Jul 7, 2012

The Vegan Oxymoron

Again, because the fresh veggie market in Florida slows down for the summer, we don't have as interesting meals as we used to. Being an amateur, at home cook, the one thing I really enjoy about starting a vegan, plant based, whole foods diet (besides taking care of my health!): finding and trying new recipes! So I have dug up some older pictures from sometime during the spring when the veggies were flowing.

But first, the vegan oxymoron: Can you have vegan animal cookies?
I found some really awesome woodland creature cookie cutters at Ikea one day and I just had to make cookies. I used this vegan sugar cookie recipe. They weren't the best cookies I have ever had, but they worked and they are vegan!

Beets did really well in our garden (as well as the local farms). Coming up with good recipes for beets is hard for someone who really isn't a big beet fan (Mike on the other hand loves beets!). This doesn't look very appetizing:
But it was quite tasty and very simple. It's a roasted beet salad. The vinaigrette that I made to go with the salad had chopped fresh green onions. Highly recommended if you are testing you beet palate.

This was a made up recipe (Green Lentils with Rainbow Carrots and Collards):

Once you get the hang of it, coming up with your own vegan meals can be very easy. This recipe consists of green lentils, rainbow carrots, and collard greens. As the green lentils cook (according to the packet or these directions), saute the sliced carrots and sliced collard greens in a little olive oil until both are tender (you will need to start the carrots first, depending on how big your slices are, and then add the sliced collards). As for seasonings, you can add what you like. I added ground sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and a little ground nutmeg (I like collards with nutmeg for some reason). Just mix together when everything is fully cooked. It wasn't too bad :)

I forgot why I was alone one night, but Mike was out doing something, so I wandered out to the garden and pulled one turnip and two beets for my dinner that night:
On top are the simple glazed turnips. No matter how I cook turnips, I really don't like them. Mike loves them, so I keep trying to like them for him. The recipe sounded good, and if you like turnips then you may enjoy it. As for the beets, I modified this beet casserole recipe. I didn't have fresh ginger, so I used ground. And instead of grated onion, I used onion flakes (since I had no other onion in the house). I do really enjoy this recipe. It has graced our table plenty of times since. 

And last for today, something spectacular:
Homemade rosemary bread! You can make this vegan by using a vegan butter in place of real butter, it still turns out the same. This is sooooooo good! If you are thinking about making your own bread, but think it's too hard, try this recipe. It is very, very simple and a great starter recipe. 

Until next time, please enjoy this photo of Pineapple trying to figure out who is in the mirror:

Jun 30, 2012

Beans, beans, they're good for you heart!

If you are thinking about switching, or trying, a whole foods, plant based vegan diet, one thing you might consider is how you will get your protein. All vegetables and fruits have some protein content (it's science: all living things are made of cells and all cells contain protein) and you can fulfill you daily requirements by eating a plant based diet. As I mentioned before, local produce is scarce in Florida during the summer. Mike and I rely more on dried (see side note about canned) legumes/rice for meals, than fresh vegetables. If you can, I recommend you buy from the bulk bins: you can buy only what you need, it's cheaper (when you compare versus pre-packaged), and, if your lucky, you can  find organic selections. I buy all my dried items from bulk bins at Whole Foods; it ends up being much cheaper than the organic packaged counterparts. Right now I have a supply of brown rice, black beans, pinto beans, great white northern beans, red lentils, green split peas, and quinoa (all organic).

*Side note: We avoid canned goods at all costs (and we use glass containers for storing food that will need to be re-heated) because of the BPA risks. Especially now since *spoiler alert* Mike and I will be trying to conceive come August!

Working with dried beans may seem like a big task. The main issue in working with dried is that you can't decide at 6pm that you want beans at 6:30pm. Planning is necessary, but not more than 24 hours of planning! I use two methods for incorporating beans/legumes into my meals.

Method 1 (same day method): If you decide you want black beans and rice tonight, you can still make it as long as you have about 2-3 hours. You can call this a "quick soak method". Fill a pot with the amount of beans you need for the recipe. Cover beans with 3 inches of water. Bring to boil, uncovered. Once they have reached a boil, cover and reduce to simmer. Allow beans to simmer for about 60 minutes. At that time check to see how soft they have become (they won't feel like they have been cooked, but won't be super hard). If they are still very hard (which may happen with larger beans), allow to simmer for about 30-60 minutes more. If they are beginning to soften, turn off the heat, leaving the pot on the burner, and let the beans stand in the water until you need them in the evening for the recipe (you can even do this in the morning and let them sit all day). You will still need to cook the beans (at least 30-40 minutes) to get them to soften all the way. For this method, I will some times add a little flavoring to the soak water: veggie stock, bay leaves, salt, etc.

Method 2 (the most awesome method): This is the plan ahead method which I use more for the days I am working. The night before, I decide what beans I want to use and allow them to soak in water overnight. I also prep all my other necessary ingredients the night before (i.e.: chop any onions, set out the spices). In the morning before I leave for work, I drain the beans, add them to my crock pot with the other ingredients called for by the bean recipe. Then just flip the crock pot to low and, when you get home at night (yes the house will smell like beans), you will have perfectly cooked beans that can be added to any recipe. Most recipes for beans in the crock pot call for about 8 hours of time, but if you leave if for more it is fine. For example, I start mine at 7:15am in the morning and I won't be home until 6:30pm and everything is fine.

Here are two of my favorite bean recipes for the crock pot:
Black Beans - for this one, I like to add chopped jalapeno
Pinto Beans - for this one I used banana pepper instead of green pepper because that's what I had

I am still looking for some good crock pot recipes for lentils and split peas; I will let you know when I find some good ones!

Alright, this has probably been too much talking for you. Here is a picture:
Not the prettiest picture, but it's stuffed green peppers. I sort of made the recipe up. Cooked rice and great white northern beans make up the filling and it is all topped with a homemade tomato sauce. A very filling vegan meal.

And another picture:
Look at those cute little carrots! These pre-roasted carrots came from our garden and Magnolia Organics from sometime back in May. They are simply roasted at 425 degrees after being sprinkled with a little salt. We paired them with a vegan okra gumbo (make completely from local, organic veggies from Magnolia):
I never thought I would like okra, but I was forced to find recipes for it when they appeared in our harvest boxes. Okra really is not that bad. Unfortunately, I cannot find the recipe I used for the okra gumbo.

That's all I got for today! Until next time, enjoy another picture of my babies:

Jun 29, 2012

Sad News

This is sort of old news, but Magnolia Organics is no more :(
It took a while for it to sink in. It really hit me when I went to pick up my last harvest box about 3 weeks ago. Tears started creeping into my eyes as I drove down the sand/dirt road from the farm back to the main road. It was very bittersweet (and I had just discovered a awesome local bagel shop near the farm!). Not only is our local veggie supply cut off for the summer, but now for good! Mike and I had visited a CSA named Sweetwater Organic Farm once before we discovered Magnolia, but decided not to join because Magnolia was better deal (and closer). Well guess who now has a full membership for this coming fall? So we will still be able to get local produce in the fall but in a slightly different manner (if you are curious as to what a CSA is, click on the link for Sweetwater above).


It has been the year for new electronics (Mike gifted me a nook color for my birthday back in August, I purchased an iPhone 4s back in November, and Mike bought me a new Sony Vaio laptop for our 1 year wedding anniversary last week). One thing I finally got around to doing was uploading some pictures from my iPhone. When our turnips were doing really good back in January, we needed to pick some to make room for more to grow. Happy Mike with his harvest:
If you look in his left hand you can see a radish. Our radish had legs!!!
I don't remember what we made from these, but all I remember was that by the time turnip season was done, I was pretty sick of turnips. I hope next year I can find some recipes that make me love and crave turnips (if you know of any, let me know!!!).

Jump forward to Memorial Day,  classic grilling holiday, the unofficial start to summer. Of course we don't eat meat, but we can still use a grill!
The ultimate grilled vegan meal! We grilled up some zucchini and yellow squash from Magnolia and organic corn from another local farm (I forgot the farm name, but we purchased it at the local Whole Foods). There was still some dough left from when we made naan, so we decided to grill it as well.
Ta da! Doesn't that look heavenly? My mouth is watering looking at this while I write. Here is the recipe for the naan/flat-bread. It is a general, all purpose, no knead recipe. Every Sunday Mike and I whip up a batch. We used half of it to make a simple loaf of white bread. The remaining dough is divided and packaged for the fridge to be pulled out during the week as we need it to make flat-breads, naan, etc. It is really an excellent recipe.

Finally, today. The only local, organic produce I can find at Whole Foods is yellow squash and zucchini (the potatoes in this recipe were a guilty splurge), so I modified this recipe for Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte, I didn't use cheese (for obvious reasons) and used fresh rosemary in place of thyme because that is what I had. As for the the green onions, I had frozen some from the last big harvest I received from Magnolia Organics. 
You really won't miss the cheese in the recipe. But without the cheese, it turns into more of a bake than a torte that holds together when you try and lift it from the pan. It would be a nice side dish for some steamed greens.

Until next time, please enjoy this photo of my baby Pineapple with her Christmas gift from one of my brothers, Christopher:

Jun 1, 2012

A little harvest

I had the pleasure of traveling the 25 miles to Magnolia Organics this morning to pick up our weekly harvest box, but I found out a sad truth: next week is going to be the last week of the harvest boxes for the season. Just as Ohio's (and most of the north) farmers markets are starting up, ours in Florida are closing down. Because of the increased heat and moisture, pests become a problem for organic/sustainable farmers in Florida. The head farmer at Magnolia was telling me the herbal oils they use for pest control will burn the plants in the hot, summer, Florida sun. Even though we will have to wait until September, I am grateful for all the wonderful food Magnolia has provided us with.

Speaking of harvests, this photo was taken after we returned home from our vacation back in January:
Okay....I don't know why the photo is sideways...its normal on my computer...anyway, what we have here are some jalapenos, a green pepper, some oranges, some radishes, and some turnips. I was excited to see everything had survived while we were gone for 3 weeks! I don't remember what I made with all this, but I am sure it was good :)

Now something delicious:

This is a vegan vanilla cake with vegan cashew frosting. Who says vegans can't have sweet treats!! This was really good and a great way to introduce people to vegan baking. The frosting has a slightly different texture than store bought stuff, but it tastes the same (not like cashews!). The cake is good for a day you want a sweet treat, but don't have eggs or milk (you don't have to say it's vegan!).

That's all I have for today :( 
Until next time, enjoy this photo of Pineapple with her cone....so sad!

May 28, 2012


Looks like a holiday weekend brings out the blogger in me. Work has been great but tomorrow I start back on my dreaded 2-a-days. That means for the next four weeks (excluding today) on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I teach from 9 am to 1pm and then again from 6:30pm to 10:30pm. One day of it is not so bad, it's the Monday/Tuesday back-to-back combo. I arrive home around 11pm on Monday only to turn around and wake up an 6am Tuesday (not my typical 7-8 hours of sleep, so I am little cranky....but that should prepare me for kids right?).

In a few previous posts I said it would explain "opportunistic vegan". I guess now is a better time than any. As you already know (if you are kind enough to read my blog  *thank you!!!*), my husband, Mike, and I are both now vegan. And by vegan, I mean 95% of the time vegan: no meat, no dairy, and no eggs. Now our reasoning behind all this is different and complex. Mike does it for health reasons; I do it for a combo of health, animal welfare, and environmental reasons. Normally when you tell people you are vegan you will receive a multitude of negative responses: "don't you miss meat/dairy/eggs?", "you're one of those tree-hugging hippie types", "you're a food snob", "being vegan is impossible", "I could never do it". The last one always gets me. Sure you can do it. Even if just for one day a week. Keep an open mind and anything is possible. You may find you like it :) 

The opportunistic point is that when some one cooks something for us, goes through all that effort, we will eat it. A little meat or dairy here and there won't kill us. We aren't snobs when people buy food for us, that's just rude. But when we get to make the decision (at a restaurant or the grocery store) we will always buy vegan. We also don't force our eating habits on people. So when some one comes to my house for dinner, I always ask them ahead of time if they would prefer something non-vegan to eat because I would gladly make it for them (because I love cooking!). For the most part, our friends and family are very open to trying vegan meals. Usually the only request I get is for cow's milk (for coffee and cereal).

Veganism comes with a lot of negative connotations in American society. A few movies and books I have enjoyed instead call our eating habits a "whole foods, plant based diet". Doesn't that sound friendlier? I still say vegan because I only have to say one word as opposed to five. So what I advocate to people who will listen (i.e. my Advanced Bio class that is forced to sit and listen to me for 4 hours, 3 days a week), is to have an open mind and at least try it for a day or two or more. You may like what happens not only to yourself but to the world around you.

I have probably bored you enough today with my lecture, so I will save my suggested movies and books until the next post. Now to get into some older photos.  We planted jalapeños last year and had an over abundance in the late fall. It is quite hard to find things to do with jalapeños but I did find this website: Jalapeño Madness. This is not from that website, but I took a basic bagel recipe (from my Southern Living cookbook) and added diced jalapeños. Here is the result:
Fantastic! I recently made them again (about a month ago) when two of Mike's friends were staying with us. They were a big hit even without cream cheese or butter (did I mention the recipe is totally vegan)!

We weren't around for the holidays (instead we were in Ohio and Hawaii), so I had to make my co-worker Christmas gifts early. I wanted to make all vegan treats to show how good vegan baking can be. Here is one of my batches of vegan peppermint sugar cookies (make sure to use a vegan butter!):
Eventually, they were iced with a simple powdered sugar/almond milk glaze.

Here is one of the assembled boxes:
 In the top left corner are apple jellies, in the top right corner are vegan fruit and nut balls ( I can't find the recipe), in the bottom left corner is dark chocolate peppermint fudge (again cannot find the recipe), and, finally, in the lower right hand corner are my sugar cookies all iced and with sprinkles. I guess they were a big hit (I found out later when I got back from vacation).

Speaking of returning from vacation....one of the many things Mike and I discovered in Hawaii were açaí bowls. Amazing! We had as many as we could while we were out there. When we returned home, we tried to recreate them:
Doesn't that look good?!? Below all the fruit is a blend of açaí berry puree (we got it frozen at the store), almond milk, frozen blueberries, and a little agave nectar. You then top it with granola (in this case, my homemade granola), sliced strawberries and bananas, and then you finally drizzle local honey over the top. The absolute best way to start your day!!!

Overload comes to mind after reading all of this, so I will stop. Until next time, enjoy this photo taken near the Ringling Bride in Sarasota on Thanksgiving day, 2011:

May 27, 2012

Seasonal Eating

Our growing season is almost over (and by "our", I mean at both my house and all around the Tampa Bay area) and I know I should have taken pictures of our garden in full bloom. At the peak, the turnips and beets were going crazy, and we had lettuce and scallions and herbs galore! Now, as we wind down, the last of the blueberries are ripening (we had a great turn out on our one surviving blueberry bush!). As a hint of whats to come, the orange tree has about 15 tiny babies that will grow through the summer and be ready during the Florida winter (can't wait!). Our carrots and fennel are almost ready to harvest, and I will make sure to take pictures. But to hold you over, here is one shot I took while sitting in the back of the yard (you cannot see the raised beds behind me). Visible in this shot are the blueberry bush, the lemon tree, the lime tree, the orange tree, scallions, fennel, and the tops of the carrots:

Previous posts have talked about "knowing" where our food comes from and becoming vegans. It is still as true as ever, and now, to add to it, the slow food movement and being a "locavore" have starting creeping into my food/cooking choices. I have been reading.... a lot (having my Nook Color totally helps). Recently I have read "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, many Michael Pollan books, and "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingslover. Not only do these books advocate knowing where your food comes from (i.e. avoiding processed and fast foods with ingredients you can't pronounce), but also about supporting the local, small farmers as they face the industrialized food system. It takes a lot to change your thinking about food (trust me, it took a lot of reading and research), and I am not trying to preach to you, but just ask that you take some time to consider your food and what you really know about it and where it comes from. I know it's lofty to think that we can change the system (the big companies controlling our food system), but I believe every small step counts.

One thing all this reading has opened my eyes to is seasonal eating. Seasonal eating is exactly what it sounds like, eating based on the season. When I lived in Ohio, I had a very vague concept of this: corn was ready at the end of summer, and apples and pumpkins were plentiful in the early fall. But the American grocery store has almost bust destroyed the concept of seasonal eating. All food is in season. You can purchase a tomato all year around. Yea, that tomato is cheap, and usually pretty tasteless, but now you can make that recipe you have been dying to try. Never mind that the tomato was shipped over 2000 miles to your grocery store (what a waste of gas!), was grown with lots of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and is most likely genetically engineered to last that long trip yet still be "fresh" when you buy it......you know what, I am preaching.....I am sorry. I am very passionate about all of this now (I wish I had found this passion before I went to college!).

Really the point I was going to make with this post was, luckily, Mike and I discovered this awesome, local, organic farm back in October that we have been buying veggies from. Magnolia Organics is about a 30 minute drive north of where we live (though some weekends they come to local farmers markets that are closer to my house). From September to June, we can purchase a harvest box from them every week with what ever seasonal produce they are growing (in Florida, the season are slightly different than up north). It is totally awesome!! Since we discovered them, we have been planning our vegan meals around what we get in the box each week (aka: seasonal eating). I am currently researching ways to eat more local in this area. I don't think we will ever be 100% local (agave isn't grown any where near here), but something is better than nothing (small steps!). So what I would like to share with you are two dinners from this week (and there are more backed up pictures that I will hopefully share soon) that are almost entirely local, organic, and vegan (the prefect trifecta).

This meal was from a few days ago: red fish from the Gulf of Mexico (my bro caught it back in March when he was visiting), and organic zucchini, fairy tale eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and scallions from Magnolia (the fish is hidden under all the veggies). This was an entirely local meal :)

Tonight's dinner was a little more ambitious. Homemade naan, celery and rice soup, and fresh green been salad:
Now the flour for the naan was definitely not local (I don't think I can get local flour here) but it was organic. The organic green beans from Magnolia are topped with scallions from Magnolia, olive oil (not local or organic), and homemade spicy mustard from Mike's dad. The soup has organic onions and celery from Magnolia, homemade veggie broth (made with left over pieces and parts from Magnolia veggies), vegan butter (not local), and organic brown rice (also not local).

I guess the take away message should be that you should make your own food (so you know where it comes from) and take pride in it (I will try and take less pride so you don't think I am a food snob).

Until next time, if you decide to come back next time (and don't hate me too much for being a little too wordy), please enjoy this photo of a mommy turtle guarding her nesting hole on Honeymoon Island;

Feb 8, 2012

Finally....Photo Dump Part 3 (and a few new things)

As you might have guessed, I have quite a few photos clogging up my computer. Let me begin with the final addition to the photo dump. These photos are from April of 2011 (so when the garden was just starting up), but since then we have expanded the garden quite a bit and had a few more harvests:

Some flowers that I won at a Tampa plant show:

The roses Mike gave me for St.Valentine's Day in February 2011:

My cute lizard planter:

Baby blueberries!

Sprouting cantaloupe seeds:

Baby pepper (green, banana, and jalapeno):

Baby orange:

Now for something new. As I mentioned, Mike and I are both now vegan. When I have more time I will explain. We are also keen on avoiding processed foods. Really the only processed foods we eat now are almond and soy milk, and tortillas and tortilla chips. Everything else we make: cereal, bread, ice cream, etc. That being said, here is tonight's dinner:
Corn tortillas, organic avocados, local organic tomatoes, local organic onions, and jalapenos and green pepper from our garden. To my surprise, 3 of them were very, very filling. This is a very simple vegan meal. Just saute the onions, green peppers, and jalapenos in a little olive oil. Use the same pan to toast your tortillas, and assemble. If you feel you need more, just add a side of rice or bean (or even put the rice or beans in the tacos).

Until next time, enjoy this photo of my Pineapple that I took with my new iphone:

Feb 4, 2012

Happy 6 Month Anniversary!

It has been just over 6 months since I posted last....holy crap!

I have been thinking a lot about starting up again. Of course I have not taken many pictures of the amazing things that have happened or have been created since last time.

A quick run down of what has happened (since the last real post which was in April):
-I got married :)  On June 24th, 2011, I married my boyfriend of 10 years on our 10 year anniversary at the Cleveland Zoo!
-We bought a brand new car (a 2011 Honda Fit).
-We expanded the garden by adding about 20 feet of new raised beds.
-My husband and I became vegan (or what he calls " an opportunistic vegan"; I'll explain more later)!
-Some idiot ran into my brand new car (I had only 2000 miles on the car!).
-I started buying my veggies from a local, organic farmer for way cheaper than any grocery store.
-I ran my 3rd half marathon the weekend before Thanksgiving (with my Dad and his girlfriend).
-My husband's sister and her family came down for a visit in early December.
-I joined a gym :)
-My husband and I went to Hawaii in December for our honeymoon and discovered some great foods!
-I am still working as a teacher at the exact same University (I guess that's not really a change).
-My husband and I have decided that we are going to start trying for a child towards the end of this year :)

Busy is a word I would use to describe what has been going on.
Hopefully I can get back on the train (just for my own amusement, since I am sure everyone stopped reading when I fell off the face of the earth).

Until next time (which should be soon), enjoy this picture of my husband after we kayaked out to the sunken island in Kane'ohe Bay on Oahu, Hawaii: