Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pictures (of Baby Animals) Speak Louder Than Words

Images from the Common Ground Country Fair, the annual celebration of rural living and sustainable agriculture hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. I learned so much and had a blast. Can't wait for next year.

Even more here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Husk Cherry Waldorf Salad at MF&L

I recently stumbled upon some curious little husk cherries. Super-sweet, with flavors of pineapple, vanilla, citrus, and yellow cake, they could've gone straight into a pie without any additional sugar. But because I've yet to master gluten-free pastry, I decided to eat them for lunch instead of dessert. Learn more about husk cherries, and find my recipe for Husk Cherry Waldorf Salad at Maine Food & Lifestyle.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Depressing Round-Up of Gluten-Free Beers

...to help you get ready for the weekend.

Green's endeavors to make a gluten-free dark beer. It's drinkable, but it's not beer. Without malt to mellow out the alcohol (7%), it tasted more like liqueur (maybe Kahlua?) than beer. Unlike most dark beer, the body was very thin. I probably would't buy Endeavor again, but I would try other beers in Green's gluten-free line.

Toleration, brewed by Hambleton Ales: an ironic name for an intolerable beer. When poured into the glass, large chunks of sediment resembling blood clots floated throughout the beer. 20% of the bottle was solids. Am I supposed to shake it before opening? The flavor was sickly sweet and metallic, with an unpleasant aftertaste of rubbing alcohol. The mouthfeel was thin and drizzly. This is the first and only beer I've ever poured down the drain. I would not drink this if someone paid me.

After the Toleration, St. Peter's Sorghum Beer was a relief. It looks, tastes, and feels like Bud Light. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a point in its favor, but the fact that it's gluten-free and not disgusting goes a long way. The mouthfeel is thin, like a light beer, and the flavor is watery and floral with a respectable hoppy bitterness. If I really wanted beer for a football game, I would buy this, but it's nothing to jump up and down about.

My first sip of bright, fruity New Grist by Lakefront Brewery was encouraging. It had that rice aftertaste common to gluten-free imitations of real food, but it wasn't so bad. The beer had no head and little carbonation, with a medium body. There were hints of nutmeg. As the beer warmed, the flavor turned more toward sour apple, and it began to smell strongly of rice and (was I imagining things?) onions. Ice cold, this was the best gluten-free beer I've tried so far. Closer to room temperature, when its true colors came through, it was a struggle to swallow.

Finally, Red Bridge by Anheuser-Busch. This is probably the most widely-available gluten-free beer; it's the only one in the refrigerator at my grocery store. Red Bridge tastes an awful lot like Budweiser. This is not a good thing. It's coppery and thin with no aftertaste. It's just a background lager: it gives you calories and alcohol, but doesn't make a statement. This is no replacement for Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams Boston Lager, but while it is not good, it also is not gross, and that makes it the best of the gluten-free beers I tried. If you really, really want a beer for the tailgate party, Red Bridge is drinkable, but it's nothing to get excited about.

I don't like wine very much and I'm not going to switch to hard liquor, so until somebody comes out with a worthwhile gluten-free beer, I'll be drinking more tea in the evenings. Seriously, brewers, the field is wide open. There is no widely-available, enjoyable gluten-free beer, and there are a lot of Celiacs. The first brewery to corner the gluten-free market will make a boatload. Hell, I'm tempted to buy a bag of sorghum, head out to the garage, and give it a try myself.

Here I am, brewers, with beer money. Please, please make something worth buying.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Chase's Daily

Let me jump on the Chase's Daily bandwagon. This family-run vegetarian restaurant in Belfast was recently written up in The Boston Globe, and is featured in the latest issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle Magazine. Chase's receives lots of praise, with good reason. The food is fresh, creative, healthy, and delicious. And look: parked in front are two Prius, the vehicle of choice for Earthy-compassionate foodies (only one of them is mine).

During the growing season, the Chase family farm in Freedom supplies the restaurant's produce. The menu changes frequently to reflect what's growing. Past the spare dining area, cash register, and bakery case, a large, open space serves as a produce market in the summer and art gallery in winter. The vaulted tin ceiling and large windows are a food photographer's dream.

On a recent visit, I tried the Green Curry Fried Rice. Celery, scallions, bok choy, and corn were sautéed alongside sweet potatoes, red potatoes, basil, cilantro, parsley, and blackened tofu. Topped with a squeeze of lime, this satisfying dish was bursting with flavor and texture.

On my next visit, it was hard not to order the fried rice again. Instead, I chose the Napa Cabbage Salad with Szechwan tofu. Any restaurant that can make tofu like this earns my respect. This bean curd was not to be mocked: firm, fiery, and look at those grill marks! Next to a heaping mound of cabbage and Asian greens were sliced turnips, carrots, two kinds of radishes, celery, scallions, basil, cilantro, edible flowers, and a delicious peanut-ginger dressing. The salad offered so many contrasting textures and flavors, every bite was exciting and different.

Primarily a breakfast and lunch spot, Chase's serves dinner on Friday nights (though you'd better make reservations). Although many of their dishes contain cheese, cream, and eggs, Chase's Daily deserves four chickpeas. At least a third of their ever-changing menu is vegan, and there are usually a few gluten-free dishes as well. Chase's Daily is a vegan-friendly oasis in the middle of seafood-loving midcoast Maine.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Vegan Recipes in the New Issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle

Perhaps you've eaten lettuce wraps—fresh veggies, herbs, marinated tofu, and savory peanuts rolled up, taco-style, in a large, flexible lettuce leaf— but I'll bet you haven't eaten them with Blueberry-Ginger Dipping Sauce made with wild Maine blueberries. Take it from me: blueberries and ginger were meant to be together. My recipes for lettuce wraps and sauce are in the late summer/early fall issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle Magazine. (Special thanks to Josh and Ann in Chicago, who ate my first, very messy round of lettuce wraps without complaining. These are much neater, guys.)

Pick up an issue while we've still got local produce. Maine Food & Lifestyle is available at food and bookstores throughout Maine, or by subscription. If my column becomes available on the website, I'll link to it here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Farewell, Dear Gluten

At a recent physical, I mentioned that my migraines have increased in severity and frequency over the last few years. I attributed them to stress, but my doctor ordered some bloodwork just in case.

At the follow-up appointment, she said, "It probably doesn't surprise you, but these came back positive for a gluten allergy."

"Um," I replied, "actually it does surprise me." Sure, my siblings, aunt, and cousins have Celiac Disease, but I was tested years ago, and I'm negative. "No way, doc," I said. "I love bread and bread loves me."

She asked if I'd go gluten-free for a while, to see if the headaches went away. It's been two weeks, and not only have they nearly disappeared, the ever-present fatigue, soreness, and gastrointestinal distress that I'd attributed to laziness, aging, and food poisoning are gone. For the first time in my life, 7 hours of sleep is enough. I get up in the morning and my back doesn't hurt. I feel awake, and downright sprightly.

I should feel relieved. I should be grateful that I don't have a brain tumor, and that all I have to do to feel better is stop eating gluten. Instead, I'm bouncing like a pinball through the seven stages of grief:

Shock: This is not possible. What will I eat? I cannot survive on Lärabars and fruit alone. Oh my god, I'm going to starve.

Denial: To hell with migraines, I am going to stuff my face with this giant cinnamon roll.

Bargaining: I could just keep eating muffins and taking lots of Advil...

Guilt: Am I being punished for this post?

Anger: Stupid body and your STUPID allergies! Why can't you just work right?

Depression: No more steamed dumplings? No more Dogfish Head beer? No more FALAFEL?!? A life without gluten isn't worth living...

Acceptance and Hope: Without bagels, beer, and cookies, I'm going to get totally skinny.

People ask me if giving up meat, eggs, and dairy was difficult. I tell them it was the easiest thing in the world, because I never liked those foods to begin with. I rarely eat faux meat, soy cheese, or tofu omlettes, because I don't miss the real thing at all.

I already miss gluten terribly. Without wheat and barley, there is a gaping hole in my diet. I have to toss out everything I know about baking and start over. But why bother? Gluten-free approximations will never taste and feel like my old favorites. I'll give up cookies, bread, and pie crust entirely before I'll eat hard, gluey imitations. Isa's Gluten Freedom Cupcakes aren't bad, but they won't get me through the rest of my life.

I had vegan grocery shopping down to a science. I knew which foods I could and couldn't eat. Now, I'm reading labels again and questioning ingredients. I'm drawn to every shiny prepackaged food that has a gluten-free label. A month ago, I was not interested in frozen waffles or Santa Fe Barbeque tortilla chips, but in my self-pity and withdrawal from white flour, I'm forking over big bucks for tiny packages of processed rice and tapioca.

After I left the doctor's office, I went to the library and checked out some medical books, a cookbook, and Gluten-Free Girl, a food writer's memoir about learning how to eat after her illness and Celiac diagnosis. I want your recommendations, particularly for cookbooks, blogs, restaurants, or food producers who are gluten and vegan saavy.

This is probably the end of being invited to dinner parties; people who wondered what to feed the vegan now have to rule out normal bread and pasta. For the first time in a long time, I don't have a good answer when someone asks, "But what do you eat?" I'm figuring that out myself.

From now on, all the recipes on this site will be gluten-free. I'll also tag past recipes that are gluten-free. I have so much to learn. Please chime in, and if you can, have a bagel and an Allagash White for me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scenery and S'mores

We should have spent Labor Day weekend cleaning and organizing our very messy house. Instead, we headed back up the coast for some late summer camping.

On our way to Cobscook Bay State Park, we stopped along Route 191 in Cutler to hike 1.4 miles through the woods to a rocky cliff overlooking the Bay of Fundy.

Canadian Grand Manan island was easily visible on a clear, cool afternoon. Stunted pines leaned out over the Atlantic, their roots grasping at patches of soil on the rocky cliff. Humpback, Fin, and Minke whales feed here, though I've yet to see them. The Bold Coast system of trails leads four miles south along the cliffs, to primitive campsites with spectacular views, but no running water or latrines. If you go, bring your camera and some bear repellent.

With nighttime temperatures in the 30s, we needed a warm breakfast to get going in the morning. Grits with Earth Balance, nutritional yeast, and tomato hit the spot. I'd heard so much about Teese that I decided to give the cheddar a try, but I found it just as bouncy and strange as other vegan cheeses and opted to leave it off my grits. I'm afraid non-dairy cheese will never be my thing.

For lunch we enjoyed salad greens and sliced veggies from our CSA, topped with chickpeas and my favorite tahini dressing.

I compromised my principles and bought a bag of Dandies vegan marshmallows, even though they're full of corn syrup. End-of-summer camping only happens once a year, right? The gelatin-free marshmallows charred and tasted just like the real thing, and made perfect s'mores.

The yard work, unpacking, and home repair projects were waiting for us when we got back. We're still living in complete disarray, but the long season of indoor weather will be here before long. If we don't get the bedrooms insulated in time for winter, at least we have warm sleeping bags.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup at Maine Food & Lifestyle

If your garden or CSA bag is overflowing with carrots, try this easy recipe for Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup. Two pounds of carrots, sweet potato, and seasoning are topped with a decadent swirl of coconut almond cream. Even my spice-phobic mother likes it!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

MaineFare Wrap-Up and Recipes

What to wear while teaching a vegan cooking class at a meat-heavy food festival? An Herbivore teeshirt, naturally.

Driving down to Camden on Saturday morning, I was nervous that the class would be a flop. If no one showed up, next year the vegetarian class might be dropped in favor of Veal 101 or Backyard CAFO: Easier Than You Think. In the end, a small but curious group of good sports turned up, and the spacious, well-equipped kitchen of the Inns at Blackberry Commons was an ideal location. I'll get to the recipes in just a bit.

After the class ended, we strolled through the Knox Mill Center for samples of some Maine-made food and wine. I'm proud to say our humble state doesn't kid around when it comes to eating and drinking. These were a few of my favorites items:

Heiwa Tofu, made in Camden by a cute, cute family. The firm, fresh, tasty tofu is available in the Portland area and most of the midcoast (the Natural Living Center in Bangor needs to get on this). Having a local tofu producer makes me smile.

Pastor Chuck Orchards' Sugar-Free Organic Apple Butter. Reminiscent of Grandma's. Seasoned with plenty of cinnamon, it's perfect on toast and oatmeal. The apple butter people come to lots of Maine food events, and they're always so friendly.

River Mill chocolate bar from Coastline Confections: dairy-free dark chocolate with a touch of Maine sea salt. Like eating a chocolate-covered pretzel, without the boring bread. It'll take care of your salty/sweet tooth.

● Pear Wine from Winterport Winery. I love dry white wine and adore pears, so a sample of this had me squealing and skipping. It's distinctly pear, without any sweetness. I can imagine drinking it with roasted nuts or spicy salad greens. Winterport Winery is a mere 8 miles from my house; will someone please buy me a scooter?

And now, the Caribbean Corn Chowder and Spiced Squash Biscuits:

We began by roasting poblano peppers quickly over a flame to remove their skins and enhance their smoky flavor.

Next, we cut the kernels off some fresh, local corn. Propping the ears up in the center of a bundt pan keeps them from sliding around, and the kernels fall neatly into the pan.

While the chowder simmered, we kneaded and shaped spiced squash biscuits. There's an easy trick to making them fluffy.

Everything was delicious. The attendees, all of them meat-eaters, said the food tasted fresh and healthy. You can't go wrong with coconut, black beans, and a multi-colored assortment of local veggies!

Caribbean Corn Chowder

This hearty chowder makes the most of the early fall intersection of summer crops, like peppers and corn, with autumn’s squash and potatoes. Minimal seasoning is needed in this tumult of colors, fresh flavors, and contrasting textures. Coconut milk, a staple of vegan desserts and curries, contributes a rich, slightly sweet flavor reminiscent of the tropics.

2 poblano peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 large ears)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 large russet potato, scrubbed and diced
1 lb. diced pumpkin or butternut squash (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups canned or cooked black beans, rinsed
1 14-oz can coconut milk
2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To serve:
cilantro
lime wedges

Roast poblano peppers over a gas burner, or broil close to heat, turning every 2-3 minutes until skin blackens and blisters. Remove from heat and set aside in a paper bag or bowl covered with a dry dish towel. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skin and pull out stem and seeds (retain some seeds for a spicier chowder). Slice peppers width-wise into 1/4-inch-thick rings. Reserve a quarter of the pepper slices for garnishing chowder.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and bell pepper and sauté another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add corn, sliced poblano pepper, and cumin, and sauté 3 minutes, until some corn kernels begin to brown. Add potatoes, squash, black beans, coconut milk, soy or dairy milk, and bay leaves.

Turn heat to medium-high. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes and squash are tender.

Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro, lime wedges, and reserved slices of poblano pepper. Serve with spiced squash biscuits.

Serves 6.

Spiced Squash Biscuits

These fluffy biscuits sing of autumn. They’re slightly spicy, slightly sweet, a nice accompaniment for rich stews and chowders.

2 cups all-purpose flour (substitute up to 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup cold vegan non-hydrogenated margarine
1 cup puréed pumpkin or butternut squash*
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2-4 tablespoons plain, unsweetened soy milk

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Using a pastry cutter or butter knives, cut in butter or margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Combine squash and maple syrup and add to dry ingredients. Stir until incorporated. Add milk a tablespoon at a time, until dough is soft, but not sticky.

On a floured surface, pat dough into a rough square about 1/2-inch thick. Fold in half and turn 90 degrees. Again, pat dough into a 1/2-inch thick square and fold in half. Repeat twice more, flouring work surface and dough as necessary to prevent sticking.

After the fourth folding, pat the dough once again into a 1/2-inch thick square. Use a butter knife to slice dough into 12 equal squares. To give the biscuits a puffy, flaky texture, form a crescent with your thumb and index finger. Turn and gently squeeze each biscuit around its middle to give it height.

Place close together in an ungreased 9-inch baking dish or pie plate. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until puffy and lightly browned.

Makes a Dozen

*To purée squash, preheat oven to 400F. Halve squash and scoop out seeds. Bake, face down, for 50-60 minutes, until flesh is soft throughout. Set aside. When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and purée in a blender or food processor, or mash very well with a fork or potato masher. Purée can be kept in the freezer for up to six months; it’s wonderful in soups and risotto. 1 pound squash yields approximately 1 cup purée.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BlogFriends, I Need Your Help.

MaineFare is this weekend, and 11 of the 12 spots in my vegan cooking class are still available. From 11am-1pm on Saturday, September 12, I'll be at the Blackberry Inn in Camden, making Caribbean Corn Chowder and Flaky Squash Biscuits, and discussing the practicalities and joys of vegan dining in Maine. It will be sunny and cool, perfect weather for strolling Camden's shops and picturesque harbor.

I'm thrilled the midcoast Maine foodies who host MaineFare decided to include a vegan cooking class, and I don't want it to be a flop. If you can join me this weekend, I'd love to cook, eat, and talk with you! If you can't be there, please recommend the event to any New England friends who may be interested in vegan cooking. Tickets are available online until midnight Thursday, and at MaineFare events beginning Friday evening.

Thanks for all your support and kind wishes during the last couple of weeks regarding our move. I've got several posts in the works, so things will be back to normal soon!