12.07.2015

Develop Your Conscience First



We learned some basic things as children:

--it's not okay to lie
--it's not okay to hurt people with insults and shame
--it's not okay to take or destroy what isn't yours
--if you can help someone who is hurting, do so
--share what you have with those who don't
--when you mess up, own it: apologize and make amends
--use your words
--don't yell or attack
--mind your own business; respect others' right to make their own personal choices
--be polite to strangers; you can never know what they've been dealing with

There is nothing in any of that that is a political agenda. Not a thing. It's just solid, proven guidelines for living a peaceful life and not spreading misery among the people who are forced by circumstance to share the world with you. You can pretty much assume whenever you break one of these, you're going to hurt someone, maybe several someones. Is that the legacy you want to leave for your presence in the world that day? Is that who you are?

I've seen firsthand the cruelty people are capable of when they believe they are "right." Being "right" is a poison to the mind and soul. It's the fool's prize, and the trophy is a golden ass on a pedestal. When we feel so "right" that we decide we can go outside the guidelines, we are that fool's golden ass on a pedestal. When I go online lately, I'm saddened by the things people will say to each other, complete strangers, just to be "right." Driving around town, I'm dodging people zipping past me in the right lane, running stop signs and red lights, riding on my bumper, and I'm sure they feel so "right" in their aggression and dangerous driving. People are letting fear make them feel "right" to arm themselves far beyond their training and competence, and to be irresponsible with lethal forces.

We who live in the US are fortunate enough to live in one of the oldest and most stable democracies. If we want to keep it that way, we have to follow those solid guidelines we learned as kids--whatever our political leanings. If we elect leaders who do not follow the guidelines, we are in big, big trouble. But more importantly, we rely on each other, our neighbors and fellow citizens, to form and reform the government and laws that we will live under from Congress to Congress, election to election, generation to generation. We must--must--be able to carry on conversations with one another without doing so in a way that burns bridges, that attacks, that seeks only to appear "right" and make the other look "wrong."

This is not a tall order. Kids in elementary school can do it. Grown-ups can do it too. Must do it. The future of our country depends on it.

11.14.2015

Gluten-Free Vegan Lunch: Quinoa Mushroom Soup

This is a gluten-free riff on the more common mushroom barley soup. Today it's finally a little cooler, and a warm but not over-filling soup like this seems like it's going to hit the spot. Bread is in the toaster while the family plays Halo, and I'm trying to get this posted fast while the soup cools. I'll leave the fact that my 10 year-old son is already much better (after playing it twice) at Halo than I am for another post.

Here are your ingredients (this made enough for 4 and took about 35 minutes):

Olive oil
1 white onion
1 package mushrooms (any variety, but baby bellas will give a slightly richer flavor)
Worcestershire sauce (vegan gluten-free variety)
Balsamic vinegar
Yellow miso paste
Quinoa (regular white)
Salt
Pepper
Potato starch (optional)
A little fresh chopped rosemary would be nice--a little will go a long way.

I made this soup in a large, cast-iron, enameled pot. Cast iron is my favorite material to cook in, hands down. It's heavy, too, so I don't feel bad about skipping the gym when I cook with it. Bonus! Also, an immersion blender comes in very handy for this recipe. If you haven't got one already, consider investing in one. A relative gave one to me years ago, which I thought was a bit eccentric at the time, but now it's one of my favorite kitchen tools.

Pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot and give the onions a slick bed to lie in. Don't be stingy. Olive oil is good for you, and it won't make your soup taste funny. Dump in your chopped onions with the heat on low-ish and throw a little salt on them. The salt will help them to release their liquid and soften. You want them to cook, but not so fast that they get brown and crispy bits when you have to run away from the stove to help your kid logon to Halo. Those brown and crispy bits will be bitter. Having said that, when the onions get away from me I carry on anyway and it turns out well enough.

While the onions cook, prep your mushrooms. Do not wash the mushrooms. I know, they have little gritty bits on them. Just get a cloth or a dry paper towel and brush it off. Mushrooms are like sponges and if you wash them they'll soak up all that water, which they will then release into the pot when you cook them, and instead of concentrating their lovely flavors you'll stew them prematurely. Once you've brushed off the dirt, slice them up, not too thick, so that they'll cook well.

After the onions have become limp and somewhat shrunken, turn the heat up to medium and throw in the mushrooms. Add a little more salt, and splash in enough Worcestershire and balsamic vinegar to have some liquid sizzling in there. You should be able to hear the cooking happening now, and there should be a little steam coming up from the pot. Here's how my pot looked as the mushrooms cooked:


In around 5-10 minutes it all should have reduced to this:


Now it's time to add in the liquid--good ol' water. I put in about 4 cups for starters and then got out the immersion blender and went after it. If you need to use a blender instead, just work in batches. The cool water should have cooled things down enough that splatters won't hurt you, but be careful anyway. It's better not to blend it to a puree. I like my soups a tad toothy. Here's how mine looked when I was done with it:


Put in some more water for your quinoa and then sprinkle in a couple handfuls. Stir, see what you think, maybe a little more would be better? Up to you. Put the lid on for a gentle simmer. If you want to add a bit of rosemary, now's the time. Also a spoonful of the miso for a little extra umph in the flavor. You know the quinoa is cooked when you see the pale little grain tendril in a circle with the expanded grain. You can see them floating there like tiny o's in the bowl at the top of this post. That soup is done.

You could garnish this with some chopped flat parsley if you have any (or fried parsley or sage--yum). Pretty much any herb will work with this soup. We had it plain with crusty gluten-free toast and butter spread. My husband was cutting up some arugula for a salad while I was cooking this, and that would probably make a nice garnish too. Or a dollop of the cashew-based NeChevre (should be PasChevre, but I won't quibble) would work well, too. Or some tofutti sour cream. I'll stop now.


11.13.2015

Gluten-Free Vegan Breakfast--Pumpkin Rice Pudding



Okay, my food picture-taking skills are not what they should be. I'll work on that.

This is one of those warming, comfort-food breakfasts that lets you sneak squash into your kids' tummies without them realizing it. I made it in a rush this morning, but I could have made it the night before and chilled it in the fridge overnight. Ditto for any leftovers. This would probably also serve well as a welcoming after-school snack. If you have leftover acorn or butternut squash you need to use up (as long as you didn't cook it with garlic or cumin...:-p ), puree those bad boys up and use that instead.

*Ingredients:

Leftover Rice (white works best since it releases its starches readily while cooking, for a creamy pudding)
Non-Dairy Milk (I used Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk)
A little pumpkin puree (a little goes a long way here; if you open a can, save the rest to whip up some pumpkin-choc chip muffins, or pumpkin "pie" smoothies for breakfast tomorrow or after-school snack today)
Ground cinnamon
Ground ginger
Ground cloves
Ground nutmeg
Maple syrup
Handful of raisins

Add the rice into a saucepan with enough of the milk to be able to stir the rice and milk mixture easily with a spoon. Add in a few spoonfuls of the pumpkin puree and stir in. Add everything else to taste. Heat through, stirring frequently. If you overdid the milk, heat until some of the milk cooks off and you get the right consistency. Alternatively, if your leftover rice is still a bit toothy, add in a bit more milk and keep cooking. Serve warm or chilled.

* For the most part I won't be using measurements in my recipes. This is partly because I'm lazy and in a hurry and this is how I cook. But I also think recipes with measurements are part of the reason we have so much food waste. Use what you have, make it work. It takes a certain level of confidence to cook like this, but your food budget will thank you as you make use of every little bit in one way or another. Sometimes you'll have a lot of something, sometimes just a little. Learn to improvise. It's all good.


11.11.2015

Last Night's Gluten-Free Vegan Dinner

This is sort of a housekeeping post, for my own interest. I'm keeping track of how I'm starting to put meals together, in a visual way that I can start to see patterns and opportunities for improvement in taste, variety, efficiency, nutrition, ease (not necessarily in that order). I'm posting it on the off-chance that there's someone else out there in the same boat I'm in.

Last night's dinner was highly economical, easy, tasty, and nutritious. It might have been a bit boring for the kids, but they seemed happy enough with it.

The most expensive part was the "meatballs", which I bought frozen at Whole Foods. They were from a new company, they had a distinctive mushroom-y flavor that was appealing to the kids, and they were non-gmo, soy-free, and gluten-free. These browned in the skillet in some olive oil. Along with this, I had some leftover wild rice and some leftover black beans and some leftover black bean cooking liquid that I had intended to use as a soup base, but instead all three went together into small casserole dish. I added raw chopped kale from the garden for a little color and interest, put a foil lid on it and put it in the oven at 375 until it was all steamy hot and good. Served it all with a side of sliced carrots and avocados and pepitas and hot sauce on the side. I should have taken a picture, but I wasn't thinking at the time that the dinner was enough of an "accomplishment" to warrant  a photo. But it was everything a gluten-free vegan dinner should be, so--success.

11.09.2015

Going Vegan, Again, This Time Gluten-Free

Well, it's been about a year since I've posted on this blog, and I'm thinking of starting up again to head in a new direction here. I've posted about food before. It's a thing for me. I do all of the family cooking, and after seventeen years of cooking every single meal for myself and the others in my life, miraculously I still enjoy cooking. I must like to cook *a lot*.

Last spring my son was confirmed celiac, and my husband is gluten-intolerant, meaning that if he eats something with gluten in it, he has horrific intestinal pains for the next 24-36 hours. Happily, his gut seems to make an exception for beer.

We watched "Forks Over Knives" a couple of years ago and nearly went vegan then. Nearly. The problem, you see, is that meat tastes so damn good. Then last weekend husband watched "Cowspiracy." Some tipping point was reached. We are exploring vegan.

I am sure there are purists who are offended by anything but absolute veganism. We may get there. But we may not. We raise chickens, and we get a lot of pleasure watching them happily roam our half-acre. We also get a lot of pleasure from the eggs that they produced. These are the most beautiful, delicious, nourishing eggs available on the planet. The yolks are huge and as deep orange as a pumpkin. There is so much goodness in there. And I have read Nourishing Traditions and I believe in bone broth, particularly given the gut issues we have here. Lastly, we are also fortunate to have access to a local farm that raises a heritage breed of hog in the pasture. I still have about a third of our last hog we bought in my freezer. We are on the fence about whether or not we will continue to buy from our local farmers, who we like very much and want to see continuing to succeed. We are considering a rule of only eating animal products that we raised ourselves, killed ourselves, or that someone we knew killed for us. There is a lot of venison around in Texas, too. Hunted meats seem to be an exception to consider. We're still working this out.

Having said all of this, there is also a lot to recommend a primarily plant-based diet. Substantial evidence connects consumption of animal protein and incidence of cancer. Diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure--all of these things are improved with plant-based eating. In general, the carbon footprint and water consumption necessary to produce plant food is considerably less than to produce meat. My husband flew over a portion of the Amazon Basin five years ago and never forgot the view of a horizon filled with waves of billowing smoke from the continuous burning--to clear the jungle so there would be more room for cows to graze to feed America's beef addiction. Is my desire for braised short-ribs worth the destruction of the planet's lungs? There is also a social justice implication in choosing to eat a plant-based diet. So much of the grain we produce goes to feeding animals for consumption by people who can afford it instead of to hungry people elsewhere in the world. By eating meat, I'm supporting an economy that perpetuates scarcity of food for the rest of the world. That stops me in my tracks. It's unfathomable. It's the food equivalent to the shortage in affordable housing in urban centers where the jobs and opportunities and services are, when developers naturally develop properties to achieve the highest return on their investment possible, by building to the highest price the market will support.

These are all of the things we have thought about and discussed in arriving at our decision to go vegan. The kids, 8 and 10 years old, are reluctantly along for the ride. I'm a pretty good cook, and I do magical things with chicken thighs and pork belly and lamb chops. It's hard to contemplate passing these things up for largely ethical reasons--reasons that require a long-view to see the benefit, while the sense of deprivation is immediate and present. But here we go.

In the last couple of years I have become a bit of a boss at gluten-free cooking and baking. There are others who are better at it than I am. For instance, I don't have the patience to let my batters and doughs stand in the fridge for hours at a time so they lose some of their gritty texture from the rice flour. Instead, I amp up the toothiness of my doughs and mixes by adding ground millet, ground almonds, psyllium, ground gluten-free oats, and gluten-free hot cereal blends. I've got biscuits down. Cakes, quickbreads, pancakes, waffles, gravies, soups, sauces. Working on pizza crust. Sandwich bread, the bastard, has eluded me repeatedly. I am optimistic that I will succeed with pie crust and pastry crust.

I haven't found a gluten-free vegan resource yet who cooks like I cook--sort of southern, sort of Italian, sort of French, sort of Mexican. Also, I'm cooking for a family, which is a different way of cooking. Ingredients have to serve multiple purposes; last night's dinner has to be good as a base for today's breakfast. Recipes that stand alone, whose ingredients don't relate to a week's worth of healthy eating, aren't really useful. Very few people can afford to buy groceries for 21 separate meals a week whose ingredients don't flow one meal to the next. Economy is important, but so is simplicity. Excuse my french, but I fucking hate fussy food. So I'm going to post my successes, and probably some of my failures, here, in case there is someone else out there who has a palate like mine and has traveled down the same road to vegan and gluten-free. And yes, I know that I can't personally claim the label "vegan", but the dishes and recipes that I post here will be.