Thursday, September 18, 2014

Baby Squirrel Update

So this totally doesn't fit into my Mofo Pantry Raid theme, but who cares? It's a BABY SQUIRREL!

As some of you may remember, we rescued an orphaned baby squirrel in our backyard a little over a month ago. Our pit bull Maynard was pawing at him, and the squirrel was screaming for its mama. But mama never came, so we took him in and raised him on puppy formula and lots of advice from a wildlife rehab friend. And we named him Herman.

His little eyes opened at five weeks, and now he looks like a real squirrel. He's gone from hairless to sporting this bushy-ass tail.

We assume he's about eight weeks old, and he's still on formula three times a day. But he also eats solid foods now. I've been using this online guide for feeding instructions, and at his age, he's allowed formula, Science Diet Puppy Chow, fruit, and some veggies. He think green beans are just okay. But Herman LOVES apples.

Up until last week, Herman was coming to work with me every day because he was on formula every four hours. He'd get restless in his cat carrier. See!

So I let him run around my desk. He loved to climb the cubicle wall and play tightrope between mine and Toby's cubes.

At home, Herman mostly lives in my bathroom, safe from the six cats and two dogs who share our home. I put a cat tree in there for climbing, and he loves to burrow in the toilet paper in the wicker trash can. I also put some cat toys in there. He likes those too.

When I'm getting ready for work in the morning, Herman uses me as his own personal jungle gym. I attempted to film him on my butt.


Last time I posted about Herman, a few commenters asked about the long-term plan. For now, that plan is release when the time is right. My wildlife rehab friend said they acclimate to outdoors very quickly, and when they're ready to go, they let you know (usually between 12 and 16 weeks). We've been taking Herman outside for supervised playtime. Right now, he'll sniff the grass and run right back up my leg, all the way up to my shoulder. He likes to perch.

But don't worry. I'm not planning to just dump him outside! We will acclimate slowly, and the plan is to let him come and go for as long as he pleases. I just think Herman would be happier living a nice squirrel life outside instead of being cooped up in a bathroom. And the rest of my house is way off-limits since it's filled with predators. If my cats knew he was here ... man, I don't want to think about that. They're evil little bastards.

But I'll keep y'all updated. I'm sure there will be more squirrel posts to come!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Simple Recipes for Joy

I'm a bit of a yogi wannabe. I go to hatha yoga once a week at my gym, and I try to do yoga at home at least once a week too. But it's hard to fit in any additional yoga when I'm running four days a week. I'm a huge fan of kundalini and bikram, but I can't really afford to join any studios that offer those classes. But I love the idea of yoga! And I love the way I feel after my weekly hatha class. It's at lunch time on Thursdays, and there's nothing better than laying in savasana with a lavender eye pillow in the middle of the day.

So all that being said, I was super excited when I heard the legendary Sharon Gannon, founder of Jivamukti Yoga School and Cafe in NYC, has a new vegan cookbook! It's called Simple Recipes For Joy, and it's loaded with mouth-watering, full-color, whole foods-based dishes. Many of the dishes in the book are served at the Jivamukti Cafe, which is attached to her yoga school.

The soup chapter is huge, and since fall is almost in the air, I was drawn to recipes for Spicy Tomato-Ginger Soup with Okra, Mung Bean Dal, and New England "Clam" Chowder (made with oyster mushrooms). But I ended up settling on the Curry-Tahini-Shoyu Noodle Soup.

You know I love a good noodle bowl! This one is loaded with complex Indian flavors of curry, coriander, and cumin. It's brimming with sweet potato, green beans, corn, carrots, celery, adzuki beans, hijiki, onions, garlic, and ginger. And it's made creamy with a tahini-miso paste. For some reason, the recipe didn't actually call for shoyu, but I'm sure that was probably an error. I liberally added shoyu to the veggie broth base. And I used these Explore Asian Soba Noodles, which had been lurking in my pantry for ages. They were sent to review some time ago, but Explore Asian sent so much stuff that it's taken me this long. Loved the tender texture of these!

There's also a large pasta chapter, and a number of dishes caught my eye — Faux Chicken Pasta (the "faux chicken" is simply made from hen-of-the-woods mushrooms) and Angel Hair Pasta with Creamy Lemon-Zucchini Sauce. And salads abound in this book! There's a hippie-ish Brown Rice Salad with tofu, nori, and turmeric-tahini sauce, and there's even a salad with popcorn in it!

There's a recipe for the Jivamukti Cafe's Spirulina Millet that I must try. And the Cajun-style Jamabalaya with Mexican flavors sounds like a fun fusion dish (it has vegan sour cream on top!).

When I spied a chapter on Toasts, I knew this book was perfect for me. I LOVE TOAST! I mean, who doesn't? There are recipes for all sorts of simple ways to top toast — Caprese-style with tomatoes, olive oil, and basil or with sesame seed tofu. But since I'm always on the lookout for new breakfast ideas, I went with the "Poached Eggs" on Toast.

It's so simple and yet so delicious! You take toast, spread it with Earth Balance and flax oil, and top it with some hot, plain tofu. Bam! It really tastes like poached eggs. I added black salt to mine for an extra eggy flavor.

When Sharon says "simple recipes," she means "very simple." Nothing in the book is terribly complex, although some recipes are more time-consuming than others. But there are super simple dishes in here too, like the recipe for Simple Steamed Veggies or the one for Black Beans (with a few seasonings added). There's even a recipe for a dip called The Most Simple Dip (garlic, rosemary, olive oil). But there are plenty of recipes for the more skilled cook too, like the noodle soup above. It had lots of steps and ingredients.

Finally, the desserts! I want to make so many of these, especially the Hippie Carrot Cake and Julia Butterfly Cookies (sugar cookies named for Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a 115-year-old redwood tree for two years to save it from being cut down). Oh, and the smoothie chapter has Chakra Smoothies — one for every color of the rainbow chakra points!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vegan Drinks: Burger Edition

Tonight, we had our monthly Vegan Drinks meetup at Slider Inn. I must have a craving for sliders every September because, unbeknownst to me, I scheduled this month's meetup for the same place I scheduled us last September! As the name would imply, Slider Inn serves sliders.

Here's the group early on. In this photo is Jennifer Harber, Pam, Richard, Stephanie, and Tiffany. Later, Jennifer Smith, Vaughan, and Nicole arrived, but I was too busy eating by then to remember to take pictures.

I started off with a New Belgium Tour de Fall Pale Ale. There's a slight chill in the air, and fall is right around the corner, so I figured I should give in to the Universe and get a fall beer. This was a fantastic beer! Even though I sort of hate fall because it means winter is coming, I love the taste of fall beers and fall foods. This had a crisp, almost spicy taste.

But once that was gone, I couldn't resist one final summer beer (okay, I'm sure I'll have a few more summer beers before the season officially ends on Sept. 23rd) — Memphis Made Soulful Ginger. This is a light gingery saison, perfect for patio days.

Richard had a Soulful Ginger too, and Jennifer opted for a Woodchuck. Not pictured: Pam also had Woodchuck, and I think Stephanie stuck with Yuengling.

They have three veg options — two that are already vegan and one that's easily made vegan. I'd never tried the Nuts and Berries slider, but I was craving peanut butter for some reason. So these tiny PB & strawberry preserve sandwiches hit the spot. Also, I LOVE Slider Inn's skinny fries.

Others at the table ordered the Vegan Triple B slider (beets, black beans, brown rice) with avocado and sprouts (top) and the Falafel Sliders with black bean hummus (bottom). The falafel sliders typically come with yogurt sauce, so you have to get that left off.

Since we had some latecomers, I hung around until about 8 p.m., just chatting and enjoying patio weather while it's still here. Sigh. I'm really gonna miss summer.

Anyway, if you'd like to stay up-to-date on the next Memphis Vegan Drinks meetup, join our Facebook group!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stuff I Ate: Mofo Edition

Oops! Sorry I didn't blog last night. I kinda fell asleep binge-watching season two of Orange Is the New Black and eating popcorn. And when I woke up, it was actually time for bed. And I was too sleepy to blog. My bad!

Anyway, my Mofo theme is Pantry Raid. And I can say that much of what you'll see in tonight's random assortment of stuff I ate came from my well-stocked pantry and freezer. But I've thrown in a few restaurant meals and treats too because I'm still eating out a couple times a week.

Tonight, I had Daiya Fire-Roasted Vegetable Pizza, which I impulse-bought about a month ago when I realized my formerly skeezy neighborhood Kroger was now selling Daiya pizza. They just expanded their health food section, and now they have all sorts of awesome stuff that I used to have to drive to fancy Kroger for. Lookout world!

On the side, I had something I've been eating a ton of all month — Carrot "Tuna" Salad. This is made from leftover carrot pulp from juicing, and since I juice several days a week, I always have lots of pulp. I bought the Raw Carrot "Tuna" Salad seasoning blend at the Memphis Plant-Based Food Fest at the end of August, so that forms the base of the flavor. It has seaweed, nooch, maybe some sesame seeds, garlic powder, onion powder, and some other secret stuff that isn't listed on the label. The salad also has Just Mayo, celery, and chopped pickles. So good!

Remember when I mentioned my Kroger Manager's Special hoarding problem last week? Well, they seem to always have all-natural cereals and granolas on sale. And even though I don't eat much cereal, it seems too good a deal to pass up. I'd been hoarding this Cascadian Farms Maple Brown Sugar Granola for too long. I finally had some for breakfast last week with vanilla almond milk and banana slices.

I had a lot of leftover aged Vegan Cashew Chevre and Vegan Sharp Cheddar (both from Miyoko's Artisan Vegan Cheese book) from last week's wine party. So I've been having my own little wine parties after work every day. Vegan cheese, crackers, and wine make a lovely pre-dinner snack. (Oops, you can totally see my dirty dishes in the sink!!)

Last Friday, my hula-hoop choreography class at Co-Motion Studio performed our first public routine (to Bob Marley's "Soul Shakedown Party"). I was afraid to eat much before the show for fear of getting gas or something. Eek! So I waited until afterward and got a Smoked Veggies & Rice Plate from the Hi-Tone music venue next door to the hoop studio. They have a guy named Richard who cooks things outside in a smoker. He always has one vegan option because a lot of the bands that play the Hi-Tone are punks and hardcore bands with vegan members. These smoked veggies were AWESOME! Anything smoked is crazy good.

This past weekend was Cooper-Young Fest, a massive arts, crafts, and music festival in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. I went with Paul's sister Sheila and Greg, and when we got hungry, we headed down to Imagine, which is located in Cooper-Young. And the best thing in the world happened!!! They had homemade Vegan Doughnuts!!!!!!!!! They don't usually sell doughnuts, but Kristie was frying them up just for the fest. THIS WAS INSANELY GOOD!

Speaking of desserts at Imagine, I went to brunch on Sunday and couldn't resist one of Stephanie's Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls. I always resist pumpkin until after the Harvest Moon, the full moon in September. But that happened last week, so pumpkin season is officially here! I took this home and had it for breakfast this morning.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

All Hail the Vegan Taco!

I get a lot of vegan cookbooks for review in my mailbox. And I love most all of them. But there are a few that just blow me away. Such was the case with Vegan Tacos: Authentic & Inspired Recipes for Mexico's Favorite Street Food by Jason Wyrick.

Maybe it's just because I freaking love tacos. Maybe it's the gorgeous full-color pics. Or maybe it's all of that, plus the amazing amount of time and research that I'm certain went into writing this taco tome. Not only does Wyrick give us recipe after recipe for mouth-watering vegan tacos, he also gives us a taco history lesson in his Tacos 101 section. He tells us the proper way to eat a taco. He tells us about nixtamalization, the process of soaking and boiling dried corn in an alkaline solution, creating the base for tortilla dough. He even tells us about how Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, invented the hard shell. Who knew?

Love a good history lesson with my meal. But most importantly, I love my meal. And Vegan Tacos has you covered with a ton of recipes — veggie tacos, plant meat tacos, tempeh tacos, bean tacos, guacamole tacos, breakfast tacos, the list goes on. After much deliberation, I finally settled on Tacos with Hot Dogs in Tomato Salsa.

Yes, that's right. I poured through pages of fancy tacos — some made with smoked or roasted veggies, others with super-gourmet preparations — and I settled on the hot dog taco. I'm sure that says something about me. But I don't care because these were delicious!

According to the recipe intro, hot dog tacos are a thing in Mexico City, and even though Jason makes a little fun of the idea, he admits these are to die for. Tofurky Beer Brats are simmered in dark ale and then cooked with fresh tomatoes, onion, and cilantro. Stuff the filling into a tortilla and add a squeeze of lime and hot sauce. Food of the vegan gods.

Now about those tortillas, the book includes several recipes for making your own corn, wheat flour, or hard shells. In keeping with my Mofo Pantry Raid theme, I opted to make corn tortillas with the giant bag of masa harina that had been hanging out in my pantry for a couple years. But I opened up that bag, and yuck! Bugs! This is why you shouldn't hoard food. I used to keep masa in the fridge to prevent bugs, but my fridge just got too full. Yes, I know I have a problem.

Anyway, lucky for me, I live about two blocks from an international food market. So I ran down and got a new bag of masa. Then I set out to making dough and pressing tortillas. The book recommends using a tortilla press to flatten the balls of dough, but I didn't want to buy a new piece of kitchen equipment. So I laid out some parchment paper, set the dough balls on top, covered them in plastic wrap, and pressed down on each one with my heavy cast iron skillet. Boom.

 Here they are cooking on a griddle.

And here they are stacked and ready to fill. These were so soft and fresh-tasting. Not at all like packaged corn tortillas. And since they were such a cinch to make, I think I'll start making them fresh every time.

As for the rest of the book, let me just list a few recipes that caught my eye.
* Baja Style Tacos with Lobster Mushrooms
* Tacos Dorados with Plantains, Black Beans & Roasted Garlic (these are fried after they're filled!)
* Basket Tacos with Chipotle Coconut Beans
* Hash Brown and Black Bean Tacos with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
* Tacos with Crispy Greens (these are filled with Swiss chard tempura!)
* Hominy & Seitan Tacos in Roasted Garlic Cascabel Sauce (cascabel is a chili pepper)

And there are even dessert tacos! The Sweet Crispy Tacos with Ancho-Vanilla Ice Cream, Mexican Chocolate, and Salted Peanuts sound divine.

There will definitely be future taco nights in my life, and Vegan Tacos will be my new go-to guide.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bargain Shoppers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Bianca, and I am a food hoarder. Every time I visit my neighborhood Kroger — usually once a day, sometimes twice — I go in the door with a mission to get just what's on my list, nothing more. As those automatic glass doors slide open and I enter the store, I repeat a mantra, "I will only get what I came for. I will only get what I came for."

But nine times out of ten, that mantra goes to hell less than five seconds after I hoist a plastic shopping basket over the crook of my elbow. As I'm standing in the produce section fondling avocados in search of the ripest one, my thoughts turn to an aisle clear across the store — the Manager's Special aisle. The aisle filled with products that some kind manager, whomever or she was, has thoughtfully slashed prices for and broadcast those deals to the world with a bright orange and yellow sticker. Before you know it, my basket is so heavy with clearance items, I'm switching to a wheeled cart. Awww ... I get a little farklempt just thinking about it.

Anyway, that my friends, is the source of my hoarding problem. It's genetic, I'm certain. My Granny has the same condition. I remember going grocery shopping with her and Pa as a kid, and we'd stop at three different stores just to save 50 cents. Did Granny need 10 cans of green beans? No. But they were on sale! I thought it was a little silly back then, but now I totally get it.

And so, that's why this Mofo, I'm working on using some of that pantry stash in my Pantry Raid theme. Tonight, I created a meal almost solely from items I bought on Manager's Special at Kroger — Tolerant Organic Black Bean Mini Fettuccine, Bertolli Tomato & Basil Sauce, and Yves Meatless Ground.

Here's how much I paid! The veggie burger was marked down to $1.50 from $3, and the sauce was only $1 (regularly $2.59). The Tolerant pasta was $2.99, even though it typically costs $6.99! That gluten-free stuff is pricey sometimes.

I bought each of these items at different times. The veggie beef has been in my freezer for about a year, I'd guess. I found the sauce and pasta more recently but not on the same shopping trip. I'd even forgotten I had some of this stuff, but while scouring my pantry for meal ideas, a light bulb when off. Duh. I had all the makins of a pasta dinner! I paired the pasta & meat sauce with some fresh okra (sauteed in garlic, cumin, and hint of canola oil) that Granny gave me last week. Ta-da!

I love the color of that black bean pasta! I'd tried Tolerant's red lentil pasta before and loved it. And this black bean pasta was equally delicious. It had only a hint of black bean flavor, so it didn't contrast too much with the pasta sauce. I do think it would be lovely in a Mexican-style pasta dish though. But I would have had to buy more stuff for that ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cookie Dough Protein Smoothie!

We're well into the second week of Mofo and I'm sort of sticking to my Pantry Raid theme. Sort of. I'm supposed to be basing my meals around items I already have in my pantry or freezer. And I'm finding that, while I am indeed doing that, it's nearly impossible to find a recipe you don't have to buy anything for. Tonight's Cookie Dough Protein Shake is a perfect example.

I found this recipe on Chocolate Covered Katie's blog back in August, and I promptly pinned it to my Smooth(ie) Playa board on Pinterest. I pin recipes all the time, but I use the smoothie board most often. Since I make protein smoothie after my runs four days a week, I'm always desperate for new ideas.

This sounded like an awesome one! And indeed it was. I swear to goddess that it tastes exactly like raw cookie dough, but it's totally healthy and perfect for a post-workout meal. It gets that special cookie dough taste from Katie's not-so-secret ingredients — a pinch of salt and a pinch of baking soda! It's that twinge of saltiness that takes this from just another protein shake to a full-on cookie dough experience.

As for ingredients, I had almost everything I needed to make this. Had the almond milk, the salt and baking soda, the oats, the maple extract, the sweetener (I chose Bee-Free Honee), and the vanilla protein powder. I stockpile protein powder since I use so much, so I typically have five or six flavors. I'm fresh out of French Vanilla Vega One, so I used Nutribody Vanilla Protein Powder.

The recipe also called for chocolate chips. And even though I usually have those, I was fresh out. So instead of buying a whole bag and cramming the unused portion back into my overstocked pantry, I sought out an option in the Whole Foods bulk bin. I thought they had vegan chocolate chips in the bins, but I was wrong. They did, however, have carob chips. And I love, love, love carob! Maybe even more than chocolate (because I'm crazy, I know). So I bought just the amount of carob chips I needed to make a couple of these smoothies. Boom! One less contribution to the pantry crisis.