Monday, January 21, 2013

Food For Thought

I know a lot of people think that cooking a plant-based diet takes loads of time and who has extra these days?  But let me ask you this, are you exercising like you should? I'm not, I don't crack off 60 minutes of exercise six days a week.  Heck, I don't do any formal exercising at all.  I just cook, clean and run after my boys.  No zumba classes over here.  No palates DVDs.  I wish I knew how to do Tai Chi because I think I could really get into the fluidity and peace that it may bring, but that's another story all together, and I have never taken Tai Chi and I don't have the DVD. So I really don't know if it would bring me inner peace, but I have been watching Kung Fu Panda lately and I love martial arts. So just maybe. Tai Chi would be more on my level though. No more kick boxing for me.  I've been there, taught that for years and frankly, it's too hard on your joints unless you are a little bit of nothing hopping around in a brand new pair of Nike sneakers in your early 20's. I like the idea of slow, thoughtful movement. A mind and body connection.

Since I don't have the time or the extra dough to run 45 minutes up the road to the nearest YMCA, where I used to work as a personal trainer and aerobics instructor! I have plenty to do around here without popping in the latest Ballet Barre workout in the DVD player. I just eat well and put on my rubber gloves and keep this house clean. Then, when it is warm outside, I put on my gardening gloves and have at it. I also eat a whole foods plant-based diet. Steady as she goes.

I have been vegan for a long time. I wrote my very first vegan cookbook when I was 16 years old because my little town of Culpeper had no resources or recipes.  The dial-up internet was very new to us, so I just wrote up whatever clever ways I made burgers or hummus, or lentils and what not.  I was the only child I knew that was writing cookbooks during the hot summer nights instead of going out with friends.  They were all having a laugh and a beer while I was writing my Inklings about health food.  I felt like I didn't fit in anywhere anyways.  But, obsessions can be so isolating.

Even before I was writing cookbooks I was cutting out pictures of broccoli or carrots and writing out the nutritional highlights and sticking them on the fridge at my parents house to reinforce why I choose these veggies over chips or a cookie.  If you know what powerful antioxidants or enzymes that the food has as it is nourishing your body you become excited about chomping down some arugula or tossing back some raw walnuts.  It's fascinating to me.  Just brilliant stuff.

Do you want to know why I am vegan?  I will tell you.  I cannot bear the idea of hurting another living and breathing creature. I'm severely conscious of all things from food to words.  These things can either be a poison or a medicine.  I look at things very differently than most people.  When I see an elderly man I look at his gray head and wrinkled face and I think there was a mother out there who loved him fiercely. He was once a baby who had a Momma who prayed over him when he had a high fever, who washed his dirty cheeks, who nursed him and wanted the very best for him.  I treat people who are my grandparents age respectfully like they are my own grandparents and I talk to them with genuine love in my heart because it is like I see past, present and future in an instant.

And don't even get me started on babies and children. I love them.  They are innocent creatures.  They have little voices and that's why they need strong mother's who will go to bat for them and bend down to their level and ask them what is the matter, why are you crying, what makes you happy dearest? I give everything I've got to my children. I love them fiercely. If you want to see fifty shades of crazy just lay a finger on them.  I will break out all of my Tae Kwon Do skills and go crazy on you. Cray-Hay-Hazy on you. Besides that, I go without the latest fashions, and get them handsome clothing because it is important to me.  I don't care that I'm not in style. I will never be.  I haven't changed my look in two decades and I still fit into all of my clothes (thank you Jesus) and thankfully I have had an obsession with oxford shirts and sweater vests ever since I was in private school prep. The only thing that I ever get is jeans. Those seem to be the only item of clothing that evolve during the years and wear out quickly.  Oh, I get loads of looks from other mom's when I go to pick them up from school and the teachers say, Oh, Pelham he is so handsome and so well dressed. Then they literally take a long look at me like why the heck aren't you a fashion plate like your son.  I just look them straight back in the face and don't give them an inch, and think, I know who I am.  My mind and body have been forged by experiences and no clothing, jewelry, or purses will ever add up to the cost of character, a loving heart and a patient gardener.

I look at animals differently than most as well.  They are someones babies.  A mother gave birth to them and nursed them and brought them to shelter from the rain and the cold. They are loved and have a family too.  I could never hurt them, or lead them to slaughter, eat their flesh. Heck, if I cut my finger and slice through the skin and into the muscle, there is pain.  I just can't inflict pain on any creature when there are plenty of other wonderful things to eat that won't add a layer of guilt to my conscious.  I don't know how people can shut that off and not feel this way about food.

So now that you know me for what I am at my core, all exposed for your ridicule or your acceptance, this is me.  I am as I do.  Shakespeare should have said, To do, or not to do: that is the question.
Who cares about "be".  Everyone wants to be someone.   But to "do". Now that is actually doing something.  Go out and do it. And do it well!

Here's what I do on a day to day basis.

Morning routine:

Up at 4:30 a.m.
Banana. Love the potassium. Love the zip of sugar that breaks the fast.  I also make an ugly mug of green tea.  I don't usually buy organic bananas because they have such a thick peel that gets discarded but if I go to a grocers who offers organic bananas, I buy them because it is pennies of a difference.

7ish a.m.
Quinoa Breakfast Bowl
1/4 a cup of quinoa cooked in a lidded pot with 1/2 cup water for 15-20 minutes. When the water is absorbed, put the quinoa in a bowl and top with 1 Tbsp. raw honey (with the pollen and propolis) and one handful of raw walnuts crushed in my fist like I'm a super hero.

Quinoa which is also called "the gold of the Aztecs" was all but stamped out by the Spanish Conquistadors who literally would kill anyone who tried to cultivate it.  Finally in the 1980s a group of people started growing it in Colorado and it has been gaining ground ever since.  It is remarkable stuff.  It is a complete protein containing all 8 essential amino acids.  It is a seed designed for plant-based people.  It should be called "the gold of the vegans."   I know what you might say about the raw honey, and I've heard all of the arguments.  I have abstained for years but I also have a gut instinct and believe that bee's are free to not go back to the hive and work.  There are no homing devices on a bee.  It is free to work or not work.  Just like you and me.  We can work and have money or we can not work and starve. Same thing for a bee. I understand that some say the conditions are harsh when they collect the honey once a year and use smoke, but people work in factories or walk in cities that are filled with pollution. We are exposed to crap everyday by our own will and needs.

There are so many life giving nutrients in raw honey from the pollen to the propolis to the royal jelly.  It is amazing stuff.  Anti-cancer enzymes. Who wouldn't eat a spoonful a day?! Well, I can concede that I wouldn't if I was allergic, but other than that, I will continue to eat raw honey that is collected to my standards of care.

And finally the crushed walnuts.  I just love raw walnuts.  I frequently dip them in the honey throughout the day when I feel like having something sweet and buttery, much better for you than something confectionery, in my opinion. Walnuts are brain food.  Just look at their shape for proof.  They come from the oldest tree known to man and were considered to be food of the gods in the Roman Empire. There are two reasons I am head over heals with walnuts. First, they contain arginine which is an amino acid that is converted to nitric oxide.  This chemical relaxes blood vessels. How awesome is that?  and that they are rich in the antioxidant ellagic acid which stops the metabolic pathways that allow cancer and heart disease. BAM! How do you 'dem walnuts?

10 ish snack
1/2 of an avocado, arugula greens, one small tomato, fresh herbs like basil, cilantro or parsley, lemon juice and Bangarang!
Some interesting info about the alligator pear.  It has three times more potassium than a banana, and I can see why when every one is drinking red wine they break out the guacamole. They are losing electrolytes while they are drinking but they are replenishing the potassium and salt in the guacamole dip. I get it.  That's why I don't like to drink, it is constantly robbing all of the good stuff out of your blood, stripping it, and that is why you eat constantly when you drink so the alcohol can have something else to metabolize other than your brain.

Arugula is another spectacular food that is part of the cruciferous veggie family that is anti-cancer and truthfully I like it way more than broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.  It has the coolest nickname "salad rocket" because it give such a boost of flavor to such a mundane thing like a salad.  It is nicely paired with a Bibb or a Boston lettuce but I like it to take center stage.

The tomato, delish, if it is in season, if not, don't waste your money on anything that isn't organic or from a local hot-house. They don't have a taste.  The hubs bought a tomato at Walmart a bit back and it sat on a plate on the counter for 2 weeks and in that two weeks it had only one spot on it but felt as hard as an apple. For anyone that has ever grown their own tomatoes knows that you have to eat them within 2-3 days or they will simply melt away while they decompose.  It was creepy to watch this tomato.  It was like seeing those pics of hamburgers and fries that do not age.  Spooky stuff.

Lemon juice! I love to buy lemons and cut them in wedges and squeeze them over everything.  They are natural detoxifiers and they give everything a nice zing without adding oil for flavor.

Fresh herbs, all of them are great, some more beneficial than others.  I usually just go outside and get a handful of them during the year and wash them and chop them up because they are so expensive at the grocers.  But, organic is best because there is no peeling, you eat exactly what they sprayed.  Just like the arugula, I get that organic along with all of my salad greens.

Noon ish
Baked sweet potato
I bake a sweet potato for myself and Kemper, which he calls pumpkin pie, and I don't tell him the difference.  We eat our pumpkin pies together and just have a sweet little mom and son moment.  I'm always high-five ing my brain when they want to eat like me. I don't push it on the boys. Just like how I appreciate it when people do not press me to eat bread and butter with them at the table. I'm not going to do it. So don't trouble yourself by making a scene.  I like to hold the sweet potato in my hand and eat it, skin and all, saves me time from cleaning the plate and fork.  I just go for it. Great for blood sugar too. Considered to be anti-diabetic.

2 ish snack
organic apples are a must.  They are filthy little things if they aren't organic.  Such thin skin. And they are great for making a BM with all of that lovely pectin.  Just think how pectin acts in your homemade jellies. That's how it acts in your tummy.  I just gotta have an apple a day. Kemper eats probably three.  That sneaky little devil.  I hide them from him too, and he always finds them and before I know it, I'm picking up a trail of apple cores.

Green tea and sliced cucumbers.  I don't like bread.  I get nothing from it.  So I just have some cucumbers which are a natural diuretic and almost a palate cleanser, in my opinion, before I get started on the big meal coming.

Pho Spa
Bake your spaghetti squash, which are supposed to contain loads or carotenes,  in the oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. The squash is halved and the seeds scooped out, and place halves on a lined baking dish before you pop it into the oven.  Bake, then remove from heat and turn the oven off.  Let about 15 minutes go by and then spoon out the strings.

In a small stock pot, cook a few minced garlic cloves, a sliced onion and a couple inches of minced ginger in a little bit of water, or oil, for a few minutes, then add a cup of sliced mushrooms (I like shiitakes), and cook a bit longer.  Then I toss in a chopped carrot and stir.  Then I toss in the noodles of one half of the spaghetti squash, reserving the other one for tomorrows dinner.  Toss that up a bit.  Add 2 tsp. of vegan boullion and 2 1/2 to 3 cups water.  Get that to start simmering. And just when it is heated through I get out two bowls and divide the soup between the two.  I top it off with a bit of mung beans, then the other half of the avocado from the morning, diced, then a handful of fresh basil or parsley or cilantro, whatever I have around. Sprinkle on some Bangarang! and then squeeze a lemon wedge over the whole hot mess.  Then serve it nice and warm.

Oh, it is delicious. And I am in love with vegan Vietnamese food with the five elements of the earth, and the yin and yang of food and it's philosophy.  I was researching V cuisine the other day and it matched my feelings about food. I felt like how on earth was I born on this side of the earth?  But, I do not like the meat that they eat. Highly unsavory to me. Dog meat.  I'm sorry Anthony Burdain or however you spell your name.  I will not eat a chicken embryo or dog meat or whatever else is on the market street vendor cart in Vietnam. No reservations indeed.  I am your polar opposite.  I have plenty of reservations and I don't sit on some desert dune and smoke hashish between shows and just go with it. Let the universe in. You say you despise vegans. Ha! No reservations indeed, you dislike vegans tremendously, sounds like you have at least one reservation. Just rubbish. Okay, I do have a few unkind things to say, but he started it years ago in that insipid interview where he slammed vegans. But, I speak the truth about him and I will forever speak the truth however ugly it may be.

I believe you need a filter or conscious thought between you and the universe.  You need to THINK about every aspect and decide if it is right or wrong with your ideals, with your health goals in mind, being present in each moment and feel the weight of each decision and know that is the right one for you.

vegan chocolate or an orange
both are a treat

This is what I eat, there abouts, on a day to day basis.  I switch up the fruit and the veggies to whatever I have or whatever is seasonal, but it is basically the same format everyday until I find something else astounding to eat for all of the right reasons.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spaghetti Squash Primavera

Last night I wanted Pho-No-Mo.  It was the first time in over a month that I didn't want Pho.  I wanted to make something I desperately love since I had the whole evening to myself with the boys.  I wanted to spend a little extra time on the preparation and just get inspired again to make something other than soup with as many veggies crammed in it or a salad with as many vegetables piled high on it.

I thought about it for a bit and one of the dishes that I cooked at Culpeper High School in my Home Economics Class was Pasta Primavera.  I made it in class but I probably didn't even try a fork full because it was not vegan and I don't like white flour pasta, unless it is fresh, and I mean Mama Lane just cranked it through her pasta machine fresh. That and I had a teensy-weensy bit of a healthfood obsession and a teensy-weensy bit of an exercise obsession. Okay, who am I kidding, I lost 1/3 of my body weight my senior year in high school.  138 lbs to 84 lbs wasn't pretty. I wasn't eating anything with white flour or whipping cream in it and I was hitting the gym after class to do chest and back that day, but I did enjoy cooking it. Also, I didn't have to worry about eating it because my cooking partner had her own food issues and so she ate all of it.  We were quite a pair.

I love Home Ec teachers.  Mine were all as stuffy as Martha Stewart, just deadpan voices (which is my favorite way to tell a joke; you have to listen to the words to get it and it can be completely lost on people), and everything is so critical in a recipe or crafting.  I laugh at the way they taught me how to measure flour.  Takes so flipping long with the handled spoon, the measuring cup, the perfect flat knife or spatula.   I just eyeball the stuff and dump it unceremoniously into the bread machine and voila, Walla, I've got the most beautiful dough to make my herbed out foccacia, or pretzels, or slider buns.

 I even remember being lectured on how to clean a sink properly and how to pick up broken glass from the floor.  It was a twelve step process.  Kinda silly stuff, but I loved it, and I was good at it. Just follow the recipe. Follow the instructions. Then, add your own flair and the Bettys would swoon over it.

Home Economics has always been a favorite subject for me, that and English Composition, or whatever they are calling it these days, where they assign books for you to read and review.

You mean I get to read a book for a grade? Done.  But, I promise you, you won't like my report.

I've read too many books to think that the Catcher in the Rye was J.D. Salinger's best book. Next time, Teach, give me a book I can sink my mental teeth in, not another coming of age book.

You will not believe it, I certainly didn't think it was possible, that I love Andre Agassi's autobiography Open.  My sister's fiance let me borrow it on Saturday night.

He said it was the best book.  He has a passion for tennis and grew up watching Agassi work (because it sure wasn't play for him) or throw the bird at someone.  Me, I haven't played tennis since I was a kid swinging around a racquet at the Country Club for grins. I just love passionate people who achieve greatness through hard work, breaking through the barriers of the fear that was holding them back, and truly finding a bit of peace in all of the suffering for the sake of success (every time I read the word "sake", I confuse it for the Japanese rice wine sake; did you do it too? or is just me that sees food and drink in everything).  I just can't put the book down.  It is making me feel so inspired to keep the dream going. Peel back a few layers of the perfectionist and know that there is no perfect, just let it flow. Don't work so hard against yourself. Thy will be done.

The most surprising thing was my comparison of his work on the court and my work in the kitchen which are so similar in nature.  We both describe them as the loneliest jobs in the world.  Think about it.  Tennis, you train by yourself for decades against a ball thrower, you are in the tournament (you and you alone, there is not team), and you can't talk to your coach or touch the other opponent, heck you can't even smell your opponent across the net.  You are just taking a beating or giving a proper one.  You have no feed back and win or lose, you suffer alone.  Well, I can sympathize with that.

I live in the middle of nowhere, on a farm, where I have never spoken to one of my neighbors (I know, for shame, Jennifer, I'm trying to get out of my comfort zone but they are strangers to me). I cook, package, and deliver to the receiving department at the back of the building of some wonderful food hub, then I turn around and leave.  The only exchange that took place was an email for the order, delivery to receiving, and a signature on my invoice.  You don't meet one person that says thank you, I love this stuff.  You don't get a hug that says nice to see you friend.  You get a bit of small talk about the weather if you are lucky, then it is off to the kitchen to cook up another batch of awesome loneliness. By myself. Alone.

Am I dramatic or what?  But some days it just seems to feel a bit like you are a kid spending the night at your Grandma's creaky house and she's piled three quilts on top of you as she tucks you in a bed that is too big for you. You're going to be all alone with 15 lbs.of blankets on your little bird chest as you listen to the constant flow of cars passing by on the highway outside the window all night.

Le sigh.

But, thankfully, when I read about another prodigy, who suffers from the same lonely heart, I feel fabulous! Like, oh good.  I'm not alone.  I AM NOT ALONE in these feelings.  Hee. Hee.  I always say "oh no, I'm feeling feelings," and it just makes me laugh and laugh.  Just like when my big brother used to say, "I like the water when it's wet." Stuff like that just cracks me up.

So, on my road to food enlightenment and peace, I'm slowing down and going back to the beginning. Don't you always go back to the beginning?  I wanted to savor the flavor of a pasta primavera, the way that I want it to be done.  The way I prefer to eat, loads of fabulous veggies, roasted spaghetti squash instead of the lifeless box of reconstituted pasta, fresh torn basil, Bangarang!, pinch of nutmeg, the pop of fresh peas between your teeth and tongue, the meatiness of a mushroom, just delicious, and all flowing together to make a gorgeous dish that is as much a feast for the eyes in all its resplendent glory, and intoxicating aromatics,with  a luscious cream, and the bountiful benefits of taking all of these veggies into your body, nourishing you, becoming part of you.  Oh, it is wondrous to behold.

And here it is for you and you and you and you-a. ;)  Someone was talking about the Sound of Music to me the other day and said it was as epic as Les Mis?  Hmmm, I don't know.  Do you think so too?

Spaghetti Squash Primavera
1 big spaghetti squash, (cut in half, remove seeds, bake at 350 degrees in a big dish, cut side up for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before scooping out the spaghetti ropes, dig your spoon on the edge of where the skin meets the flesh and pull up.  Separate the ropes with your fingers so it looks like spaghetti instead of mush)
1-2 Tbsp. EVOO
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, halved, peeled and sliced thin
1 red pepper, sliced
1 orange pepper, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and small diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (I used a shiitake and crimini blend)
1/2 cup frozen peas (set in water for a few minutes to thaw)
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegenaise (Follow Your Heart brand is my fave)
1 tsp. Bangarang! signature seasoning
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn

Bake the spaghetti squash, remove from oven and let cool a bit.  Scoop out the spaghetti ropes, carefully, and reserve for the grand finale.  In a big skillet, warm your olive oil over medium heat and toss in the garlic, onion. peppers.  Saute it all up for a bit and toss in the carrots and mushrooms, cook until the mushrooms are softened to your liking.  Toss in the peas and mix it all up.  Turn the heat down on the skillet and to in your spaghetti squash noodles.  Add the vegenaise, spices and nutmeg.  Give it a good toss making sure everything gets coated.

Get out your plates and use your tongs or noodle serving spoon to place a nice portion on each plate.  Top with some Bangarang! and fresh basil leaves.  Serve hot.

And, oh my goodness, it is like a warm, noodlelee salad with a creamy dressing, and just all kinds of fabulous.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Yesterday morning I had what I like to call a million dollar idea or as Mr. Smee from the movie Hook would call an epiphany, like lightning has just struck my brain.  I actually have a lot of ideas that hit me when I'm gardening or just standing in my kitchen that flash before my eyes. And, if I don't write them down immediately or text it to myself, I will lose it forever in my undulating brain.

I had an idea a few months ago about a new social site for intellectuals called Nashboard, named after the math genius, John Nash. It would be almost like a clipboard that you would text ideas to that could be open to discussion among your circle of peers or you could have it hidden for you to solve or research at your leisure or as your passion pulled you. It would be like the clipboard that John Nash used during his first years at Princeton, or was it Cornell?  It's been has been over six months since I read one of his biographies that I just can't solve the mix and match puzzle.  

Nash didn't have to attend classes if he didn't want to. It wasn't required. He could just walk around all day long and write down questions or propose problems on that clipboard. If a question struck him while he attended mandatory Tea Time at 4pm with the math department (or on his meandering walks or when performing concentric bike circles), he would write it down, and try to wrap his mind around the solution, with months going by at a time and letting his subconscious do some of the work. Whenever he was ready to do some serious thinking on the matter, he would come to a conclusion consciously and work it out on his clipboard.  I think I'm a bit like Nash in that regards.

When I was entering the 102.1 the X chili cookoff in 2011, I proposed the problem to myself, how do you make 60 gallons of vegan chili using only your own spices and it has to razzle dazzle?  I thought about it for a bit and did not even attempt to write down a recipe.  I just thought of colors of beans, colors of vegetables and herbs, the combination of my Bangarang! signature spice versus the sweet of my Shebang! spiced sugar blend, what kind of texture it needed and so on.  

I let this all mull around in the old noggin for at least two months. Not trying to solve it at all.  Then one day out of the clear blue sky, I just wrote down all of the ingredients and how much of each should go into the pot, cooked it, tasted it, and it was like the hand of God had come down and made a bowl of chili for me.  I just went with it. It was the best thing I had ever tasted. It literally rocked my socks off.  I wrote down the exact amount of everything, and then I started multiplying the ingredients until I had 60 gallons.  Bought all of them and brought them to the cookoff. Cooked it up and won.  

I did it again this same process this year.  I thought about making another batch of chili, that was different, like none that I had ever had, or heard of, to compete in 2013.  I have thought about it, and let it all come together in my head, and then did the same thing, and it was shockingly .  I don't know how I do it but it truly feels like the hand of God works in my kitchen from time to time. Especially when he sees that I am cooking up an epic pot of chili.  Can you imagine?! 

Hey God, will you dice up another onion? 

Sure Jen. I would do it for the least of these...meaning you.  

And then we would have a good belly laugh. 

He must really like the smell of my chili like the Greek gods love the smell of burnt meat as an offering or tithe in their name as you send a prayer to your favorite god like Apollo, Zeus, Aphrodite or Hermes. They don't do it for me.  Nah ,it would have to be Athena and her band of warrior princesses that I would make a burnt offering of soybean burgers to. Those girls are the ish, as Michael Jackson's daughter most eloquently stated in a recent interview.  

The ish. I like it.  

Athena's immortal band of sisters take a vow like they are super-hero-nuns who swear off men for ever after and are wise, beautiful and resourceful.  I know, I know.  They are hunters too. Everything can't be perfect, not even the Greek gods, for my ideals. ;)

So this idea that hit my head like a bolt of lightning or more like a nudge in my belly-brain and said, cook this and thy shalt love it. 

You know what, I have a great deal of respect for C.S. Lewis who was an atheist for a bit and then resolved that there just had to be a God. The Narnian was a fun book to read.  I loved the part about his favorite thing in the world was spending time convalescing over some flu while reading a book.  He really enjoyed having a fever and reading a fairy story.  So, in the month of December, I had the worst case of the flu. I was sick for over a month. 

While I was laying wide awake with fevers reaching 103 degrees, I thought, wouldn't it be Jolly-Jack-Splended to do as Lewis has done and read something fantastical and get really lost in a book. I mean really lost in a book like you are seeing some of the creatures out of the corner of your eyes, Pink Floyd knows what I'm talking about.  I picked up a book and it was so hard to concentrate.  I tried and I tried but I just couldn't appreciate it for all that Lewis and his dear friend Tolkein had cracked it up to be.  And I really did see dark shadows in the corners of my eye and that le freaked me out  so badly that I abandoned the notion of fever reading.  I'll try it again next flu just for the heck of it I have no doubt.

This million dollar idea was of a Food Truck.  I've always wanted a food truck but I wouldn't dare go to the city by myself because I'm a scaredy-cat. You see, I'm afraid of strangers, which is not a very good way to be if you are in the business of feeding strangers.  But, I digress.  

This food truck would be called either Pho-To-Go (I hate when I see something like 4-real or Pho-2-Go, it makes me cringe) or Pho-Real, or Pho-Sho, just because it would give me a laugh if I answered my mobile like this,

Pho-Real, this is Jen speaking.

Ah, and I love a good laugh.

You'd go up to the Counter and you'd see me, the brave version of me, behind the window. I would do an inviting smile, try not to open my eyes too big so you don't think that I am a  nutter, and then you would look up at the menu, and realize, 

hey wait, I get this venti to-go cup and I just tell this nice lady what veggies and noodles I want. That is the ish.

I've got everything from carrots, shiitakes, ginger, cabbage, mung bean sprouts, avocado, lemon wedges, tofu, cellaphane noodles, soba noodles, you name it, in my long, Subway style counter, you just let me know what you want in your cup.

You list off all of the super-thinly sliced veggies and noodles and I stuff them all the way to the top of the cup.  I pour my magical broth on top and stud it with fresh herbs and a sprinkle of Bangarang.  

I put the lid on top and tell you to let all these things steep for 5 minutes before you remove the lid.

You pay.

I give you your Pho-To-Go with a napkin and a spoon and we are all so marvelously happy.  

And guess what?  You love it.

You tell your friends.  You take a picture of you enjoying it and you share it on facebook.  And you come back and bring a friend and it goes on and on until I have a Pho-Sho in every town that would fit perfectly in the old Blockbuster video.

And this is what it would look like.

And it is the ish.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Having a Pita Party

Last year was interesting to say the very least. I worked and labored under the assumption that I was a great success. Wrong-O.

Everything was just swimming along for the two years that I have been in business. I didn't pay one bit of attention to the books, I just handed Chris the receipts from the label company, the container company, my ingredients, gas receipts, insurance, and all those other odds and ends that come along with running your own food business.  I didn't give a hoot about seeing the bottom line. I didn't want to be bothered with it.  I was having a hard time just making and taking the orders. I had no time to play with my sons. I hated cooking dinner for the family because I cooked all day for others. I couldn't play with my food, everything is so strict and by the book if you have a food business, it is not fun and games.

Pots, pans and cooking utensils all have to be washed and dried a certain way, by hand, which takes a lot of time.  Floors, counters and sinks have to be disinfected before you think about putting a cutting board down. Hair tied back and capped, apron on, hands washed at the hand wash station. Cook only by your recipe that is on file.  Exactly as it is. Package with a food grade plastic bag and seal with a heat thingy. Box. Label. Freeze. Invoice. Deliver. Wait. Wait. Wait to be paid.

I was always stressed out because of a deadline looming over me, and me alone. I have a bit of an anxiety issue when it comes to people. If they look at me funny (or pretend I'm not there) or address me in a lukewarm fashion, I start to feel like I'm the last one to be picked for dodge ball teams.  I just kept telling myself that I was getting somewhere. Chin up.

Then the storm blew in over the fields of soybeans.  We bought a tractor last year. 25K.  The tractor needed repairs. Another 25K. And then the transmission blew out and we didn't have the 25K to fix it.  It has been sitting in four pieces at the mechanics shop. Then, we had the worst harvest and couldn't recover. I don't know about you, but most people can't afford a 75,000 dollar bath. We had to cut our losses at 50,000 and scrap our dream.

Chris had to find a job that was financially sound, something we could depend on.  So he went back to work in manufacturing.  He handed me the books in November.  I've been depressed since November.

Not only did I not make a dime, I owed him thousands of dollars that I can never repay unless I find a full-time job and put Kemper in daycare.  I only started this business out of shear desperation so I could stay at home with my infant and special needs son who had four appointments per week with a speech therapist and an occupation therapist at 2:00 pm, four days a week.

I have been thinking and thinking, and staring down the barrel of a bill, or quote, of what my labels will cost to stay in business.  I'm completely out of my frozen food labels.  In order to stay in business with making frozen food, including my chili, I have to buy more.  It's 993.00.  I don't have it.  And this time, I'm not asking Chris for it.  He's been through enough.

But, don't lose heart.  I will still make Bangarang! signature seasoning and lollipops.  I have hundreds of labels, thousands of lollipop sticks.  Just waiting for an order for those to appear in my inbox.

I've been so selfish for so long.  I really thought I would be the next big thing if someone could just give me a chance. But, at least I got to do what I always wished for, I taught a cooking class. A real vegan cooking class that people actually paid for and paid me for. I am not a great success and I am making peace with myself.  I find peace in cooking for my family and friends.  I find joy in watching a Disney movie with my boys. I find joy in getting out all of the water colors and all three of us sitting around painting while we listen to an audiobook.  I carve out joy in reading classical literature, learning new words, they are always surprising me. Words that is.  I put on music again for the fun of it. Something I haven't done in years because nothing matched the chaos of clanging bells and alarms that were ringing in my ears as deadlines arrived on my calendar.  I'm researching cooking methods again, reading things like what is paired with this and that and why and who wrote the first cookbook ever, and so on. The history of food is amazing.  I'm taking delight in the sky above again.  For so long I looked down or straight ahead.  You are big if you look at the ground around your feet. You are smaller than a grain of sand if you look up at the sky.

So I decided yesterday not to continue down the rabbit hole.  I'm going to shake it up.  It probably doesn't help that I'm reading Les Mis and listening to the Iliad at the same time.  It was interesting because as the gods are fighting each other in the Iliad  and they are laughing at the mortals, like you and me, who are fighting beside them saying something like, we are in this battle for fun but those guys are dying.  Don't they know that they are but a leaf that burns bright then dies to be replaced by another leaf.   Well, it was something like that.  And they keep talking about olive oil.  Everyone is covered with the stuff.  It is on and in everything.  Hera even bathes in it as she is trying to seduce Zeus to turn his attention away from the battle.

Me, I love the stuff, olive oil.  Cold-pressed, the very first press of the olive.  The best of the best. Organic, absolutely. Extra-virgin, right on.  In the midst of the food fight that is raging in my head, I lost and/or won the battle, depending how you look at life.  I have been in the throws of a good old fashioned pity party for over two months now.  It is time to burn bright again and just have a Pita Party.  That's right. A Pita Party.  And guess what?  You are invited.  And, I'm going to give you one of my million dollar recipes (insert laugh track in here). My falafel.

This was our dinner last night. It was delicious. It was epic.  It was Mediterranean.  I uncorked a bottle of red wine, poured olive oil in and on everything.  I swear my skin even has a sheen on it this morning.

I love my grandma.  I love her to pieces.  She says the cutest stuff.  I remember this one time she told me that her skin was dry because she hadn't been eating enough mayonnaise.  DUKES! (I love that word) That is what she uses.  She's a skinny little thing but the lady loves her Dukes mayonnaise.  I, on the other hand, only love Follow Your Heart brand Vegenaise.  That is my mayo of choice, you know why, because it tastes like Dukes. ;)  Also, I love the word Emoji .  I just taught it to Pelham the other day when I painted some Japanese Emoji on one of the water colors we were laboring over.  Emoji.  It is just fun to say,which reminds me of that movie Overboard where the wealthy guy leaves his wife, Goldie Hawn, at the hospital with her amnesia, in the hands of Kurt Russell, so he could party on his yacht with a bunch of bikini clad women.  And then, the rich guy is forced to reclaim his wife but he is pining over his mistress and her name was. . . . and it's a good one.. . . Tofutti.  That one is a fun one to say too.  Emoji    and    Tofutti.

Pita Party

Pita Bread
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup wheat flour
2 cups white flour (plus more for rolling)
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil

If using a bread machine to make the dough, as I do, place all of the ingredients in the way that your machine says to, you know, water and oil first with salt, then flours, then sugar, and lastly yeast, if that is the order. . . select dough, and let it do all of the magic.  Then continue with the directions for the shaping and baking.

Measure out the warm water, add the yeast and sugar, stirring well.  Let this mixture sit for 5 minutes in order for the yeast to dissolve.

In a big bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Get out another big bowl.  Pour the yeast mixture into the big bowl, add the olive oil, and whisk.  Stir in the flour, one cup at a time until well incorporated and forms a dough ball.  Flour a working surface.  Knead the dough ball for about 10 minutes. Fun right?  It's exercise, just go with it.  Until the dough is smooth, elastic and supple.

Place the dough in a well oiled bowl and turn it once so it is nice and shiny all over.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and place in a warm draft free place to rise for an hour.  I just stick it in the oven.  No draft in there.

Take the bowl of dough out of the oven.

Turn on oven to 475 degrees.  Place a baking stone or pizza stone in the oven to get nice and hot.  (Ha, just had a thought about the book Fahrenheit 454~the degree of heat needed for paper to burn)

Take the dough out of bowl and lay it on a lightly floured surface.   Cut it into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface.  Cover the balls of dough with plastic wrap and let rest  (it has worked very hard) for 15 minutes.

Get out your rolling pin, wherever you last left it, after you chased away a dog, or your husband from the kitchen (just kidding), and sprinkle it with flour and smooth in with your hands. Roll each ball out on a floured surface into a 4 inch circle.

Bake the pitas directly on the hot baking stone for 3 minutes or until puffed up.  It is like magic when all the sudden it fills with air.  Wondrous to behold.  Set the pitas on a wire rack to cool and serve with hummus.

1 cup dried garbanzo beans (or 2 1/2 cups prepared beans)
4 oz. olive oil
juice of one half of a lemon
A bulb of garlic that you have used about half, or all of the big cloves are used, and the rest remain
fresh thyme
Bangarang! signature seasoning

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a big stock pot, cook your beans to package directions.  I bring the water, which is about 4 inches over the top of the beans, to a boil.  Boil 5 minutes. Cut off the heat.  Put a lid on it, and let it sit for an hour.

Get your bulb of garlic, lop off the top. Pour a little bit of olive oil over the exposed flesh of the garlic cloves. Wrap it in foil.  Place on a oven proof dish.  Roast for 30 minutes or until it smells delicious.  Remove the dish from heat, turn off oven, and let it just hang out in the foil until it cools off.

 After the hour is up on the beans, get out a colander and rinse and drain the water from the beans.  Put the beans back in the pot.  Fill with water about 4 inches over.  Bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a soft boil, not going over or bubbling too much, not so agitated I should say. And boil until you can see the skins floating around in the boil.  About 45 minutes or less.

Drain in a a colander and rinse.

Find your food processor.

Unwrap each little clove of garlic and toss it into the bowl of the processor.  Take a bunch of the little leaves off of the thyme sprig and toss it in.  Pour in the olive oil.  Process for a bit so the garlic is chopped small.  Add the lemon juice, process.  Add a 1/2 tsp. of Bangarang! and process.  Toss in the garbanzo beans and process.  Add 1/4 cup of water if you like it to be really smooth.  Taste and add more spice if needed.

Serve in a shallow bowl and top it off with a little olive oil and Bangarang! Add some fresh parsley too.  It counteracts and acts as like a deodorizer to the garlic, naturally, for your breath.  Well, that's what all of the health books say, but I don't really find that to be so.  I love to stink of garlic.

What is that old poem about garlic that it says it makes men stink, drink and wink?  I like that poem.

And I have decided that I don't like tahini very much.  It is so bitter.  It's like you are trying to cover up the bitter taste as soon as you put it in there.

2 cups dry garbanzo beans, cooked using the method above, heck you can make it three cups here and just take out what you need for the hummus and leave the rest for the falafel
1 sweet onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
3 tsp. Bangarang
3 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 handful of fresh parsley

Cook your garbanzo beans, and drain.

In your food processor, whirl up the onion, garlic, parsley and spices until well processed.  Add the chickpeas.  Process until some is smooth, don't scrape the beans down.  I add usually a half a cup water here so I get the bottom half nice and smooth and the top is chunky with the whole garbanzo beans.  Turn out the falafel dough into a big bowl.  Using a big spoon, mix well until all is incorporated.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Dig one hand in and grab a bit of falafel dough, about the size of a walnut, shape into a ball and flatten a bit.

You can either bake or fry the falafel nuggets at this point.

I like to add a little oil to a skillet and fry them about 4 minutes each side.  Serve warm.

Quinoa Fattoushy Salad
1 cup dry quinoa cooked by package directions
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into bite sized pieces, so sliced and then diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 - 1/2 cup vegenaise
1 handful of fresh picked dill, minced
1 handful of fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. Bangarang!

Cook quinoa in a little lidded pot.  1 cup quinoa is cooked in two cups water.  Bring the water and quinoa to a boil.  Cover with the lid and reduce the heat to a simmer for twenty minutes. Remove from heat. Remove lid and let cool completely.

In a big bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir it up.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Serve cold.

Tomato Salad
2 big tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme, using the leaves
2 sprigs fresh oregano, remove leaves from stem and mince
sea salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and serve room temperature.

Pomegranates would be fun to serve with this.  Didn't have them but wanted them.

And that was our Pita Party.