past were as bad as the ones he describes in the article. Burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. Greasy. Overly salty. Falling apart. Sticking to the pan.

I was lukewarm about the recipe, though, because the most important ingredient seemed to be clarified butter. I had no idea if there was a vegan alternative for clarified butter. I kind of forgot about the whole thing. Until Saturday.

Wanting to oust myself from the rut of our usual Saturday home fries, I fished last week's magazine out of the recycling box and decided to give it a go. A quick internet search for vegan clarified butter possibilities informed me that in fact it was possible to clarify vegan margarine. One does so using the same method used with regular butter. Heat the margarine over low heat until it starts to bubble. Skim the frothy layer off the top until most of it is gone, then pour the butter through a fine sieve. Done. now you're ready to make hash browns.

I have to say that while this recipe had more steps and was much more complicated than my usual oven fries, it was absolutely worth it. I can't wait to make these again. They are as good as any restaurant hash browns I've ever had and I truly feel like I've cracked the code when it comes to making them. A great culinary skill to have. I can't wait to invite people over for breakfast.

Stupendous Hashbrowns

Stupendous Hash Browns
(adapted from The New York Times Sunday Magazine)

4-5 medium sized yukon gold potatoes
5 tbsp clarified margarine (to get 5, start with 7 tbsp of regular margarine, then do the clarifying as explained above)
salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes place them in a pot of cold water.

Bring pot to a boil and cook potatoes until you can pierce them with a skewer or toothpick. Check frequently to avoid over cooking.

Drain potatoes and put them in a bowl in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Grate potatoes into a large bowl using the large side of a box grater.

Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Add three tablespoons of clarified margarine to a cast iron pan on medium-high heat.

Add potatoes to pan, smushing them down so they are packed into the bottom of the pan.

Let them cook for about fifteen minutes.

If your friend Pam drops by and you are tempted to forget about the potatoes and keep talking to her about the dogs she's adopted, don't do that. Pay attention to your potatoes. Even though Pam is awesome.

After fifteen minutes you'll need to flip your big circle of hash browns. The easiest way to do this is to cover the pan with either a thick, flat plate or a cutting board and just flip whole this over, keeping the pan up against the plate or cutting board. Then, do the same move with a plate over the hash browns. Now you have your uncooked side facing upwards and the cooked side down on the plate.

Add the remaining butter to the pan.

Carefully flip your has browns off the plate, back into the pan. The uncooked side should be facing down, onto the hot, buttery surface of the pan.

Cook for ten minutes.

Flip hash browns back out onto the cutting board and let cool for five minutes. Slice and eat.

Could serve four people but it was so good the two of us at the whole thing.

Some Notes:

-i recently read Molly Wizenberg's book A Homemade Life and in her cooking tips she suggests getting an oven thermometer so you'll know exactly what temperature your oven is. Especially if, like me, you're working with an oven that is past its prime. Genius! The idea of an oven thermometer had never occurred to me. I found one at Canadian Tire for $8 and put it in my oven immediately. Accurate baking for all!

-The aforementioned schnauzer went back from whence she came on Saturday and our house is relatively peaceful once again. Our dogs are un-bothered, cats are free to wander, and no one is pooping on my stairs.

-My Dad had a birthday this past weekend. Happy Birthday, Dad! I won't tell you how old he is, but suffice to say in my Mom's card for him she wrote that she would indeed still need and feed him. My dad still looks young and is very active, so I don't think he minds celebrating a birthday. And he seemed to like the giant Jamie Oliver cookbook we got him.

J.

This Time Last Year: The Famous Giant Soup!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Three Steps to Easy Weekly Meal Planning

By semi-popular demand, here is my method for weekly meal planning. It's a simple method that works for me and may work for you, too. One caveat, though. I only shop once a week. I buy everything we need for the week on Sunday afternoons and, unless there is something I couldn't find or forgot, I don't buy anything through the week.

During the winter months I drive my car to shop at a supermarket and a bulk food store. During the warmer months I ride my bike to the farmer's market and get my bulk items at the health food store across the street. As much as I love the idea of daily, European-style shopping, this wouldn't work for our household right now. Sometimes I succumb to convenience to avoid losing my mind.

why they call it a Fit

Step One: Make A Menu

This may seem like a pain in the ass, but it is UNAVOIDABLE. There is no magical way to buy the food you need unless you actually know what that food is. Making a meal plan will probably get you out of any food ruts you may have, because if you actually write down that you will eat brown rice, kale, and tofu every night of the week, you will feel kind of sad.

Here are some things I do to pick recipes for the week:

-Keep a "recipes" bookmark file on my computer so I can save links to recipes that I see on food blogs throughout the week.
-Always plan my menu when I'm a bit hungry so I can really think about what I'd like to eat.
-Ask the Man of Science what he'd like to eat. This is why we have a weekly "soup and sandwich" day.
-Get into bed with a stack of cookbooks and browse for things that sound good.

Step Two: Make A List

Dear God, make a list! I can not stress this enough. Unless you are Dougie Howser, you do not have the brain power to remember everything that you need. How you organize your list is your own business, but this is what I do:

-Have one list per store. That way I don't overlook anything and have to go back and forth.
-If I'm going to larger supermarket I organize my list according to the layout of the store. That way I don't have to go back and forth from produce to frozen foods and back to produce again. This is especially important to me because I shop on Sunday afternoons when the stores are full of people who lose their ability to move swiftly and carefully as soon as their hands touch a grocery cart.
-Make the list while I am standing in the kitchen with the pantry doors open. That way, if I'm not sure how much pasta I have, I can just check instead of ending up with too much or too little.
-Though I only do meal planning for dinners, I make sure that I have ingredients for my breakfast smoothies and that I've accounted for the snacks we will inevitably long for.

weekly menu + shopping list

Step Three: Put Your Menu and Your List(s) On The SAME PAGE.

Though this may not seem important, it is the factor that makes this whole system work for me week after week. Why does this make things easier? If I'm shopping and something is unavailable or yucky (I'm looking at you, Spinach) I can check back to the menu and see what would make a good replacement in that particular meal. This saves me wondering "what was I going to make with this again?"

Having the menu right beside my shopping lists also allows me for one last check to make sure I have everything I need. Also, it clarifies the amount needed which I sometimes forget to note on my list. Am I cooking broccoli twice or just once? Do I need lots of tomatoes for a sauce or just one to cut up for sandwiches?

Essentially, the one-sheet method provides a safety net for the human error that inevitably happens when one is racing around, readings labels, and trying to decide whether that chocolate bar is a reasonable purchase. As with anything else complicated, it helps to have a system.

And then?

When I get home I post the menu on the fridge. You'll notice from the photo above that the Man of Science cooks on Tuesday nights. Having the menu posted means that when he chooses what he will make he can avoid making something that I'm going to be making the next day. He tends to decide what he wants to make on the day of, so he picks up any extra groceries he needs on his way home from work. If I'm/we're going out for dinner on one of the nights I write that in too. It helps us keep everything straight.

For anyone who feels that this would be too structured or limiting, I want to point out that I almost never make exactly what is on the menu every single day of the week. For example, last night the sweet potato bread pudding seemed too heavy, so I switched it for Monday's tofu, rice, and greens. This is also why there is no meal listed for Saturday. Having a day with no meal planned means we are free to go out to eat, or make a fun, spur of the moment, dinner, like last Saturday night's awesome vegan mushroom pizza.

I know this may not be the magical answer to everyone's meal-planning problems, but it works for us and I hope it helps at least a few people.

Some Notes:

-Before anyone asks, yes, that is a big box of diet gingerale in the back of my car. I'm no friend of aspartame, but the Man of Science likes it.

-Oh, and the white mesh things in the grocery bins are my reuseable produce bags. They are a bit too big and floppy, but they were cheap.

-When the MoS saw my menu for the week and noticed he was referred to by his pseudonom, he said, "What, you don't call me by my real name anymore?" Rest assured, on next week's menu he'll be addressed by his not-quite-top-secret real name.

J.

This Time Last Year: Warm and Lovely Chickpea Stew

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who Else Wants An Easy Dinner?

Pasta with broccoli

Do you plan your meals ahead of time? This is something that's been on my mind lately because I feel like I've finally got a great system in place for grocery shopping and menu planning. It took a lot of experimenting, and I may have to change it when farmer's market season starts again, but for now it's working well for our household. I'll share my system in a future post if anyone is interested.

When I draw up the meal plan I always try to make sure that at least one meal is an easy one. Something that I've cooked a million times that always turns out well. Often it is a vegetable stir fry with the Magic Spicy Peanut Sauce from Everybody Likes Sandwiches. Or maybe some vegan shepherds pie. Or this dish, which pairs whole wheat pasta with tofu and broccoli and pine nuts for what is essentially a one-pot wonder that draws from all the important food groups. It's an almost effortless healthy dinner, and the leftovers are great for lunch the next day.

Broccoli Pinenut Pasta

4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 heads worth of broccoli florets, cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup soup stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup cubed tofu pieces (ised 1/2 a one pound block of firm tofu)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Toss tofu with one tablespoon of the soy sauce and set aside.

Heat olive oil over med-low heat. Add garlic and let cook for 3-5 minutes.

When garlic just starts to darken, add tofu and raise the heat to medium.

Saute tofu for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

Add broccoli and stir to distribute tofu, oil and garlic.

Add soup stock and remaining soy sauce then cover the pan.

Let broccoli steam this way until it is tender, between five and ten minutes. Stir occasionally.

In a large bowl, toss broccoli with cooked pasta (I used whole wheat bow ties) and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Serves four.

garlic plants!

And look! The garlic that I planted last fall is growing! Look at those heroic little shoots poking through the mulch. I know people have been growing food for a million years, but it is still miraculous to me when I plant something and it actually grows like it's supposed to!


Some Notes:

-So, my admin assistant Diane brought home the lovely Anikin the Dachshund and she reported to me on Monday that he is settling in very nicely to his new home. He and Maggie (the original dachshund of the house) are pals and according to Diane they even share a little dog bed when it's time to go to sleep. That little guy really hit the jackpot when he was adopted by Diane and her husband. Imagine going from a cage at a puppy mill, to the SPCA, to a cosy farmhouse with soft beds, indulgent humans, and a friendly dog to cuddle up with.

-I got a question on the It Ain't Meat, Babe Facebook group page about soy yogurt. Personally, I've never found a brand I particularly like. Anyone out there have any suggestions?

-Interesting fact about Everybody Likes Sandwiches: Jeanette and I both used to do little, personal print zines in the late 90's and early 2000's. We used to trade zines and letters in the mail fairly frequently. I think it's nice that we both ended up as food bloggers.

J.

This Time Last Year: Delicious and Pretty Quinoa Salad

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mom's Cornmeal Muffins

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

We are dog-sitting a schnauzer right now and boy, is it taking a lot out of us.

Though I am a friend to all creatures* I can't say I'm a big fan of tiny, fluffy dogs. Sure, I like dachshunds fine, I loooove French Bulldogs, and I'm cool with certain westies and poodles, but schnauzers are just not my thing. And this schnauzer is a puppy. Which means that she has no "off" switch. There is a reason why they make puppies (and babies) cute. Because if they weren't cute, no one would want one in their home. Her schnauzery face is everywhere we go, poking into everything, chewing on whatever she finds on the floor (including those shoe laces you were trying to tie up). She crawls under fences, chases the cats, can't figure out how to get down off the bed, and perpetually has a bunch of leaves and twigs stuck in her beard. She is climbing on me right now as I write this, her mile-high schnauzer eyebrows peeking over the top of my computer screen.

Four dogs is too many. Especially if one is a baby schnauzer.

Yesterday the Man of Science entertained the schnauzer while I made these muffins, based on an old recipe of my mothers. Cornmeal is delicious, but a bit heavy, so I'd recommend getting the most finely ground cornmeal you can find. Maybe that's why the recipe sheet calls for two tablespoons of baking powder. Two tablespoons? I always assumed it was a typo and put in two teaspoons instead. Maybe my mom can set us straight in the comments of this post. She and my dad always read the blog but never comment. Lurkers! My own parents!

*except snakes. Though I wish them no ill will.

old recipe

Vegan Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup safflower oil
2 tsp ground flax seeds mixed with 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond or soy milk "soured" with 1 tsp vinegar
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Makes 18 regular sized muffins.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease muffin cups (I used a 12-muffin tray and a six muffin tray, hence the reappearance of the heart shaped baked goods).

Mix all dry ingredients (including sugar) in a medium sized bowl.

Mix all wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then add dry ingredients, mixing only until just combined. Then fold in blueberries.

Fill muffin tins and bake for 25 minutes.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Some Notes:

-The Man of Science and I saw a bunch of movies this weekend, partially because I left my computer charge cord in Pembroke and needed to find non-internet-based forms of entertainment. We saw Up In The Air and The Informant on Saturday and then went in a whole new direction and watched Galaxy Quest on Sunday night. I liked all the movies quite a lot, though it did occur to me that not one of them would have passed The Bechdel Test.

-The Schnauzer has fallen asleep at my feet. It is schnoring. (I already used that joke once on Twitter, but I like it so much I'm using it again.)

-The new Ted Leo and The Pharmacists album, The Brutalist Bricks, is my favourite thing right now. It is my Album of Spring and my Soundtrack To Driving Around and a bunch of the songs are stuck in my head on a regular basis.

J.

This Time Last Year: Spinach Chickpea Triangles

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How To Have A Happy Relationship

???

Apparently, all it takes is vegan ice cream.

I found this box of Tofutti bars at a giant Asian supermarket that has recently opened in our city. Its contents swing from incredibly vegan friendly (freezers full of non-dairy fruit bars, tofu ice cream treats, and every kind of fake meat you could ever want) to very un-vegan (pork, pork, and more pork). The Man of Science got excited about the prospect of sweet and sour vegan "chicken" balls, like we used to eat at Chinese restaurants when we were kids. This may be a project I will have to attempt in the near future.

At any rate, you are getting this amusing photo of strangely marketed vegan treats instead of a recipe today because I am on my out of town for work for two days and I will not be cooking anything until the end of the week. If I eat anything interesting, I will report back, but I think it might just be oatmeal in the hotel room again.

J.

This Time Last Year: Soba Noodles in Tahini Sauce

Monday, March 15, 2010

Carb Your Enthusiasm

bread

My friend Adam has a real problem with businesses that use puns in their names. Those close to him know about this facet of his personality and do our best to use it against him as often as possible. For instance, his cousin once called him from the road when she discovered a bookstore called "Book Out Below". I myself called from Oakville when I saw a sign for a landscaping company called "Lawn and Order". Oh, and I called from Chicago and left him a message about a bakery called "Bake To Differ". He never returned my call.

Do you bake bread? Baking your own bread is something that, comically enough, also annoys my friend Adam. He claims that it is easier to bake bread in large batches and that's why bakeries have existed since basically the dawn of time. Never having baked bread in large batches, I can't confirm this, but I will say that I enjoy baking my own bread at home. I know what the ingredients are, the taste is great, the process is fun, and it makes the whole house smell fantastic. I make a loaf on Sunday, and it lasts us all week. It's one of my favourite chores.

Lately, though, I've been enjoying the process a bit more thanks to this:

bread hook

The bread hook. More importantly, the bread hook that attaches to the KitchenAid mixer that Kat let me borrow for a little while. I wasn't sure if I'd use the mixer much, but I have to say I am sold on it now that I've used it to make bread dough. And not just because I can poke the hook attachment out of my sleeve and proclaim myself "Captain Bread Hook".

I never really minded kneading the bread myself. But having the mixer makes everything so much easier. I throw the dry ingredients (plus oil) into the mixer's bowl, make the yeast mixture in a measuring cup, combine the two, turn on the machine, and ten minutes later I have dough. So cool! And the clean up is much less involved than when I was kneading dough on a floured counter top and transferring it from bowl to bowl.

I should say that for those of you who don't have a stand mixer or a friend generous enough to lend you one, this is easy to make by hand. It will just require more kneading and, if you're like me, more mess. And wearing an apron won't prevent you from getting floury hand prints all over your butt when you absentmindedly wipe your hands on the back of your pants. Just sayin'.

Sunday Bread

1 cup + 3 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup quick cook rolled oats
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

In a medium sized bowl or measuring cup, mix the warm water with the maple syrup and brown sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add the yeast and set it aside for five minutes to grow and get puffy.

yeasting

Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Add yeast mixture and stir until a blob of dough forms. Knead it (or leave it in the mixer with the bread hook going a little faster) until it is a smooth ball of dough. I knead mine for about ten minutes. Don't skimp on the kneading, it's what makes the bread rise up all high and lovely.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Set it in a warm place and leave it for 1 1/2 hours. It should double in size.

risen

Punch the dough down and shape it into a log. Put the log in an oiled loaf pan and cover it with the tea towel again. Let it rise for another half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. (Some bread recipes say to start the bread in a hotter oven and turn the heat down for the last half of cooking. I don't find this makes a huge difference, but you may want to experiment.)

Bake the loaf for 25 minutes. To check if it is done, take it out of the pan and knock on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

Some Notes:

-For those of you who are thinking I should just get a bread machine, I don't think I want to go that far. I still like to be involved in the whole process of the bread baking. I'm not ready to totally surrender to technology. Yet.

-If there is a business in your area that has a pun in its name, good or bad, please let me know in the comments. I'd love to see how many we can list. Here, I'll start: in Winnipeg I saw an Italian restaurant called "Pasta La Vista". Now you!

-The Man of Science will protest and say that a pun has to be a play on words that centres on two different meanings of the same word, not two words that sound alike. However, this definition on Dictionary.com says that it can be either.

J.

This Time Last Year: Vegan Fast Food in Los Angeles

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Of Ragout and Dachshunds

My co-workers and I depend very heavily on our administrative assistant, Diane. Diane, like me, is an animal lover and so most of our conversations centre on the animals in our lives. I talk about my dogs and cats and she talks about her dogs and cats... and chinchillas and horses and peacocks. No joke. She and her husband live on a small hobby farm and they basically take in any animal that needs a home. She's got a soft spot for just about any creature that is unwanted or in crisis.

A few years ago, Diane adopted Maggie, a plump and happy dachshund who quickly became the queen of the household. Since then, Diane has been wanting a second dog, but her husband, Joe, wasn't crazy about the idea. Until last week. When he told her that yes, he'd been thinking it would be nice to adopt another dog.

As soon as I arrived at the office yesterday, Diane had me looking at the local SPCA's listings on Petfinder. The first dog that appeared on the search was a dachshund. Diane leaned in closer to my computer screen.

"Oh yeah, that's him," she said, "I can tell by his eyes."



A few hours later, Diane, Joe, my coworker Christine and I were all at the SPCA, eagerly huddled around a staff member who was holding Anikin, the dachshund. She handed him to Joe, explaining that he was a bit shy, having spent his entire life thus far in a cage, never allowed out for walks or fresh air or affection.

Joe carried him outside and we all sat down and took turns petting him. After five minutes his tail started to wag and he licked Joe's nose. Diane went inside to fill out the paperwork.

Anikin gets fixed on Friday and until then he has to stay at the shelter. They have a wise policy that no dogs are allowed off the premises until they are neutered, especially purebreds like our little dachshund friend. After that he'll be on his way to a better home than he could have imagined.

While we were there, I walked through and met some of the other dogs who were up for adoption.

Like Dorothy, who I would have taken home with me about twelve seconds after meeting her if we had room for more dogs in our household.



And Polar, who is a puppy with fantastic eyes who couldn't get enough affection from us.



And Henry, who was the quietest, cutest chihuahua that I've ever seen.



All these dogs are up for adoption right now, in case you were wondering. The SPCA is a no-kill shelter and the people working there obviously love their jobs and love the animals. My very own lovely, lovely Sacha came from there a few years ago and she is pretty much the nicest dog I've ever met.

Yes, yes, all this dog talk is very nice, Jennifer. But what did you eat when you got home after all this excitement?

For those of you who are still here after all that non-food dog talk, here's what's more of a recipe tip than an actual recipe!

Artichoke and olive ragout

Last night for dinner I made the Artichoke and Olive Ragout from the March issue of Vegetarian Times. I was slightly skeptical, since the recipe didn't have any flashy ingredients in it and I worried it might be a bit bland. Of course, I was foolish to worry. It was hearty and flavourful. We ate giant bowls of it over brown rice and the Man of Science pronounced it delicious.

The one change I made was to add chickpeas for protein because I was too lazy to make another protein-laden side dish. To make sure the textures worked, I added an extra cup of crushed tomatoes. It worked very well. Highly, highly recommended.

J.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Tale of Kale

kale chips!

The Man of Science often dreams that he is escaping some kind of dangerous, post-apocalyptic situation with all of our pets in tow. "Your dog couldn't climb the ladder into the helicopter," he'll tell me upon waking.

Me? I awoke on Saturday fresh from a dream about a fridge full of kale. Clearly my subconscious is a different kind of place.

I figured the deep meaning of the dream was that I should eat some kale. So, on my way back from the "Seedy Saturday" seed exchange, I stopped at Rainbow Foods and got two nice bunches of black kale. When I dropped it on the counter at the cash the man in line behind me tapped me on the shoulder.

"How do you cook that stuff?" he asked, warily.

"Unh..." I was caught off guard, "Well, I was planning to take this home and make some kale chips. But you can also steam it, or braise it..."

He went on to tell me that he finds the texture of both chard and kale too tough to enjoy. I was a bit baffled, since I am a devotee of both kale and chard. I counseled him to cut the stems off before he cooked with it, then paid for my vegetables and left the store.

At home I made a huge batch of kale chips and ate them all, wondering how someone could not like kale. Especially in chip form when it becomes so light and crunchy it practically disappears when you put it in your mouth. These kinds of chips were all over the internet for a while, but if you haven't tried them yet, I strongly recommend that you do. Soon. Like right now.

pre-kale chips

Kale Chips

2 cups kale (any kind will do, but I like black kale best)
2 tsp olive oil
2 pinches of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut kale leaves into two or three pieces each. De-stem them if you have the kind of kale with tough stems.

Wash leaves and dry them thoroughly.

Spread leaves on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 10 minutes, longer if leaves are still soft. They should be crisp and starting to brown.

Let cool for a few minutes and then be nice and share them with your loved ones.

Window Sill Sunday

Some Notes:

-Perhaps you were wondering what Mary is doing with the cookbook she won in my first ever giveaway. Well, here is her post about her impressively intricate cookbook use system and the first recipe she made from her new copy of Veganomicon.

-Has anyone else tried Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Strawberry Rose tea? I bought a box on a whim when I saw it in a store and fell in love at first sip. Then it was gone. It seemed to have been on special display for Valentine's Day and then, poof! Gone. I had a similar problem with Stash's Pumpkin Pie Spice tea. Also delicious, also gone. Anyway, this (somewhat benign) story has a happy ending because this weekend when I was grocery shopping I nearly fell over a giant rack full of the Vanilla Strawberry Rose tea. I bought two boxes. That should hold me for a while. I highly recommend it. And the Stash Pumpkin Pie Spice tea. But not the Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane holiday tea. That stuff tastes like cardboard.

-Ottawegian readers, allow me to remind you about the Reel Food Film Festival that is coming up this month. All of the films look great and I'm excited that the screenings are taking place at the Public Library. See you there!

J.

This Time Last Year: Vegan Breakfast in Ventura, California.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hey hey hey, it's pancakes with blueberry sauce!

spelt pancakes with blueberry sauce and cashew cream

I have the day off today and frankly, I would make out with whoever invented compressed work weeks. I work a half hour extra every day and get every third Friday off to eat pancakes, read novels, and go get my hair cut. Or at least that's my plan for this particular Friday. It is sunny and gorgeous outside, Leonard Cohen is on the record player, and I just polished off a big plate of these pancakes with this excellent blueberry sauce.

My complaint about fruit sauces like this one is usually that they're way too sweet for my taste. What a way to ruin a healthy (sort of) breakfast. But this one uses agave instead of white sugar and relies on the flavour of the blueberries and the orange juice for its deliciousness. Th pancakes were made with spelt flour, which browns up so nicely and gives them a great texture. I used the flax-berry pancakes recipe from Vegan Planet as a guide but subbed in the spelt flour and left out the berries, fearing berry-overload. The cashew cream on the side is my third try at Tal Ronnen's cashew whipped cream from The Conscious Cook. The first try worked like a freakin' charm. The second time was a tantrum-inducing disaster ("It looks like CELLULITE!" I howled.) And this time was somewhere in the middle. The texture still wasn't awesome, but at least it wasn't gross looking. No tantrum required.

So, where were we? Ah yes, blueberry sauce. I used frozen blueberries because I had a bunch in the freezer, but I don't see why this wouldn't work with fresh berries as well. The recipe made a lot! I would say enough to easily serve to four hungry breakfasters.

Blueberry sauce

Sugar-free Blueberry Sauce

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


-Over medium heat, combine blueberries, orange juice, and agave.

-As that heats, mix the arrowroot powder with the water and let sit for about a minute.

-Add arrowroot mixture to blueberry mixture and let it simmer (if it starts to boil like mad, reduce the heat) until it has thickened, about five minutes. It shouldn't get too thick, but if you aren't liking the consistency, you can thin it with a bit of water.

-Remove from heat, add almond extract and cinnamon.

-Stir well and then pour it all over your pancakes.


Some Notes - Pop Culture Edition:

-So, I've joined Twitter now, which is kind of like showing up at a brand new high school, in that I feel surrounded by lots of interesting people who I don't know how to talk to. But I'm getting the hang of it. Seeing a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos of The Big Bang Theory (courtesy of Bill Prady) has already made the whole Twitter thing worth it, as far as I'm concerned.

-With the departure of Paula Abdul, I have found myself happy to get all caught up in American Idol again. Yes, that's what I said. It helps that this year seems to have more weirdos than normal. Bring on the bleached out hair and the Edward Gorey tattoos!

-Did anyone else picture Leonard Cohen himself sitting on my record player when I said "Leonard Cohen is on the record player"?

J.

This Time Last Year (sort of): Sushi Making in Calfornia with my friend Felizon

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How I Control Migraines Without Scary Pharmaceuticals*


Retro Headache
Originally uploaded by Migraine Chick
I suppose you can tell from the title that this isn't my usual story/recipe/quirky observances kind of post. However, it's something I've wanted to post about for a while. Getting regular migraine headaches is something that has affected almost every aspect of my life for about a decade now. The headaches made me feel totally powerless and weak, even though I knew they weren't my fault. As someone who is very careful about what she eats and how she lives, I hated having this aspect of my physical health that I couldn't control or fix. It made me crazy.

Now, finally, the headaches are relatively under control (knock on wood!). In fact, last month I didn't have any headaches at all. It was no fluke, I know exactly why I managed to escape the usual migraine attack. I have become vigilant about controlling everything I can that leads to or helps eliminate the headaches. And since so much of it is nutrition/food related, I wanted to write about it here in case maybe what I've figured out can be of use to someone else out there.

1. Recognize food triggers. This was, in all honesty, one of the key reasons why I went back to being vegan after a number of years of being a lacto ovo vegetarian. One of my biggest food triggers was cheese. One night of pizza and I was down for the count. I started doing a lot of reading about migraines and food triggers and I learned that in a lot of cases, poor digestion plays a part in the headaches. I noticed that when I stopped eating dairy products my digestion was much better and my headaches were less frequent and less intense.

2. Keep those sinuses clear. I also notice, personally, a link between congestion and migraines. Often as a migraine lessened, it would turn into a sinus headache. Again, a reason why avoiding dairy would lead to fewer headaches. I've also started doing a few other things to keep my sinuses clear, namely rinsing my nose out with water (sucking it through my nose and spitting it out, like you might do accidently while swimming. Ugh, but it works) and sleeping with my head propped up on two pillows instead of one. I know some people would say, well then you aren't having migraines, you're having sinus headaches, but that isn't the case. I know my migraines because I have a visual aura (flickering wavy lights that take over my vision) and I absolutely know the difference between a migraine and a sinus headache.

3. Consult with a naturopath. When I talked to my regular doctor about the headaches, she offered me a drug to take when I got a migraine. "Does it take the pain away?" I asked. "No," she said, "It just puts you to sleep until the migraine is over." I said I'd pass on that. I don't usually have any trouble falling asleep on my own, unless the migraine is particularly bad. We discussed preventative drugs, but those all seemed to have heavy side effects. So next, I went to a naturopath, Shawn Yakimovich at the Ottawa Integrative Health Centre. Shawn asked me about four times as many questions about the headaches as my regular doctor did. Then he gave me a homeopathic remedy to take when I felt a headache coming on. I've been taking the remedy whenever I'm worried about a headache and I haven't had any headaches after taking the remedy. The only headaches I've gotten since I got the remedy have come on at night when I wasn't awake to take it.

The remedy also helped me wean myself off the Advil Liquigels (NOT vegan!) that I was taking every time I worried that I might be getting a headache. Which was really bad for my health. Ibuprofen can contribute to high blood pressure which is something that runs in my family. I started noticing that my heart would beat really fast after I took an Advil which scared me. And I've noticed that since I've stopped taking Ibuprofen, I've been sleeping much better and I feel more calm in general.

4. Increase magnesium intake. In a lot of the articles I read, magnesium was sited as a supplement to take that would lessen the frequency of migraines. And then an aquaintance told me that when she was pregnant and couldn't take regular pain killers, her doctor gave her magnesium injections to help control her migraines. Right now I take at least 500 milligrams of manesium a day, sometimes a little bit more if I know there are other factors (diet, weather, lady problems) that might be bringing on a migraine. I have found that this really, really helps to prevent my headaches and when I do end up getting a migarine, it isn't nearly as bad as they used to be.

5. Keep blood sugar steady. I read a few different studies that said that people who are suffering from a migraine often have low blood sugar at the time the headache strikes. I've mentioned before on this blog that I have lots of problems with my blood sugar. The migraines are yet another reason for me to watch what I eat. If I eat refined sugar I tend to crash soon afterwards. More often then not the crash comes complete with migraine. I also make sure that I eat small meals at regular intervals through out the day and that I avoid refined sugar and stock up on protein instead.

Those are my main tricks. They aren't difficult to keep up, but I do find it occasionally annoying to be constantly thinking about it. It would be nice to be able to eat whatever I wanted, forget to take my vitamins, go to bed without extensive preparations, and not worry about carrying remedies and pain killers with me wherever I go. But when I really think about it, there are much worse ailments to have, and at least I have the kind of migraines that respond to actions like the ones I've listed.

On a related note, I went to see Wilco perform last night and I was reminded of this article that lead singer Jeff Tweedy wrote about his extensive struggle with migraines. When I found this article it really helped me get over my perception of myself as "weak" on account of the migraines. He is a smart, talented, productive person who struggled for years with the same malady and eventually got it under control. I found it very inspiring. It was great to watch and listen to him last night, so happy on stage.

I'd love to hear from you folks if you have anything to add. Are you in the migraine club too? If so, is there anything you've found that helps? Or maybe you have another problem that you've managed to conquer through nutrition and natural remedies. It would be great to hear some of your stories.


J.

*And, just in case it wasn't fully obvious, I'm not a doctor or an expert. I'm just writing about what I've read and what works for me.

This Time Last Year: Vegan Crepes With Blueberries

Monday, March 1, 2010

Peanut Butter and Honey Granola

peanut butter and honey granola

Not that I want to wade too deeply into this debate or anything, but yes, I do eat honey. Some vegans don't and that's cool. I also kill mosquitos and those big, black, bitey deerflies. And actually, I'm in the beginning stages of having my own backyard beehive. So eventually I'll be making my very own honey while supporting a colony of pollinators to help my vegetable garden flourish. But if you don't eat honey yourself, you can always make this recipe with maple syrup or agave nectar. And we can all still be friends.

I love the combination of peanut butter and honey. So much so, I ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich every day for lunch for my entire high school career. I'm not joking. I am a creature of habit and it was much worse in my teenage years. While my peers were off getting drunk and behaving like, well, teenagers, I was eating the same lunch every day and spending Friday nights watching Letterman at my friend Adrianne's house. Whew! Good thing I reigned in that crazy behavior so I could settle down and become a responsible adult.

This granola is tasty and easy to make. It is great for breakfast or for a snack, and you can add in whatever else you like: dried fruit, different seeds, chopped nuts... go wild! Just make sure you're home in time for Letterman.

spoon!

Peanut Butter and Honey Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp safflower oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine oats, coconut, and seeds in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the peanut butter and stir in the honey and oil.

Dump peanut butter mixture into oat mixture and stir to combine well. You may need to get your hands in there, don't be shy.

Spread mixture on a cookie sheet or in a large glass lasagna pan and place in over.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring every five minutes so that it browns and crisps up evenly.

Some Notes:

-I've said this before, but I really don't understand why people buy granola at the store when it is so easy to make at home. And by making it at home, you can control the sweetness which is always a huge problem for me in store bought granola.

-I ordered a bunch of seeds for my garden this weekend which was a delightful exercise. So delightful, in fact, that I woke the Man of Science up on Saturday morning just to tell him that I would be ordering seeds that day. And no, he didn't actually care that much. But he was a good sport about the waking up nonetheless.

one track mind

-I'm going to start having those little "This Time Last Year" notes at the bottoms of my posts now. Perhaps they will help you discover a recipe you never knew was there!

J.


This Time Last Year: Chocolate Strawberry Pudding