Christmas in the USA

The Russian Tea Room in NYC

Aaaaah, the holidays. Those precious occasions when you stare at departures screens for hours hoping your flight/ train/ camel isn't cancelled like all the rest, arrive home exhausted to see everyone you've ever known in a never-ending parade, and stuff yourself fuller and fuller of rich food. It's pretty exhausting, right?

However, also fun. I'm back in full-on USA mood, with all the attendant benefits of warm houses, a full pantry, and the Food Network. After a brief stop in New Jersey to see some relatives, my Mom and I headed up for a night in New York City; including a cocktail at my favorite over-priced NY institution, the Russian Tea Room (above.)

Back home for Christmas, we had a fabulous brunch with my Grandparents, with eggs benedict for the omnis and blueberry waffles, homefries, and veggie sausage for the vegetarians.

Needless to say, we were full until dinner. Actually beyond dinner! We had grand plans for a big feast with many components, but we basically down-scaled: tamales and a big salad. My Dad and I made and froze the tamales a week ago to avoid Christmas chaos, and the salad was an improvised delight.

Spinach with red bartlett pears, onions, pomegranate seeds and a dressing made from the following: 1 Clementine, 1 tsp. diced garlic, a splash of orange juice and couple tablespoons red wine vinegar, whirled in a food processor with enough olive oil to make it perfectly dressing-y.

The tamales were filled with a black bean and chipotle mixture and served with homemade tomatillo salsa, guac, roasted chipotle salsa, and soy sour cream.

Christmassy? I'm not sure. Delicious? Definitely. In fact, I had the same thing the next day. And now... back to my food coma. Hope everyone had and is having a great holiday, and that you were able to finish your dinner!


Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Hello my nice relaxed and calm blog friends. What, you're not all sitting in your warm houses baking cookies, content with the fact that you have purchased all presents and just waiting for the next lovely holiday party? Well, that's how I imagine you, in stark contrast to yours truly, who is rushing around in a steadily-building panic trying to accomplish every last thing before leaving for the US tomorrow. I'm facing such queries as, should I send all Xmas cards before leaving, so that people get the thrill of a genuine "Luftpost" from Germany, or should I save money but add to my packing by doing it in the US? And how many more presents can I buy today that say "Berlin" on them, to prove that I've thoughtfully been thinking of my American friends all year and not just buying them shit from Target?

I'm not asking for advice here, because basically all of these are unanswerable questions, the real solution to which is: go back in time and do it last week, saukerl!

But last week I was calm and relaxed, having dinner parties and making bagels and cinnamon rolls. Speaking of which, I can officially confirm that the perfect menu for non-vegan parent types is:
-Moroccan carrot dip from V'Con and bread
-A big garden salad with pears and homemade balsamic dressing
-Wild Mushroom Risotto

Cheap, filling, and not full of mysterious (to parents) ingredients like "chipotles" or "tofu".

And previously I finally got around to making Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, but this time I wasn't leaving it up to online recipes and just went ahead and gave it the old college try on my own. The result? Not too sweet, puffy and cinnamon-y rolls that were great out of the oven with a glass of soymilk, and even better in the next days reheated in the microwave. So here's my recipe, but as a warning I've only made these once so results may vary. (And here's more of a Joy of Cooking-style recipe format, to test it out.)

Hopefully, you are in a less hectic place than I am and have time for such pursuits!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

-1 packet yeast
-1 Tbs. sugar
-1/4 c. warm water

1.) In a large bowl, combine yeast and sugar then stir in warm water. Set aside for 5-10 minutes to "proof" the yeast.

-1 C. pureed pumpkin
-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
-2 Tbs. maple syrup
-2 Tbs. veg oil
-1/4 C. soymilk
-pinch salt

2.) In a second bowl, combine above ingredients with a fork.

-3.5-4 C. all purpose flour

3.) Add pumpkin mixture to yeast mixture and sift in about 3 and 1/2 cups flour. Knead for 10 minutes, adding in more flour until you have a relatively smooth, not-too-sticky ball. Put ball in bowl that has a drizzle of oil, and flip to coat.
4.) Special tip from my friend Sara for better rising: Put rising bowl inside of another larger bowl containing rather hot water. Let rise for about an hour.

-3/4 C. brown sugar
-1/2 C. chopped almonds, pecans, etc.
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon

5.) When dough has risen, punch down and let sit for another 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile, mix above ingredients for the filling.
6.) On a lightly floured surface, place you dough ball and sprinkle with flour. Roll dough out to a large square of about 1/2" thickness. Sprinkle with your filling mixture, then carefully roll from the bottom, until you have a large "tube". You don't have to be much a perfectionist about this, in my opinion, you can manipulate the ends if they aren't perfect.

7.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees (175 C) and lightly oil or spray a brownie pan. With a sharp knife, cut tube into roughly 2" pieces and place them into pan, smooshing them against eachother if necessary. If outside dough is too floury, brush with a little bit of soymilk.

-1 C. powdered sugar
-2 Tbs. soymilk

8.) Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned and meanwhile whisk together above ingredients to make a nice glaze. Drizzle glaze over finished rolls and consume with soymilk and a holiday movie.


So the next time you hear from me I will be in the USA, hopefully eating large amounts of Thai and Mexican food! Good luck to anyone else embarking on holiday travel, and tchüss for now, Berlin!

Song of the Day: Cracker- Duty Free


Shivering in the Kitchen

Ah, my first real winter in Berlin. So far I've been torn between thinking, "Bah, I hate this weather, these gray skies, the fact that I can't understand Celsius enough to figure out what to wear, I hate this continent! winter!" and thinking, "SNOW! Pretty." But I suppose so long as I can reconcile myself to a lot of time spent indoors wearing German military grade long-underwear, I will eventually make it through to the other side. (I guess you can only imagine how I look sitting around all day in men's long underwear, swearing at the cold and applying to an ever broadening selection of jobs. Its pretty damn attractive, let me tell you.)

In the meantime, I'm trying to bring in sunshine via baking! What you see above is yet another batch of bagels (although that one has no hole, interesting) topped with peanut butter, bananas, and a drizzle of maple syrup, the very best thing about winter. I also attempted to make pumpkin cinnamon rolls the other day, as promised, but oddly the dough never rose! I tested the yeast so it should have, and I'll have to chalk this one up to the mysterious different flours in this country and their vastly different rising properties. Oh well.

Another delicious recent meal was the potato-mushroom enchiladas (rather than kale) from Veganomicon complimented, just for fun, with Venezuelan black beans and Orange rice from Viva Vegan. This wasn't exactly the kind of meal that you whip together in a few minutes, but I had some hungry friends coming over and suspected that Enchiladas alone would not do. (I usually make two batches and its still not enough for a small group.) I may have used every pot and pan in the kitchen, but everything turned out delicious- spicy, savory and sweet. And let's face it, as an unemployed and freezing cold American I have lots of time to spend in a nice toasty kitchen.
Song of the Day: The National- Conversation 16

From the Archives:
More Bagels!
More Enchiladas!
More Viva Vegan!


Vegan No-Fo

Well, I guess its time to admit that the end of Vegan Mofo was a big fail for me. This can be attributed to two factors:

A.) I was in England for 5 days, graduating from my Masters program. And although I thought this might make for exciting blogging material, I couldn't find anything to eat in that country! All I had ate the entire time were atrociously expensive french fries and beer. Even the one fancy vegan restaurant I singled out (Mildred's, in Pickadilly Circus) was freakishly closed the one night I made it there. But all was not totally lost, because I did indeed graduate, from Canterbury Cathedral which was lovely.

B.) Upon return home I promptly developed a horrible flu that kept me in bed for a week. During this time I missed Thanksgiving (AGAIN) and the last week of Vegan Mofo, in which I consumed nothing but oatmeal. But again, there's a silver lining, because I lost 10 lbs, just in time for the holidays, and kept all of the luscious food that was intended for Thanksgiving to dole out over the next few months.

Including the canned pumpkin that I have already put towards some delicious pumpkin pancakes from Vegan Brunch, topped with a dollop of cranberry sauce. Next stop, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, yuuuum.

In spite of the disappointing last couple weeks, I find it difficult not to be excited now: its Channukah, I have a lot of fun Christmas markets and parties to go to in the next few weeks, and soon I'll be in my parent's kitchen in the USA, cooking up a storm of my vegan favorites. And to make up for all the missed posting, I'll try to be vigilant about posting my holiday creations this year. Latkes, tamales, and tofu benedict, oh my!

So now back to my regularly scheduled blogging, and I look forward to drooling over what all you lucky Americans had for Thanksgiving dinner!

Song of the Day: AC/DC -Back in black


Soo-Youn's Kimbab (Korean vegetable hand-rolls)

My friend Soo-Youn makes these amazing Korean vegetable rolls (Kimbab) for me sometimes when we are studying. ("Studying" meaning drinking coffee, gossiping, and occasionally cracking the binding of a book.) They were her favorite food when she was a child, and I can see why: soft, sesame-flavored rice wrapped around crunchy cooked vegetables with a spicy, salty sauce, all in a seaweed wrapper perfectly designed for chubby little hands to grip. They're great for children, but cut into slices they also make an acceptably sophisticated appetizer or entree for discerning adults. Here's how its done, minus precise measurements because Soo-Youn don't play that. ("Just taste it! Can't you tell if its right?") Well, don't take my word for it, try them once and crave them forever after. And never, EVER call them sushi.

(Note: Seaweed wrappers, sticky rice and good quality sesame oil are essential for this recipe and can all be found at your local asian market (and maybe even at healthfood stores). Try looking for korean chili paste or "goju jang" to add to miso for a dipping sauce, and you're really in Korean delicacy heaven.)

Step 1 is to make the rice. The best way is to make it in a rice cooker, using short grain rice that is made for making sticky rice. Immediately after taking it out of the rice cooker, add it into a bowl and while its still steaming, add in some toasted sesame seeds, crushing them slightly with your hands. Also add in a hearty drizzle of sesame oil, a few pinches salt, and a little bit of vinegar (say, 1 tsp. per cup, or less.) Mix with your hands or a wooden spoon and set aside. (The taste changes as the sesame seeds infuse the rice.) You can always adjust it to taste later, it should be a bit smoky from the sesame, salty, and tangy from the vinegar. If you like it, its correct.

Step 2 is to cook the vegetables. Use a hot pan, a bit of oil, and cook one at a time any of the following julienned vegetables until crunchy but cooked: carrots, leeks, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, radishes, etc. My friend uses eggs in hers as well, but you could also use thinly sliced and fried tofu. Pickles of some sort of also an option. Salt and pepper the veggies well when they are cooked. (The rationale for cooking seperately is that each vegetable takes a different amount of time to be perfectly "done".)

Step 3: Set up your work station with seaweed papers (plain, not toasted), the rice and a wooden paddle, and the vegetables. For each wrapper, pat a thick layer of rice down about filling about halfway up the sheet of seaweed. Then, place your selection of cooked veggies in the middle of that layer of rice. Carefully roll upwards, using your hands to even out the roll so it doesn't bulge too much on one side. (But messy is also ok.) If cutting, cut off to thin slices on the side (and pop into your mouth) then slice the remaining roll with a sharp knife into uniform slices. Like so:

Step 4: Serve with any sauce you like, (sriracha, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, etc) or the Soo-Youn special: a knob of asian chili paste (goju jang), and a few gulps of soy sauce and sesame seed oil. Mix well and toss in a few more sesame seeds or some thinly sliced leeks or scallions... so incredibly delicious.

A different variation on this recipe can be found here.

Song of the Day: The Smiths- Hairdresser on Fire


Brussels Sprouts Hash

I know that people are entitled to different opinions on brussels sprouts, but I love them so much I have confused them in my mind with junk food, and gobble them up like I'm going to get caught. If you haven't had them since you were a kid, now's a good time to give them a chance.

Today I made a simple "hash"- I fried some potato cubes in oil until browned, then tossed in messily sliced brussels sprouts, diced apple cubes, some chopped almonds, and salt and pepper. When everything was cooked and kind of burnt, I squeezed half a lemon on top. It was so heavenly- nutty and fresh and slightly sweet. I recommend you try it at home with whatever random ingredients you have at home. I myself might eat the same tomorrow.

It was definitely a nice lunch to prepare for an evening consisted of the sisyphean task of standing around holding up a large heavy board, and occasionally turning in time with some 30 other folks, all while remaining perfectly silent and still for 2 hours. (Part of an art project I mentioned yesterday, that I am getting paid for.) But tonight was the actual "performance" and actually, people really seemed to dig it! You see, we made like a maze with these boards, that changed in tune with the music to lock some people in and some people out. Since I was directed to stare only at the board, I didn't see people's reactions, but they seemed enthusiastic afterwards. And who can complain at getting paid to participate in real live art? I think I'm going to add to my cv... T: lawyer, performance artist, admirer of brussels sprouts.

Song of the day: The Clash- London Calling


Muffins and Performance Art

Although Berlin and DC are not entirely dissimilar, there are some major differences that can't be explained just by language or culture. For example, why do Germans like the band eels so much? Why do they largely prefer to roll their own cigarettes? Why is there such a bottomless pit of fondness for performance art? And why, oh why, do they have thousands of baked products of every type and assortment, but barely pay any attention to such classics as muffins, bagels, and cupcakes?

I've been trying to correct this by keeping lots of muffins and bagels around to tempt my friends and roommates. (Cupcakes, unfortunately, are out of reach at the moment as I have no hand-mixer for frosting.) The other day I made non-plum muffins for once, instead using apples and lots of cinnamon and topping them off with peanut butter caramel, in an act of mindless rebellion to use up the last drops of my precious Canadian maple syrup. However, I wasn't really able to spread the gospel of muffins since I ate almost all of them. But whatever.

As for the performance art affinity, I have gotten the opportunity to get an inside perspective, since I am actually participating in some today and tomorrow! Yes friends, I will stand in a dark auditorium, while ambient electronic music blasts from the speakers, and my colleagues and I will hold up large drywall pieces that we slowly spin around every 5 minutes. It is very meaningful, not mention tiring.

And although I have no idea what the hell the point is of this exercise, I am doing it anyways. First of all, because it is ART! And second, because I am getting paid 50€. I expect that this will make a large impact on the scene here, and I will hopefully become a very famous performance artist. And then I will be able to afford gallons of maple syrup and make as many muffins as I like! I'll let you know how it goes...

Song of the Day: Art Brut- Formed a Band


Cabbage Rolls and Potato Latkes

When you are low on cash, condiments are your friends. The simplest (and cheapest) things become special when there is some sauce or dip to accompany them. And if you're anything like me, than even when your fridge is completely devoid of veggies or fruits, you still have a boatload of random barbeque sauces, mustards, and curries.

So, being short on funds this week, we've been trying to eat as cheaply as possible and rely more on condiments to spice things up. Thursday night I made cabbage rolls: the leftover (non-moldy) inner pieces of a cabbage that had seen better days became a wrapper for mushrooms, onions, and almonds simply spiced. On the side was the real action: tahini-miso dressing, spicy soy+ chili sauce, and a simple mix of sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and garlic. It was cheap and reminded me of the fancy days when I used to do things like "go to restaurants" and "order appetizers."

Friday evening was equally inexpensive and fabulous with S. whipping up a batch of latkes that we gobbled up with some apple sauce and washed down with a lot of beer. Potatoes+ onions+ a little bit of cornstarch and flour, and you are there. I've seen a lot of fancier recipes for vegan latkes, but if you are patient I think the flour and cornstarch method (outlined in more detail here) works wonders and takes less time. And who couldn't use some greasy, filling latkes once in a while?

song of the day: ELO- Mr Blue Sky



It's almost Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays! Last year at this time I was in Belgium, choking back tears at a 12€ buffet at some stupid posh nightclub where I couldn't eat anything except a martini. Not this year, my friends! Although Germany doesn't "do" thanksgiving, I am going to have a real American one in my little apartment and try to convince people that green bean casserole is really delicious. (Failing that, I will just eat it all myself.) Luckily, my Mom is meeting me in London in a week so I can get her to bring a few essentials that are hard to find here in 'Schland.

As I usually do, I thought I'd do a round-up of ideas for all you celebrating Thanksgiving with your families who still don't know what vegan is. (Or pretend not to know and try to serve you gravy anyways.)

Speaking of Gravy, Tofu Mom over at More Than Tofu and Sprouts is doing a whole month of gravy for VeganMoFo, with lots of varieties (like mushroom and miso gravy) that would be perfect for the occasion.

As for a centerpiece, if you are going to an omni Thanksgiving do as the vegans do and bring a few sides and your own gravy, and maybe put in a request that the mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes be vegan. But if you are hosting your own, or want to have turkey-less centerpiece to impress, there are a few options. How about Hickory Smoked Apple Cider, Maple Syrup and Bourbon Glazed Tofu Lollipops from What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyways? Or you could try the gorgeous Seitan en croute from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.

As for desserts, this Chocolate Pumpkin bread pudding from the NY Times looks pretty kick ass, and cranberry chocolate tartelettes from Mihl is a classy choice.

Looking for a full-on Menu? Over at the PPK Isa posted Thanksgiving in an hour a few days ago, but if you have more than an hour, peruse the rest of the recipes including 3 ingredient cranberry sauce and chickpea cutlets. Yum! VeganYumYum also had a full menu a few years back with a creative stuffed seitan and a yummy green bean casserole. For the more adventurous, non-vegan websites also have excellent ideas, many of which are veganizable with a few tweaks. (Earth balance for butter, no brainer.) Epicurious has a huge selection of recipes and videos at their Thanksgiving headquarters. And over at 101 Cookbooks there are also a handful of luscious ideas, including shredded brussels sprouts and apples, one of my faves.

What will I be serving? Well, I'm going traditional all the way so as not to confuse the Germans. (Well, traditional in my household. I guess we will also have to argue about politics the whole time if I really want tradition.)

My (tentative, very tentative) menu
-A simple salad of roasted Beets, walnuts, and mixed greens
-Green Bean Casserole (with imported vegan cream of mushroom soup!)
-My Aunt Mary's simple and fabulous sweet potatoes w/ apples, pecans and brown sugar
-Fluffy roasted garlic mashed potatoes
-Mushroom and shallot gravy (from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)
-Roasted brussels sprouts
-Chestnut stuffing
-Cranberry-orange sauce
-And EITHER chickpea cutlets or homemade seitan, depending on whether I can get my Mom to bring some vital wheat gluten.
-For dessert? Natch, pumpkin pie, provided by my friend Kat who doesn't mind making them from scratch (unlike myself, who finds pies nerve-wracking enough w/o the pumpkin roasting element.) Maybe a chocolate pudding pie as well, if I can find the right kind of soft tofu.

Now, this will be a challenge with my tiny kitchen and limited heating space. But I can't take another year in Europe without a proper Thanksgiving and I can't afford a plane ticket, so its worth a shot!

What are you guys cooking up for the biggest food holiday of the year?


It ain't easy, but it ain't so hard

Another good dinner, plantains, Venezuelan beans from Viva Vegan, soy yogurt and some rice.

Today is a day for dancing and getting things done! Eating is (literally) on the backburner...


Gumbo Z from Vegan Soul Kitchen

I did something kind of exciting today! (Read: not real world exciting, like base jumping, but kitchen exciting, like canning or reconstituting dried mushrooms.) Ahem. I made my own stock! And a roux! I've neither done either before, but hey, its Vegan MOFO, the perfect time for trying new (nerdy) things!

Both of these endeavors were for the purpose of making "Gumbo Z" from Vegan Soul Kitchen, by Bryant Terry. (Yeah, like I wouldn't own THAT cookbook. Come on.) Aside from the brilliant title I really love this cookbook, not just as a cookbook but also as a sort of inspirational scrapbook with cool ideas, photos, songs, and stories. And the recipes are just my style: they always have something that *snaps*, like caramelized grapefruit or hot apple cider vinegar. I sometimes read it just for fun. (And as a side note, I once SAW Bryant Terry. I was having a glass of wine at the end of a long day of Bar Exam prep at Busboys and Poets, a bar/ cafe/radical bookstore in DC and he had just finished giving a book signing, which I didn't realize until I saw him walk right by. But I was too shy to approach him as my mind was too Bar Exam-addled to say anything other than "Uhmmm, so....I like your cookbook" so I just sat there staring at him like a weirdo with my glass of pinot. So that is my Bryant Terry story.)

Anyways. When I first got the book I thought, wow, does this guy know how to complicate simple things. Like, who makes homemade broth and then spends another 2 hours making Gumbo? But you know, it was worth it! Homemade broth smells amazing and doesn't taste as salty/ carroty as store-bought, and the process of making roux is a bit of transfixing kitchen magic that every foodie should try for themselves. Every element of the recipe smelled and tasted so good, that it was actually really fun to cook although it took a while.

I fed my version (with spinach and cabbage rather than the prescribed Southern greens that I can't find in 'Schland) to my hungry and picky boyfriend and he loved it, I loved it, it was just a big Gumbo lovefest. Its not so pretty to look at, but if you've been hesitating before cooking a long or seemingly complicated recipe like this, I would reccommend that you try it! You might learn something new and surprise yourself.

Song of the Day: Janelle Monae- Tightrope


Coconut Kale with a side of douchery

So sometimes I get a little annoyed with the NY Times and their food section's pissy coverage of vegetarian food. It will always be like, "here's a decent vegetarian side dish that goes great alongside ribs for us normal people!" Or like, touting bacon ice cream as the greatest thing ever and mocking those who think its kind of offensive. Today was no exception, in the short article "The Greens Party" in which the author discusses a bunch of "dudes" at an Indian restaurant who just ordered meat, to the chagrin of the chef who suggested they also eat some token veggies, to be healthy (or whatever.) After discussing the shared recipe for coconut grilled kale the author says,
Made over a charcoal fire or even in a wickedly hot pan, it becomes a dish of uncommon flavor, the sort of thing you could eat on its own, with only a mound of basmati rice for contrast.

But you know, why would you? Here in America, after all, we will always be from Montana somehow.

Lame. I'm so sure there are no vegetarians in Montana and they all subsist solely on cattle based products. I'm also sure that real men don't eat vegetables unless they are grilled. (RAWR!) Anyways, despite the annoying (so annoying) coverage as usual of vegetarian dishes, I took one look at the recipe and thought... "but actually... I have spinach, coconut milk, and lemons in the fridge...."

So I made it. And I wish I could say it was bad, alongside some roasted pumpkin and basmati rice, but dammit, it was delicious. (I seriously took the first bite and was like, "HA! Not good at.... DOH!") So here's the recipe, but don't take it as my tacit approval of the Times snarky vegetarian coverage, just take it as a yummy kale or spinach recipe that has a few of everybody's favorite things in it, and really doesn't need like, a mound of lamb skewers to accompany it. (It also doesn't need 4 hours of marinating.) But that's according to me, not to the Times.

Song of the Day: MGMT- Its Working


Improvisation, European Style

I've realized since I've been in Belgium and Germany that I have an unusually high reliance on recipes and cookbooks. Most of my friends here, when making lunch or dinner, just glance around the kitchen and throw something together step by step. In contrast, even if I am making one of my own recipes I'll look back at the blog or my jotted notes to find out how exactly I did it. When my friends and I are cooking, this leads to some funny situations, where I am begging them to let me look quickly at a cookbook to find out what the cooking time, quantities, or temperature is, and they are heavily rolling their eyes saying "ahhh, you can just tell when its right, just taste it!!!"
Pumpkin+ Pumpkin oil+ bread + margarine
I have a whole cultural theory behind this: Europeans did not experience the same boom in reliance on prepared foods that Americans did in the fifties and sixties. (Ie, European recipes do not usually look like: "empty a can of mushroom soup onto chicken, toss, and bake for 30 minutes...") As a result of the fact that Europeans, either because of stronger traditional adherence, relative poverty in the post-war era, or the Common Agricultural Policy, retained a reliance on elemental ingredients, and thus passed down to their children techniques for cooking that became second nature. American kids, on the other hand, found themselves at a loss for making things from scratch, having grown up with canned beans, cake mix, and Hamburger Helper. (Not everyone, mind you, but I think its more typical in the US than here.)

Roasted carrots+ Avocado+ olive oil+ salt and pepper

This might be why European cookbooks are so sparse in explanation (as opposed to the novels in American cookbooks), and why my generation had to teach ourselves to cook relatively simple things: we grew up with so many prepared foods at our disposal that we forgot improvisational cooking techniques, and feel more attached, (even, fervently attached) to cookbooks that teach us how to get those skills back.

Now, this is all a theory and I may be totally full of it, please let me know if you have an alternate explanation in the comments.
Mashed potatoes mashed w/ brussels sprouts+roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and pears

At any rate, this is all to say that here are a few meals that were bravely improvised, with nary a recipe in sight. You may notice that they have very few ingredients, but still, I'm making progress here! However, I don't care if I live in Europe till I die, you will still have to pry my Veganomicon from my cold, dead American hands.


In search of simits

When I traveled to Istanbul I was totally enchanted. Aside from the dreamy, dusty city, the food was fantastic and totally vegan friendly. But one item in particular captured my attention, probably because they were so ubiquitous and affordable: "simits," these round, kinda-crispy, sesame covered breads that you can find everywhere. Vendors sold them everywhere out of large baskets, and you could see students, tourists, and little old ladies eating them happily with butter or cheese and a cup of the ubiquitous sweet tea.

Here in Berlin, with a substantial Turkish population we also have plenty of simits. I could buy one for less than a euro at any given shop or at market places, where they are piled into huge stacks alongside other Turkish breads. (I often eat them with fancy mustard like a pretzel, as a German twist.) However, I really want to make them myself! First, because I want to make a bunch to eat all week since they keep well, and second, because I want to have a handy recipe for those times I'm not in Berlin or Istanbul, or to share on the vegan interwebs.

So the other day, I interrogated a vendor for his secret recipe, as carefully as possible given my crap German. It went something like this:
Me: Hello, these are simits, yes? I have allergic. Do they eggs inside have?
Vendor: No, naturally not, no eggs.
Me: Do they milk have?
Vendor: No, these are simits, they aren't made with milk.
Me: So, then, water, flour, and.... yeast? Or bake powder? I want have cooked them at my house.
Vendor: Very complicated recipe, better just to buy some from me, all fresh.

Hmmph. The woman at the store downstairs (which also sells them) gave me a similar run-around, and seemed a little pissed that I wouldn't just buy one. So, before alienating more people, now I've resorted to baking small batches of recipes I find online, and so far I've reached a few conclusions:

1. Definitely yeast and not baking powder.
2. The outside is brushed or dipped in something sticky to make all the sesame seeds stick, and its not soymilk.

Above you see the first attempt, which was definitely tasty with black tea but not quite right and missing the requisite deep brown crust. I have a feeling that it could be a few drops of pomengranate syrup diluted in water, from some vague references. Anyways, the simit mystery is not solved yet, but I will keep at it, until I can enjoy a lovely vegan treat with tea and soy margarine without leaving the house. (Lofty goals there, I admit it.)

Well, if any of you readers are aware of a perfect simit recipe out there, let me know. If not, I'll keep laboring after them myself, which I'll admit, is not all that bad of a way to spend an afternoon.


Tahini Two Ways

Tahini is one of those ingredients that people are rarely aware of before they turn vegan, like agave nectar, kale, or almond butter. But upon being tapped by the vegan fairy, you are obligated to consume large quantities of it in everything from soup to muffins, and I gladly oblige, especially since its so cheap and plentiful here in Germany! Its one of the middle eastern ingredients I've become exceedingly fond of, alongside pomengranate molasses. I'm basically using both every day.

Last night I made a simple tahini-miso dressing (equal parts tahini and dark miso, a bit of agave and some water whisked together) to drizzle over roasted sweet potatoes and carrots, alongside rice and garlicky rainbow chard. It was such a light and perfect meal, and the tahini sauce was a total match made in heaven for the sweet potatoes.

Then, this morning, still on my tahini kick, I whipped up a big batch of thick, spreadable hummus for my sesame and poppy seed bagels du jour, which my friend and I happily gobbled up drizzled in a little pomengranate molasses. Total heaven.

And I've heard that sesame seeds have calming properties, which is good since I am fairly freaked about the elections today in the USA. I guess not all tea-partiers are anti-gay, anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist religious fundamentalists, right? RIGHT?

Song of the Day: NOFX- We got to jealous agains

PS: You absolutely MUST go check out Kittee's Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls at Cake Maker to the Stars and Amey's equally gorgeous and outrageous sugar cookies at Vegan Eats and Treats, I'm so in awe!


Step by Step Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Hello and welcome to November, aka Vegan Month of Food and the time when vegan bloggers unite in a fearsome quest to blog everyday for the whole month. This is def the time to bookmark some recipes and ideas from the vegan blog-o-sphere because they will be flying at you faster than you can handle all month long!

So, starting us off on this end is my (simple as humanly possible) recipe for sweet potato gnocchi, in pictures. Its such a good way to use up sweet potatoes if they're abundant in your area, and they freeze perfectly. Best of all, they are vegan, which you can't always say for the gnocchi you find at restaurants or in your grocer's freezer. The only reason people don't eat them everyday is because they're scared, I guess, so now you don't have to be intimidated: if you can make a snowman with play dough you can do this!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

*Serves 1-2 so def double or triple for bigger groups.

1. Either bake or microwave one large sweet potato until easily piercable with a fork, then peel and either mash it or force it through a potato ricer. (I prefer the latter.) Let it sit and cool for as long as it takes to reach room temp.
2. When its finally cool, put the mound of sweet potato onto a lightly floured surface, and add in approx. 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt. (I use about this much flour per cooked potato, but it can be much more or less depending on humidity, potato size or juiciness, and your horoscope sign.) Using your hands, knead flour into potato for about ten minutes, or until you have a smooth and basically dry dough. You want it to be just dry enough to roll a piece between your fingers without it sticking to your hands- the goal is to use as little flour as possible to reach this consistency.
4.) Now that you have your dough ball, pinch off a palm full of the dough at a time and, using your fingertips, roll it into a log as fat as your thumb, give or take. Repeat for the rest of the dough until you have a bunch of little logs.

5.) Using a sharp knife, slice each log into small rectangles. (If its really hot/humid where you are live you might want to refrigerate the logs first to make this easier on yourself.)

6.) Finally, roll each little log off the tip of a fork to create tiny indentations to hold sauce and just to be cute. No one ever died from eating gnocchi without these little lines, but I recommend it. :)
7.) You are now ready to either freeze or cook! If freezing, freeze separately on a cutting board or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet, then consolidate into a freezer bag. (So they don't stick together.) If cooking, add gnocchi into boiling salted water and cook about 5 minutes, or until floating. You can also fry them in oil or margarine along with onions, garlic and shallots. Its all tasty.


song of the day: Arcade Fire- We Used to Wait


You don't have to be French to make crepes...

...though it doesn't hurt. Crepe-making can be, shall we say, a little nerve-wracking for the cook who is not accustomed to having to throw out the first 3-4 of whatever she's cooking. So whenever I make crepes, I always listen to music of one of my heroes, Josephine Baker to get me in the mood. She was the first American to so successfully "fake it till she made it" as French that she ended up spying for the French Resistance in WWII and eventually received the Cross de Guerre, the French Medal of Honor. (Although, let's not compare the small inconvenience of making crepes to the incredible story of Baker, who started out at 12 dancing on the street-corners of Harlem, became a vaudeville sensation, then landed in Paris where she danced as a topless savage in an (arguably racist) revue dressed in a banana bikini... then went on to learn French, buy her own club, transform herself into a ballgown-wearing diva, and become such an icon of dance, film, and music that she is known only as "La Baker" in France. You should really read one of her biographies sometime, she's awesome.)

Anyways, you have to have a little joie de vivre to attempt crepes, but if you do, the payoff is great and results in versatile but equally delicious treats. They go gracefully from a soft wrap for balasamic-kissed vegetables, as I served the other night (sauteed mushrooms, shallots, green beans and carrots in a tiny bit of balsamic with soy yogurt on top)...

...to a crunchy shell for dessert once you gently refry them, as I had the next day (with bananas, brown sugar, and more soy yogurt.)

In either case, if you can get past the fear (more like certainty) of a little failure, than you get the hang of it pretty quickly and have a stack of crepes to enjoy for as long as you hold on to them. The recipes are also omni-present in every vegan cookbook, and I've had great success with both the Sarah Kramer version and the V'Con version.

So basically what I'm saying is, whether you need a jaunty little beret, some music, or a banana-leaf bikini to get in the mood, be brave and make some crepes because they are delicious and will put your friends (and lovers) in awe.

Here are some more ideas and tips for crepe making and crepe-filling from the archives:
-Lentil and Walnut Dinner Crepes
-Banana, Brown Sugar, and Soy Sour Cream Crepes

Song of the Day: Josephine Baker- J'ai deux Amours