28 October 2008

vegan MoFo: nutrition series

It seems like every time someone hears that I'm a vegan, they have some word of caution or recommendation. If they aren't telling me about how I really should at least eat fish or drink milk, they're worrying about my intake of iron, protein, calcium, or vitamin B. I do my best to refrain from pointing out how my diet is probably much healthier than their's (although sometimes I can't help myself); instead, I try to think of their concern as a genuine care for my health. And although it upsets me sometimes (especially because I try to be very aware of eating a nutritious, balanced diet), I have to admit, they have a point.

When I first became a vegetarian, I was pretty unhealthy. I ate a lot of cheese and a lot of fake meat products. Eventually, as I learned more about nutrition, I began to move away from processed foods and I began to gravitate toward "whole foods" like fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes. As I became more aware of the health, environmental, and economical factors concerning all animal products (not just meat), I decided to become a vegan. I was eating salads and grains and beans and tons of fruit and vegetables. And for a while, I was incredibly healthy.

But then I discovered vegan baking.

Not that there isn't room for the occasional vegan baked good, and it's true that they may be healthier than non-vegan baked goods. But lately I've realized that I've been eating so many sweets, that I haven't had room for all the other fresh, healthy foods my body needs. Maybe for some people eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet comes naturally, but, for me, it still takes some planning.

BUT, I believe it is possible for people to get adequate nutrition through a plant-based diet. So I'm making it my goal to research the roles of iron, protein, calcium, and vitamin B in our bodies: how much of each we need, the best vegan sources, how those sources compare to non-vegan sources, other nutrients that aid in absorption, and any other relevant information. I realize a lot of work has already been done by professionals, but this is more of a personal project for me to put it into one place where I can easily understand it and refer back to it. I'm also including recipes along with nutritional information for each post, because I believe it is important to eat delicious, healthy foods.

26 October 2008

vegan MoFo: pumpkin silver dollar pancakes

pumpkin buckwheat silver dollar pancakes with blackstrap
molasses, dried cranberries, and toasted pecans

I know I'm getting ahead of myself (or perhaps behind myself) because I still haven't finished posting about BAKE MY DAY. But, since it was such a lovely Sunday afternoon, I really wanted to post about these delicious pancakes I made for brunch today. I used the leftover pumpkin from my pumpkin cinnamon rolls plus a mixture of buckwheat and spelt flours for a rich, nutty taste. I sweetened the batter with a little bit of blackstrap molasses and agave nectar, and added the warm spiciness of ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Topped with a light drizzle of blackstrap molasses, dried cranberries, and toasted pecans, this is a beautiful and delicious way to add iron to your diet.

Pumpkin Silver Dollar Pancakes:
makes about 12 3-inch pancakes

1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup pumpkin
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup soymilk (may need more or less, depending on thickness of desired pancakes)
oil for greasing pan

Combine dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients except for soymilk and stir to combine. Add soy milk a little at a time, stirring until desired consistency is reached. I ended up adding a little more because the thicker pancakes were not getting fully cooked inside. The baking powder will help the pancakes to puff up a bit when cooking, so don't be afraid to make the batter a little runny.

To cook, lightly grease a non-stick skillet. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of batter. Cover with a lid until quite a few bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake. Use a non-stick spatula/flipper that has also been lightly greased to flip the pancakes. (Work slowly first around all of the edges and then loosen the middle of the pancake. Finally, when it slides easily, flip the pancake and allow to cook until other side is lightly browned.)

To serve, lightly drizzle with blackstrap molasses and agave nectar and sprinkle with toasted pecans and dried cranberries.

25 October 2008

Vegan MoFo: pumpkin pie, take two

good ole pumpkin pie

A couple weeks since my last attempt at Pumpkin Pie, I knew I was ready to try again; but this time, I wanted to keep it simple. Although I enjoyed the flavors of the ginger and ceylon tea, I decided to cut back on the spices in this recipe to allow the pumpkin flavor to shine. I can see an advertisement for this pie reading:

"No gimmicks. Just pure pumpkiny goodness."

Or something like that...

Once again, I based my pie filling recipe off Bryanna's Pumpkin Pie Recipe, but I made a few changes. Instead of a non-dairy milk, I used cashew cream (recipe below) to make the pie thicker and creamier. I like making my own milk because I know there are not preservatives or additives, and I can control the consistency. I also added a little more tapioca flour than the recipe calls for. I'm not sure whether it was both of these or the combination, but my pie set up much better this time. For the crust, I made up a new recipe (very loosely based on the one I used before). This one uses light spelt flour, which still has nutritious qualities but a much lighter taste and feel (I would have like to have tried the crust without any all purpose flour, but I ran out of spelt). I also used vinegar and baking soda to help make the crust flakier. This crust turned out much better than any of my previous crusts, although I know it still probably could use some work (if you know of any great vegan crust recipes, especially ones that incorporate whole grains, please let me know!). Here are my recipes:

Part Spelt Crust:
makes one 9-inch single pie crust

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup light spelt flour
1/3 cup cold shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
3-4 tablespoons cold water

Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in shortening, careful not to over mix. Add vinegar and slowly add water, about a tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. Roll dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper until it is a circle about 14" in diameter. Using the parchment paper to gently lift the dough, place it inside a 9" pie pan. Trim overhanging edges to 1" and fold under, using fingers to create decorative edge.

Pumpkin Pie Filling:
makes one 9-inch pie

2 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin (I used a little more than one 14.5 oz. can, but you could probably get away with one can)

1 cup cashew cream (recipe below)

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup tapioca starch

1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Pour the filling into the pastry and bake 60 minutes, covering the edges with foil if they begin to brown too quickly. Cool on a rack, then refrigerate overnight before serving.

The cashew cream recipe below is a great addition to so many recipes. It worked wonderfully in my chocolate matcha truffles, and also in my quince and chestnut bread pudding. Although you can probably get away with soymilk in the above recipe, I think the richness of the cashews is really important. If you want to make a lower fat version, try replacing the water with the non-dairy milk of your choice and adding about 1/4 cashews. The result will still be creamy and delicious.

cashew cream

Cashew Cream:

makes one cup

3/4 cup raw cashews

3/4 cup cold water

Blend ingredients in a blender on high until completely smooth and creamy.

the blended result

the creamy consistency

24 October 2008

vegan MoFo: quince chestnut bread pudding with orange cranberry sauce

quince and chestnut bread pudding with orange cranberry sauce

I've never made bread pudding before, but I was knew that this needed to be rich. I figured omitting eggs, butter and cream and subbing low-fat plant-based alternatives (although that would make it healthier), would drastically reduce the quality. So, I decided to use rich alternatives (although still plant-based and still healthy). I did use 2 T margarine to cook the quince, but I think that could be easily substituted with coconut oil or apple juice without effecting the result.

Quince and Chestnut Bread Pudding:
1 (9 oz) baguette, cut into 1" cubes (about 7 cups)
1 cup cashews*
1/3 cup hempseeds*
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons margarine
2 quinces, cut into 1/2" dice (about 3 1/2 - 4 cups)
7-8 fresh chestnuts, or 1/2 cup roasted, peeled and chopped

*I used this combination of nuts and seeds to give a creamy taste and consistency with only a slightly nutty flavor. Feel free to use other nuts or seeds as you feel suits your recipe.

To roast chestnuts, use a sharp knife to cut an X through the shell of the chestnut to allow steam to escape. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 425F for about 20 minutes. The shells will pull apart at the X and should be able to peel off easily. Remove all of the shells and chop the insides; set aside.

roasted chestnuts

Place cubed bread in 2 quart baking dish and set aside.

In medium/large saucepan, melt margarine over medium heat and stir in quince, sauteing for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, in a blender, combine cashews, hemp seeds and water and blend until completely smooth (this may take a couple of minutes). Add the next 6 ingredients (maple syrup through nutmeg) to blender and process. Pour contents of blender over quince and add sultanas. Cook for a couple of minutes and then pour over diced bread. Sprinkle with chestnuts and gently stir to combine. While the oven is preheating to 325 F, allow the bread to soak up some of the liquid for about 15 minutes. Bake for about 45 minutes until center is set and top is golden. Alternatively, bake individual-sized portions in lined muffin tins for about 30 minutes. Serve with Orange Cranberry Sauce (recipe below).

orange cranberry sauce
Cranberry Sauce:
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon orange zest

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin popping. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes. The sauce will still be a little runny, but it will thicken more as it cools.

23 October 2008

vegan MoFo: BMD "harvest moon"

Although I missed the ACTUAL harvest moon, the name for this week's BMD sounded a lot better than "hunter's moon" and it also better depicts the idea of this week's theme (plus, I don't support hunting, of course...).

I really just wanted to make everything pumpkin, but, for the sake of variety and in case there are any non-pumpkin eaters out there (although that's really beyond my comprehension), I also tried to use other seasonably appropriate veg, such as carrots, parsnips, pears, cranberries, and quince. Paired with hearty nuts and warming spices, this is the most autumnal spread yet:

harvest loaf

pumpkin cinnamon rolls

More info and recipes coming soon, PLUS: lael's lovely pear and parsnip galette!

20 October 2008

vegan MoFo 10: BMD "flower flour power"

A sampling of some of the flower-flavored food from the Oct. 16th BMD:
*recipes and more info coming soon*

olive oil and herbes de provence bread

rose-scented baklava

rose ginger cookies

chamomile scones with clotted cream and hibiscus syrup

and coming soon: lavender biscotti...

19 October 2008

vegan MoFo: a simple snack packed with flavor

harissa & pepitas

I love the combination of sweet and spicy, with a little bit of salt; it's perfect because it satisfies all of my cravings. This recipe combines the spiciness of harissa, the sweetness of agave, and the delicious flavor of pumpkin and sesame seeds to make the perfect snackable treat. It's perfectly delicious on its own, but if you can manage to stop yourself from munching, they are delicious mixed into homemade caramel popcorn with pistachios, a little extra harissa to taste, and bite-sized pieces of dried mango, papaya and pineapple.

spicy caramel popcorn with harissa pepitas, pistachios,
sesame seeds, and dried tropical fruit

Harissa is a traditional North African paste made with dried chilies, garlic, oil, salt, and various spices such as cumin, coriander, caraway and cinnamon. You can buy harissa paste already made, but it isn't difficult to make your own, and it's much less expensive (try this easy recipe, which is the one I used on my pepitas).

Harissa Pepitas:
3 tablespoons harissa paste
2 tablespoons agave nectar
a tiny bit (about 1 t) oil
2/3 cups pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
a couple pinches of salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, mix harissa, oil, and agave into a paste. Add pumpkin seeds and coat well. Spread out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and salt. Toast for about 5 minutes and then stir. Continue toasting about 5-8 minutes more, or until the seeds are toasted and significantly less sticky.

18 October 2008

vegan MoFo 08: BMD "i like coffee, i like tea"

Now that I'm back in town, I'm about to unload an arsenal of backed-up posts (oh, it's so good to be at home with my computer!)
First, a post to display all of the desserts at the Oct. 9 "i like coffee, i like tea" BMD event:

14 October 2008

vegan MoFo 06: Oolong Currant Scones

Oolong Currant Scones with Darjeeling Apple
Ginger Jam and Clotted Cream

As part of the "i like coffee, i like tea" BAKE MY DAY, I decided to make scones with oolong tea and currants. I based this recipe off of Vegan Yum Yum's Lemon Maple Scones, but I wanted it to be whole grain. I love the taste of wholemeal scones--they've got a heartier flavor, and they're healthier, too! I used a mix of light spelt flour, whole wheat flour, and oats that I ground into a coarse flour. The light spelt flour helps to keep it from becoming too heavy or too wheaty (they are SCONES, afterall) and the oats provide a little bit of nice texture with a mild flavor.

I'm reprinting Lolo's recipe here, with my changes.

Oolong Currant Scones
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup light spelt flour
2 & 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
the contents of 2 bags of oolong tea
1/3 cup margarine
3 T agave
1/2 cup soymilk
2 T lemon juice
1/3 cup dried currants

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Combine dry ingredients (flours, salt, bp, oolong) in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, blend the margarine into the dry ingredients until there are no chunks of margarine left and the mixture looks like damp sand.

Pour in the wet ingredients and mix with your hands to form a soft dough. Only mix until just combined, adding more flour if the mixture is too wet. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll out to a slab 1.5″ thick. Using a biscuit cutter or a glass with about a 2″ diameter, cut out your scones. Press the scraps of dough together, roll out again, and continue cutting scones until you’ve used up your dough.

Transfer scones to a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, or a non-stick mat. Brush the tops with a mixture of agave and lemon juice.

Bake at 400º F for 12-15 minutes. If the scones aren’t lightly brown after 15 minutes, transfer to the broiler for 1-2 minutes, watching carefully, to brown the tops if desired. Remove to a cooling rack.

Split and serve with clotted cream and Apple Ginger Darjeeling Jam, or another jam of your choice.

13 October 2008

vegan MoFo 05: lessons in risotto-style barley

risotto alla barbabietola

Despite the heat hovering (still!) over these early-autumn evenings, for the past few weeks I have been craving risotti of all flavors. A novice at making this rich dish, I still have quite a bit to learn. In my pre-vegan days, I depended on butter and parmegiano reggiano to makeup for my lack of know-how, but my more-recent dairy abstinence hasn't put an end to my desires for something creamy and satisfying.

I've made risotto with arborio and carnaroli before, but since I'm trying to incorporate more healthier whole grains into my diet, I decided to use pearl barley instead. I've seen this idea implemented several times before, most notably by Heidi Swanson here.

My first risotto-style barley was a few days ago. I roasted a butternut squash (it weighed 2.24 lbs before removing the skin and seeds) and added it to the barley at the end. I also added sage, saffron, arugula and toasted pecans. The taste was delicious and the texture was pretty good for the first try.

Then I tried a new version with beets, apples, beet greens, toasted walnuts and a hint of cloves. The flavors were nice, but I think the texture was still lacking. Risotto made from barley will never be as creamy as its arborio or carnaroli counterparts because it has less starch. But, after comparing what I did differently between the two recipes, I think I've learned a few things that will help bring barley to its fullest potential. Everything basically comes back to helping the grain release the starch slowly. Here are some tips to help:

1. You want to help the steam escape as the steam cooks the grain too quickly. Use a wide-based, shallow pan and if you have a fan above your stove, turn it on. Don't cover the pan with a lid.
2. Start by cooking the onion and garlic and then adding in the grains to toast. You only need to toast the grains for a few minutes, just until they're hot and you can hear them making a kind of hissing sound. For me, this was about 2-3 minutes.
3. When you add your liquid, make sure that it is warm. Cold stock (or wine) shocks the grains and will prevent them from best releasing their starch.
4. Stirring frequently (especially after new additions of stock) helps the steam escape and makes for a creaming risotto.
5. Add liquid in small batches of about 1/2 cup, and only when the rest of the liquid has been absorbed.
6. You may not want to use broth for all of your liquid (you may want to use water or low-sodium broth for a portion of the necessary liquid). Since you will use more liquid than when you typically cook grains, the taste and sodium of the stock may be too overpowering.
7. Keep the grains cooking on a low-medium heat. Cooking too quickly will result in a poorly-textured risotto.
8. Right before serving, add a bit more of olive oil and stir really well to incorporate, giving it a glossy finish and enhancing the creaminess.
9. Allow the risotto to rest a minute before serving it on plates.

And, now for the recipe:

Risotto alla Barbabietola
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup of pearl barley
4 cups of vegetable stock (you may not need all of this)
3 beets and their greens (if you don't have beet greens, use several handfuls of spinach or arugula, instead)
1 small apple
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted

1. Set the oven to 425 F. Wrap the beets in foil or place in a pan and cover and set in the preheated oven. After about an hour, chop the apples into 3/4" chunks and put in the oven. When the beets and apples are tender, probably about 10-15 more minutes, remove them and allow to cool. Once the beets have cooled, remove peel and chop into 3/4" pieces.

2. Meanwhile, heat broth in a pan and keep at simmer. In a wide, shallow pan, saute onion and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add barely and toast for about 2 minutes.

3. Add wine and stir briskly until incorporated. Add broth 1/2 cup at a time, adding more only as liquid is absorbed. Continue adding liquid, stirring after every addition, until barley is just tender. The barley should be al dente, not mushy and not crunchy.

4. Add the beet greens and allow to wilt. Add the beets and apples and stir. Finally, add the olive oil and briskly stir one last time. Serve on plates and top with pieces of toasted walnuts.

12 October 2008

vegan MoFo 04: apple ginger darjeeling jam

Apple Ginger Darjeeling Jam

I'm still blogging (and I still will be for a few more days) about "i like coffee, i like tea," the theme for this past Thursday's BAKE MY DAY. BMD is a weekly event I started this semester where I bake several vegan desserts and/or breads based on a theme, and invite lots of people over to help eat them. I wanted to try to incorporate the tea into the jam for the scones I was making, so I decided to use darjeeling tea which goes well with apples, ginger and cloves. I used granny smith apples to give a little tartness, but feel free to use a another variety if you prefer. Since I couldn't find a tea jam recipe, I improvised. I used the tea bags at two separate times; I'm not sure if that is necessary but the result was delicious with the perfect amount of darjeeling flavor. Feel free to experiment!

Apple Ginger Darjeeling Jam

2 lbs granny smith apples
8-10 bags darjeeling tea
2 inch piece fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 & 1/3 cups sugar (approximate; see below*)

1. Quarter apples and place into a 4 to 5 quart saucepan (leave the cores and skins on apples, as these parts contain a lot of pectin). Add water just enough to not quite cover the apple quarters on the very top and cover the pan with a lid.

2. Bring the water to a boil and add 6 of the tea bags and ginger root. After 5 minutes, remove tea bags and discard. Simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour until apples are very soft and have turned to mush.

3. Pour into a colander lined with three layers of cheesecoth. Hang over bowl for several hours or overnight, until no more juice drips from bag.

4. Measure juice. If you have two cups, use 1 & 1/3 cups sugar. Otherwise, adjust sugar amount accordingly.

5. Put juice into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the remaining tea bags and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and squeeze out liquid. Add cloves and sugar to the saucepan and continue to simmer until desired thickness is reached.**

*This recipe is based on 2/3 cup sugar to 1 cup prepared apple juice. If you get more than 2 cups juice from the apples, make more jelly based on this proportion.

**The mixture will thicken as it cools. One method to test thickness of jelly is to drop a little onto a very cold surface. If the jelly does not run, then it is thick enough).

08 October 2008

vegan MoFo 03: ceylon pumpkin pie

Ceylon Pumpkin Pie

I based my recipe for the filling on the one found here, and the crust here, making minor adjustments to each and adding the flavor of ceylon tea to go along with the BAKE MY DAY: "i like coffee, i like tea" event. The flavor of the tea complimented all of the spices really nicely. Although the spices were delicious, some of them seemed to overwhelm the pumpkin flavor a bit, so if you're after a really pumpkiny pie, you may want to cut back on the ginger and molasses.

Here is my recipe:

Pecan Pie Crust
makes one pie crust

220 g. all purpose flour
50 g. pecans, ground
1 bag of ceylon tea
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. shortening
1 T canola oil
3-4 T cold water

Mix flour, pecans, salt and tea. Cut in shortening and blend until dough forms small pebbles. Slowly add oil and then water and gently mix, just until dough holds together. Wrap dough and place in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Place dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll until dough is 2 inches bigger than the pie plate. Using parchment paper to lift dough, place the dough into the pie plate and press down around inside, using your fingers to form decorative edges at the top.

Pumpkin Pie Filling
makes one pie

one 14 oz. can pumpkin
1 c. soy creamer
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. agave
2 T. blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all of the ingredients in a blender. Pour the filling into the prepared (unbaked) pie pastry and bake 60 minutes, covering the edges with foil if they begin to brown too quickly. Cool on a rack, then refrigerate overnight before serving.

*It really does need to sit for a while in the fridge for it to set well. After slicing it, I topped it with a spoonful of vegan clotted cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

vegan MoFo 02: chocolate matcha truffles

chocolate matcha truffles

I just found out about Vegan MoFo (Vegan Month of Food), an annual blogging event encouraging vegans to blog more often (preferably 20 times in the month of October) about vegan food. In an attempt to do my part, here is a recipe for some delicious chocolate matcha truffles I made. I based my recipe off of this one, but I changed it a little, so I'll rewrite here, with my additions.

I used matcha powder to flavor them appropriately for this week's BAKE MY DAY, for which the theme is: "i like coffee, i like tea." Since I am baking for people who aren't used to having matcha, I only used 2 teaspoons, although you may find you prefer the matcha flavor to be stronger. But I think 2 teaspoons is the perfect amount for a subtle flavor. Also, I added 1 T agave; it isn't a lot of sugar but it helps cut the bitterness of the matcha. And here's the recipe:

Chocolate Matcha Truffles
makes 30
3/4 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons matcha powder
1 T agave
1 lb bittersweet chocolate

1. Blend the cashews with the water, agave, and matcha for 1-2 minutes (yes, it is a long time, but you want the mixture to be VERY smooth and creamy). Make sure there are no clumps.

2. Melt the chocolate in a double broiler until very smooth. Keep stirring to help it melt evenly and to prevent it from burning.

3. Fold the cashew mixture into the chocolate and stir gently to prevent air bubbles from forming in the mixture.

4. Once the mixture is combined, allow it to rest in the fridge for 2 hours until set. Then, use a spoon to scoop out small balls and roll in your hands (it is a bit messy) and then roll through cocoa powder until coated. Top with a sprinkle of matcha powder. You can store these in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer, but you should let them come to room temperature before eating, as that will allow for the best flavor.

04 October 2008

lazy saturdays yield abundant rewards to those who keep their eyes on the ground

Pink Lady Salad

Well, despite the title of this post, this Saturday actually hasn't been too lazy, but it has been relaxing. I woke up early this morning because I wanted to walk to the farmers' market and run a few other errands downtown before it became too hot outside. I was excited that I needed to go back for a jacket when I left the apartment at 7:30, but a few hours later, I shed my outer layer and found myself wishing for a real autumn as I kicked a few stones into an overgrown field. Despite the increasing warmth and the run-down, abandoned surroundings, my spirits remained high as I thought about the goods in my bags: onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and delicata squash from the market; a couple of books from the library; a growing pile of pecans (for eating) and leaves (for art class); my diana camera with a (finally!) completed roll of film. I was looking at the road as I walked for more art materials (and possibly to avoid telling another friendly man in a truck that I am fine walking and that I don't need a ride) when I saw a small cluster of dandelions growing from beneath a bush. They were over a foot tall, which is impressive because it seems that usually they are pulled or picked before they reach six inches. Not that the size of the dandelion really matters. What I was actually excited about was the bundle of tall greens beneath the flowers. Although the grocery stores in Abilene have gotten better about stocking their produce sections, the dark, delicate leaves of dandelions have yet to grace the shelves. I grabbed a handful of the greens, making note of the general area so that I could return for more later...

Dandelion Greens

Don't worry, mom, I washed the leaves well (although it was after taking the picture). Talk about fresh produce! If only that were the case more often. Generally, living in Abilene and trying to eat fresh/organic/locally is quite a challenge. I would really like to take part in the Eat Local Challenge, but I know that realistically, I would have to declare so many items as exceptions that I wonder what is the point? Maybe next October I'll be living in a place where that would be realistic. But for now, I'll end with this simple, somewhat-local salad recipe--the perfect way to enjoy something fresh and cool on a beautiful, lazy Saturday afternoon.

Pink Lady Salad
(for men, too!)

a few of handfuls of arugula, spinach, and dandelion greens
a large handful of broccoli sprouts
the seeds from half a pomegranate
about 2 T raw pumpkin seeds
three small tomatoes, halved
about 1/4 c carrot and sage almond butter (recipe to follow)
a few sprigs of fresh mint
a drizzle of balsalmic vinegar (I used a fig-infused variety but regular would be fine)
a pinch of salt

combine everything and toss before serving

Carrot and Sage Almond Butter

I based the recipe for my Carrot and Sage Almond Butter off
Tofu for Two's Carrot Almond Spread with Sage. I decided, however, to make a few changes as I wanted a thicker paste and I wanted the sage to be a stronger flavor. Also, I didn't toast my almonds (per the original recipe), but I still slightly cooked the carrot. I would like to try an all-raw version of this soon, but here it is in the meantime.

Carrot and Sage Almond Butter
100 g almonds, soaked for three or four hours, then drained
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 big clove garlic, sliced
8 large sage leaves
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

I placed the carrot and garlic in a pan, barely covered with water and cooked for a few minutes until the carrot was just beginning to feel tender. I then placed all the ingredients in the blender, adding some of the water from cooking the carrots until the mixture blended well into a smooth paste. You may need to add additional water to get the desired consistency. I kept mine pretty thick because I prefer a hardy dip, but this would also be a delicious salad dressing if thinned.