Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Recipe for Eggplant Zucchini Rolls in Print!

The spring issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle Magazine features my new column, Creative Vegetarian. There's a brief plug on the MF&L blog, but you'll have to track down a copy of the magazine to get my recipe for Eggplant Zucchini Rolls. Snappy zucchini spears and creamy herbed white bean puree, baked inside thin slices of roasted eggplant and topped with a spicy tomato sauce: this is seriously satisfying vegan fare. While developing the recipe I ate it for a week straight, but that photo still makes me drool.

Maine Food & Lifestyle is available at food and bookstores throughout Maine, or by subscription.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dirty Dishes and a Trip to Blue Hill

At the end of last week, after baking two dozen cupcakes and preparing a batch of hummus, with stacks of dirty dishes littering the kitchen, we discovered that the dishwasher was broken. I'm no sissy--I grew up without a dishwasher--but on an average weekend, when I bake desserts and make soups, dips, and casseroles for the coming week, I generate at least dozen loads of dishes.

We looked at the bowls, plates, spoons, and measuring cups piled in and around the sink, and rather than pull on rubber gloves and wash them like civilized human beings, we got take out. When it became clear that repairing the dishwasher with a bathroom plunger was beyond our ability, we fled the scene of the mess and headed for the coast.

Our first stop was lunch at the Blue Hill Co-op Cafe. This happy little store is stocked with natural foods and a small selection of bulk grains. The cafe had several premade vegan sandwiches and deli salads, as well as a dairy-free chocolate mousse and homemade vegan granola squares.

My tempeh wrap was bursting with protein: chickpeas, black beans, and brown rice, as well as ginger-marinated tempeh. It was heavy and bland, with no sauce and little detectable seasoning. I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be Asian, Mexican, or something else, and ended up drowning it in Cholula hot sauce. My side of Asian noodles and thinly sliced carrots was similarly meek, with faint suggestions of sesame and ginger.

The seasoning in my husband's red curry tofu sandwich was creative, but didn't pack any punch, and the too-soft tofu slid out from between the slices of hearty peasant bread. His side of tangy five-bean salad was the best part of the meal.

The Blue Hill Co-op Cafe is a safe bet for vegan lunch, so if you're headed for a picnic by the ocean it's worth a stop. Lunch was bland for my taste, but I appreciate the availability of fresh vegan fare in such a small, rural community. The co-op staff were friendly and the atmosphere was cheerful, so I'll give the cafe another try next time I'm out that way. In the meantime, three chickpeas:

After lunch, we walked up Blue Hill Mountain. From a thousand feet above sea level, we had gorgeous views of Blue Hill Bay and Mount Desert Island to the east. This summer's flying insects haven't been born yet, so the mile walk to the summit through the trees was peaceful. It felt good to be outside after a long winter. The dogs relished their time off leash, leaping over puddles and logs, drinking from snowmelt streams, and digging in the leaves for the scent of chipmunks.

After our walk, we crossed the long, thin bridge over Eggemoggin Reach to Deer Isle, and headed south to see what Stonington was all about. From our brief visit, I gathered that in addition to lobstering and coastal scenery, Stonington is all about overcharging tourists for freezerburnt french fries. More power to them.

To my dismay, the dishes were still dirty when we returned home, but watching the Red Sox come from behind to beat the Yankees 16-11 made three hours at the sink downright pleasant.

Until the plumber comes, we're eating simple food that requires no chopping, mixing, or stewing and I've instituted a strict you-use-it-you-wash-it-right-now rule. A delay in fixing the dishwasher would make a perfect excuse for another weekend getaway.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Coconut Binge: Cupcakes and Ice Cream

I was in the natural foods section of Shaw's, searching in vain for arrowroot, when I became smitten with an overpriced bag of coconut flour. In previous posts I've made known my love of coconut; the discovery that I could substitute pulverized coconut for up to one-fifth of a recipe's all-purpose flour so thrilled me that I was willing to spend $9 to try it.

I baked these for an Earth Day potluck. Their fuzzy frosting is cuter than a baby bunny, so they make great party cupcakes. I did nothing more creative than coconut-up Jennifer McCann's Fluffy White Cupcakes, a trusty, versatile recipe that I based my Champagne Cupcakes on. It's a no-fail formula for moist, airy little cakes.

Later I poked around and found that some people add a handful of shredded coconut or a touch of almond extract to their coconut cupcakes. Both of these additions sound like excellent ideas.

Because my love of coconut knows no bounds, I whipped up some Coconut Squared! ice cream. While the liquid ingredients spun around in my ice cream maker, I shredded in fresh coconut. (There will be no tutorial on gracefully opening a coconut. I used a mallet, got coconut water all over the floor, and cut my thumb. Unlike pineapples, coconuts are such a pain to get into that I wonder how humans ever discovered they were edible.) After a few hours in the freezer, the ice cream was firm enough to scoop, and the cold, sugary combination of ice cream and frosting made me feel like I was at a birthday party.

Here are the cupcakes the way I prepared them, but I encourage you to experiment with flavor extracts, shredded coconut, or coconut oil.

Coconut Cupcakes

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 scant cups soymilk, plain or vanilla
1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/8 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two muffin tins with paper cupcake liners and set aside.

Place the apple cider vinegar in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup and fill the cup with soymilk to equal 1 1/2 cups. Stir well and set aside (the mixture will curdle).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the canola oil and extracts to the soymilk mixture and whisk. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and beat or whisk until smooth.

Fill each cupcake liner with 1/4 cup of batter. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes from the pan and place on a wire rack. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

Makes 24 (the original recipe says 22, but you can stretch 'em).

Coconut Frosting

(a coconuted version of the Basic Vanilla Buttercream from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
1/4 cup soy milk, plain or vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut

With an electric mixer on medium speed, combine the first four ingredients and beat until smooth. Stir in the powdered sugar and beat on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, until fluffy.

Spread a heaping tablespoon of frosting on each cupcake. Put the shredded coconut in a shallow bowl and roll the tops of the cupcakes in it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chickpea Noodle Soup with Rosemary

It's raining again today with temperatures in the forties. While I'm getting a little stir crazy, the weather gives me a chance to catch up on reading and to make this comforting soup. It's an easy lunch on cold, dreary days, and you can get the recipe at Maine Food & Lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Bangkok Thai in Portland, Maine

Before coming to Bangor we lived in Newton, Massachusetts and ate regularly at Thai Thai Kitchen, a friendly, family-run hole-in-the-wall where I became addicted to the hot, sweet, and tangy flavors of Thai cooking. During busy weeks, when the inevitable urge for spicy noodles hit, we ordered take out. I developed a dependency on tofu fresh rolls with peanut dipping sauce. Vegetable Pad Thai, with fresh lime, chopped peanuts, and four star chili became my comfort food.

Leaving Thai Thai was one of the hardest parts of moving, and on our first trip back to Boston in February I considered packing a cooler so that I could bring a few orders of noodles back with me to Bangor. Imagine my heartache when we arrived in Newton Centre and discovered that Thai Thai had become Thai-Viet, a cheap, impersonal, hastily-decorated chain outfit. Disoriented, we ate there anyway, but the lively flavors of ginger, lime, and basil were gone. My noodles were seasoned with salt and corn syrup.

I'm still searching a Thai place in Bangor that will help me mourn my loss (it won't be Thai Siam--they charged extra and made a stink about preparing their mediocre wild curry without fish sauce), but for now, my appetite for spicy noodles is sadly underserved.

Last Saturday we were in Portland, and since Green Elephant had a line out the door, we crossed the street to Bangkok Thai, which has the same owners. The restaurant was busy at 6 o'clock, but we didn't have to wait for a table. Out the large front windows we watched the setting sun illuminate Mr. Longfellow in shades of orange and red. In keeping with the hip, minimalist Asian aesthetic, the server sent our order to the kitchen a pda.

We ordered tofu fresh rolls as an appetizer. I've never met a fresh roll I didn't like; I'm a sucker for crunchy lettuce, carrots and refreshing mint bundled inside sticky, delicate rice paper. The fresh rolls at Bangkok Thai hit the spot, though the special house sauce was fruitier than I've had elsewhere.

I ordered the Pud Thai (an alternate spelling of Pad Thai?) with tofu, which the server assured me didn't contain fish sauce. After burning off my nose hairs with a four star dish at Green Elephant last month, I ordered my noodles with three stars. Either the scales are different at the two restaurants or I've grown a lot tougher, because my meal was only mildly spicy, and my husband's four star Spicy Tofu with Basil was just about right. My Pud Thai came with lots of crunchy bean sprouts to mix in with the noodles, but it would have been even better with some carrots and broccoli, too. I would order this dish again because I enjoyed the contrasting textures of rice noodles and raw sprouts, but its dominant flavor was salt, and it didn't deliver the tangy lime, peanut, and chili notes I was looking for.

Vegans can have a hard time finding dessert in restaurants, so I was thrilled to see that I had some options. We ordered coconut ice cream, served in a coconut shell bowl. It was rich and smooth and came with chopped peanuts on top. The sticky rice with coconut milk and mango is also vegan.

Bangkok Thai's menu is online. They've added the vegan desserts, as well as beer and wine, since posting it. There is an ample vegetarian section, and many dishes can be made vegan by omitting egg or fish sauce. On the chickpea scale of vegan-friendliness, I give Bangkok Thai a very respectable three chickpeas. It's a safe bet if you're looking for a quick, economical vegan meal.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Maine Food & Lifestyle's Spring Issue

Check out my new column, "Creative Vegetarian," and get a recipe for decadent Zucchini Eggplant Rolls. The issue also features Jacqueline's Tea Room in Freeport, site of last month's Maple Oatmeal Scone debut.

Look for Maine Food & Lifestyle Spring 2009 at your grocery store or bookstore this week!

Friday, April 17, 2009

How to Gut a Pineapple

I got two of these bad boys for $5 at Shaw's. If you've never tackled a fresh pineapple, the spikes and armadillo-like exterior can be pretty intimidating. But this quick and easy method of preparing pineapple for grilling, freezing, or snacking takes no longer than peeling and chopping a potato.

If instead of chunks you want fancy pineapple rings, take a look at www.howtocutapineapple.com.

First, twist and pull off the spiky leaves. Wear an oven mitt if you'd like!

Use a sharp knife to quarter the pineapple lengthwise.

Trim away the strip of tough core that grows in the center of the pineapple.

Slice each length of pineapple into approximately 1-inch wide slices.

Trim the tough skin from each slice.

Cut these slices into smaller chunks or use them as they are.

Enjoy your pineapple in sorbet, smoothies, kebabs, on pizza, or as a snack by itself!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fresh Arugula Pesto

The other day I was craving pesto, and the thought of buying several expensive packages of wilted grocery store basil depressed me. I thought, "What could I use instead of basil that's in season now?"

The answer? Arugula, the spicy salad green that's fun to say!

I pat myself on the back, convinced I was the first culinary pioneer to have this idea. When I got home and googled it, I realized that hundreds of people had already thought of and developed recipes for arugula pesto. What's more, many of them suggested pairing it with tiny tomatoes, as I had planned to.

Oh, well. Just because I'm not the first to think of arugula pesto doesn't mean I'm not proud of it. On the contrary, the existence of so many recipes provides a different sort of pat on the back: damn, I have good taste.

You can find my recipe for Fresh Arugula Pesto at Maine Food & Lifestyle.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Eggless Easter Feast

This is a learning week in my kitchen. Some recipes and techniques on other vegan cooking blogs sparked my curiosity, and I've set aside time to play around with them. If my experiments don't result in any original recipes, I'll at least have some commentary and delicious photos.

Traditionally people have either lamb or hamb for Easter dinner, but the breakfasts and lunches of the next few days usually feature all those eggs the Easter bunny either laid himself or stole from birds (we don't really know). Ever since Bangor's vegan-friendly Barking Cat Cafe closed, I've been searching for a go-to tofu scramble, but my previous attempts have been bland. I finally gave the Post Punk Kitchen recipe a try, substituting chopped bell pepper for the mushrooms and omitting the nutritional yeast because I was plumb out. The seasoning was just about right, though I might omit the lime juice--it was a little too fresh and lively, and I was really looking for a greasy spoon-style scramble. I'm excited to try this recipe with other vegetables; red pepper and broccoli would add a nice crunch. If you've never eaten tofu this way before, its bouncy texture is identical to that of scrambled eggs, and since tofu has little flavor on its own, it nicely accommodates whatever seasoning you care to add. It's an easy alternative to eggs and a nice vehicle for hot sauce.

If finding out things like this about your egg producer bums you out, try scrambling tofu instead.

This recipe for steamed seitan sausages has been spreading like wildfire online, with rave reviews. I don't usually eat fake meat; I feel that if I'm always on a quest to replace the meat, eggs, and cheese I've given up, I'm still structuring my diet around animal products, albeit chemical-laden vegan imitations. I prefer to focus on beans, grains, and vegetables in all their natural glory, but this was a special occasion, and I don't object as much to meat substitutes I make myself from scratch. I like knowing what's in my food, and if I put the effort into making my own veggie sausages I know they don't contain unpronounceable texturing agents and preservatives. You'll find an instructive video at the link above. It's worth watching, especially if you've never worked with seitan or used a steamer.

I modified the recipe out of necessity (bare cupboards) rather than creativity, using black beans instead of pinto, water and salt instead of broth, and italian seasoning instead of oregano. I also cut the nutritional yeast to 2 tablespoons. And you know what? The sausages turned out beautifully. They are eerily similar to the real thing in flavor, texture, and appearance. Here they are, all wrapped up like Christmas crackers:

And here is a freshly-steamed sausage unwrapped and taste-tested:

Perhaps not the prettiest food, but no less appealing than real sausage. In honor of the new baseball season, you could serve these on a bun and top them with mustard and a big mess of fried onions and peppers. Bring them to the table shouting "HOT sauSAUGE! HOT sausage 'ERE!" at the top of your lungs.

Beside our protein-heavy tofu and sausage we needed some starch, so I fried potatoes with diced green pepper and onion. Toast was a must, but since Giacomo's is closed for renovation, I decided to make my own bread. I will do almost anything, including 40 minutes of kneading by hand, to avoid having to get in the car and go buy something. I used the basic bread recipe from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It was nutty and mildly sweet. Next time instead of molasses I'll try maple syrup.

Kneading is a workout, but it creates a bond of understanding between you and your bread. When you pull your hand-made loaf of out of the oven and see how warm and golden and fragrant it's become, you'll feel like a proud parent. Perhaps you get your kicks some other way, but my happiest Sundays are spent listening to npr and baking.

The bread was definitely the most photogenic part of the meal:

The morning's efforts added up to this:

A filling brunch, fit for a lumberjack. I wasn't hungry again until lunch the next day.

Coming up later in the week: experimenting with pizza dough, and I learned to knit entrelac. Whatever shall I do with it?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Eggs for Vegans

In my memories of coloring Easter eggs, the smell of white vinegar is the most vivid detail. Our dye pellets fizzed away in assorted coffee mugs as we waited with our allotment of eggs. We only bought white eggs once a year, for this purpose, which gave me the impression they were a luxury item.

Easter egg dyes, which came in only half a dozen colors, limited creative expression. You could pull off two-tone, with an ugly stripe in the middle of the egg where the colors overlapped, but disappointment was inevitable if you tried combine colors to create something new. If you dyed an egg blue, say, and then dipped it in the yellow hoping to create a shade of teal that would arouse admiration and envy in your less-creative family members, all you'd succeed in doing is turning your white egg the color of a bruise.

The dye tended to seep into our eggs, and when we cracked them we'd find bright blue streaks and alarming pink splotches. The year we used a sparkle tie-dye kit, our deviled eggs twinkled like disco balls.

Easter eggs in pictures were elaborately patterned, with zig-zags, stripes, and spots. My monochrome eggs felt amateurish; I wanted to create works of art like the eggs in National Geographic stories about Eastern Europe.

Since I'm vegan and I don't have any kids, I hadn't given Easter eggs a thought until earlier this week, when I saw this post about vegan marshmallow peeps and was inspired to create something adorable. Employing my hulk-like strength, I bent my round metal cookie cutter into an oval.

Frosted sugar cookies are not good for you by any stretch of the imagination, but these aren't as bad as they could be: the frosting is colored with fruits and vegetables instead of red dye #40 and friends. There are several types of natural food coloring for sale, but rather than getting in my car and buying something, I decided to see if I could make Easter-colored frosting with things I already had in my kitchen. Pink and purple were easily achieved with strawberries and blueberries. I saw online that a pinch of turmeric would produce yellow, but the look it gave my frosting was distinctly curry. When my husband saw it in the fridge he said "Ooh, what's that sauce? Are we having Indian?" After some trial and error, a mix of mango and carrot juice did the trick. I didn't attempt green, but I'm sure you could do something with avocado and a teeny, tiny bit of spinach.

The only helpers I had in decorating these eggs were my dogs, who cleaned powdered sugar off the floor, but I'm guessing this would be a fun project with kids, especially little vegan kids who don't decorate real eggs. You can tell them they're not missing out on much; frosting tastes better than egg salad, anyway.

Simple Sugar Cookies

(adapted from an old, old Mrs. Fields Cookie Book)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Earth Balance margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons plain or vanilla soy milk

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt.

In a large bowl, cream the margarine and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and soy milk and beat until well mixed. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Gather the dough into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookies, re-grouping and rolling dough as necessary. Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet for 13-15 minutes, until the bottoms of the cookies are just beginning to brown.

Immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack, and wait until they are completely cool before frosting.

Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.

Basic Icing

2 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons soy milk
2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the margarine, extract, and soy milk until thoroughly combined. Continue beating on low as you pour in the powdered sugar. Beat on medium speed until smooth. The icing should be thick, but spreadable. It will become thinner when you add coloring.

To make purple frosting, thaw about two tablespoons of frozen wild blueberries. With the back of a spoon, press the berries through a fine strainer, catching the liquid in a bowl. Stir the liquid into your frosting a little bit at a time, until desired color and texture are reached. Be careful: a little blueberry juice goes a long way, and it'll stain your clothes.

For pink frosting, follow the same procedure, thawing 5-6 frozen strawberries.

For pale orange, either follow the above procedure with several pieces of frozen mango, or puree a carrot. Carrots have a mild flavor; they will not make your frosting taste like salad, but they will make it irresistible to the Easter Bunny.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pineapple Pirate Sorbet

If pirates had freezers onboard their ships, this tropical sorbet would be their favorite dessert. A dash of dark rum, which everybody knows is a pirate's favorite food, highlights the sweetness of pineapple and coconut, fruits pirates find in abundance as they sail around the Carribbean. Easy to prepare in the pirates' food processor, this sorbet would allow them to get right back to work pillaging. It's perfect for the sweet tooth that hits after a hostage is fed to the sharks.

Not having seen any pirates on the Penobscot lately, my inspiration came from this post about pineapple cayenne sherbet in a Post Punk Kitchen forum. When fresh and frozen pineapple went on sale, I swooped in and grabbed a basketful.

"Wait a minute," you're saying. "Didn't you write two posts last month telling us to eat local foods? Pineapples don't grow in Maine."

You're right, and while I don't like to think how many gallons of gasoline it took to get my pineapple from its organic farm in Costa Rica to the Belfast Co-op, pineapples are at least in season: the Hawaiian season peaks in May, and in Costa Rica pineapples are winding down. This is why they're on sale, and why over the last couple of weeks I've seen people parading through Shaw's with pineapples riding in the child seats of their shopping carts, both cushioning and showing off their exotic produce.

A google search turned up several recipes for pineapple sorbet that were nothing more than pureed frozen pineapple, but neither my blender nor my food processor were up to this. I had already set aside the cream from a can of refrigerated coconut milk to make whipped cream, and the leftover translucent liquid was just what I needed. I sweetened the sorbet with agave nectar because I had it on hand, but you could substitute corn syrup (if you must) or simple syrup to taste.

The rum, a cheap off-brand that I use in baked beans, adds a little kick to the pineapple and lowers the sorbet's freezing temperature, which keeps it from hardening into a solid brick overnight. It's optional, but for your own safety, you'd better include it if you're cooking for pirates.

Pineapple Sorbet

16 ounce bag frozen diced pineapple (about 4 cups)
liquid from 1 can chilled coconut milk (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon dark rum
1-2 tablespoons agave nectar

In a food processor, puree the pineapple, coconut milk, rum, and 1 tablespoon of the agave nectar. Depending on the virility of your food processor, this may take 3-4 minutes and some occasional stirring. Taste and add more agave if needed.

The sorbet will be the consistency of soft serve. For a firmer sorbet, place it in the freezer for 2-3 hours, stirring again before serving. This sorbet is best eaten the same day.

Top with toasted coconut, pineapple slices, or whipped coconut cream.

Serves 4.

Whipped Coconut Cream

cream from 1 can chilled coconut milk
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Beat the coconut cream and sugar together on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tangy Black Bean Dip

My newest recipe at Maine Food & Lifestyle is a peppery bean dip with lime and cilantro. It's great with tortilla chips, and a funky alternative to hummus in your veggie wraps. Enjoy!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Review: Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Whenever I'm in Portland I like to eat at Flatbread Company. I love their funky, creative toppings, and the dusting of charred crumbs imparted by the wood-fired caveman oven satisfies some primal urge. The view through the big back windows of ferries and water taxis maneuvering alongside the Maine State Pier keeps me entertained for hours.

Our last visit began with drinks and salad. There are so many tasty, local options on Flatbread's comprehensive drink menu it can be hard to choose. I went with maple-sweetened lemonade. Mixed on-site in small batches, it's richer and less cloying than lemonade made with sugar. My other favorites are Atlantic Brewing Company's Coal Porter (the best porter I've had), and Maine Root rootbeer, a not-too-sweet natural soda invented by one of Flatbread's servers and now distributed throughout the eastern US.

Flatbread's salad, a simple mix of quality ingredients, is always my favorite part of the meal. The delicate lettuce and thinly shredded carrots are topped with earthy seaweed and sesame seeds, then drizzled with a sweet berry vinaigrette so bewitching, I'm guessing the secret ingredient is opium.

After our salad fix, we ordered a large vegan flatbread, which comes with a thin layer of tangy roasted tomato sauce, kalamata olives, caramelized onions, and some kind of fancy mushrooms. The middle of the pie was just short of crunchy, the edges puffy and chewy, and the bottom of the crust coated with that lovely wood-fired charcoal.

A good portion of the flatbreads are vegetarian, and there's always a veggie special. The coevolution, with rosemary, red onion, and kalamata olives is my favorite, though it's just not the same without the salty goat cheese. You can order any of their flatbreads without cheese, but rather than eat pizza that's missing something, I'd like to see them develop a second vegan option with different flavors. Maybe spinach pesto, artichokes, or roasted squash?

Despite their emphasis on local, earth-friendly ingredients and social consciousness (they donate a portion of their proceeds to local charities), Flatbread lacks a vegan dessert. Because the rest of the menu is so creative, I'm looking for more than fruit sorbet. What about a vegan version of their decadent brownie sundae, or chocolate tofu cheesecake with whipped coconut cream? Any restaurant with punk rockers and crunchy dreadlocked types waiting tables ought to serve tofu cheesecake; it's probably a condition of their license.

On the chickpea scale of vegan-friendliness, I'm giving Flatbread Company two and a half chickpeas (you can't tell I altered that photo, can you?). It's an excellent restaurant, and I eat there whenever I get a chance, but if I lived in Portland I'd get tired of the limited vegan choices. Because they advertise as earth and community-friendly, I'm holding them to a higher standard than I would your typical pizza joint. When they get on board and start developing new vegan recipes, I'll happily volunteer as a taste-tester.

DSC_2363 (1).jpg

Flatbread is deservedly popular, and has been reviewed by many food bloggers before me. Here are a few reviews by Mainers:

Avery Yale Kamila (another vegan!) gives you tips for getting a table at this restaurant that always has a line out the door.

At Type A Diversions you'll find more photos and description of Flatbread's laid-back atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vegan Recipes Take Over a Nursing Home

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm noticing increased curiosity about vegan cooking and nutrition. There are signs that plant-based diets, once considered fringe, are finding acceptance in the medical and culinary mainstream: dozens of news stories during the past month discussed the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, and vegan options are showing up at unlikely restaurants and bakeries. Is it the economy, recent food-poisoning scares, or the fact that everybody in America weighs 900 pounds and will die from diabetes complications if a heart attack doesn't kill them first? For any or all of those reasons, people are taking an honest look at the Standard American Diet and realizing the harm they're doing to their bodies by ingesting aerosol spray cheese, Wonderbread, chicken nuggets (which part, exactly, of a chicken's body is supposed to be the nugget?), and other imitation foods. They're making friends with leafy green vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and realizing that once they break their addictions to salt and simple sugar, real food is actually a lot tastier and more interesting than the garbage they're used to.

I was flattered when a contingent of readers at the Maine Veterans' Home in Scarborough invited me to their staff wellness luncheon to talk about vegan cooking. While I'd like to think their interest in my blog stems from their work in medicine and nutrition and their discriminating taste in food literature, in truth my mother works there and she hung a big advertisement on the lunchroom bulletin board. A few of her coworkers, including the dietary manager, have turned into regular readers who've tried out many of my recipes. In fact, the lunch menu included my minestrone soup and fruit smoothies, made to feed an army. The soup was served in a giant vat, and five bunches of bananas went into the smoothies.

Both soup and smoothies were delicious, earning approval from residents and staff, and it was a kick to see that the recipes held up to the extreme change in scale. The minestrone is so good it's been given a spot on the regular menu! How many vegan food bloggers can say they developed a recipe that's served in a nursing home?

Here's the whole spread, vegan except for the bread and salad dressing:

The luncheon was part of an all-day safety fair for staff that also included interactive stations like handwashing with a blacklight inspection, instruction on how to wrap up and drag away bedridden residents in case of an evacuation, and a regulatory trivia Wheel of Doom that I really wish I'd taken a picture of. I had my own little table, where I set out whole-grain scones as a lure and displayed a variety of books.

Though I disagree with Michael Pollan about the ethics of eating animals, The Omnivore's Dilemmachanged the way I think about eating. After reading it I cut out eggs, dairy, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oil. In Defense of Foodoffers a bullet-point version of Pollan's argument, with advice on what and how to eat. It would be a great choice for a wellness committee book club!

I brought Veganomicon, for people ready to experiment with seitan and nutritional yeast, as well as some lacto-ovo cookbooks with lots of appetizing pictures for people who aren't interested in going vegan, but want to cut back on meat and don't know how to plan a meal without a big slab of animal on the plate. The mouth-watering photos in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World(one nursing home at a time!) got lots of attention. I'll make a batch next time I visit.

Several of the people I talked with described what can only be called crimes against tofu: tasteless, jiggly preparations that made them fear vegetarian food. Thankfully, they kept an open mind and tried the smoothies, which provided a tasty and non-threatening reintroduction to the 'fu.

This was a great opportunity to share recipes and demonstrate that vegan food doesn't have to be weird. Thank you, wellness committee, for inviting me to lunch and for testing out my recipes. I'd love to come again, so leave me a comment if you've got any requests!