Monday, August 31, 2015

Late Summer Reflection

This morning I woke at five a.m. Never happy to be so rudely introduced to a new day, I obliged my body's biological demands (as many women my age do on any given morning), deciding going back to sleep would render me useless. I'd be a wreck the rest of the day for having squandered a perfectly good morning on trying to catch a few extra winks. I love my sleep and am an early-to-bed-girl. 

Mornings are me time. Ever so quietly, I read, I write, I read some more. It was quite beautiful this morning. The full moon was peeking out from behind the clouds in the west, and the sun was barely beginning to rise in the east. I try to keep as quiet as possible for fear of waking the sleeping dogs: 
Let sleeping dogs lie--I remained true.

This morning, I was thinking about my tomatoes. It's been a good year despite the drenching rains and flooding we had mid-summer. I worried a lot about the tomato crop. But somehow those seedlings I'd begun in March: they've survived (as have I).

Every Sunday since mid-July, I've made homemade marinara sauce with the fresh tomatoes picked throughout the week, adding, of course, fresh basil and any other garden edible along the way I find interesting. I don't have enough ripened tomatoes any given week to can--just plenty to fill a bowl on the kitchen counter, then into my saucepan come Sunday. The aroma that fills the house is undeniably "summer". Lately I've had enough tomatoes to use in a curry mid-week as well. Then whenever possible, DH loves a nice veggie burger topped with huge slices of the garden tomatoes. Because as I remind him, I don't bring a tomato into this house after summer and my tomatoes are gone. Canned are okay. But those other things in the grocery store sold as "tomatoes", not gonna happen.

By this stage of summer, however, my zest for tomatoes begins to wane. It happens. What an ingrate, right? Oh well. I keep harvesting the ripe ones. Sundays will remain marinara days until the first frost.

I feel so sorry for women I see at the grocery store pondering the cost of a nice heirloom variety getting sticker shocked at having to pay almost four dollars a pound for a tomato. I seriously want to have a conversation with each and every one of them about the virtues of keeping and tending to tomato plants and how impossibly easy they actually are to grow (despite the hullabaloo to the contrary). 
No one should have to pay four dollars for a tomato. No. One. 

Right now, we're having one of those Miserable Midwest Heat Waves of A Sort. Stagnate air. Icky, sticky humidity. No rain in sight. It's been a strong belief of mine that August is about punishing. September is a reward for making it through July, and then August.    

I've been setting aside time for reading in the afternoons. 
(Because I am coming clean here: I can't meditate to save my life.)
This has proven to be both very good for me and sort of like meditating. I've always been "a reader". My mother was a reader, my sister likes to read, my grandmother was a reader. 
Books always mattered in our home. But I'm a person who distracts easily. With three dogs, a husband, a house, land, plus a million other little projects dangling in front of me, getting distracted happens quite a lot. So my reading time helps me center, helps me focus. Plus it reminds me that I am currently not suffering the effects of any dementia as I am able to follow the story along. 
*Fingers crossed. Prayers said. 

Currently I have my head in Judy Blume's book, In the Unlikely Event. Enjoying it. But that's just one of the paper versions of reading I have going on. I also just ordered Joan Didion's book, Slouching Toward Bethlehem: Essays. (Reading her 1968 observations on America: priceless.) Huge. Fan.
I'm a person who juggles my reading, never committed to just one book at a time. I don't know why.
My Kindle has sort of contributed to this "problem"--but in a good way. (I think.) There is no such thing as "too many books" around here. Right now, Mr. Kindle is chock FULL of books of interest plus my "currently reading" titles. If there are folks tracking my reading--and I am certain there are, I am sure they scratch their heads and consider me a bit of a neurotic, but passionate reading patron.
(Perhaps we should just slap one of those Amazon smiley faces across the front of our house.) Seriously.

I love nonfiction as much as fiction. I'm a picky reader, of course. (Aren't we all?) The most interesting and by far the one that I have stepped in and out of the most throughout this summer has been Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. 
It's very accessible to the non-medical layperson, but also a heady read. 
Such an important book on all matters of living and then . . . not. 

Sunday as DH and I sat reading, someone else sat on mommy's lap and wished for a) me to put the book down, and b) for this damn heat to go away and for cool, crisp autumn to arrive. 
Soon. Very Soon.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Vegan Peach Cobbler with Crunchy Muesli Topping (revamped from the Amish. . . and my new "coloring book" obsession)

 I had two bowls of this peach cobbler last night. First bowl was my test picture (does that one count)? I HAD to eat it or the ice cream would have gone to waste. Second bowl was right before bed. No regrets. I have to tell you peaches are one of my most favorite fruits. When this time of year rolls around and my kitchen counters and fridge are full of summer veggies and stone fruits, I am in heaven. Cobblers are one of those desserts that even a non-baker can master. Using an old passed down recipe from my mother's cookbook collection, this cobbler came together in a snap. 
It's ridiculously simple: eight ingredients. No stand mixer required. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Vegan Buffalo Chik'n Chickpea Salad with Fresh Peaches (from the sewing room. . .with love, Frankie)

This dinner salad is quick, cool, yummy, satisfying and PERFECT for when it's Hot as Hades like it's been here in Missouri. And folks, it's been that way for a looong time now. I am no fan
It's a good thing I love salads for dinner and would eat them every night if I could. 
What attracted me to the recipe I riffed on was the inclusion of peaches.
 Peaches and Dinner=Love. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vegan Summer Heirloom Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter (. . . feeding my "inner fashionista" hand sewing Alabama Chanin and joining Sew-a-longs)

The tomatoes have been piling up here. I had to do something. So I did Italian of course. Not that I needed a recipe to create a perfect fresh tomato sauce with pasta dinner. I didn't. But I believe anything Italian made well can be made even better with little pearls of wisdom from Marcella Hazan. Made with 2 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes, a half stick of vegan butter, an onion (peeled and cut into quarters), five cloves of garlic and cooked this according to Marcella at "a very slow but steady simmer for 45 minutes . . . until the fat floats from from the tomato". Her basic sauce omits the garlic and I can appreciate that option. But as far as I'm concerned, it's not really edible Italian Sauce without the garlic. I tasted the sauce while it was simmering without the garlic, it was "okay". As the sauce simmered, I thought it needed some umph: so I also added a fresh zucchini, a carrot, some celery and a can of garbanzo beans. This was a scrumptious meal. 
And an even better leftover the next night. 
I also added fresh basil and oregano from the garden, too--but toward the end of cooking. 
Finally, I hit it with some balsamic vinegar. Perfecto!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vegan Texas Sheet Cake for Two (eat chocolate: feel better. . . and Frankie's first year)

Well. I needed chocolate. You know how when you usually bake a Texas Sheet Cake, you're obliged to bake with an overly large thirteen inch cake pan--with a TON of leftover cake mocking you the rest of the week? (Nibbling away here and there until five more pounds creep up on you? Seriously, now that I'm in the "over fifty" range--if I look at a cake, I can feel my thighs growing.) Not so with this cake. It takes a six-inch round springform pan, less temptation--more reason to love, and viola: cake for two! Perhaps a more appropriate name for it would be: Rhode Island Chocolate Sheet Cake. (Okay, I have dibs on this name for my future restaurant.)

 It's delicious, moist, chocolate-y, nutty and cinnamon-y. Pure delish. Serve it with some vegan ice cream and really get your dessert fix on. But not five pounds worth, 'kay?
I found a wonderful little baking book: Dessert for Two by Christina Lane in the book store quite by accident a few weeks back (or maybe the book found me). Although not vegan in its design, you know I've never met a non-vegan recipe I couldn't veganize--I'll be busy baking from this book for 
awhile. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Roasted Corn, Avocado and Black Bean Salad (A Yankee as "Miss Maudie" reading . . . To Kill a Mockingbird)

This salad is a result of a time-honored tradition as head chef of this household: It's a hundred and thirty here in St. Louis. Cripes almighty! No cooking will happen--we are all raw foods here. This salad took literally five minutes to prep. I have tomatoes and cucumbers galore from the garden--I pulled out whatever else I had on hand to make a lovely main-dish salad. It was dressed with a yummy balsamic vinaigrette and fresh lemon juice. I had so little energy yesterday afternoon, I could barely scoop the avocado from its shell. Chopping and peeling the cucumber from the garden nearly did me in. And the corn roasting part!--I was able to muster only because I had made a quick dash to the store after my morning run, husked it right away and put in a bag in the fridge. All I had to do was place the corn over the open flame of the stove for a few seconds to add a nice color of "I-worked-hard-to-make-you-a-salad-for-dinner" appeal. Simple. Straightforward and filling. I topped the salad with some quinoa for an extra protein boost. Salads are an essential summer staple right now. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Vegan Summer "Berry Good" Pie According to Fannie Farmer (A Tale of Two Cities for Me This Summer)

Pies don't last long in this house. It's a tradition for me to bake at least three or four pies during the summer. But given we've had some really steamy, icky-raining, crappy summer days here in St. Louis this year so far, this is my first pie. But oh, what a pie! It's a three berry pie: blueberries, blackberries and raspberries all done according to the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. (One of my most treasured cookbooks--and is to be saved first should, godforbid, anything happen to this house.) 

As pies go, if you don't attempt to learn anything else in baking, learning a pie dough recipe by heart will add years to your life and the life of your loved ones. Abiding by the directions from Fannie Farmer, "Pie dough should be made by hand in order to achieve the greatest flakiness. Other methods, using the food processor or blender, overblend the fat and flour and end up making a good, crumbly tart pastry instead of a flake pie crust." Truer words were never said. So here is the memorized pie dough recipe I have used:

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup vegan shortening
6-7 tablespoons ice cold water

Add flour and salt to medium bowl, then add shortening in pieces, mix together with your hands until a fine crumb forms. And in this case, the mixture should look like what Fannie Farmer says: bread crumbs. Then, add the ice cold water one tablespoon at a time until you can pinch the mixture together and it holds. Split the dough in half, shape into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and chill in fridge for about 30 minutes. (Fannie Farmer says the chilling part is not necessary, and it really isn't despite what you've read. I just like the way the dough handles after a brief chill--my rolling pin experience involves less cursing as well.)

And for the filling, keep it simple: 

5 cups of whatever fruit you'd like
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour or cornstarch
juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegan butter
Toss this all together and pour into your pie shell.
Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, then turn oven down to 350, bake 25 minutes more. Cool the pie.
Ta-da: Pie!

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