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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A First Taste of Spring

      I'm currently on "Spring Break" from school this week. That translates to studying for 3 exams, working on a group project, and taking advantage of my "free time" to make the doctor appointments that I've been putting off all year. I tested a few new recipes over the past two weeks, including:

  • VegWeb's Barbecue Tempeh - a little too tomatoey and sweet for my taste; Danny pinpointed the missing flavor, and with a few drops of liquid smoke we had the barbecue taste we were looking for
  • Mexicali Tofu Bowl - my version of Chipotle's Burrito Bowl using the "Mexicali Tofu Scramble" from Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook as my base: rice sprinkled with fresh lime, black bean mash, salsa marinated tofu scramble, sauteed peppers and onions, and black olives served with corn tortillas; amazing as is, but next time I would add some guacamole, corn, and fresh cilantro
  •  Homemade pizza - This isn't a new recipe, and I think I've mentioned it before. It's becoming a weekly thing now because it's such a quick and easy recipe: Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough layered with tomato sauce, grilled veggies (Trader Joe's frozen eggplant and zucchini blend), sundried tomatoes, and olives. Bon appetit!
  • VegWeb's Cinnamon Buns - I have finally overcome my fear of yeast! This recipe was definitely time-consuming, but most of it was downtime (letting the yeast rise). The instructions were so easy to follow, and the buns came out perfectly! I brought them to my friend's Arbonne party, and she had an amazing array of all vegan desserts prepared: homemade pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, and gluten-free banana waffles topped with ice cream! 

  • Spicy Wehani and Cashews - I usually never follow the suggested recipes on food packaging, but I bought a bulk box of my favorite aromatic nutty brown "Lundberg Wehani Rice," and wanted to try something new with it. I tested this recipe in my new cast-iron dutch oven, which reminded me of the amazing little cast-iron pot that my roommate's family swore by to cook their Puerto Rican rice dishes. The rice came out really fragrant and moist in the dutch-oven, and best of all - no sticking to the bottom of the pot!  If you can handle the bold flavors of cumin and cloves, try this recipe! 

To make all of these tasty dishes, I need some fresh, inexpensive veggies! Hence, my backyard garden! My dad and I started some organic seeds indoors a over a week ago, and they are doing well. We planted indoors: kale, tatsoi (an Asian green), red swiss chard, green lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, bell peppers, basil, butternut squash, delicata squash, cilantro, San Marzano tomatoes, and another unidentified tomato variety from my dad's family in Sicily. My dad went a little seed-happy and threw handfuls of seed into each cell, so we have lots of thinning to do! Outdoors we planted peas, sugar snap peas, red radish, mizuna (another Asian green), Indian Mustard, and garlic (from Sophia Garden, planted last fall). I've been on a gardening kick lately, thanks to two great events I attended this past weekend. On Friday, I attended the Small Farm Summit at SUNY Old Westbury. This conference attracted hundreds of Long Islanders interested in supporting sustainable local agriculture. The keynote address was given by Joel Salatin, the famous organic farmer and author featured in Michael Pollan's books and documentaries like Food Inc. and Fresh. At the event, I attended a lecture on starting an organic garden and another that featured new and experienced farmers on Long Island. There was also an expo at the event center featuring non-profit organizations and sustainable businesses on Long Island. The next day, Danny and I attended the Cornell University Cooperative Extension's Spring Gardening School in Riverhead. We attended two informative lectures by Master Gardeners: one on Asian herb & vegetable gardening and the other on growing vegetables. The Asian lecture was given by this cute and funny little Thai woman who made it sound really easy to grow things like ginger and lemongrass indoors. She went through so many other exotic herbs and vegetables that can grow outdoors in my region or in the home. The vegetable gardening lecture was given by a British man who runs an organic farm on eastern Long Island that grows just for food pantries! It's a beautiful day today, so I'm going to go study outside and watch my plants grow! Oh, and don't forget Earth Day (tomorrow, April 22nd!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Six Weeks to Go!

Six weeks to go! That is, six more weeks until this semester is over, I find out the admissions decision from Hunter College, and I begin my 10 day vacation in London! I've been super busy lately with school and work, so I haven't had much time to read up on food/nutrition or cook. I've been making big one-pot meals that will last me a few days, so that I have more time to study. Last week I tried cooking soba noodles for the first time in VegWeb's recipe for "Sesame Noodles with Tofu & Veggies." I made a few changes using the ingredients I had on hnad, replacing the bok choy with nori seaweed, swapping peanut butter with tahini. using dried shitakes, and replacing the fresh cilantro with cilantro chutney from an Indian market. The overall taste was strange, probably because I made too many weird substitutions. It was too vinegary and I didn't like the raw tofu. I did love the chewy texture of the soba noodles and the creamy quality from the nut butter sauce. On Tuesday, I went to an acupuncturist (for the first time!...I'll let you know how it goes) that was near Live Island Cafe. I got a raw sampler platter for dinner that came with soup and dessert. Like my first experience, the meal was tasty, but raw food definitely takes some getting used to. I also thought I'd pass along a vegan recipe that Danny baked up in his kitchen at work this week. He made VegWeb's recipe for "The BEST REAL Peanut Butter Cookies," and they got rave reviews from his coworkers.

One other thing on my never-ending to-do list is to grow an organic vegetable garden with my dad this summer. We really need to start this weekend, because I was hoping to start transplants indoors and get some cold-weather seeds in the ground (I had really aimed to get this done last month)! My dad grew up on a farm in Sicily, and as much as he probably hated farm chores as a child, he has kept a garden ever since he moved to New York. This is the first year that we want to try for an all-organic garden. We hope to grow: tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, carrot, string beans, zucchini/cucuzzi, butternut squash, delicata squash, beets, sugar snap peas, lettuce, augula, radish, kale, swiss chard, tatsoi, garlic, basil, rosemary, parsley, sage, chives, and mint. My dad also has fig, persimmon, and chestnut trees (although only the fig is mature enough to bear fruit). It seems like a ridiculous amount of stuff to grow, but this year is just a trial! Last summer I interned on an organic CSA farm, so I guess I'm trying to recreate the experience on a smaller scale in my own backyard. I joined another organic CSA on Long Island this summer called Golden Earthworm (which is a much larger operation than Sophia Garden, where I interned).  If you're not familiar with the term, CSA means "community-supported agriculture," and it is a really economical and sustainable way to eat organic. Members buy seasonal shares (subscriptions), and in return they each get a big box of fruits, veggies, herbs, flowers, or whatever Mother Nature chooses to grow each week. Every CSA is unique in size, crop variety, harvest season, membership cost, etc. Some require that you volunteer a small number of hours each week on the farm. Sophia Garden required members to pick up their shares at the farm, whereas Golden Earthworm will drop off my box at a location near my house. For more information and to search for CSA's, farmers' markets, or co-ops near you, go to