Saturday, March 25, 2017

NoRooz Mobarak! Happy Persian New Year!

Happy Persian New Year! 

Hoorah!! It's officially springtime and that means it's also my favorite adopted holiday of the year! NoRooz is a very beautiful and ancient holiday that goes back to Zoroastrian times. NoRooz is celebrated at the vernal equinox - which right away makes me love it. I love the association with a natural/astronomical event. I also love that all the various celebrations and foods and traditions of NoRooz are ripe with meaning and symbolism and connection to the natural world. You can read a lot more about it on this wikipedia page. Technically these days of celebration go one for almost two weeks, so if you're feeling inspired, it's not too late to make a feast of your own! 

Each year I host a big gathering of friends and family for NoRooz. I love all the days of anticipation - scheming my menu and hunting down all the ingredients that I'll need. This year I made a special trip over to San Jose to go to a Persian Market -- oh my gosh, it felt so festive and merry to be in a shop full of people preparing for NoRooz! Everyone was shopping with baskets full of goodies and sprouts, and herbs and millions of other good things. I must remember to do this every year, just to build up the merry spirit of the holiday in my heart! 

This year's celebration was even bigger than usual because it was also my dad's 80th birthday the following day, and we combined the two celebrations into one -- and for such a special day a few extra people came. It was pretty great. Two of my besties came over and spent the whole afternoon helping me in the kitchen which was both super fun and also a total life-saver for helping me meet my ambitious culinary agenda! 

cheese and herb platter

For appetizers, we prepared two beautiful cheese and fresh herb platters. I made the homemade Cashew Chevre from Miyoko Schinner's book Artisan Vegan Cheese. This recipe takes a few days to age at room temperature, but otherwise it's nearly effortless and SO delicious. In fact, our two cheese platters were fully enjoyed by my non-vegan guests and there was hardly any cheese left at the end of the night. Great success!! It sure does make this vegan heart happy to see non-vegans digging and enjoying my vegan cheese!

The platters had fresh dill, chives, cilantro, mint, and parsley... along with walnuts, dates, and dolmas. The dates are my most favorite Black Gold Dates from Sam Cobb Farm down in Palm Springs, and they are so fantastic. Since we didn't go down to the desert this year, I ordered my dates online.  They have a rich, deep flavor and aren't super mooshy or super dry. Just perfect! The dolmas were straight outta cans from Trader Joes! ha ha. Sorry to disappoint!

Nan-e Barbari

I also made a double batch of Nan-e Barbari yeasted bread (I used this recipe from King Arthur Flour - it was my first time using this recipe and I was really happy with it!). I made the dough the night before and got a super enthusiastic first rise. Then I divided and shaped the dough into four small loaves and put it in the fridge. That made it pretty easy to bake the breads on the day of NoRooz. I used a mix of Nigella seeds, Poppy seeds, and Sesame seeds for the topping. As you can see, these turned out pretty much perfectly. I was so happy! 

We cut the breads up into little strips and put them out with the cheese platters. In this picture, you can a little bit see that they got a very nice crumb and texture: a good balance of density and airy-ness. 

happy nibbling and chatting and festivizing! 

huge platter of Kuku Sabzi

Kuku Sabzi is a traditional NoRooz food - an omelette packed full with minced fresh herbs, walnuts and barberries. Over the years I've tried many attempts at veganizing this recipe, and this is really my favorite -- it's based on the mini muffin-tin omelettes from Isa Does It, and then mixed up with lots of fresh herbs. I finally took the time to type up my recipe:

Kuku Sabzi Minis
(based on Muffin Pan Mini Omelets from Isa Does It, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)
*you can easily double this recipe

2 1/2 Tbsp dried barberries
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
1/2 cup packed fresh dill
1/2 cup packed scallions (green parts only)
1 cup packed spinach
1/4 cup fresh fenugreek, or 2 Tbsp dried fenugreek (optional)
generous 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, plus extras for decorating
2 cloves garlic, peeled
14 ounces silken tofu
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 Tbsp arrowroot flour

Cover the barberries with warm water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile combine the parsley, cilantro, dill, scallions, spinach, and optional fenugreek in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. You don't want it to turn into a paste, but you really, really want to chop those guys into oblivion. If you don't have a food processor, get a good knife and start chopping chopping chopping. Once the herbs are chopped, set them aside in a large bowl, and next use the food processor or knife to chop your walnuts. Add the walnuts to the herbs. Don't worry about cleaning out the food processor between steps. 

 Preheat your oven to 350F. Next, chop up the garlic in the food processor (or a blender). Add the silken tofu, water, nutritional yeast, olive oil, turmeric, salt, and black pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add in the chickpea flour and arrowroot and process more, until fully integrated. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the minced herbs and walnuts. Drain the barberries, discard the soaking water, and add the barberries to the batter. Stir well until fully incorporated. (note: at this point, you can refrigerate the batter to use it later or the next day)

Lightly oil a muffin tin and fill the muffin cups about halfway full with the batter. If you'd like, you can put a few chopped walnuts (or a whole walnut half) on each mini kuku sabzi. Bake the mini kuku sabzis for about 20-25 minutes, until they are lightly golden. Allow them to cool in the muffin pan for at least five minutes before you try to get them out.

Shirazi Salad

Shirazi Salad is a simple and delicious salad - and such a nice balance to the other flavors of the NoRooz feast. Light, fresh, crunchy, and simple -- it's a refreshing component with so many more robust dishes on the table. This year's salad was Persian cucumbers (the organic ones from Trader Joes are great!), cherry tomatoes, chopped red onion, and olives... along with several small handfuls of fresh herbs: a combo of cilantro, parsley, dill, and mint. For a dressing, I ad-libbed a quick dressing with pomegranate paste, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Easy and delicious! 

i love this picture!

One of the features of a NoRooz celebration is a Haft Seen display, spread out on the sofreh. I use my mantle above the fireplace... mostly so our pets won't mess with it! The Haft Seen has seven ("haft") traditional items arranged on it that all begin with the letter "S" ("seen") in Farsi. The items seem to vary a bit from region to region, and there are also lots of lovely supplementary items you can put up. One of our annual traditions is that every year I stand up and go over all the items on the table, their name in Farsi, and their meaning/symbolism as part of the display. Mr VE&T got this great panorama picture of our whole gang (I love my brother playing with Footie in the bottom right corner!)
The main 7 items:
Sabzi - sprouts symbolizing growth and rebirth
Samanu - a sprouted wheat pudding, symbolizing wealth
Senjed - oleander seeds, symbolizing love
Seer - garlic, symbolizing medicine 
Seeb - apple, symbolizing health
Sumac - ground sumac, symbolizing the color of the sunrise
Serkeh - vinegar, symbolizing "old age and patience."

some of the other things include:
Sonbol - a hyacinth, symbolizing spring time
Sekkeh - coins, symbolizing weather and prosperity
Shirini- sweeties, for sweetness in the new year
A mirror - symbolizing reflection
A copies of poetry books Hafiz & Rumi, two great Persian poets
Eggs, symbolizing new birth (I use glass eggs)
A goldfish, symbolizing life (I use a cute plastic goldfish!)

Sabzi Polow

Sabzi Polow is another traditional NoRooz dish - parboiled basmati rice is mixed with yogurt, a mountain of fresh herbs, and then cooked/steamed in a pot. The Persian preparation of rice is so special and fantastic - the individual grains of rice are never clumpy or sticky, and there is a beautiful, crunchy golden crust on the exterior. This crunchy part is so good that it has it's own word "tahdig" -and it is definitely the best part. Every year I suffer some anxiety about how well my tahdig will turn out and this year I got a beautiful golden crust -- perfect, beautiful and delicious! I was so happy! 

Sabzi Polow
based on the Persian Rice recipe from Vegan Eats World, by Terry Hope Romero
*you can easily double this recipe, which is what I usually do 

3/4 cup minced fresh dill
3/4  cup minced fresh cilantro
3/4  cup minced fresh scallions or leeks (green parts only)
3/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 2/3 cups white basmati rice
8 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsweetened vegan yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp olive oil or melted vegan butter

Wash and mince your fresh herbs thoroughly - either by hand or with a food processor. Remember, you really really want to mince those herbies finely.

Put the rice into a mesh strainer and rinse it well under cold water, to wash off excess starches. In a large pot, bring the 8 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add in the salt, then add the rice. Boil for 3-5 minutes. Take out a grain or two of rice and bite into it -- you want the outside to be soft and lightly cooked and the inside to still be hard. Drain the rice and rinse it again with cold water, and then put it in a large bowl.

To the rice, add the 1/4 tsp salt, vegan yogurt, and 2 Tbsp of the oil/butter, and mix well. Take out 1/2 cup of this mixture and set it aside. Now add the minced herbs to the big bowl and mix them to fully incorporate. 

Preheat a heavy, 2-quart pot no larger than 10 inches wide, with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil/butter and swirl it all around to coat the bottom and the first couple inches of the sides of your pot. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to spread the 1/2 cup of reserved rice across the bottom of the pan evenly. Now add in the remaining rice (with the herbs mixed in). Use the back of a measuring cup to gently but firmly press down the rice. 

Use a chopstick to poke several holes into the rice - an inch or two apart and a couple pokes in the center too. This helps the steam escape so the bottom can get good and crunchy! 

Next, take a clean, smooth-textured kitchen towel and put it over the top of the pan - then put the tight-fitting lid firmly onto the pot (so the dishtowel is between the rice and the bottom side of the lid.) Carefully fold the corners of your towel up on top of the lid, so that they don't hang down and catch fire on your burner - use a rubber band or a chip clip to secure them on top of the lid! The towel is important because it catches the steam and helps you get perfect Persian rice! 

Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 35-45 minutes. It's a good idea to rotate your pot a few times, for a more evenly golden crust. Check the rice by lifting the lid -- the rice should smell toasty (not burnt). Sometimes you can get a butter knife and carefully peek down the edges of the rice to see if you see a golden color developing. Cook another 10-15 minutes if needed (and you can also turn up the heat a little if it's not getting golden), to get a good golden crust. Keep an eye on the rice, and also don't forget about it -- you don't want it to burn!

Remove from the heat, and take off the lid and towel. Take your serving platter, and invert it over the pot. Carefully hold the edges of the serving platter and the handles of your pot, and flip it over! It takes courage! A perfect tahdig will make a little "floop" sound and land perfectly on your serving platter. Dig in! 

Amoli Rice Salad with Barberries & Orange Peel
from Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey, by Najmieh Batmanglij

OMG this dish is so beautiful and so perfect. I hadn't made it in a couple of years, but since we were having a bigger group this year I decided it would be good to have two kinds of rice. Yay! I'm so glad I made that choice, because this rice is really something special. This is a spin on "shirin polow" in Farsi ~ "shirin" means sweet, and "polow" means rice ~ this dish is a magical combination of sweet and savory flavors. Orange peel and grated carrots are boiled in a light syrup, and they are combined with barberries and raisins to bring sweetness to the dish. Then, the whole thing is served over chopped lettuce and tossed with a savory dressing of lime juice, garlic, salt & pepper, and fresh minced herbs. Such a winning combo. I made a 1.5 sized batch and it was pretty HUGE and there was a lot leftover, but I'm not complaining. It makes great leftovers straight out of the fridge!

By the way, Silk Road Cooking is such a beautiful and evocative book, I highly recommend it. Especially if you enjoy reading about food and cooking foods from around the world!

Ash-e Reshteh
with onion-turmeric-mint garnish

Ash-e Reshteh (find my recipe here) is a super traditional must-have at NoRooz! It's a wonderfully complex veggie soup with caramelized onions, turmeric, beans and lentils, fresh herbs galore, beets, and noodles. This year I made a double batch which was - ha ha - WAY TOO MUCH! At least I will have delicious soup forever! I froze a bunch of it in tupperwares, and I've been enjoying it ever since NoRooz... like most soups, it makes wonderful leftovers. Note to self though, one batch will be plenty next year! This soup is one of the dishes I look forward to every year with NoRooz -- I love the earthy beets, beans, lentils, and flavors... it feels grounding but not heavy. 

And I especially love the contribution of the garnish: onions cooked until golden, then with added ground turmeric and dried mint. It is amazing! I made a big batch of the garnish this year too because I like to have lots of it!!

Ghormeh Sabzi

Maybe you have noticed that several of these dishes have the word "sabzi" in their name -- "sabzi" means "vegetables," or in this case "herbs." The traditional dishes of NoRooz are filled with fresh, tender herbs to symbolize the growth and new life of spring time. It's usually a combo of parsley, cilantro, dill, scallions/chives, leeks, and baby spinach. If you can track down fresh fenugreek (or even dried fenugreek), it's also great to include some of that! Fenugreek is a strong flavor, so I usually use a little less of it compared to the other herbs. 

Ghormeh Sabzi is usually a meat & beans dish, but it's easy to veganize and is absolutely delicious. Rich, robust, earthy, but not heavy. You can find my recipe here, it's got mountains of herbs and spinach (of course!), kidney beans, onions, portobello mushrooms, turmeric, and more. Man, it's so good. I think it's one of my favorite NoRooz dishes... and honestly, there's no reason why I couldn't make it at other times during the year! 

Adasi Persian Lentils

I made this recipe a few years ago for NoRooz, and hadn't made it since. It's from a no-longer-active blog called Pomegranate Diaries (recipe here). When I was looking through my old NoRooz posts to plan my menu I saw these lentils and read "this was Mr. VE&T's favorite dish of the whole night." The sad truth is that Mr. VE&T doesn't always love Persian food (SAD.) In fact, I once had a vision of making a vegan Persian/NoRooz zine, but of course that would involve recipe testing and eating lots of Persian food. When I told him my big plan was when he finally admitted to me that he isn't actually such a fan. Alas. At least he tolerates my enthusiasm once a year, and he actually did enjoy several of the dishes this year... so maybe he's coming around. 

Nonetheless, I thought it would be nice to make something that I knew he'd love and, lo and behold, he loved these lentils again this year! I know they're not much to look at, but they are perfectly seasoned with cinnamon and angelica (a ground spice that I found on my trip to the Persian market, called "golpar" in Farsi.) They are deceptively delicious for such plain looking lentils! 

My dinner plate of glory

Such beautiful abundance! I just love the flavors and aromas of Persian food - they are complex, strong, and still often unexpected to my American palette. As you can see, I enjoyed a mountain of delicious food... and we haven't even talked about dessert yet! Mwahahaha! After two long days in the kitchen, it felt great to sit down and dig in. Of course it tasted great too!

Special Drinks: Dried Lime Tea, Mint Limeade, & Pomegranate Mint Spritzer

Persian cuisine has an amazing array of non-alcoholic drinks and there are many, many more that I would like to make and learn about. This year I made three party staples. First, a lightly sweetened Dried Lime Tea (recipe here) made from dried Persian limes (recipe here: If you have never had dried Persian limes, I suggest you look for them ... maybe even order some online? They are absolutely unlike anything else you've ever had! The author of the recipe I use says it perfectly: "slightly funky, a little bit sour, and very aromatic."

I also made Mint Limeade -- we cooked up a special lime syrup by making a simple syrup, adding fresh lime juice, and simmering it for a bit longer. We added that with some fresh lime juice, springs of fresh mint and sparkly water. I think next time, I will also boil some fresh mint with the syrup - so that flavor can come through a little more. Pretty much everyone loves limeade, so it's not surprising that this one was a hit! 

We also made a simple Pomegranate Spritzer -- fresh pomegranate juice from the farmer's market, a touch of simple syrup, sprigs of fresh mint, and sparkly water. After the even was over, there was a little limeade and a little pomegranate spritzer left over, and I just combined them into one pitcher. Note to self - it was good! 

NoRooz Sweets!
Saffron Almond Diamonds
Nan-e Nokhodchi (chickpea flour cookies)
Sohan As-Ali
Walnut Cardamom Cookies
Pomegranate and Pistachio Turkish Delight ~ store-bought and sooo good! 

Sweets are an important part of the NoRooz celebration! I guess sweets are an important part of lots of holidays, and NoRooz is no different. Whenever I go to the Persian market, they have these packaged trays of sweets - and they are just stunning. The sweets are always in lovely shapes and arranged just-so, and decorated with little ground pistachio garnishes... and they look perfect, and they usually aren't vegan (though, happily, a few are!). Anyhow, those packages of sweets are my inspiration every year.

This year I made lots of treats, and I even intended to make one MORE sweetie but I ran out of time and obviously it's just as well. There was no shortage of NoRooz sweeties.

Saffron Almond Diamonds (recipe from zozobaking). These beautiful yellow diamond candies are rose-scented marzipans, and they are extremely delicious and also extremely simple to make. They're also naturally vegan and gluten-free! Woop! I made these last year, and was a bit too skimpy with the saffron, so they turned out tasty but pale. This year I went big with the saffron, and got such a beautiful golden hue. Huzzah! Highly recommended recipe! 

Nan-e Nokhodchi / Chickpea Cookies (recipe from zozobaking) are a traditional NoRooz treat -- also naturally vegan & gluten-free, they use chickpea flour, powdered sugar, shortening, and cardamom... such simple ingredients and such a lovely little treat. They are traditionally in this clover shape (I also ordered my official nan-e nokhodchi cookie cutter from Zozo) - and they are delightfully tiny little morsels! I'm not sure if you can tell from my picture, but my cookies spread a little bit this year, and they should be a little more crumbly. Happily, they were still perfectly delicious, but I think next year I will try adding a bit more chickpea flour. I've noticed that different brands of chickpea flour can has radically different absorbency... so I think that might have been my issue. 

Sohan As-Ali (find my recipe here) are the almond brittle candies that you see, and they were the first Persian sweetie that I ever learned to make. Making candy can be a bit nerve-wracking and every year the Sohan making is the most thrilling part of our NoRooz culinary experience! This year was no different - with a mad rush to get all the candies onto the parchment paper and sprinkle them with chopped pistachios before they start to set and become firm. It's definitely a two-person job, and a rushed one at that. This year my pal Kendra even burned her hand with the liquid candy - ack! Hopefully it's feeling better by now. Even with the stress of candy-making, I still make these magical treats every year because they are absolutely amazing: the cooking brittle toasts the slivered almonds for a sweet and toasty flavor, along with a generous blast of saffron soaked in rose water, and the pistachios on top. They are sophisticated and gorgeous and tasty.

Nan-e Gerdui / Walnut Cardamom Cookies -- I saw several recipes online for these and figured that I could find a way to veganize them... the ingredients are basically walnuts, powdered sugar, egg, and cardamom. Then I thought of the wonderful "brutti ma buoni" cookies from Italy, which have a very similar ingredient list, only with hazelnuts.  I modified my own recipe and came up with these:

Nan-e Gerdui / Walnut Cardamom Cookies

2 Tbsp flax meal
3-4 tablespoons water
10 ounces walnuts
1.25 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2-1 tsp ground cardamom (to taste)

Preheat your oven to 400F. 

Combine the flax meal and 3 tablespoons of the water in a medium bowl and whisk it vigorously until it starts to turn viscous. Set aside.

Put the walnuts, powdered sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and start pulsing until the nuts are coarsely chopped. You want some of the nuts to be ground up like coarse polenta, but you want some bits that are a little bigger than that.

Now, combine the hazelnut mixture, the flax goo, and 1/2 tsp of ground cardamom. Mix well until you have a thick dough, and there are no dry bits left. It might take a little stirring. If you feel like it's too dry, add the extra 1 tbsp of water. Taste your batter and see if you want more cardamom flavor. I like a lot, but it also depends how fresh your spices are, and how much you want that flavor to come through. 

Next, line your cookie sheet with parchment paper, and put tablespoon-sized blobs on the sheet, with about one inch in between them. The cookies will rise and spread a little, but not a whole lot. 

Bake the cookies for about 13-14 minutes, until they are slightly golden on the tops and lightly golden on the bottoms. I use a spatula to peek under the bottom and check on them. Let them cool on the sheet for at least a few minutes before transferring them to cooling racks, because they will be very soft at first. As they cool, the exterior will become more crispy and the inside will become more chewy. Yum! 

An Apple Pie for an 80-year old Birthday Boy! 

But wait! That's not all! NoRooz is always on the first day of spring, and so it's always on the day of my dad's birthday, or one day ahead. As I mentioned, this year was extra special, because my dad was turning 80!! Holy Moly! I asked him what he wanted for his birthday dessert this year, and he asked for an apple pie... and he got an apple pie! Ever since my friend Max made The World's Best Apple Pie, and it turned out to be Cosmo's Apple Pie from Vegan Pie in the Sky by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, that is my go-to apple pie recipe. I don't think you can tell from this picture, but this rustic beauty of a pie was a veritable mountain of appley wonder. It was a huge heaping mound of a pie... and also a super delicious pie! 

Happy birthday, Daddy! 
I only used 8 candles, one per decade... because, really now. Ha ha. 
But I did get him 80 daffodils - his favorite flower! <3 nbsp="" p="">

a peek inside!

You know how sometimes a fruit pie looks like a huge mountain, but when you cut into it, there's a big gap between the fruit and the top crust? That is always such a bummer, and I was afraid it might happen with this heaping pie... but no! Happily, it came out just perfect and absolutely packed with fruit. I love that! Some of the pie recipes I have from older cookbooks call for just a few cups of fruit (perhaps from a more frugal - or less gluttonous - era), but I just love a fruit pie that is abundant with fruit. The crust was perfectly thick and flaky, and basically the whole thing was a great success! I think my dad liked it too, which is the most important thing! 

If you've made it this far through this epic post, you deserve a pie of your own. Phew! NoRooz is probably my biggest culinary event of the year. Even at Thanksgiving and Xmas, the tasks are split up and everyone in the family cooks part of the meal. I love the festivity and ambitiousness of a big adventure in the kitchen... and I'm also happy when it's over and I get to sit back and eat leftover for days on end. 

I love so much that the foods of NoRooz are actually quite healthy (sweets aside, I suppose - but even those are small and simple). The ingredients are fresh, simple, and yet somehow they come together into complex and wonderful dishes. Everything beside the pie and the bread were gluten-free, too -- which makes it quite a friendly cuisine for our gf loved ones. 

I hope you enjoyed your own first few days of spring, and may the new season bring some fresh energy for growth and vitality! Happy NoRooz! Happy Springtime! 

The First Mess Cookbook Giveaway Winner! 
With the help of the Random Number Generator, I also picked out a winner 
for my giveaway of a copy of The First Mess Cookbook,
Congratulations to commenter #23: Kate Swelstand
Kate, send me your mailing address (ameyfm -at- yahoo -dot- com)
and I'll make sure your book arrives pronto! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

The First Mess: Cookbook Review and Giveaway

Wow! When the publishers at Avery offered me a copy of The First Mess Cookbook, by Laura Wright, I had never heard of Laura's blog (The First Mess), so I went to check it out. What a lovely surprise! After checking out her blog for a while, I was pretty sure that I would enjoy her cookbook, and I was right! As you'll see, I've already made so many dishes from this gorgeous book, and I look forward to making many more.

The book is beautifully designed and laid out. The fonts are easy to read, and the ingredients and instructions are listed side-by-side in a very user-friendly way. Each and every recipe has a beautiful color picture (almost always full-page). There is a great index (I appreciate this so much, why is it so hard for so many cookbooks?!), and a great list of every chapter and recipe at the beginning of the book.

The First Mess Cookbook isn't gluten-free, but many many of the recipes are gf. Each recipe also features a series of icons at the top for nut-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, etc. The recipes are healthy, but not in an oppressive way! ha ha. If you know what I mean. I also didn't find the recipes to be overly fussy or difficult to make - it's quite practical and appealing in that way.

Tofu Noodle Soup with Coconut Lemongrass Broth
from Soups & Stews chapter

Yum! We loved this beautiful soup - visually enticing, and full with a great array of flavors and textures. The broth is stewed with the lemongrass in it (and is later strained out), which was a great technique to give the soup a great hit of lemongrass flavor and aroma. It's also got some heat and pungency from ginger and a hot pepper... plus the fresh flavors of broccoli & snow peas. I roasted my tofu cubes in the oven while I was preparing everything else, so that they would have a little more crunch and chew. I loved this soup and how good I felt after eating it too. In fact, that's true for everything I've made from this book, which is pretty cool.
perfect moment with perfect bowl of soup is perfect

Smoky Saffron Chickpea, Chard, and Rice Soup
from Soups & Stews chapter

Another beautiful dish full of colors and veggies and goodness. This nutritious soup gets its smokiness from a hearty dose of smoked paprika (yum!), and is packed with chickpeas, rice, chard, and a few other veggies. We've had a cold, wet, and rainy winter and this soup was a perfect dinner during those dark nights. It was robust, but not heavy -- and warming, but not overbearing. It was also simple to make and provided great leftovers, a feature I always appreciate in a recipe!!

Broccoli Caesar with Smoky Tempeh
from Salads & Dressings chapter

This was a fun spin on combining familiar flavors in unfamiliar ways! Steamed broccoli is drizzled with caesar dressing and some smokey tempeh crumbles... such a fun lunch. I tried it also with roasted broccoli, but I found the roasted broccoli to be a little too dry for my tastes. I like the caesar dressing in this book - but be warned, it is *super garlicky.* I had garlicky dragon breath all afternoon! ha ha. Even though I am a devout garlic fan, next time I'll dial it back a little, just for the sake of my poor yoga students.

watch out for garlic breath!

Roasted Chili Basil Lime Tofu Bowls
from Hearty Mains & Big Plates chapter

I love how "bowl" meals combine all the parts of a complete meal into one dish: protein, veggie, sauce, and starches. This bowl is a great example: roasted marinated tofus and broccoli, with some rice and fresh sunflower sprouts and a sprinkle of roasted sunflower seeds. It comes together easily and the component parts compliment each other nicely. I really loved the simple marinade and wished there was even more of it, so I think next time I'll double it! More is usually better, right? Ha ha.

Vegetable and Bean Pot Pies with Potato Crusts
from Hearty Mains & Big Plates chapter

I loved this idea! I had been thinking about pot pies for a few weeks, but didn't feel like dealing with making crusts and all that. These "crusts" made with thinly sliced potatoes &/or sweet potatoes were fun and beautiful. It always looks so cute when people prepare things in individual ramekins, but I don't own any (note to self!), so I used mini pie pans and mini loaf pans. That worked pretty well actually! The beany stew in these little pies was just lovely, perfectly seasoned enough to enhance the beans and veggies without overpowering them. The potato crusts are significantly "lighter" than a bready crust, so these feel lighter than traditional pot pies. I loved making these and eating them and how they were easy to create but also felt special and festive.

Roasted Cauliflower with Green Tahini
from Vegetables & a Couple of Grains chapter

This is technically listed as more of a side dish, but we had it as a light dinner on a night when we had already eaten a lot during the day and didn't need a big dinner. The cauliflower florets are lightly seasoned with za'atar (one of my favorite and under-used spice mixes!), and then roasted. The Green Tahini sauce is a great blend of tahini, fresh herbs, and seasoning. It calls for agave nectar, which I reduced, and will probably omit entirely next time, just because I don't generally like sweet flavors mixed with savory flavors. But this is purely personal taste, and not a fault of the recipe in any way. In fact, every recipe I made was absolutely clear to follow, behaved just as described, and held no confusion or unexpected surprises. It seems that these recipes were well-tested and are well-written, which really helps me build confidence in trying more and more recipes.

this recipe makes extra Green Tahini Sauce, which is excellent because then you can put it in a squeeze bottle and put it on salads and veggies and toast and other good things! 

Chocolate Chunk Ginger Cookies 
from Desserts & Small Treats chapter

I made these cookies for dessert when we had some special pals over for dinner. Our friends E&M had been in town for six months, and were about to head home to the Netherlands. We had such a nice good-bye dinner and I knew that cookies would be necessary. They look dark, so it's easy to think that they are chocolate cookies, but actually, they're dark with molasses and full of ginger and warming spices, as well as chocolate chips and chopped up candied ginger. What a great combo! I love candied ginger, and I love chocolate-covered candied ginger, so I guess it's no surprise that these are also great. The whole recipe also only has 2 tablespoons of oil, which is a nice feature. These cookies call for whole spelt flour, an ingredient used in several recipes throughout the book. We had 6-7 cookies left after our dinner party, and so I packed them up in a ziplock baggie for our pals to enjoy on their flight home. 

sharing cookies with your pals is the best!

As you can see, I've already made (and loved!) lots of recipes from The First Mess Cookbook
and I have so many more that I still want to explore and make:

Savory Ginger Green Onion Crepes
Toasty French Toast Bake
Meyer Lemon Romanesco Salad
Brussels Sprouts with Lime & Miso
Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowls with Lime Peanut Sauce
Creamy Winter Vegetable Stew with Mustard and Lemon
Thanksgiving Panzanella Salad with Delicata Squash
French Onion Lentil Pots with Onion Cream Toasts
Cauliflower & Pine Nut "Ricotta" Toasts
Mustard-Roasted Broccoli Pate'

The First Mess Cookbook Giveaway
Great news! The publishers (Avery / Penguin Random House) have also offered to let me host a giveaway for a copy of The First Mess Cookbook to one lucky reader in the U.S. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this blog post and include an email address or blogger contact so I can notify you. Tell me a story about something yummy you ate this week, which recipes in this post caught your eye, or your favorite way to make a big mess! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Raisin' Hell & Eating Well in DC

As soon as I heard the faintest suggestion that there would be a march in Washington DC after the election, I raced to my computer and bought two plane tickets. The march wasn't a well-formed concept yet, but I was pretty confident that if everyone else felt the way I felt -- the march was gonna happen. And boy-o-boy, did it happen!

Immediately after booking our tickets, I reached out to the International Society of Awesome Vegans (aka my FB page) and asked "Who lives in DC? Anyone willing to host us for a few nights if we come for the march?" And just like that, an excellent pal from the PPK and her husband (we'll call them Ms. A and Mr. Z) offered to host us. That really made our trip so much more fun since we got to make new friends - plus it was way more affordable too!

We got into DC the night before the march, and our wonderful hostess made us a delicious dinner (the Pumpkin Ziti from Veganomicon, a vegan classic!). We spent the evening organizing our plan for getting to the march, making sure we all had each other's phone numbers, and gathering up our snacks...


I know this is a food blog and not a political activism blog - so I won't go on forever. You can skip down a little if you just want to read about the food!

We got an early start in the morning, and by the time we got to the metro station, we had to park on the very top floor of the parking garage. From the top of the parking structure we could see a crowded sea of pink pussy hats trying to (politely) cram themselves into the tunnel to get on the Metro. Wowsers! We started to have a feeling that this might be pretty big. We did get on the train eventually (helped greatly by Ms. A who had procured our metro passes in advance!)... by the time our train was about half way to our destination, it was packed full with marchers and pink hats about about 95% women. The announcer came on to say that more empty trains would be coming. Now we were getting even more of an idea that this was going to be a big event.

After we exited the train, the streets were filled with marchers and pink hats and lots of signs. We had no signs, and when we saw a woman selling some nice American flags for just $5 each, Ms A and I each bought one. In fact, I don't think we saw anyone else all day with an American flag - and marching felt like a surprisingly civic and patriotic act. I was glad to have my flag to wave. We were also glad to have our flags because they made it super easy to find each other every time we'd get caught up in a swamp of people - we'd just stick our flags up high until we found our way toward one another again. Perfect!

the four of us 

"We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!"

The march was a sea of people - so many people that it wasn't even really possible to find the "official starting point" of the designated route. It seemed like several streets had official marches and they all converged at some point. It was amazing to be marching and look over and see the office building for the EPA... and then to march past the White House and see all the streets for several blocks in every direction completely shut down with swarms of protest signs, chanting marchers, and pink hats -- and to know that this action simply could not be ignored.  

I found the crowd to be pretty diverse -- older people, mostly women but also lots of men, families, children, college students, babies, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinax people... but I also followed with humility and great interest the online conversations about the march. These conversations were around the inclusivity of the march - and the degrees to which women of color and transgendered people felt welcome or not welcome to participate. I have a lot to learn about intersectionality and feminism, and I am eager to expand and improve my understanding. For me, the march was a meaningful civic action, and also a very engaging learning experience. I am so glad that we were able to be a part of it.


Mr. Vegan Eats and Treats *insisted* on sticking his finger over the word "finger."
Get it?! It was driving me nuts, and yet he cleverly snuck that little finger into every picture I took!

After a long day of marching and chanting and walking and carefully managing our position amongst hundreds of thousands of people, we were ready to eat! We had brought some snacks with us... but we had accidentally left 3 of our carefully prepared PB&Js at home. So we shared what we had, ate our snack bars, and bought some pretzels from a vendor at the march (smart fella). If there's one place every vegan told me to find in DC, it is without question Sticky Fingers. Sticky Fingers is practically a vegan legend! So we all four made our way there, tired but buoyed by our big day.

So much yum!
I definitely could have tried harder to take pretty pictures, but I was quite focused on eating.
sorry / not-sorry.

When you walk into Sticky Fingers, you're greeted with a huge bakery display case FULL of goodies and with a big menu up above offering an array of savory food. So many choices! 

We were *so lucky* that it didn't rain or snow on us marchers, but it was still a pretty chilly day, and I was eager to warm up. After some debate, I ordered myself a big almond latte, a chocolate chip cookie (never even had a chance to have its picture taken), a blueberry muffin, a Tempeh Reuben, and a side of spicy chickpea soup came with the sandwich. Let's just say, there were no leftovers. Ha ha. It felt so good to sit down and eat and talk and rest our feet. We also got straight to work posting pictures and stories on social media! ha ha. 

The food was great! Mr. VE&T got some chili that he said was really incredible too. The inside is casual and cozy. There aren't tons of chairs and tables (we were lucky to score a spot!), but it has a congenial and friendly low-key atmosphere. After you order at the counter, they will bring the food to your table. Even on a busy day, the food came quickly, which was much appreciated! 

I accidentally booked our plane tickets for one day more than I intended to... but our wonderful hosts were gracious enough to let us stay another night, and we also got to spend a couple days exploring the culinary and cultural sights of DC.

The day after the march, we all 4 headed into DC for a fun day together. Our lunch spot that day was an Middle Eastern spot called Shouk -- it's 100% "plant-based" (aka "vegan"), and the food there was outstanding! You can select from a variety of interesting fillings and either have it in a Pita bread or in a rice and lentil bowl. They also have several salads and some side dishes.

I ordered the Cauliflower Pita (bottom left) - with roasted cauliflower, tomato, scallion, tahini and parsley. It was so damned good. Kind of my idea of a perfect food. First of all, I must comment on the outstanding quality of their whole grain pita bread. Holy Moly it is so fresh and perfect. And the filling inside was a perfect harmony of seasoning, textures, sauce, veggies, flavors... so good. In fact it was so good that Mr VE&T took one bite of mine and had to go order himself one too.

Mr. VE&T and Mr. Z both chose the Fennel Pita (fennel, potato, red pepper, pistachio pepper), and Ms. A had the Chickpea Pita (chickpeas, preserved lemon, olive, seaweed, potato, tomato, cucumber, and tahini). We aren't dummies so of course we ordered some sides too: an order of the Cashew Labneh with Pita -- so creamy and topped with olive oil and delicious zaatar, and a few of their *outstanding* cardamom chocolate chip cookies. I must remember to try adding some cardamom to a future batch of choc-chip cookies! Honestly, pretty much every single item on the menu here sounds so good, I wish I could go back again and again.

Later that night - after a long day of DC fun together, we had dinner at one of DC's many great Ethiopian restaurants: Dukem. I've heard about all the good vegan Ethiopian food in DC from several people, but especially from my friend Kittee. Mr. Vegan Eats and Treats ordered his own non-vegan dish, but the rest of us split two huge platters of delicious food. So many flavors and spices and textures all in one meal! We don't have any Ethiopian restaurants in Santa Cruz, so it was a fun and special treat to go out and not have to cook it all myself if I wanted to eat Ethiopian food. Plus, when there are 3 vegans eating together, you can order a metric ton of food and you get to try so many things!

Another fun spot we hit up was Hip City Veg, a 100% vegan mini-chain with 3 spots in Philadelphia and 1 in DC. They offer a pretty big menu of vegan "fast food" -- burgers, salads, fries, wraps, and drinks. They also carry a few baked desserts from Sticky Fingers, with different ones every day. It was hard to pick something from the menu -- so many choices! -- but we actually ended up both ordering a Massaman Tofu Wrap - "curried organic & local tofu, sprouts, spinach, tomatoes, cilantro-white bean puree, and cucumber raita." Just thinking about it makes me wish I was eating it again - I thought it was super well seasoned, and I loved the combo of the warm, cooked tofu and sauce with the fresh veggies inside. Also the warming curry flavors were great since it was a cold and rainy day that day. This is another spot I would love to go back to and try more items off their menu! 

The infamous Peanut Chew!
plus me with morning bed head.
I may or may not have eaten a peanut chew with my breakfast 

Here is another special thing we got to eat while we were in DC: the famous Peanut Chew! I've heard about this accidentally vegan candy from my east coast vegan pals for years now, but I had never had one. After the march, Ms. A took us to the HUGE super grocery store (Wegmans') near their house. Holy selection, Batman! I couldn't believe the huge vegan cheese selection! They had more choices at their "mainstream" grocery store than we have at our health food store. Wow! Plus, importantly, they had Peanut Chews in the bulk bin. Let's just say that we went back for more before we flew home, and they are, *cough* already long gone. Those little suckers are good! They're a lot like how I remember Snicker's tasting... but vegan and with dark chocolate. 

Ms. A with her yummy latte and a vegan cupcake

One more cute spot of note: a locally-owned cafe in downtown DC called Bakers and Baristas. They had great coffee and a sea of baked goods, including two different vegan cupcake flavors. How cool! We all got something hot and toasty to drink, and then Mr. Z and Ms A cooled their heels for a little while, and us two took off for some evening explorations of the many remarkable monuments in DC. 


The day after the march, we visited this relatively little-known museum dedicated to the Suffrage Movement. The museum is housed in the actual house where the suffragettes gathered, planned, built community, and worked together. The displays inside the museum were quite moving and inspiring, and I was touched by the perseverance and vision of the (white) women who worked so hard for the (white) women's right to vote. I was bothered by the conspicuous lack of transparency about the connections between the suffrage movement and racist ideology. Many (most?) of the suffragettes held racist and exclusionary views towards women of color and certainly were not concerned with their rights. In fact, I got in contact with them and learned that they are very aware of this issue and working to address it. Even with those issues in my mind, the museum felt relevant on the day after such a huge Women's March on Washington, with hundreds of thousands of women marching and chanting through the streets of Washington, demanding visibilty and rights. 

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is quite a visual landmark. On a drizzly evening walk, we got to explore it (from the outside). Of course I did a headstand! Can you see my little Chesire Cat smile down at the bottom of the picture?

this is what it looked like as we tried to take that picture!
ha ha

The Memorial that I wanted to see most of all was the MLK Jr. Memorial. Last time I went to DC was about 30 years ago, when I was only 14 years old... and this memorial did not yet exist at that time. I had seen pictures of the memorial online, and didn't really know what to expect, but I found it quite moving and powerful in person. I also found the memorial particularly poignant and solemn since we visited it (and several others) at night - there was an extra sense of quiet, very few people, and time and space to reflect. 

I didn't get a good picture of the beautiful sweeping walls at the MLK Memorial, but on either side of the big statue are walls containing many quotes from him - many of which are famous quotes, and others less so. It was particularly inspiring and challenging to read his words on race and activism and social justice and social upheaval while we held the experience of the march (and the conversations about the march) so freshly. 

top left: MLK Jr. Memorial
top right: US Capitol Building
bottom left: Jefferson Memorial
bottom right: Lincoln Memorial

Besides the MLK Memorial, the other thing I really wanted to see was the relatively new African American Museum. I woke up at 6:30 am to get in the online lottery for same-day tickets and managed to get some! That museum is extremely impressive: moving, expertly curated, poignant, powerful, upsetting, empathizing, humanizing, and I could go on and on. I cannot recommend it strongly enough, and I wish we could have had much more time there. I look forward to an opportunity to return again. There is so much to see and learn and reflect upon.

After our time at the African American Museum, we walked over to see the Jefferson Memorial. When I had visited DC as a teenager, this was the memorial that I found most moving and powerful. I particularly remember memorizing the quote that goes around the inside of the building in huge letters: "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." That's still a pretty amazing declaration, but it's a *whole* lot more uncomfortable, upsetting, complicated, hypocritical, and compartmentalized after considering the 600 slaves that Jefferson owned (and the 1 he had several children with.) 

The Lincoln Memorial is quite stunning - and it's beautiful at night. It has a sense of majesty and presence, and it was powerful to think of Martin Luther King Jr standing on those very stairs and addressing a sea of people with his famous speech. 

Other fun things we saw: The International Spy Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Gallery. Guess what, almost all the museums and attractions in DC are also free! How cool is that? 

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

On our last day, Mr Z & Ms A took us to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Virginia, right next to the Dulles Airport. I'm not at all a plane nerd, but - wow! - this was quite a remarkable place. We took a free tour and our docent was wonderful - he had so much knowledge about every single plane or space craft we saw, and was able to talk with decency and delicacy about some of the more challenging parts of the tour. We spent the most time looking at the Space Shuttle Discovery, which I thought was pretty cool. (far left and far right) It's just pretty trippy to look at it and think how many times that very contraption has been up in space!! There's a lot more I could say, but planes aren't vegan food, so I'll keep it short. I definitely recommend this as a stop though, even if you don't think it's up your alley. It might surprise you, like it did for me.

Beautiful Lola

I'd be remiss if I didn't include a picture of our beautiful and friendly hostess kitty, Miss Lola. Apparently Ms. A and Mr. Z have a second cat, but she is very shy and even though we stayed with them for 4 nights, we never saw her or heard a peep from her (!). I believe them though. Lola made up for her reclusive sister by sleeping on our guest bed and looking beautiful all the time. 
mystery cat