Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lesson Number One

I turned snack-making into my first mini-class at my sister Jill's house in San Jose, and it was particulay educational... for me. The family was gathered there after a day in Santa Cruz, and a late lunch on the pier. Nobody was hungry for a big dinner, but a little somethin' seemed like a good idea, and I wanted to share some of what I'd been learning. Rick and I went to the nearby whole foods and picked up what we needed for spring rolls and nori rolls.

I knew Dad and Jill wouldn't be too interested in the technique, but I thought my other sister Linda would be. She doesn't like to cook, so I really simplified the ingredients. Instead of making everything from scratch, I bought hummus, a bag of baby spinach, and decided to use crunchy fresh bell pepper instead of roasting it. Back at Jill's, after a minor amount of chopping, we were ready to roll - literally.

Linda paid attention, and was soon creating beautiful rolls, all by herself. I was very proud. We whipped up a simple peanut sauce, sliced up the rolls, and called everyone to the table. After some oohing and ahhhing, and, "You guys made this?" the tasting began. Rick loves this stuff, so he was a happy boy. Linda is vegetarian, though not vegan, so she was in familiar territory. She preferred the softer-skinned, rice wrapper spring rolls over the chewy (okay, sometimes kind of rubbery) nori. Dad politely called the food "interesting" and we all laughed, but I knew he'd rather have had a pizza. Jill was kind of quiet... She ate half of a spring roll, said nothing, and declined to try the nori rolls because she didn't like the smell. Okay, so maybe we should have ordered a pizza.

I could have gotten my feelings hurt, but that wouldn't have been useful. This was a great learning opportunity for me. The lesson? When introducing lifelong, dedicated meat-eaters to vegan fare, it's probably best to go for what we call "transitional" foods. Something familiar like a nice hearty bean loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans or broccoli with cheese sauce, maybe a salad, or Mac and cheese, or even a good faux meat of some kind. I forgot that things like seaweed can be weird, intimidating, and even icky to the uninitiated. I won't forget it again. This was a really good experience for me. Fortunately, nobody was terribly hungry, and I think Linda has some new tricks up her sleeve that she'll enjoy using and sharing. I feel pretty good about the whole thing, and am now looking forward to my next impromptu class.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Time Flies

I'm all finished with cooking classes. The 10 Day Vegan Fusion Immersion was amazing, and adding the 3 Day Teacher Training was the cherry on top of the whole experience. You can read all about it, and see more pictures, on my other blog, Taking The Long Way Home. After I get home, and back to my own kitchen, I'll get back to this blog more, so I can share some new tricks and recipes and inspirations.

I have some vague ideas about classes I might like to teach. Something like "How to Feed a Vegan," for people who think all vegans eat is lettuce and carrots. And maybe seasonal and regional classes that focus on things like green chile or wine country or fancy olives. Then there's the "cook and craft" weekend, the houseboat weekend, the knitting weekend, and on and on, all tied in with a fabulous food experience. I want to teach in my own kitchen, and in other people's home kitchens, so there's a level of comfort and familiarity built in. If you're interested in any of these ideas, or have some suggestions, please let me know. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cooking Class Updates

There are new pictures from cooking school (and a few words) on my other blog this morning. I'm doing sort of a "postcard" format, because I'm too busy to spend a lot of time writing. You can visit TakingTheLongWayHome just about every day for updates. I hope you will!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Postcards From The Road - First Day of School

This entry is also posted on LongWayHome. Read it here, read it there... thanks for reading anywhere!

Today was the start of the Vegan Immersion course I've been waiting for for so many months. It was fun, I feel smarter, and everyone in the group is great, including our chef-teacher, Mark Reinfeld, of Vegan Fusion, who is sharing so much with us.

Rick and I started the day with a run at Alki Beach, my first run since I hurt my foot almost 2 weeks ago. I found myself grinning the whole time, simply because I was able to run again.

Finally off to school, I was a little early, and had plenty of time for a picture outside The Abbey, in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, where the class is being held.

Today was Soup Day. We broke up into teams, and made 4 different soups, all of them delightful, and all of them delicious. My favorite was the creamed broccoli and macadamia nut soup, that was so smooth and rich I just wanted to wander off and be alone with it. The cooking was fun, and of course tasting our work was a really nice reward.

Tomorrow I look forward to getting to know everyone a little better, making more beautiful food, and learning more little tricks that make everything I do in the kitchen just that much better. I am loving my life right now.

Back To School

After months and months of waiting and anticipation, the Vegan Fusion Cooking Immersion starts today! I can hardly believe it. And... yes... I'm a little nervous. The first thing to do is go for a long walk along the beach in West Seattle, where we're staying with family. I think my foot is ready to (gently) hit the pavement again, my shoes are re-laced, and I need to burn off some of this nervous energy. Class starts at a very civilized 11AM, so I have plenty of time to get ready and make the drive over to Fremont. I'll report back later. This is a big day for me!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Vegan Road Trip

Back when we had the trailer, it was easy to take all our food along with us, and prepare it in our own little kitchen. We left Taos for Seattle this trip with nothing more than my jam-packed RAV4, which is a great road trippin' vehicle, but of course it doesn't have a kitchen. The solution was to bring what we need for some simple meals and snacks, all prepped and ready to serve.

One day into this adventure, I can already see what's working... and what isn't. We have one cooler full of drinks and ice. We also have an electric cooler that plugs into the car, which we filled with cleaned, chopped vegetables, homemade salad dressings, and dips - like our own portable salad bar. Then there's the "kitchen box," with chips, nuts, and other dry snacks, bowls, cups, forks, and napkins. The kitchen box also carries our blender, so we can make our usual smoothies in the morning and not have to try to hunt down breakfast in strange towns when we're trying to get back on the road. We also have an electric kettle, so we can easily make tea that isn't "coffee scented" from the hotel room coffee maker.

This is the first time we've tried all this. We usually just surrender to restaurants and too many salty snacks when we're traveling, but we wanted a little more control over our food this trip. The drink cooler is great. Nothing to change there. We just grab what we need and take it with us. The electric cooler is perfect during the day. We made our big lunch salad yesterday in Durango, and had a leisurely (free) lunch by the river.

It wasn't until we were dozing off at night that I realized the cooler only cools if it's plugged in, and that means only if the car is running, or if we bring it in to our room and plug it into the wall. We were so tired when we figured this out, we decided to count on insulation and dropping nighttime temperatures to keep our veggies cold enough to make it another day.

The kitchen box has what we need, but it's too heavy to move in and out of the car, so we ended up buying a smaller plastic tub to carry the essentials to the room with us. This will be OK, but it's not perfect because it means multiple trips to unload and load the car.

One thing that's been really helpful is the HappyCow phone app. We pulled into Moab after a long day of driving and Canyonland cruising, and my friend the HappyCow instantly showed me a (short) list of local restaurants that are veg-friendly. We opted for the Moab Brewery, figuring we could at the very least find salads and fries there. A nice cold beer was what we wanted most anyway. We were really happy to find a whole veggie section on the menu though, and totally enjoyed the veggie burrito and the veggie sandwich... and the beer.

We'll keep fine tuning this traveling food thing. I'm always wanting to pack lighter and make life simpler, and while it's clear that we haven't quite got it figured out yet, we've got at least part of it right. Truth is, it's really hard, and possibly silly, to try yo have all the comforts of home when you're traveling. Part of the adventure, part of the fun, is the lack of accustomed comforts. We learn as we go... Next trip, we'll bring less, and you know I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mediterranean Beans and Greens

I'm leaving for Seattle tomorrow, and starting the Vegan Fusion Cooking Immersion and Teacher Training on Monday. I'm so excited! I signed up for this months ago, and thought April would never get here. I'm also thrilled and honored to have received the Healthy Recipe Award from (see it to the right). This came in today, just as I'm heading off to cooking school, so I take it as a real sign of Cosmic Encouragement! Here's one more recipe before I hit the road. I'll be blogging from Seattle, so keep checking in, or subscribe by email. Enjoy!

The other day I heard about VeganFest, which is happening in Italy at the end of this month. Rick and I have been wanting to go to Italy for years (and maybe stay there for years), but this year won't work, since I'll be in cooking school, and because there's no money. Sigh... I think maybe next year we could pull it off, and probably make it a business trip by then too. Wishing really, really hard...

Meanwhile, dinnertime happened while I was in an Italian mood, but didn't have any of the usual ingredients for spaghetti or pizza or any other Italian standards. I started pulling things out of the fridge, and soon we were enjoying this wonderful mix of garbanzo beans and greens. If you already have cooked beans and some leftover quinoa (or other grain) this is really fast to throw together. Feel free to use other greens too. This recipe has room for lots of variations.

Mediterranean Beans and Greens
(This will feed 4-5 as a one-dish meal, or more if you add a salad on the side)
1 yellow onion, chopped
olive oil to saute in
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
6-8 roma tomatoes, chopped
dry oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper - to taste (be generous with the oregano)
1 cup cooked quinoa (or other grain)
1-2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1 can black olives, coarsely chopped
1 can artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped if they're large
handful of fresh basil, chopped
3-4 handfuls fresh baby spinach - chopped
juice of 1 lemon

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes, and dry seasonings, and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the beans quinoa. Add olives, artichoke hearts, and fresh basil. Stir in and heat for 1-2 minutes. Wilt in the spinach a little at a time, and squeeze the lemon juice on last of all, just before serving.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cashew Caesar Salad Dressing

The weather is warming, the birds are nesting, the daffodils are blooming, and it feels like a good time to start eating more salads. Actually, we eat salad almost every day for lunch. It keeps things simple, and gives us lots of raw fresh veggie goodness without much effort. The trick is to keep the Daily Salad interesting, and that means changing up the ingredients, as well as the dressing. I've come up with a terrific Cashew Caesar Salad Dressing that can easily be varied with some simple additions. The cashews give it a nice thick creamy richness, plus they're good for your heart, and also help to overcome depression. Not bad for a humble nut.

Cashew Caesar Salad Dressing
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 20 minutes or more
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 (or more) cup water
1/2 tsp kelp granules (optional)
black pepper and extra salt to taste

Drain and rinse the soaked cashews, place all ingredients in blender or food processor, and blend till smooth. Add more water if necessary, for the right consistency.

For variation, make a Southwest Caesar, with greens, black beans, red bell pepper, corn, and tortilla chip "croutons." Add chipotle powder to taste to the dressing. We had this one at the Grand Canyon, and it's become a staple for summer dinners around here.

Another option is to add fresh basil or other herbs as you're blending. Can't wait to get the herb pots going again. Good, healthy salad dressings are a great way to entice yourself to eat your greens!