Hosting a Green Birthday Party

Hosting a Green Birthday Party

The Darling Divas Loved the Green Birthday Party

As all the giggly girls who attended my daughter’s 8th birthday party were leaving, Kate-the-Great-who-Just-Turned-Eight began doing what any normal lil’ diva does.

Planning her next event.

And it’s a good thing we’ve got 364 days, because this momma needs to put her feet up. But truth be told, the party was actually enjoyable, for me too!

With four kids, I’ve hosted my fair share of birthday parties. And usually, those 2-3 chaotic hours are almost as much work as the original day of birth; personally, I’d prefer to commemorate the blessed event face down on a massage table with only nature sounds and the scent of lavender to keep me awake.

But I can’t deny my child an essential right of passage. Even so, I just can’t throw a standard soiree anymore; mounds of paper and plastic trash destined for the landfill, and fake foods filled with unnatural colors, flavors and fats.

Because it doesn’t have to be that way. Our kids deserve better. So I decided to host a green birthday party that would highlight the importance of sustainable living.

My daughter loves to make crafts, and wants her guests to take home something they will use. She has a budding eco-friendly conscious, and wanted to paint reusable shopping bags, make bird houses, and serve a vegan taco bar with gluten free cake.  Can I say I’m proud?

Each girl decorated her own jute bag, and then they autographed each others. They each created a one-of-a-kind designer bag not available in stores!

The girls now have their own reusable shopping bag that carries a delightful memory along with a sense of personal empowerment that they can make a difference. I challenged the girls to count how many disposable bags they don’t need to take from the store each time they take it shopping. They can keep a tally right on the bag!

There are some lucky birds that will have bright, new and custom housing. Notice the camouflage decor in the back. Good thinking. I think that one’s equipped with WIFI too….

I included Michaels and the grocery store on my weekly errand run so that I could get the supplies and ingredients that I needed. Check your own art supplies before you purchase more, and make a list before you go. Combine as many errands in one trip as you can, and take reusable shopping bags!

The Vegan Taco Bar was LightLife crumbles, sauteed in cumin and chili powder, with chopped organic veggies, refried black beans, homemade guacamole and corn shells.

The party was scheduled for 1 p.m. I began food preparations at noon. The taco bar and cupcakes were ready by 12:45 p.m. This spread required no more effort than any other party; picking up store-bought versions is still time consuming! (But don’t let me fool you…I have two teenage boys who were “happy” to help…)

I substituted orange juice for the water in Pamela’s Gluten Free Vanilla Cake mix, and made a simple icing with powdered sugar and more orange juice. Fresh organic strawberries served as the “edible decoration”.

If you’ve never played with the orange flavor, you’re missing out. It’s easy to substitute freshly squeezed organic orange juice for liquid in any vanilla recipe. Finely grate a little zest (orange rind) into the batter and prepare to be impressed with yourself. Check out my recipe for orange cookies.

Each cake was baked in a silicon baking cup shaped like a flower. The color and shape offered a reusable accent that will be enjoyed again.

This delicious orange cupcake is gluten free and vegan, made with whole and organic ingredients. It’s FAR better than anything you’d find in a plastic package at the grocery store.

Hosting a green birthday party is less expensive, simple to plan and far more rewarding than the typical alternative. Showing our children that their future is not disposable is the best gift we can give.

Waking up our children to the importance of mindful and sustainable living is an act of love that will pay dividends in their futures…

Gourmet Mushrooms Recipe Creates Creamy Saute

Gourmet Mushrooms Recipe Creates Creamy Saute

Here’s a gourmet mushrooms recipe creates a creamy, yet light sauté when added to fresh and seasonal veggies.

Exotic fungi are a delightful addition to any meal, but especially at the vegan table. The succulent texture, woody fragrance and savory character create a gourmet experience comparable (and compatible!) with the finest wines. And though freshly harvested gourmet mushrooms are appealing, restricting indulgence to a few illusive days in fall is not necessary.There are many delicious varieties cultivated in specialized growing environments; and when dried properly, seemingly simple flavors develop complicated depth.

Ten pounds of fresh mushrooms are needed to produce one pound of dried. So while they seem expensive when compared to fresh, the value is ten fold. And as they last indefinitely, there is no risk in stocking the pantry.

Mushrooms are a great addition to a plant-based diet. They generally are high in vitamin B and iron, as well as trace minerals, and contain stable antioxidants that aren’t destroyed in a short cooking process. If you rehydrate them in a sunny window, they actually MAKE vitamin D, much like our own skin. Nutrient levels and immune boosting-benefits are not affected by the drying process.

Premium Mushroom Blend or bulk Dried Porcini Mushrooms are available through the Great American Spice Company, as well as most grocery stores. The blend is a bit pricey, but the eclectic selection can last a long time if you use them sparingly.

Ingredients for Gourmet Mushrooms Recipe: 1/2 pound cashews (soak) 1/2 cup dried mushrooms (soak) Fresh seasonal ingredients of choice: greens, peppers, squash, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, beans, tofu, etc. 4-5 cloves freshly chopped garlic 2 tbsp each of seasonings: parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, garlic salt, black pepper (or fresh if you have them!) 1/2 cup yeast flakes 1tbsp ground mustard

1-2 hour in advance: Soak 1/2 lb of cashews in water for an hour or so. (They plump up just like dried beans and turn white…perfect for cream!)

Boil 5-6 cups plain water and pour over dried mushrooms in a mixing bowl. Add just enough to cover the mushrooms and discard the remainder. Let them soak (in a sunny window if possible) until they are tender.

20 minutes before serving time: Drain cashews and put them in a blender. Cover the nuts with about half of the broth produced by soaking mushrooms. Add yeast flakes, ground mustard and 1 tbsp each of seasonings. Puree until thoroughly blended. Taste it with your finger and fine tune as needed. I usually add a bit more salt. If it’s too thick, add a bit more broth.

Cook pasta of choice according to package directions. I like Farfalle Pot Pie Bow Noodles (egg free) because it’s very light in texture and flavor. Add 1-2 tbsp salt to the boiling water, and the subtle flavor will pop.

In a skillet, add the soaking mushrooms and remaining broth to desired veggies and garlic. Cook on medium heat until everything is tender, but brightly colored with a bit of crunch. Add seasonings just before removing from heat.

Pour cashew sauce over sauté. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Stir frequently.

SONY DSC

Serve this gourmet mushrooms recipe over, or mix into, the pasta. Take compliments graciously.

 

Tomatillo Tofu Scramble and a Question: Is Soy a Healthy Option?

Tomatillo Tofu Scramble and a Question: Is Soy a Healthy Option?

I have a new appreciation for the black man that can’t dance, and the British boy bored with soccer. When people discover that I am vegan, the first thing they awkwardly offer is tofu.

I am the vegan that doesn’t like tofu.

Slimy. Bland. Mushy. BLAH!

I don’t bring this up at the our secret vegan meetings. It’s don’t ask, don’t tell around this issue. I see other vegans who pick around chunks of tofu, but we don’t make eye contact. It’s just not discussed.

Though tofu is a standard in Vegetarian 101, I’ve only enjoyed it twice in my life. The first was at Blossom, a vegan restaurant in Manhattan, where mouth-watering smells, flavors and textures would convince Kevin to give up Bacon.

The second was a subtle surprise. While on vacation, a girlfriend and I combined our leftover veggies with her block of tofu. I intended to pick around it as I always do. But, as I sit to write this, I have just finished the final bite. I’ve been eating the leftovers all day, and it has only gotten better. We stumbled upon a magical combination and luckily, I was paying attention.

There are four key ingredients.
5-6 Tomatillos
a handful of freshly chopped cilantro
fresh block of organic tofu
3 tbsp of yeast flakes

The rest of the vegetable medley is whatever you want. We added vidalia onion, sweet yellow pepper, baby spinach leaves, 4 cloves of garlic, a zucchini, radishes, carrots and a can of black beans. Adding green onions, spicy peppers or sweet corn, and serving with a favorite hot sauce would also be wonderful additions. Also, season with cumin, turmeric, garlic powder/salt and any other seasoning of choice.

Prepare a block of tofu by crumbling it in a bowl, and mash in 3 tbsp of yeast flakes. The crumble is so much better than mushy, slimy cubes! Add it to the skillet.

Combine with chopped veggies and fresh garlic. The crumbled tofu and tomatillos are watery, and should provide enough liquid to sauté, so don’t add extra unless it’s necessary. Cook until desired texture is reached (go for crunchy and colorful) Season with black pepper and sea salt. A squirt of lime juice puts the cherry on top.

Tofu is high in protein, low in fat, and can be a good source of iron, calcium and magnesium, which is why it’s “the other white meat” in VeganWorld. But as most soybeans in the US contain GMO’s, it’s critical to look for organic varieties that are fresh. (If it’s in a cardboard package on a canned good shelf, skip it. Look for it instead in a refrigerated produce display.)

Being vegan, it’s easy to overload on soy without even realizing it. Eating a wide variety of foods is always a good idea, and there are great alternatives in rice, coconut, oat, hemp and almond milk products. Too much soy (like every meal, every day) can disrupt estrogen levels. But don’t let this scare you. It’s rare that any food qualifies for unlimited consumption. Salmon contains mercury, eggs contain cholesterol, beef has no fiber and too much cheese will make you fat. Also, there is corn and/or soy (think vegetable oil, thickeners, sweeteners, etc.) in nearly every processed product on the market  Yet in a carnivorous diet, these are considered safe and even beneficial in moderation.

Same principle applies to soy. If you are struggling with fertility, early onset of puberty, man-boobs, or looking for an infant formula, talk to a nutritional specialist. Otherwise, organic soy is a healthy part of a plant-based diet.

Try this! Let me know how yours turns out!

Want to know why organic soy is so critical? Read more about GMOs…

Eating Vegan in Europe: Vegan on Vacation!

Eating Vegan in Europe: Vegan on Vacation!

Eating Vegan in Europe: Vegan on Vacation

When it takes 38 years to book a trip to Italy and France, you want to make sure the experience is worth the wait. I spent months researching how to travel, where to go, what to see and how to eat. I listened to words of wisdom, caution and advice from everyone who offered. The most notable recommendation came from my 14 year old son Zac, who traveled last summer: “Take your time and enjoy. It will change your life….Oh, and pick me up some Nutella”.

Now that I am home, a newly ‘seasoned’ traveler, I have much to share. But the most pressing issue I’ll address first is the challenge that everyone recommended I dismiss: eating vegan in Europe. Staying vegan on vacation was not complicated. I didn’t starve. some meals were better than others.

Isn’t that a common theme with everyone on the road?

So was I able to enjoy the Italian cuisine and French fare without caving to the temptation of the fragrant meats, pungent cheeses, and creamy sauces? Did I stay true to my beliefs even though I was “on a break” from my normal life?

The answer is simple.

Yes.

It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined, as I had some great tools. Just like in America, when you dine in a nice restaurant, with a real chef in the kitchen, they are happy to make accommodations for special diets. I learned to say, “Hello, I am a strict vegetarian. I eat no meat, cheese or milk. Please can you recommend a dish, or can the chef make something with vegetables and pasta?” in both Italian and French. I also had an app on my iPhone called iTranslate, which allowed me to type in further questions on specific dishes that the server could just read, and even answer back as necessary. Surprisingly, though, most people speak a little English. If you are respectful and begin the conversation in their language, they will quickly invite you to speak English.

The Happy Cow is an app that pinpoints your location and then shows surrounding options of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, cafes and markets. I spent a LOT of time before we left identifying vegan restaurants in each city we planned to visit. But when we got there, it wasn’t as easy as I thought to find them. We had so much that we wanted to do, and after 4 hours in the Uffizi museum in Florence, or a longer-than-expected bus ride back from Tuscany, staying vegan on vacation in a foreign country is daunting. As my husband will confirm, I get kinda bitchy when I’m hungry, and my ambitious plans turn to tears rather quickly.

Hands down, my best food experiences were the vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants that we sought out on Happy Cow and coordinated with our excursions. I could order anything on the menu, and I had the pleasure of tasting authentic regional flavors. I was so thankful for the food and ordered so much that I was asked several times, “Is this all for you?”

Yep! Bring it, per favore.

But eating out 2-3 meals a day, (next time I’m booking a place with kitchen facilities so I can buy the fresh produce in the corner markets and cook for myself!) I usually had limited options, even at the nicer restaurants. I ate a lot of plain spaghetti. I even had it for breakfast once.

In one of our early Italian experiences, the English speaking waitress told us that the pesto doesn’t usually have Parmesan cheese in it, so it was safe to order as a vegan. Excitedly, I tried this at our next meal only to discover when I was almost done, that this restaurant does include it. But I didn’t spontaneously combust or throw a fit. I just ordered another glass of wine and learned my lesson.

I’ve decided the Italians could use some advice on the art of preparing vegetables. The vegan-friendly appetizer was always grilled vegetables, and typically included only eggplant, zucchini and red pepper. And they were DRENCHED in oil, with little or no seasoning. We obnoxiously added pepper to everything, as it seems that spices are reserved for the meats. Then, they serve the salad after the meal. The first time this happened, I was excited to experience the custom. But in the end, I just disagree. Salads are full of fiber, and take the edge off of hunger so that the heavy pasta dish can be enjoyed slowly and in moderation. If I eat pasta on an empty stomach, (while drinking wine of course), I need a nap before I can pay the bill. So, thereafter, I identified myself as a “strict vegetarian”, and included instructions to bring the salad first. Per favore and Grazie.

But about a week and a half into our trip, I began to get really bored with the oily vegetables and simple spaghetti that is not the taste of Italy I so desired. So, on a treacherous hike up a mountain overlooking the sea in Chinque Terre, I began thinking about eating some fish. Why fish and not cheese? I don’t know. But I had a lot of time to think, and I was hungry, dehydrated and tired. And by the end of the hike, I had made a decision.

For the sake of the readers of this blog (that’s you, my friend!), I would prove that there is no award to be earned by being perfect. Unselfishly, I, Colleen Towner, vegan-extrordinaire, would order seafood pasta. And then I would eat it. After all, we were so blessed to be taking the perfect vacation, one that many people never get the opportunity to experience. Logically, I would be a complete asshole if I was also the perfect vegan on aforementioned perfect vacation, right?

I didn’t tell my husband of my resolution. Instead, I got all dressed up in the Italian sundress I purchased in a sea-side boutique and told him he could choose the restaurant. No worries on my restrictions. Whatever he wanted. (Though he eats mostly vegan at home, he was enjoying the cheeses and fish without guilt or explanation.)

As we strolled down the cobblestone sea-front street, passing restaurant after restaurant of people eating beautiful food on outdoor terraces as the waves crashed in the setting sun, I was salivating as I glanced at each plate, already tasting the flavors of grilled salmon, broiled mussels and delicate, flaky white fish. Oh, I was going to break the rules and love it.

I saw the exact dish I desired as we passed a small place with yellow table clothes, and the only translation I intended to use was, “I’ll have what she’s having”. But my husband took one look and said that he had something else in mind. He had noticed a restaurant earlier that had great looking pizza and wanted to “take me” there.

Oh. My. God.

I put up a mild argument as I longingly watched the woman eating the food that I so desired to taste (for the sake of my readers, of course), but in the end, I consented to follow him to his choice. Of course, I began to pout, but he was so excited for the pizza that he didn’t notice.

I certainly wasn’t going to swan dive off the my vegan high-horse by eating a lowly pizza, so when the waiter came, I stuck with my “strict vegetarian” spiel, if only to prove to my husband that while I can be flexible, I can also be difficult. (Though I suspect he already knows that.)

And though I had a bad attitude, the karma Gods forgave my silliness. The waiter (also the owner, as is often the case) lit up at my request, saying that he knew “just the dish’ that I would love. A bit later, I was served “Pasta alla Norma”, which was not on the menu, but a classic dish common in Sicily that he felt I would enjoy. My mood improved dramatically, as it was absolutely delicious.

But I was still annoyed. As my husband enjoyed his pizza, he was completely unaware of the drama taking place in my head. Because he’s a dude. I’m willing to bet this is the case more often than I realize.

So the next day, on the train ride to France, I took some time to reflect on whether or not I should try again to eat something that I normally wouldn’t. Honestly, I consider myself a rule-breaker at heart, and I’m not sure if my strict vegan diet is because I’m so morally convinced it is the right thing to do or if I am just stubborn. Probably, the truth is both. And when one reason fails me, the alter-ego kicks in, and I’m still vegan in Europe AND vegan on vacation despite my bipolar mood swings.

But after a lot of soul-searching, I decided I would stay faithful to my heart-felt values and remain vegan in Europe. And here is why:

My family and friends have supported me over the last few years, going out of their way to make sure I’ve got something to eat. I have been a no-compromise pain-in-the-ass, ultimately inconveniencing everyone I know. Of course, I have also been a positive influence, and it’s been very rewarding to see others make changes as they listen and understand the issues that create my passion.

My husband is willing to walk an extra mile (or more) to make sure we go to a restaurant that I can order in. My mom researches recipes and always creates beautiful vegan food when we eat together. My carnivore-for-life father googled “vegan ice cream”, and found the ingredients to make it for my family. My sister makes sure that there are vegan versions of everything she serves. Friends and even acquaintances who invite us to dinner always make sure there is food that I can eat. Restaurants we frequent recognize the “vegan” and offer to make unique entrees with ingredients they have available.

If I had gotten my choice of restaurant that evening and ordered the seafood pasta, then the next night, as we chose where to eat, my vegan status would have (rightfully so) been called into question. And in the future, when finding food that I can eat becomes inconvenient, the memory of “when in Rome, eat like the Romans” would have made it more difficult to object to “when in the United States, eat like an American”.

I’m an American. I’m vegan. It’s not always easy. I appreciate to the depths of my soul the efforts those around me go to to respect my beliefs, and I’m glad my decision to eat seafood was thwarted by the vegan karma gods. Ironically, it also makes me more tolerant of those who feel hunting and eating meat is an important part of who they are. We met a couple on the train from Alberta, Canada. He holds the world record for shooting the largest elk on record. If we ever visit, I promised to admire the mounted head in his cabin. He promised to serve me a proper vegan spread.

I am not perfect. I definitely drank too much wine and even smoked a cigarette that a fellow diner offered me (I didn’t want to be rude!). It made me queasy, but I felt very stylish at the time, as everyone smokes over there. (At several places, our waiters were smoking while they worked!) However, I was sick to my stomach the next day, so that was the last time I used the “When in Rome…” justification. 

In conclusion, traveling is an awesome way to see life from a different perspective. Our culture and my way of life is one of many. I don’t think that of all the life paths to chose from, there is only one right way to live. I believe that heaven is at the top of the mountain, and there are many trails that lead up, as long as you are willing to climb.  And if I would have eaten the seafood pasta, or indulged in some cheese, the world would still turn and life would go on, and I would still be a vegan. But I’m glad I had a chance to think about it. And I’m happy with the decision I made.

And I’m glad to be home.

Eating vegan in Europe was as simple and complicated as it is here. And the truth is this: if you are vegan at home, you are vegan on vacation.

Gluten-free Vegan Pizza

Gluten-free Vegan Pizza

I said I’d never wear brown and gray in the same outfit, but this season, I’m sporting camel riding boots with gray leggings (and I feel very stylish!). I also said I could never be a vegetarian. And then I Woke Up Vegan.

I have a lot of sympathy for celiac sufferers and autism, and firmly believe that diet can have a huge impact on these and many other disorders, but I’ll never go gluten free.

Never say never.

I ran into a cardiologist friend at a cocktail party a week ago. A year ago, he pointed me to the China Study, by Colin Campbell, PhD. That book opened my eyes, validated my vegan lifestyle; I’ve been preaching it like it’s my job and buying it by the case for my go-to gift closet. If you are a regular reader, you know that it’s been a huge source of passion and data for this blog.

This year, he shook his head a bit when I brought up the China Study.  He said there just might be some other variables influencing the sweeping conclusions, and while eating fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods is always the right answer, he’s added fish and eggs back into the periphery of his diet and begun to focus on his wheat intake.

I’m vegan for more than just health reasons. The horrid treatment of animals on factory farms, the environmental damaged caused by all the farts and poop emitted from our pre-plate meat supply, and the amount of land used to grow feed and graze the livestock are issues that I will continue to champion. If anything, the healthy side effects are just a bonus.

But physical health may be more complicated (is vegan simple?) than just eliminating meat and dairy from the diet. He recommended that I begin Wheat Belly by William Davis. And after some thought-provoking Facebook friends (who lean towards the Palio diet) challenged a post in which I declared all saturated fats and cholesterol to be unhealthy, I figured it was time to update and maybe expand my knowledge base.

And I think I just Woke Up gluten-free.

The only reason I haven’t thrown the book into the fire and embraced my ‘ignorance is bliss’ mantra is that  except for extreme health cases, gluten-free doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing lifestyle. So far, I haven’t felt any guilt for eating a piece of bread. I simply am more aware of my choices and their consequences.

The HVH (Hot Vegan Husband) is also reading Wheat Belly (on his iPad, as I don’t share well…) and finding a lot of things that resonate. He’s allergic to grass and beer, and he’s a self-diagnosed bread addict. He carries his freshman 15 around his midsection (ah’hem…”wheat belly”?) despite his amazing success at sticking with unprocessed, whole and vegan food.

So tonight, I made a vegan and gluten free pizza. Two of them actually. And they rocked the house. There was singing, dancing and unusual levels of merriment, the dogs were howling (and they didn’t even get any!), and there isn’t a crumb left. Eat your heart out, Pizza Hut.

By the way, I can only imagine that I consumed more calories in this meal than I have in any one meal for awhile. So while the “wheat belly” may fade, the pizza badonka donk may follow. Stay tuned…:)

The Ingredients. (I shop with Green B.E.A.N. Delivery; most of these products were purchased through them.)

  • 2 packages BeeFree Ready-toRoll Dough (gluten free but contains organic egg whites)
  • Farm to Kitchen Foods Mushroom Marsala Tomato Sauce
  • Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet cheese alternative, mozzarella and cheddar
  • Luna Burger KickStart herbed sausage patties
  • fresh baby spinach
  • vidalia onion
  • 6 cloves of fresh garlic
  • organic tomatoes
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • dried organic basil
  • olive oil

The gluten free crust is difficult. I’ve tried this brand before, and had dismissed it as problematic. With new determination, I followed directions almost completely. (It called for corn meal as the ‘flour’ to kneed and roll the dough, but I had tapioca flour, so I substituted.) The dough was very sticky and required a lot of excess tapioca, but once my kitchen looked like a white powder bomb exploded, I had it right. I coated with olive oil, let it sit for thirty minutes, then pre-baked for 10 minutes, then added sauce and veggies and cooked another 15 minutes, (and I thought vegan was high maintenance….:)

I added the veggies that I had, so nothing is mandatory…except the illegal amount of fresh chopped garlic. If you don’t know how and why to use fresh garlic, click here.

And if you forced me to make a comment, I would say that the Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheese alternative is creamier than Daiya brand. I still love and support Daiya and I’m thankful to have two great brands from which to choose.

Let me know what you think!

Cheers.

Spicy Squash and Potato Puree & Pear/Shitake Garnish

Spicy Squash and Potato Puree & Pear/Shitake Garnish

This weekend, we got to hob-nob with the sexy people. We stayed at the Trump International Plaza in Chicago, IL, and since I normally hate hotels, I will only admit I was mildly impressed. I mingled amongst foreign accents, designer clothing and futuristic technology.  I slept in Egyptian cotton sheets, wrapped myself in a complimentary pima-cotton robe, and donned matching fluffy Tramp-stamped slippers (wait…slip of tongue-that’s Trump stamped), (not) drinking $25 bottles of water.  It was a fun weekend of escape, though I was more than ready to return home to my normal, not-so-boring, everyday life with four kids, three dogs and never-ending hilarity of catastrophic events.

On Saturday evening, we dined at Graham Elliot’s, which was a blend of casual, modern style and distinctive, signature taste. I stopped counting after the 10th course (and second glass of wine) and simply enjoyed each new texture, flavor and presentation. The meal was a dynamic work of art, with the guests, the staff and the food co-creating a moment in time; a dance of celebration and adventure.

We called ahead to let them know the party of 10 would include two vegans, and we were discreetly informed when we arrived that everything “was taken care of”. And it was. We sat back and relaxed, never worrying or asking a question as each course was presented with a thorough explanation of ingredients.

I was feeling exotic and inspired when I got home, so I cleaned out my produce bin and used the following ingredients to create a soup that my kids actually ate without pleading or promised compensation. It was as though we all acquired a little more culture from mom and dad getting a weekend away. (And I didn’t ask Grandma for the dirty details of the discussion between the securty guard and our six-year-old at Target. What happens at Target should stay there… Discretion on need-to-know issues is something that should be learned at an early age.)

  • 2 Delicata squash (though any winter squash would work), sliced in half, seeded and cubed. (Yes, you can leave the skin!)
  • 2-3 baking potatoes, (red, sweet, white or other) quartered
  • 1 bulb of garlic (about 7-8 cloves), peeled
  • 3-4 peppers (sweet or slightly spicy…your choice!)
  • 1 onion (red, white or sweet)

In a stew pot, add enough water to cover 2/3 of vegetables. Bring to a boil. Stir often as veggies soften.

Lower heat to medium, and use a potato masher to gradually reduce and thicken. In the last 15 minutes, add:

  • 1 tbsp fennel
  • 1 tsp clove
  • 1 tbsp sea salt (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tbsp black pepper

I considered adding a splash of soy sauce (check brand for GF), but didn’t as my kids prefer a bit more bland… I think it would have been a good idea..:)

Let it cool a bit (or be careful if you don’t) and add it to a blender to achieve the puree. I used a bowl to hold the remainder as it took two full blenders to process. Hold the lid on tight.

In a sautee skillet:

  • 2 pear, chopped small
  • 8 oz shitake mush, sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance spread (or oil of choice)

Use low heat, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish the soup and serve.

Put your drink in a wine glass, raise your pinky, and toast to the simple pleasures. Good food definitely enhances the great experiences in life.

Fall for Vegan Chili

Fall for Vegan Chili

I’m having a hard time saying goodbye to summer. Spring was unusually delayed this year, and waiting for the thaw was notably cold and painful.

And so while everyone else is rejoicing at the newly brisk temperatures, I’m a little nervous about heading back into The Long Winter. I love fall, but I know what comes next and I’m just not ready to give up the beauty that comes with the sun.

So I’m looking for ways to celebrate the coming season. I’m not a football fan, and all the chatter and arm-chair quarterbacking that surrounds the fantasy leagues leaves me a bit bored. But chili gets me excited, so I made my first pot of the season and ate it outside, hesitantly embracing the deep golds and brilliant reds that are transforming the green landscape.

I started soaking the red beans three days ago because I bought them dried from the bulk section of Green B.E.A.N. Delivery. The convenience of canned beans is always worth the extra dollar, but there is something ceremonial in creating a meal in stages, over several days, with bits of attention paid little by little, in anticipation of a weekend meal.

Red beans have to cook a long time to achieve the soft flavor and texture that makes them worth the effort. So I added 12 cups of water and 2 veggie bouillon cubes to my 1 pound of beans and put the fire on medium. Then it was a free-for-all. White and yellow banana peppers, orange and green bell peppers, a vidalia onion, a bulb of chopped garlic, crimini mushrooms, a few carrots, and 1 celery stalk. I cut the bad spots out of four not-so-fresh tomatoes and added (approximately–I don’t measure) 1 tbsp of chili powder, 1 tbsp of cumin, 1/2 tbsp of tumeric and a packet of Simply Organic Mild Chili seasoning (sold through GBD).

Now, this can’t be rushed. You want it to be done in an hour, and it can be, but the beans just aren’t quite perfect that quick. I cooked for two hours, with a few “I just can’t wait” spoonfuls here and there. I also added some extra water after the first hour because I wasn’t cooking with a lid. A lid would lessen the evaporation rate, but I like to smell and hear the boil.

In the last 10 minutes, I added a handful (about 1/2 cup) of fresh, organic cilantro. Cooking any longer than that diminishes flavor, antioxidants and living enzymes.

You can add vegan sour cream, sheese and/or chunks of avocado to garnish. Green onions would be good too. The kids demanded chips with theirs, and I agreed.

As I sat on the deck, wrapped in a blanket and watching the steam rise off the hot chili, I sipped my cold beer and reminded myself that every season is wonderful, and that summer will return. The days ahead may be shorter and cold, but life is always what you make of it. Today, I made chili.