monster vs. monster

on a food roll
July 19, 2010, 2:46 pm
Filed under: food | Tags: , ,

I feel a little food spoiled. Drawing from someone else’s fully-stocked pantry with every ingredient at my fingertips, spending entire afternoons simmering grains and kneading doughs, warming the apartment with a preheated oven on foggy mornings. It’s a little bit ridiculous, how good I have it. I remember thinking so many times during the school year how I just wanted to spend a single day cooking and knitting and reading Sedgwick. Just one day. And now I have a whole string of days to do just that. My appetite has been on seriously high gear the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been pawing through BW’s cookbook collection looking for ways to entertain my tummy. Right now I’ve got some rice on the stove and some gluten sausage roasting in the oven, so my hands are free to share with you the super successful seitan I made a few days ago.

The seitan recipe I used calls for 7 cups broth, 1 cup gluten flour, 2 tbsp Braggs, and 2 tsp seasonings, which I divided evenly between sage, oregano, pepper, and a fancy “pasta” spice which was really just basil, oregano, garlic and thyme. After blending 3/4 c broth, flour, and spices together I kneaded the dough for 15 minutes, let it rest for 5, then kneaded again for 5. This is really the trick to getting a perfect consistency. In the past, my seitan has come out rubbery and squishy, with too much air trapped inside. With the extra kneading, I got a firm, solid texture – and a full arm workout.

I also added some onion slices to the broth, which I think really helped to round out the seasonings.

With half of the seitan and most of the broth, BW made chicken and dumplings which was in-effing-credibly de-effing-licious. I was a very unadventurous eater in my pre-vegan days, and chicken and dumplings is one of the many dishes I never encountered in its more, shall we say, traditional form. But now that I’ve experienced this hearty, doughy, salty comfort food (and seen how easy it is to make!) I will be adding this to my winter food repertoire. Mmmm.

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Oddly enough, cooking sucks the appetite right out of me. Generally what I’ll do is cook a meal and immediately package it up and set it in the fridge. Then I’ll wash the dishes, tidy up the stove, go and check my email, maybe pour myself a glass of wine. And then I’ll eat. I don’t know whether I act this way because I prefer cold food or prefer cold food because I act this way. Suffice to say, it’s strange, and to most people it makes no sense. What it does mean, though, is that I can do a lot of weird disparate cooking and baking all at once, since I’m going to set it all aside anyway. Tomorrow I’m going to try to bust out some cinnamon swirl bread, lemon cranberry muffins, summer squash soup, and grits with greens. Oh, and maybe I’ll work on my translation project. Maybe.


soup love
July 14, 2010, 6:01 pm
Filed under: food | Tags: , , ,

After climbing a mountain this morning, I did not expect to spend three hours of my day in the kitchen chopping peppers and onions, sniffling, and listening to folk music. But that’s what I did, and it was awesome. The fruits of my labor? Corn Potato Poblano Soup with Black Bean Quinoa Salad. Made from scratch, with farmer’s market veggies, by my own two hands. An avocado would have tied the two dishes together perfectly, but alas, we were out. I don’t care. I am still a domestic goddess.

The other day at Issues I picked up a copy of Souplove by Oaklander Rebecca Stevens (illustrations by Nabil Samadani). This incredible, simple, self-published little book provides 3 soup recipes for each season: one smooth and easy, one brothy and veggie-filled, and one bean- or grain-based. The recipes are all vegan and beginner -friendly, and ingredients can all be acquired at the farmer’s market. I love the idea behind this book. I prefer to shop local and seasonal, but I tend to fall rapidly into food ruts, and by the end of the season I am desperate for imported fruit and weird new veggies. I think this recipe book will help: I don’t have to do any mental work since Stevens matches soups to seasons, I can totally handle one new recipe a month, and I can start working with unfamiliar ingredients without feeling stumped. Fennel, I’m looking at you.

I decided on the brothy summer selection, since I have been itching to get my hands onto peppers and I’ve never worked with poblano (or, for that matter, corn cobs) before. Shaving the corn was a very empowering experience; if you’ve ever seen me wield a knife, you will know that it was also pretty terrifying and death-defying and I am grateful no one else was in the room. The two best parts of this soup, for me, were first that it uses very few spices (oregano, salt, a pinch of cayenne) which means it’s low on the confusion scale, and second that it uses a half cup of white wine, which means that you have almost a full bottle leftover to take to the park in the afternoon. If you’re into that.

The recipe tells you to roast the pepper over an open flame until it is blackened and blistered. I gotta say, I held back. I’m cooking in someone else’s house, and I already live in fear of the fire gene bequeathed to me by my maternal relatives. So we have fear of fire, plus fear of fire in someone else’s kitchen, someone who has been kind enough to offer his futon for a full month. Hesitance is necessitated, I think. I still got plenty of poblano flavor, but the skin didn’t come off as easily as it otherwise would have. Oh well, it came off in the end, no skin off my nose. Next time, though, I’m going to throw that puppy straight into the flame. Bangs be damned – or singed, as the case may be.

All told, to my surprise and delight, my first soup ever was a total success. The flavors blended, the potatoes got all buttery and mushy, and I didn’t even burn my fingers until I chopped a chipotle for my quinoa. Also, despite its brothiness (and I still can’t believe I made stock out of corn cobs!), this soup is super filling. Rebecca Stevens, you are a recipe-writing genius. I’ll be trying the other two summer soups, Tomato Fennel and Summer Squash Dill, before I leave Oakland. By which I mean, before I have to leave BW’s fully stocked pantry and spice cabinet behind.

v.i.p. : brickway
March 23, 2010, 12:12 pm
Filed under: vegan in providence | Tags: ,

Brickway on Wickenden is one of those places where omnivores love to brunch, and it’s great to be able to share that experience. The vegan options are not many, but what Brickway lacks in veg-friendly fare it makes up for in atmosphere. Its quirky wall colors and mismatched chairs and tables lend it an artsy, big-city small-cafe feeling, and the bottomless cup of coffee means you can stretch your morning out a bit. I’ve been here on super crowded days (Sat & Sun, prepare for a wait) but I’ve never felt rushed through my meal.

The breakfast menu (which they serve all day) is mostly omelets and meaty sides, so don’t come expecting to fill up on hearty, greasy soy sausage. You will find, however, once your eyes move beyond the standard fruit-cup and wheat-toast-with-jam side dishes, that for six bucks you can order the most delicious bowl of oatmeal you’ve ever eaten in your brunchy life.

Topped with maple syrup and brown sugar, Brickway oatmeal has raisins and whole almonds mixed in to add a bit of creaminess, a bit of tang, a bit of substance to the dish. Amazingly, it’s neither mushy nor sticky, neither chunky nor runny, neither dry nor overly moist. This is Goldilocks oatmeal. It is just right. I don’t tend to be a fan of oatmeal, but this staff-certified fully vegan version, with all its trappings, has me sold. Plus, a bowl of this stuff is warm and filling – perfect for a light breakfast – and if you throw in some OJ and several cups of coffee, you’ve got a nice, satisfying, long-lasting meal.

I don’t know whether Brickway offers soymilk (I drink my coffee black) or whether they have earth balance available for toast (I’ve always gotten preserves), but I have every intention of finding out. Thus far the waitstaff has been nothing but friendly, helpful, and patient with questions, and they seem generally willing to accommodate special needs – especially since one of the waitresses is a vegan herself. In addition to oatmeal, Brickway has a couple of vegan lunch options – a hummus veggie wrap, and a veggie burger. (The burger itself is vegan, but make sure you clarify that the sauteed mushrooms and onions need to be veg-friendly.) I’ve yet to try, but I’ll report back when I do!

v.i.p. : garden grille
March 19, 2010, 9:46 pm
Filed under: vegan in providence | Tags: ,

A couple of Mondays ago, some cohort members and I trekked a whole two miles to Pawtucket for my very first experience with Garden Grille. Have you ever walked into a place and you know everyone there is just … happy ? That’s what Garden Grille is like. The waiters are friendly. The booths are many. The communal table is long and inviting.  The customers sharing our lunch hour ranged from the young and pierced to the old(er) and chatty to the businesslike and lunch-breaky. Everyone smiling. I suppose the sunshine didn’t hurt, but I imagine that’s the typical atmosphere at Garden Grille: welcoming and pleasant and community-oriented.

This place boasts a fully vegetarian menu with lots of (clearly-labeled) vegan and gluten-free options, a jam-packed smoothie list, organic beers and wines, and 100% takeout containers with corn-based utensils. We picked from their lunch menu, but they also have amazing brunch offerings (vegan. cinnamon. rolls.) as well as the most appealing and diverse dinner menu I’ve come across since leaving my beloved herbivore behind. If you get a spare moment, read the back of the menu for a delightful how-we-got-started story profiling the owner’s raw/vegan grandmother.

First up: Tuscan White Bean and Soy Sausage Soup. I didn’t get a taste of this one, but it looked hearty and it smelled amazing.

Followed by: Baked Macaroni with Broccoli and Crimini Mushrooms. I only got a small taste, but I thought the cheese flavor left a little to be desired – I’m guessing FYH mozzarella – and could’ve used a bit of garlic, maybe a pinch of salt, a dash of nutritional yeast. But the texture was spot on, and the crimini seemed to add a lot to the dish. And anyway, I tend to be skeptical of vegan mac & cheese and hard to impress, so don’t take my word for it here.

I ordered a plate of Garlic Collards with Pistachios. I had no idea I would get a whole bowl. I had no idea I could eat a whole bowl. These were the best collards I have ever had. They were cooked without getting limp and lifeless, infused but not overwhelmed with flavor. The pistachios added a smoothness and a creamy flavor that really grounded the spice of the garlic. A perfect side-dish. Every sandwich I have had since has seemed empty and vacant without a giant bowl of garlic-pistachio greens by its side.

And finally: the Seitan Mushroom Burger topped with Sweet Potato, Carmelized Onions, Arugula, and Chipotle Sauce on Country Bread, with a crispy coleslaw tossed lightly in oil and spices. Both were divine. Words cannot express how perfectly the Chipotle sauce tied together the sweetness of the onions and sweet potato with the rich and savory burger, or how delightfully strong a stance the peppery arugula took in every bite. I thought the flavors would overwhelm one another, but in each bite I could literally taste everything. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had – so good, in fact, that I feel bad calling it a sandwich. It was a…um…flavor orchestra? Do I sound like a Carl’s Jr. commercial?

I beamed through our entire lunch. In fact, this restaurant made me so happy, it actually upped my love of Providence about a hundred percent. I’m so relieved to find a place that has a ton of options and a laidback feel, stays open past dinnertime (9:30/10:00), and is super accessible. It’s located right on the 42 bus line on Hope street, just past the triangle-shaped park where Hope and and Blackstone merge. Go there. Now. I see springtime bike rides and days at the park and more sweet potato burgers in my future.

v.i.p. : julian’s
February 27, 2010, 12:00 pm
Filed under: vegan in providence | Tags: ,

I am a big fan of brunch. I always wake up super hungry, and breakfast at home just doesn’t do it for me. At brunch I can have three beverages at a time and load up on grease and sugar without judgment. At brunch waiting in line means extra time for coffee, maybe a chance to wander off and eye a garage sale or two. At brunch I can be sleepy or grouchy, but I know once the food comes I will turn into a loving human being once more. Brunch cures all ills. Brunch heals the world. Last weekend, some friends introduced me to grunge brunch – brush your teeth, throw some pants over your pajamas, and go – which made brunch better than I ever thought it could be. Why waste time on showers and makeup when you’ve got four people sharing a bathroom and you’re starving? Go eat already!

I was pretty happy when I discovered Julian’s. This diner is a stone’s throw from awesome coffee, vintage clothes, and records, and the neighborhood looks to be garage-sale friendly. Julian’s wins the prize for reminding me of Oakland more than any place in Providence. Good music, bearded servers, windows plastered with show posters, giant whisks hanging from the ceiling, and a really decent beer menu? What’s not to love? Throw some star wars figurines on the wall and a tv in the bathroom playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I’m a happy gal.

I would have expected the people here to be sort of rude and exclusive, but (like every truly awesome, way-too-cool person I’ve met in this town) I’ve found the staff and customers alike to be consistently friendly and talkative. I tend to babble when I get excited, and I prize very highly any place whose servers can turn my babble into banter instead of looking at me like a crazy person (Nice Slice, I’m looking at you). Atmosphere: A+  On to the food.

Julian’s serves brunch all day. So already, YES. Their regular vegan brunch offerings include PB&J pancakes, cinnamon orange french toast, customizable tofu scrambles, and oatmeal. But the absolute best of the best, what my waiter described as “the illest vegan breakfast,” is the Saint Jamez Benedict: a fried tofu ‘egg’, garlic spinach, and bright yellow-orange vegan hollandaise, all poured over two giant pieces of fluffy, thick-crusted french bread. Top it off with two tempeh sausage patties and a side of flavorful potatoes, and you’ve got yourself a MEAL.

I’ve never had nonvegan eggs benedict, so I can’t make judgments on authenticity. I can say, however, that this plate is a flavor explosion. The hollandaise is super garlicky and sort of sweet and savory at the same time. The sauce is the perfect consistency: runny enough to soak the bread, but thick enough to cover every forkful. The “egg” is also impressive: soft, fluffy tofu on the inside, lightly fried (but not crispy) on the outside. I can’t effuse enough about the sausage. It has, like all tempeh sausage I’ve tried, more of a soy-cake consistency than a squishy meat consistency, but I really prefer it that way – I am prone to mixing my food, and the crumbly factor makes it easy to mix the sausage into the potatoes. The flavor is spot on, comparable to the pizza sausage recipe in VwaV. It makes a big meal into a humongous meal, but I insist you order the sausage. It ties the whole thing together.

Julian’s has plenty of meat- and egg- and dairy-filled brunch options for your friends. They also offer three morning-time cocktails.  Everyone who comes here leaves happy. And sated. And maybe an inch or two wider. When the weather turns toward spring, you can bet I’ll be at Julian’s every Sunday morning. For now, I’m just trying to make it out on one of these Wednesday nights for WNWN‘s stitch and bitch. One thing at a time.

vegan in providence
February 22, 2010, 4:15 pm
Filed under: vegan in providence | Tags: ,

When I moved to Providence from Oakland, I was very concerned about my new city’s vegan-friendliness. Internet searches brought up a handful of names, but without any familiarity with the city I didn’t know what to look for. The websites I found listed restaurants that, for all my knowledge, might have been as far away as Maine – two in Pawtucket, another in Naragansett – and listed diners and meat-heavy burrito joints next to snack shops and one restaurant that had already shut down. The yelp page offered different listings from HappyCow, which were different still from urbanspoon and VegGuide. Needless to say, my optimism dwindled. I couldn’t even find a discussion of how easy it is or isn’t to make vegan requests at “vegetarian friendly” restaurants. I wanted a comprehensive list of what was available, a list that included personal reviews and photos as well as offering details on atmosphere and accessibility. I couldn’t find one, so I’ve decided to make one myself. Over the past few months I’ve come to realize that Providence (and the immediately surrounding area) is chock full of vegan food, and I want to help make it easier for my fellow vegans to feed themselves.

I’ll start my V.I.P. reviews very soon, and once they’re up they’ll be linked to from this page. I’d very much appreciate any recommendations, feedback, etc. I’m super excited about this project, and I want it to be the best it can possibly be.