23 December 2009

Christmas at home

I finally have a tree again. In the last few years, end of semester school work and international travel plans have left me with no time for a full blown arbol. But this year, there was time. AND there was a farmer (Laura from Blue Door Farm!) willing to deliver to my door step a native, but invasive, Eastern Red Cedar. I will confess that these trees are sharp and require thick gloves and Benadryl cream. You might find that your house mate or spouse hates them. But I love them. And I love having a Christmas tree again.

A friend told me recently that I reminded him of silent film star Mildred Davis. I think I was channeling her when I topped my tree with this bow.

Self portrait

We had a heck of a time getting the tree to stand up straight. Our Christmas tree stand is woefully inadequate and the tree teetered and tottered as we ran around the apartment trying to find something to prop it up with. We finally settled on empty beer bottles.

"Beer fixes everything," said Sergio.

After Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad sent me home with lots of green and red goods from their yard - holly and something pronounced "you" that I don't know how to spell.

buffalo grass and holiday greens

on top of the piano, too

Sergio's folks brought all our stockings from Mexico - plus a new one for Lil Baby Pumpkin. Sergio adeptly hung them beautifully on our book case. They are half full already.

We're up to 9 now.

Merry Christmas

21 December 2009

Paul Mesner Puppets: "The Nativity"

All these years I've lived in here (well, only 8 years but still) and I had never seen Paul Mesner Puppets until today. Our friends were in the show this weekend; Sergio's family is here and we were looking for fun things to do; we had a Christmas fund to spend from Sergio's grandmother. So we all made our way to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral to see the Paul Mesner Puppets troupe (at last!) in "The Nativity." They were wonderful.

Are they puppets or marionettes? We wondered. But they seem like something unto themselves to me. Greater than full size ... taller than tall ... eyes of unusual size. The arms and fabric billow. The heads bobble ever so gently. The bodies sway in the space above the audience as they walk down the aisle. And for humor the sheep poke their heads into the crowd and go "baaaaaa" and the camels lean over and spit. "Putoey!"

When not being funny, the larger than life characters are mostly surreal and other worldly towering over us like figures in a dream. A good dream. In fact if I could hire the Paul Mesner Puppets troupe to star in my dreams every night and portray the contents of my subconscious, I think I would.

16 December 2009

ThanksVegan #6

The tradition continues. Every fall for six years we have gathered with our friends Jon and Erin for a completely vegan Thanksgiving. The menu changes every year and gets better every year, too. But some things - like the mashed potatoes and the bonhomie - stay the same.

seitan roulade from Vegan Yum Yum

We were all Tofurkey-eating novices when this began in 2004. By now we've graduated from a processed & boxed main dish, to made-from-scratch roulades - a tofu roulade last year and a seitan roulade this year.

sage, thyme, garlic - for the stuffing

Each year we've been able to get more local, too - although we seem to delocalize things pretty often - driving our Missouri Brussels sprouts to Tulsa - or driving Oklahoma sage and thyme to Kansas City.

Eden Alley's Mushroom Gravy was Sergio's most stunning gravy yet

Our resources this year included the Candle Cafe cookbook, a Nigella recipe cut out of the newspaper, and the newly released Eden Alley cookbook - Stirwell to Heaven. Oh, and Erin, who is a resource in and of herself.

heirloom pumpkins; long island cheese and jarrahdale
The Nigella recipe was for stuffed, roasted pumpkin. I took two elements of my centerpiece - two heirloom pumpkins from Hun's Garden - and stuffed them with rice, cranberries, and saffron and roasted them for ages. Delicious.

steak on our Cosentino's gift cards - not vegan

What I couldn't buy at Badseed on Friday, we bought at Cosentino's on Saturday - wheat gluten, oranges and cranberries, among other things. (Very little soy, though, as this year's meal was virtually soy free.) This trip to the grocery store was funded by a generous gift card from a colleague which I have been holding on to all year. I've been saving it for a special occasion - an occasion like the Sixth Annual ThanksVegan - a very special occasion indeed.

The Full Menu
• seitan roulade (recipe from Vegan Yum Yum)
• roasted, stuffed pumpkin (recipe from Nigella Lawson; pumpkins from Hun's Garden)
• roasted broccoli and cauliflower (from the JCCC/K-State Student Farm)
• sauteed kale and chard (from Badseed and KCCUA)
• mashed potatoes (from Alice, Western Hills Produce)
• wilted spinach salad (from KCCUA)
• mushroom gravy (from Eden Alley cookbook, using Soaring Eagle Farm wheat flour)
• mushroom and wild rice soup (recipe from Candle Cafe cookbook)
• grain travel bread (from Fervere)
• cranberry orange relish (recipe from Erin's grandmother)
• easy tarte aux pommes - a.k.a. Apple Pie (from Vegan Yum Yum)

06 December 2009


Today was the KC Food Circle's annual meeting and several of us signed up to bring food. I was signed up to bring "something from Badseed." So on Friday I went to the market and bought a few things to bring. But it was mostly salad fixin's and I knew I couldn't bring salad to the meeting because we wouldn't have any forks but I didn't have time to prepare anything else and I really kind of wanted salad and so ... I went ahead and made salad. And put it on a stick.

I ran a some turnips, radishes, and cucumbers through the mandoline; I used a very mild, lettuce-like bok choi on the bottom and arugula on top; and I engineered it so the spiny part of the lettuce on the bottom and the half tomato on top held it all together. A plate full of these drizzled in dressing made for great finger food. If I do say so myself.

Post Thanksgiving Weekend in OKC (a photo essay)

left-over pumpkin pie at Mom and Dad's house - made from fresh pumpkin

Black Friday was a beautiful day to stay home and go for a walk (& scoot & ride).

We also practiced writing with our left hands, Ling's specialty.

On Saturday, Mom and I went to Mema's to plant pansies.

Here's the last rose of the season.

"Your roses may have thorns, but don't forget -- your thorns may have some roses, too."

Dad cut me a big branch of these to bring home for Christmas decoration.

I also brought home green tomatoes; Mom and Dad also cleaned out their garden before the big freeze; half of these came home with me and became green tomato chutney.

The herbs had to be harvested, too - before the freeze - and I brought half of these home as well; they're on stand-by, drying, waiting to be delicious.

01 December 2009

Thanksgiving at Home - 2009

Field Roast and Turkey - a syncretic splendid table

I spent a whole day cooking on Thursday and it was lovely. We invited Sergio's sister and her family to come over for Thanksgiving. We made it a BYOT dinner - bring your own turkey. Our "turkey" was our long-time favorite vegetarian grain meat: Field Roast. Christy and Armando brought for themselves some turkey they had slow roasted in the crock pot. And Christy made a pumpkin cake for dessert.

beets me

The rest of the meal was a vast array of vegetables in all their glory. Beets with dill and goat cheese - standard, but no less stunning. Mashed potatoes made more interesting with celeriac and rutabaga. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts (thank goodness for the CSA Thanksgiving share) as usual. And a new recipe this year from my treasured Chez Panisse Vegetables which I will be incorporating as a favorite: Fennel and Leek gratin (recipe below).

leek patterns

The color orange in this meal was brought to you by the squashes from my centerpiece in the form of this Smitten Kitchen winter squash soup recipe, a relatively easy soup to make made even easier by the new immersion blender that I finally bought.

butternut (dark) and acorn (light)

I made a Nigella Lawson Cornbread and Cranberry dressing recipe (a British chef's recipe for a southern dish). It turned out just fine (if a little pink) given that the recipe left out cook time and oven temp. (Such is the vegetarian's fate when using a "stuffing" recipe that you do not intend to stuff into anything.)

carbs and cookbooks

And even though I was already tackling a major, multi-step, advance-planned meal prep endeavor with only minimal help from sous chef Sergio, who was otherwise occupied that day, I decided that - on top of everything else, and even though I had never done so before - I would also bake cinnamon rolls.

In for a penny, in for a pound, right? This is the season of excess. So why not throw in an extra baking-from-scratch project when I'm already cooking for four (more like eight, based on the leftovers). Am I crazy? I wondered midday on Thursday when, surrounded by a mini mountain range of chopped vegetables patiently waiting to be cooked, I was rolling around a big ball of dough and asking Sergio to look up a how-to-knead video on YouTube.

this is my 11- by 15-inch "rectangle"

Remarkably, I got the dough through its two risings and into the oven on time and rapidly wrapped up everything else finally as the last two hours of the day zoomed past. Before I knew it, The Nina was running through the door, squealing, and her mom, dad, and hermanito were following just behind. After the hustle and bustle, everything settled on the table nicely and we toasted a top shelf red wine over our very fine meal, before bustling again out the door and into the cold to head down to the Plaza for the annual Christmas lighting ceremony and more celebrating.

The Nina

Fennel and Leek Gratin
from Chez Panisse Vegetables

6 small fennel bulbs
3 medium leeks
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
1.5 cups heavy cream
1 cup vegetable stock

Remove the tough outer layers of the fennel bulbs, split the bulbs lengthwise, and cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Peel off the outer layer of the leeks, and trim off the root ends and the dark green tops. Split the leeks lengthwise and cut the leek halves crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Plunge the slices into a big bowl of cold water to rinse off any sand. Lift the leeks out of the water, leaving the dirt to sink to the bottom of the bowl.
Melt 1 Tablespoon of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add half the fennel slices and cook until they are soft, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a large bowl. Cook the rest of the fennel until soft with another Tablespoon of butter and add to the bowl. Then cook the leeks the same way, in two batches with the rest of the butter, and transfer them to a bowl.
Preheat oven to 375.
Pick the leaves off the parsley and thyme sprigs and chop them. Toss the herbs together in the bowl with the fennel and leeks. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Put the vegetables into a shallow ovenproof dish and pour over just enough of the cream and the vegetable stock to barely cover them. Bake the gratin in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, checking every 15 minutes or so to make sure the cream is still covering the vegetables. If the top of the gratin appears to be drying out, push the vegetables down with the back of a spoon, drizzling a little more cream over the top. The cream will bubble up around the vegetables, and the top will brown nicely. Serve hot.
Serves 6

22 November 2009

Leaf Bouquets (or Russian Fall during Indian Summer)

Autumn has already come and gone in Moscow, where my friends Sidney and Deena are living this year. Several weeks ago they wrote in a blog post about the beauty of a Russian fall, especially in Moscow where trees abound, and they told of a custom of making bouquets out of leaves. Of course! Leaves are just as colorful as flowers. Why wouldn't you make them into arrangements? I clicked through to this website to learn more.

Since fall here has been off the charts this year (and here's why), and since I've been trying to capture that, I knew right away that I would be making a leaf bouquet like these. Well, I'd try to, anyway. So on an Indian Summer weekend two weeks ago, I gathered as many leaves as I could from the church parking lot and from the neighborhood. And before they could get too brittle I set to work.

Sure, my technique may still need perfecting, but my little bundles make me happy.

14 November 2009

Giant Pumpkin and Lil Baby Pumpkin

On Halloween, I bought a pumpkin. Not an orange, jack o lantern kind for carving, but a mottled greenish one for eating. At City Market, while Pov Hun was selling me on this particular pumpkin (the smallest he had of this variety, I might add), Sergio stood by, imploring me not to buy such a large pumpkin. But Pov said it was easy to cut, would stay good in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and was really sweet. I couldn't resist. So I bought it. All 20 pounds of it.

me and my fairytale pumpkin

It looked even bigger when we got it home, so I thought it best to start cooking it post haste. Plus, Sergio was still grumbling about such a big pumpkin. So the next day, All Saints Day, I decided to cut it open. Perhaps because he was afraid I'd do myself harm with the knife (or perhaps he'd changed his mind about the pumpkin?), Sergio took over the arduous task of slicing it open; he even cleaned out its seeds. I wrapped the pieces in plastic and made room in the fridge; I hunted down some recipes to get started. We had a lot of pumpkin to get through.

Sergio wrestling the giant pumpkin into submission

I started with Pumpkin Muffins on Sunday night, moved to Pumpkin Butter on Monday, made Pumpkin, White Bean and Kale stew on Tuesday and was planning Pumpkin Risotto for Wednesday. All this while, we had been awaiting the birth of our nephew, whom we had long since named Baby Pumpkin, since he was due right after Halloween. We all thought he was going to arrive early, which he didn't. So by the time I was working through slice number 5 of the Giant Pumpkin, I was beginning to wonder if Baby Pumpkin would even get here before I made it through the whole thing.

so much orange

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, no sooner than I'd printed my Pumpkin Risotto recipe, my sister-in-law went into labor. We postponed our marathon pumpkin baking/cooking spree and headed to the hospital to welcome Lil Baby Pumpkin, who arrived early in the morning on Thursday, November 5, weighing in at 9 pounds and 1 ounce, nearly a Giant Pumpkin himself.

Emilio Fidel • November 5, 2009 • 9 lbs, 1 oz

Mom and baby recouped in the hospital for the next few days while everyone tried to catch up on sleep; I went back to my Giant Pumpkin and my list of recipes, including a Thanksgiving Squash casserole. For a big Welcome Home From the Hospital feast on Saturday I made Pumpkin Soup and Maple-Glazed Winter Squash with Garlic and Ginger, among other things.

Lil Baby Pumpkin in his hat from Auntie Em

And when Emilio was one week old, Sergio and I finally made that Pumpkin Risotto and everyone came over for dinner then, too, to share our Giant and Lil Baby Pumpkins with each other.

Pumpkin Risotto

PS: Last night at Badseed I learned from Pov that this variety of pumpkin is called "Fairytale." Indeed.

Pumpkin Muffins - from Smitten Kitchen
Pumpkin Butter - from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker (see below)
Pumpkin, White Bean, and Kale Stew - a modified version of Spicy White Bean and Collard Stew
Thanksgiving Squash Casserole - from a friend on Facebook (see below)
Pumpkin Soup - from Chez Panisse Vegetables - same soup as the Pink Banana Squash Soup
Maple-Glazed Winter Squash with Garlic and Ginger - from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker (see below)
Pumpkin Risotto - from Food Network

Pumpkin Butter
from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker
This butter benefits from a good stirring about halfway through the cooking process.
1 pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded, diced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups apple juice
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
add later:
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt

In a 3.5- to 4-quart slow cooker, combine the pumpkin, onion, apple juice, and brown sugar. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours, until the pumpkin is very soft.

Stir in the spices and salt and mix well. Press the pumpkin mixture through a metal strainer or food mill to achieve a smooth consistency (you could also purée it in a food processor, if you prefer). Let cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator in tightly covered containers, where it will keep for several weeks.

Thanksgiving Squash Casserole
from Erin Dennis

Brown lightly - 5 min:
2 T butter
1 med yellow onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

Bring to a boil:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Add with 1/2 nuts and boil; simmer 10 mins:
2.5 pounds squash (or pumpkin!)
1.5 cups pecans, toasted and chopped

Layer 1/2 cooked veg with 4 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled; top with cheese. (Optional: add spinach or chard in with the layers.)

Bake 45 minutes at 350 until cream is absorbed and top golden.

Maple-Glazed Winter Squash with Garlic and Ginger
from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker

2 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
one 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 T water
1 T tamari or other soy sauce
1 large butternut squash (or pumpkin), halved, seeded, and peeled
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 T firmly packed light brown sugar
Salt and pepper

Spread the oil in the bottom of a 3/5- to 4-quart slow cooker. Arrange the onion slices over the oil, followed by the garlic and ginger. Combine the water and tamari and add to the cooker.

Cut the squash into 2-inch chuncks and place them on top of the vegetables in the cooker. Pour the maple syrup over the squash, sprinkle with the brown sugar, and season with salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours (or less!) until the squash is soft. Serve hot.

24 October 2009

Garlic Soup

Wait, what? I haven't told you about the garlic soup? Oh, my. I've told everyone I know about the garlic soup. The 88-clove garlic soup. It's been a week since we made it and I'm finally uploading photos, now that we've stopped smelling. That's a joke. We really only smelled for like 12 hours after the infamous garlic soup at the infamous garlic party. This is our friends' annual party, 15 years strong, complete with votes and prizes. But this was our first time to attend and to compete with 20 or 30 other - ahem - seasoned competitors, whose dishes ranged from crackers to cheesecake and everything in between.

The cheesecake won first prize and was delicious. I've long been a fan of garlic chocolate chip cookies, so I shouldn't have been surprised that garlic would lend itself so well to other desserts. The garlicky crackers were in the top 3 as well - also a favorite. There were more dishes than you can imagine; and I had a hard time deciding from the vegetarian dishes alone.

I did vote for our fantastic garlic soup, a surprisingly soothing soup given that it has so much garlic in it. But don't worry; it doesn't just have garlic in it. It has onions, too. And cream and thyme. We received many compliments and accolades (coulda been a contender), but we did not manage to win. Which is fine, given that it's our first year. We'll try again next year and in the meantime, we'll welcome a new recipe into our repertoire.

88-clove garlic soup
from Smitten Kitchen

(she calls it a "44-clove ticket to happiness" - we doubled it and dubbed it 88-clove garlic soup - so now it's a ticket to twice as much happiness)

52 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter (Use Shatto! Seriously!)
4 1/2 cups sliced onions
3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
36 garlic cloves, peeled
7 cups vegetable stock
1 cup whipping cream (Shatto!)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
8 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 52 garlic cloves in small glass baking dish. Add 4 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake until garlic is golden brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze garlic between fingertips to release cloves. Transfer cloves to small bowl.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and thyme and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add roasted garlic and 36 raw garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes. Add vegetable stock; cover and simmer until garlic is very tender, about 20 minutes. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to saucepan; add cream and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide grated cheese among 8 bowls and ladle soup over. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon wedge into each bowl and serve.

Serves 8 for dinner; Serves 40 or 50 when competing at a garlic party.

Thanks to Mom for tipping us off to this Smitten Kitchen recipe. Last October it was the Halloween costume; this year the garlic party recipe. Mom has such great ideas.

lucky number 7 - not lucky enough - better luck next year!


blue and red with power line

The colors have exploded this week. And maybe it's because there has been such a deficit of sunshine lately that I have been drawn like a moth to the flaming yellow and orange and red, perhaps in some primal pursuit of the vitamin D missing from an overcast week.

with church steeple (or Brookside pretending to be New England)

But here it is Saturday and the sun is FINALLY out for hours at a time. And still I am drawn to the colors and am staring in awe. I know they will be gone soon. So in the same way that I go to the farmers' market (which is where I was this morning) and buy way more than I need (which is what I was doing this morning) because I know the season will end (which it will soon) - I go through my day with my iPhone in hand and snap picture after picture, more than I 'need,' of every bright color that calls to me.

Take a picture; it'll last longer.


Post Script: Just saw this on NPR's website - "Why Leaves Really Fall Off Trees." It's partly because "leaves are basically the kitchen staff of a tree."

22 October 2009

A weekend in OKC (A Photo Essay)

The zinnias in Mema's yard were in full force, even though it was cold out.

My first time to meet baby Cameron, who is only 4 months old and is already charming.

Minli's birthday, postponed a week due to swine flu, was celebrated at Honey's house on Saturday; Mom (Honey) hosted a tea party for Minli and three friends. Big sister Ling and her buddy helped serve.
Teeny cup cakes for the tea party.

Tyler's birthday was that day, too, and both birthday girls wanted Pound Cake with Butter Sauce (butter sauce not pictured). I haven't had Pound Cake with Butter Sauce in years ... and I have missed it.
For her birthday, Minli got a new bicycle with training wheels; Ling graciously offered to show her how to ride.