Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lemony Orzo with Roasted Spring Vegetables

My new recipe at Maine Food & Lifestyle is very spring.
Today is the last day of March. I do not have a picture of a lamb, but I can offer you a picture of this sheep(dog):

Friday, March 27, 2009

Appreciating Maine's Local Foods (some more)

Those of us who love to eat are spoiled here in Maine. It’s easy to lose perspective and take for granted things that make eating in our state unique. In an age when the White House has an organic backyard garden, I’d assumed that enthusiasm for locally-grown food was sweeping the country. Not so, says Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, who spoke this week in Belfast at a screening of the film Tableland. Maine is one of only a handful of places, along with Vermont, the Pacific Northwest, and pockets of Wisconsin, where organic, locally-produced foods are widely available. Nowhere else is interest in eating locally and sustainably so fervent. ...

Read the rest of my thoughts on Tableland and eating locally at Maine Food & Lifestyle.

No Beets for Barack

Did you see this story?

No Beets in the White House Garden

Offering evidence that he is our smartest president ever, Obama hates beets, and won't plant them in his new garden. Root vegetable partisans want him to reconsider.

Don't do it, Barry! You're absolutely right, beets are gross!

I've tried to like them. I bought some lovely-looking organic specimens at the farmers' market, roasted them just like the farmer suggested, and then couldn't bring myself to swallow a bite. They taste like dirt, but... creepy.

I propose a constitutional ban.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tea Party Scones

Last weekend I went to a real-live tea party, the kind with grown-up humans instead of stuffed animals in attendance. When I was a little girl, I never went in much for tea parties, or any kind of make-believe that required wearing a dress or exercising table manners. I modeled my mealtime demeanor on Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch, tossing out put-downs between audible and enthusiastic bouts of chewing.

In spite of my uncouth early years, I've grown up to be a fancy person who got invited to a tea party. Extending my pinky just so, I sampled an assortment of black, white, green, and fruit teas. I lost track after six cups, and was pretty shaky by the end of the afternoon.

What do classy people like me nibble between sips? Scones, of course.

A white flour version of this vegan recipe with walnuts and raisins was a hit with tea drinkers of all persuasions. But unable to leave well-enough alone, and determined to put maple syrup in as many recipes as possible, I fiddled around with the ingredients and made the scones my own. I struck a balance between wheat flour (healthy but dense) and white flour (fluffy but nutritionally worthless), and added ground flax seed to make the scones softer and less crumbly.

These hearty, high-fiber scones are one more way to use Maine maple syrup, the only local product in season right now. Just remember to chew with your mouth closed.

Maple Oatmeal Scones

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are lovely)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup plain soy milk
cinnamon sugar (1 tablespoon sugar+1 teaspoon cinnamon)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and flax seed. Add the margarine and beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Stir in the oats and nuts. Mix on low speed for another minute, just to make sure all the large lumps of margarine are gone.

Add the maple syrup and soy milk and stir to combine.

On a floured surface, form the dough into an approximately 7-inch disk. With a metal spatula, cut the dough into 8 wedges and lift them onto an ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the scones to a cooling rack.

Makes 8 scones.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Join the Revolution

Lately it seems like everybody's curious about local, organic, and plant-based foods. In the fourteen years I've been vegetarian or vegan, I've never received so many questions about the practicalities of my diet, or requests for advice on phasing out meat. People are finally catching on, beginning to understand that the foods they choose affect their bodies and communities.

Over the weekend, the New York Times featured several stories about Americans' increased interest in their food's origins:

  • Is a Food Revolution Now in Season? offers a look at the organization and objectives of the organic and slow food movements, as well as at the recent interest in sustainable food at the Department of Agriculture.
  • In Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not, Michael Bittman sums up the reason for all the hype: 'There’s plenty of evidence that both a person’s health — as well as the environment’s — will improve with a simple shift in eating habits away from animal products and highly processed foods to plant products and what might be called “real food.”' Amen!
  • Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House describes Michele Obama's attempts to make organic gardening fashionable. I love that she is championing local produce, but why is she gardening in a black sweater dress? The photo-op would have been more impressive and more plausible if she were down on her hands and knees in the dirt, wearing old jeans and a flannel shirt. Since everything the Obamas touch becomes cool, here's hoping American soccer (and hockey) moms trade in twinkies and bologna for locally-grown organic fruits and vegetables.
In my little corner of the nation, the Belfast Co-op is sponsoring a film and discussion series in conjunction with its Eat Local Challenge. According to their website, "the Belfast Co-op’s Eat Local Challenge encourages community members to develop an awareness of the impact of our food choices. The Challenge encourages us to spend a larger percentage of our food dollars on locally and sustainably grown food. In this way we all contribute to the preservation of our farmlands, farmers and food security."

As part of the series, the co-op will screen the film Tableland, "a culinary expedition in search of the people, places and tastes of North American small-scale, sustainable food production." Russell Libby, Executive Director of the Maine Organic Farmer's and Gardener's Association will introduce the film. I'll be there, and I'm hoping for some lively conversation with other local food enthusiasts. The screening at the Belfast Free Library kicks off at 6:30 tomorrow evening, Tuesday, March 24. Any Mainers care to join me?


While awaiting the return of fresh produce and the summer Orono Farmers' Market (only six weeks away!), we've been enjoying some Maine-made pantry items. Raye's Mustard comes from Eastport, home of the only authentic stone mill left in the country. It's so refreshing to see a thriving business out of Washington County! Our favorite variety for pretzel dipping is the Bar Harbor Real Ale mustard, made with locally brewed beer, but the Sweet & Spicy is perfect on seitan sandwiches.

I'm also loving Daily Bread, made in Levant and sold in Bangor at the Natural Living Center and Giacomo's Groceria. Their anadama is perfect for sandwiches: soft but strong, wheaty and slightly sweet with a touch of molasses. No strange preservatives or softening agents, just a hearty mix of 7 organic grains.

It's ideal for hummus and vegetable sandwiches, served with Scarborough's own Maine Root Sarsaparilla for a treat. With a lighter flavor and a little more wintergreen than root beer, this soda is sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice. Sure beats aspartame!

Leave me a comment if you can recommend other vegan Maine products. Hope to see some of you tomorrow at the Tableland screening!

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's spring! Let's buy yarn.

We've had steamy jungle temperatures in the forties and fifties this week, but this morning, on the first day of spring, it was twenty-four degrees while I walked the dogs. Nevertheless, I discovered that enough snow and ice had melted to make the brick walkways along the Penobscot passable. We strolled beside the river for the first time since November, the plates of ice cracking and squeaking as they rubbed against each other, completely freaking out the dogs. Ducks sat in streaks of open water. The mud along the path thawed, releasing odors that had been safely encased in ice all winter. In Maine, March is a hopeful, smelly month.

It may soon be too warm to wear knitted hats and mittens, but I'm stockpiling for next Christmas. On this knitting and food blog that has turned into a mostly food blog, I wanted to take a minute to plug Fiberphilia in Orono. I've lived in lots of classy places, but I've never had a better local yarn shop. Their high-quality yarns are thoughtfully selected and neatly arranged, the range of vibrant colors and contrasting textures compelling me to run my hands over the shelves.

The owner lives upstairs with her family and a pack of cats. She and the other ladies at the shop are talented, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about knitting. Unlike the snoots I've encountered in yarn shops in New York and Boston, they are patient and encouraging teachers. I've taken several Saturday classes, learning how to make mittens and cables, and to knit fair isle patterns holding two colors of yarn in different hands like some kind of expert.

I love shopping at businesses like Fiberphilia, where people know your name and love what they do. Big chain craft stores give me a headache; the harried employees aren't familiar with the products and can't teach me anything. I worry for my favorite local businesses, several of which have closed in the last few months. I'm no economist, so I won't spend long on this soap box, but I encourage you to visit the locally-owned yarn shops, cafes, and bookstores that give your community character.

I'm off to sew together the pieces of a top-secret gift for a bridal shower tomorrow. Enjoy the warm weekend, and watch out for mud puddles.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green Salad with Maple Roasted Carrots

To celebrate maple syrup season, I've got a recipe for Green Salad with Maple Roasted Carrots on the Maine Food & Lifestyle blog. Light, fresh, and seasonal.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Easy Chili

When I'm too busy to plan ahead or too sick to get excited about eating (last month I was both), I rely on a few easy, adaptable meals that can be made with whatever I have on hand. I stock my cupboards with assorted canned and dry beans, diced tomatoes, nuts, and a variety of rice and pasta. I always have onions, carrots, and celery on hand, and I usually have bell peppers and broccoli, too. From these staple ingredients, with no grocery shopping and little effort I can whip up spicy black bean or hearty vegetable soups, pasta with white beans and broccoli, vegetable fried rice, or chili.

When I was a teenager, and the lone vegetarian in my house, I relied heavily on microwavable meat substitutes. I ate many, many Tofu Pups. I was first on my own without a dining hall during my junior year abroad in London. In my dorm's mouse-ridden communal kitchen, I had a designated cupboard and a shelf in the mini-fridge. I bought one pot, one bowl, one plate, one mug, and one set of silverware.

I had a tight budget, and I didn't know how to organize my trips to the expensive and poorly-stocked grocery store, or how to turn a bag of groceries into a week of healthy meals. For a while I survived on breakfast cereal, Heinz beans, and McVitie's dark chocolate digestive biscuits. When my then-boyfriend-now-husband got a plug-in tea kettle, my diet expanded to include instant mashed potatoes and nightcaps of (wretch!) instant coffee and Bailey's.

I reached a point when I couldn't stand to eat any more soft, bland food, and asked my mother to send me some recipes. My first real grown-up dinner was a zucchini lasagna. Hot, homemade food was such a big deal that we went around the building knocking on doors, inviting people to come eat it, and then took pictures of the feast. Look at me—I'm so proud of myself for slicing those zucchini:

Chili is another dish I quickly adopted. I maintained my mother's basic formula, (chili=1 onion+1 pepper+can o' beans+can o' water+seasoning), substituting veggie crumbles for ground beef. Now I dispense with the fake meat altogether and use more beans, because I like eating foods that grow in soil and haven't been messed around with. The main ingredients in this chili are canned, so I have them handy even if I haven't been grocery shopping in ages.

It isn't fancy, but chili never lets me down. It's healthy, delicious, and practically idiot-proof.

Chili con Can

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (4-5 cloves)
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 14-ounce cans beans, drained (I used black and pinto, but kidney beans and chickpeas are also nice)
2 cups water
6-ounce can tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, and garlic for 10-12 minutes, until they are partially browned. Add the tomatoes, beans, water, and tomato paste. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer. Add the remaining ingredients. Some chili powders are more potent than others, so adjust the seasoning to your taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors meld. Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips.

Variations: try tossing in a cup of frozen corn kernels, or a few chopped jalapeño or chipotle peppers.

Serves 4.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seasonal Snacks: Maple Granola Bars

March 22 is Maine Maple Sunday, a chance to see syrup production from sap collection to bottling, and to taste the first maple syrup of the season (best appreciated on a handful of spring snow). You can find a list of participating maple producers at the Maine Department of Agriculture website.

If you pick up a big jug of syrup this weekend and don't know what to do when you run out of pancakes, try granola. Maple syrup is a perfect sticky sweetener for oats, nuts, seeds, and fruit. At school, I'm always starving by mid-morning, and granola bars provide a burst of energy. But in most store-bought varieties that energy is short-lived: empty calories from processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Maple syrup is natural, simply tree sap with most of its water boiled away, and it has a richness that artificial flavors and sweeteners can't duplicate.

Developing a granola bar recipe was a Goldilocks sort of experience. The first batch was too soft. The bars fell apart and were so sticky I had to wash my hands after eating them. In the second batch I tried peanut butter instead of oil, but the bars were hard as a rock, and the peanut butter overpowered the flavor of the maple syrup.

The third batch, a compromise between the two, was just right. Oil makes the bars chewy, but I used as little as I could get away with. I replaced some of the maple syrup with brown rice syrup, another natural sweetener with the thickness of honey and a mild caramel flavor that doesn't dominate the granola. I tossed in a variety of seeds rich in nutrients and essential fatty acids: pumpkin seeds for protein and copper, sesame for calcium and zinc, sunflower seeds for vitamin E, and omega-3-rich flax seeds to help bind the granola. You'll be proud of yourself for eating these satisfying snacks that showcase local, seasonal maple syrup.

Maine Maple Granola Bars

3 cups oats
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

1/2 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, or raisins)
1/2 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup ground flax seeds

3/4 cup Maine maple syrup
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the oven to 325F. On a baking sheet, combine the oats, coconut, and chopped nuts, and toast for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes to ensure even toasting. Once toasted, combine the oat mixture with the seeds and dried fruit in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together the maple syrup, brown rice syrup, oil, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt until evenly combined. Remove from heat and pour over the dry ingredients. Stir until uniformly coated.

Line a 9x13 baking dish with enough parchment or wax paper that some hangs over the edges. Scoop the mixture into the baking dish and spread with a spatula. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the mixture, then use a smaller baking dish or a large book to press it down very firmly. Once the mixture is pressed flat, remove the top piece of parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes.

The granola will not be set firmly when it comes out of the oven. Let it sit undisturbed in the baking dish for at least 6 hours. This is hard, because it will smell wonderful, but it must cool completely before being cut into bars. When ready to cut, use the overhanging parchment paper to lift the granola out of the baking dish and onto a cutting board. Cut into 10-12 bars and store in an airtight container.

(taking a swig of the good stuff from my maple flask)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sweet and Hot Noodles with Tofu and Veggies

I've had a busy couple of weeks, what with my sparkling social life and all these kids insisting I teach them how to read. I haven't had much creative energy left for the kitchen, but I have enjoyed reading about what other vegan bloggers are eating. Recently Vegan Dad posted a recipe for sweet n' hot noodles that's been gnawing at me. Today was rainy and cold, and while I should have been focusing on Nate the Great, I was imagining spicy noodles.

This is my take on Vegan Dad's excellent recipe. I added lots of vegetables, and instructions for frying the tofu. The sauce has the tang of vinegar and sugar, the saliva-gland tickling concoction my mom used to make me swallow for hiccups. I modified it a bit, because it wasn't spicy enough for me, and I couldn't bring myself to put a half cup of sugar in each serving. You could probably get away with even less sugar than I used.

When my husband came home he said, "Mmm! It smells like a Chinese restaurant in here!" And now we know what produces that smell: lots and lots of sugar and frying. Mmm, indeed.

Sweet and Hot Noodles with Tofu and Veggies

8 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed
1/4 cup vegetable oil

About 5 cups of any veggies you'd like. Thinly sliced cabbage, snow peas, zucchini, or water chestnuts would work well. I used what I had in the fridge:
2 large carrots
1 bell pepper
1 bunch broccoli

1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1/4 teaspoon tiger teeth pepper, or dried chili flakes (optional)

8 ounces rice noodles
1 bunch green onions, whites only, chopped
lime slices, for garnish

Heat a wok, or your largest pan, to medium-high. Pour in the oil, then the tofu. Let the tofu fry away for 5 minutes, then shuffle it around with a spatula. Repeat until the tofu cubes are crispy and mostly golden. This took 15 minutes for my small cubes.

While the tofu fries, slice your vegetables thinly. Bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles.

When the tofu is done, set it on a paper towel. Reserving the remaining oil, throw the vegetables in the pan and sauté, stirring frequently, until bright and slightly softened (5-8 minutes).

While the vegetables sauté, boil the rice noodles according to their instructions. Mine took five minutes, but yours may take more or less time depending on their thickness. Drain the noodles.

Prepare the sauce: bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a small pot. Simmer and stir for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, chili garlic sauce, and any additional heat. Don't breath in the fumes! They will burn your brain.

Add the cooked noodles, fried tofu, and chili sauce to the pan with the vegetables. Toss everything to mix thoroughly. Cook for 2-3 minutes, tossing in the pan, until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the green onions and serve.

Serves 4.

Monday, March 9, 2009

(Sort of) Spring Sorbet

This weekend it hit 50 degrees in Bangor for the first time in months, and it felt glorious.

Generally we are not warm weather people. To escape the heat last summer, we headed to the frozen coast of Newfoundland, where icebergs bobbed in the north Atlantic and we wore sweaters in July. We chuckled at the overeager Newfie men who stuffed their shirts into their pockets as soon as the temperature broke 60, strutting across the parking lot of the grocery store in all their soft pink glory. How little they knew of real hot weather.

But in another indication that Bangor is a lot more like Canada than anywhere else, on Saturday I observed a gentleman walking down Broadway, his shirt draped rakishly over his finger, his pale belly exposed to the sun as he waded through the slush.

With the arrival of warmer weather emerges my ice cream maker. I'd been looking for an excuse to use it, and Hannaford was having a sale on Minneolas, 3 lbs. for $2.50. Their red-orange peels and bright citrus aroma were irresistible: sorbet! I bought 2 bags. Apparently, Minneolas are a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit, bred for easy peeling. They're in season (not in Maine, of course—somewhere else) during January and February, so get them while you can.

In searching for a recipe I ran across this helpful post. I didn't follow the recipe, but the photos are lovely, and you'll find instructions for impressing all your friends by turning hollowed-out peels into serving bowls. I left the tangerines' sweetness mostly unassisted, and balanced the sugar with some tart lemon juice.

So enjoy this light, summery dessert, but don't get carried away. This is March in Maine, after all, and now that we've enjoyed a warm weekend, we're due for another round of snow and freezing rain to put us in our places.

Tangerine Sorbet

2 cups tangerine juice (7-8 tangerines)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup warm water
juice of one lemon

In a large bowl or pitcher, whisk the sugar into the water until dissolved. Whisk in the tangerine and lemon juices. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if desired.

Chill the liquid in the refrigerator, and prepare according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Because this sorbet doesn't contain corn syrup, or guar gum, or any of the mad scientists' stabilizers that keep store-bought sorbet smooth and creamy for eternity, it's best eaten within a day or two, and left out on the counter for 30 minutes before serving to soften it up.

Serves 4-6.

Cinnamon Coconut Rice Pudding

I've got a new, easy dessert recipe over at Maine Food & Lifestyle. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: Harvard Square Wagamama

Wagamama is a British noodle chain that has become ubiquitous across Europe. They recently opened branches in Boston, and are planning one in DC. When we spent a year in London during college, most of our university's get-togethers were at the original Bloomsbury location. The vibe is minimalist and efficient: stark white walls and rows of long wooden tables, with hipster waitstaff taking orders on wireless PDAs, scribbling item numbers on diners' paper menus.

Wagamama wasn't the most authentic noodle house in the city, but the atmosphere was fun and everyone could find something they liked for less than $10. That's true for American wagamama, too; if you want Japanese noodles made by Japanese people, walk a few blocks down Mass Ave. to the Porter Square mall. We go to wagamama for sentimental reasons, but also to order a few favorites from their vegetarian-friendly menu. The website has a dietary requirements section that lists dishes suitable for vegans and people with allergies, and the servers are always happy to check with the kitchen when I have ingredient questions. Drinks include raw juices and a yummy unsweetened ginger peach iced tea. And for dessert, there's vegan raspberry sorbet.

Here are our usuals, with descriptions from the menu:

freshly steamed green soya-beans, the perfect complement to drinks. hold up to your mouth and squeeze the succulent beans from the pod. choose sprinkled with either salt or chili garlic salt.
Edamame is nearly perfect, so it's best not to fiddle with it much. I like the coarse chili garlic salt, which isn't very spicy, but perfectly highlights the beans' buttery flavor and texture. Simple as it is, I look forward to steamed edamame more than anything else on the menu.

And it's so much fun to eat!

yasai chilli men
stir-fried zucchini, portabella, shitake and button mushrooms, green and red peppers, baby squash, snow peas and fried tofu. served with whole wheat noodles in a chili sauce made from chilies, ginger, garlic, onion, lemongrass, sweet red pepper and tomato.
This is my usual. Lots of colorful, crunchy vegetables in tangy sauce. It's not spicy, so I usually drizzle it with chili oil.

yasai katsu curry
deep-fried slices of sweet potato, eggplant and butternut squash coated in panko breadcrumbs, served with a light curry sauce and japanese style rice, garnished with a combination of mixed leaves and red pickles.
This is comfort food. Fried breadcrumbs and white rice, with a mild, creamy, mysteriously vegan curry sauce. We call it the wagamama Thanksgiving.

Wagamama gets a three on the chickpea scale. Vegans have several interesting meals to choose from.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wild Rice Stuffed Cabbage

There so many pale, freckly Americans who, like me, are of German-Irish descent. Perhaps food is the reason this combination is so common; I think our German and Irish ancestors got together and began populating America after meeting in the cabbage and potato section of the grocery store.

Here is a nice hearty stuffed cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. Serve it with potatoes and a pint, if you like.

Recipe and more photos at Maine Food & Lifestyle.