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Posts Tagged ‘food’

There are just times in all our blog-posting lives that other demands pull us far off in some other direction. This is one of those times for me and I am just trying to keep up with them, while still noticing how long ago it was I last posted. Okay, so here’s something on the light and fluffy (and delicious) side.

Like some of the sweeter things in life? Enjoy a little celebration every now and then? Well, here’s your chance to pair them up.

Frenchie-BananaSplit4Blog2Because I design/create calendars for some of my clients, I also research holidays that apply to their businesses. I had reason to visit a particular site today to read more about “National I Love Horses Day” (July 15th) and what did I find? A veritable cornucopia of food celebration days!

So just in case you needed some justification to celebrate … or eat … here are some holidays through the end of August:

August 20th – National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day
August 21st – National Spumoni Day
August 22nd – National Pecan Torte Day
August 23rd – National Sponge Cake Day
August 24th – National Waffle Day
August 25th – National Banana Split Day
August 26th – National Cherry Popsicle Day
August 27th – National Pots de Creme Day
August 28th – National Cherry Turnovers Day
August 29th – National Chop Suey Day
August 30th – National Trail Mix Day
August 31st – Maybe you should think about getting out of the kitchen and walking off some of those calories … day (I made that up.)

Who’d imagine, right? Should you want more you can visit the holiday listing website. And if you like my cutie little Frenchie banana split, you can order her in a blank notecard along with three other Frenchie Sundae pups

Like I said – light, fluffy and delicious. I’m sure my brain will return soon.

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Baking for some of us is an expression of creativity, a passion, or a simple pleasure. Personally I wish I had more time to bake, but when I do, I am reminded of the numerous perks of baking besides the obvious. Here are a few:

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5. Baking is a license to make a mess. We sometimes need permission to let that super-neat side go, (or that hyper-critical side that’s always complaining that we’re not being neat enough.) There’s nothing like poufs of flour and drooling egg whites on the counter to remind us that messy can often serve the higher power of creativity.

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4. It ends up being a great time to give our prep counters a thorough cleaning, a corollary to #5 above.

3. Baking is also an ideal opportunity to take stock of our pantry and insure that we don’t run out of the staples we need when our next baking impulse strikes.

2. Baking makes the house smell fabulous.

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1. The most obvious reason why baking is cool:

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Yum! We get to enjoy something truly delicious that came from our own two hands which is wholesome and free of all the extra and unnecessary additives of store-bought.

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Pictured here are Apple Buttermilk Muffins. I made 6 large muffins rather than 12 small, used pecans instead of walnuts, and I used the Macoun apples I already had in the house. It all added up to a treat worth savoring.

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MacounOnPlate2One would always hope that we have reasons to love where we live. As mentioned in previous posts, living in my county in New Jersey provides such simple joys in its natural beauty all year long. Similarly, I love living in the Northeast where we have the largest concentration of deciduous trees, giving us the fabulous Fall colors we love, and four distinct seasons as well. But there’s another simple pleasure …

Apples. We have apples. Beautiful red, gold, green and blushing apples. And farmstands aplenty selling them right from their own orchards. Pictured here is the apple that rose in ranks to my favorite eating apple, the Macoun. Before I’d moved to this side of the state nearly 20 years ago, I’d never heard of it, and up to that point my favorites had been Macintosh and Granny Smith. I loved the tart- sweet flavor of them both, but the Macoun topped all. It has a very specific appearance in contrast to MelicksCider2other apples, a grey “bloom” which you can see in the photo. (One might think it needs a washing, but that is the apple coloration.)

About a mile down the road from where I lived in Pattenburg was Tradition Farms. They had a small farm stand which sold produce from early summer right through Thanksgiving, and it was there I discovered the delicious Macoun. And along with that, their own apple cider which amazingly enough, tasted different each week because the farmer was pressing different apples depending upon what was ripening. I drank a lot of cider during the time I lived there! In addition to that, the farmer offered – and still does – a chart with all the varieties he grows, 32 in all, and their taste, what they’re best for, (eating, pie, sauce, salad), and what time they’d be ripening and at the stand. Want some Ida Reds for pie? Come in late September. Some Gold Rush for applesauce? They’re in in late October.

Pictured in this post are Macouns and cider from another nearby farm, Melick’s, practically an institution in this county. Their cider is also delicious and featured not only at their farm in Oldwick, but also in many local supermarkets.

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We are all fortunate to have such little pleasures around us, whether they be apples or anything that reminds us that the simplest things in life can also be an abundance of riches.

 

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Life today pulls us in so many directions; sometimes it seems the stress just keeps coming, doesn’t it? And sometimes, we have to stop the world, get off and just do something nice for ourselves.

With a window of time in front of me Sunday, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the myriad of things I should be/could be doing. My list, as I’m sure is the case with your own, was endless. Know what I did? (In case the photos hadn’t given me away.) I baked. For me. That’s right. Not for someone else, not to take to an event, not to bring to someone else’s house … just for me. Something I almost never do.

Muffins-InPan2

Just out of the oven …

I know, shame on me. I picked up a recipe I’d clipped recently from one of the magazines my neighbor and I swap with one another regularly, (like getting free subscriptions for both of us!) Muffins are easy and make me happy during the week, too.

Muffins-Cooling2

Cooling off

The recipe I chose was from Cooking Light called Jammin’ Oat Muffins – made with steel cut, quick-cooking oats, (I only use McCann’s Irish, non-GMO oats), low fat milk and canola oil, both organic – all good choices. How did they come out? I’d say they were better than OK, but not ones I’d bake again. You know … so many recipes, so little time. I only save recipes now if they are fabulous and I would definitely make them again.

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The muffins were a tad heavier than I would have liked. In this photo, I wanted to also show off these gorgeous, kind-of-jacquard autumn placemats I found, too.

But the most important thing was I put a stop to the overwhelming demands in  my head and did something nice for myself. That, in fact, made them taste even better. The moral of the story is … don’t forget to take a little time doing whatever it is that makes you happy and be nice to yourself.

You can find the recipe here.

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That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but actually, it’s two different subjects.

Coming home? That would be coming home to cooking and trying something new.

VeganPancakes2

Here you find my first effort at scratch vegan pancakes. They look pretty yummy, but in fact, were only okay. Granted, that is because the ingredients are quite different than what I’m used to. There are no eggs, instead Ener-G Egg Replacer; almond milk instead of real milk, and the least problematic, Earth Balance instead of real butter. We are very used to our fats and dairy, and eggs and butter do make a difference in taste. For a first effort, I’m okay with them, because I know what I have to do is learn how to adjust the recipe, as I always have, to make something taste better. Maybe soy milk instead of almond, maybe a touch of vanilla. I’m not giving up yet. And the texture was perfect.

I only regret I don’t have more time to cook and noodle around with things, but sooner or later, I’ll find it.

(Re)finding my path? That would be getting back on track in children’s books – setting new goals and timelines for illustrating, dummying and re-working specific stories; finding publishing houses and agents who are a good match for my work. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work. Being on our path is always a good thing.

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So after a stimulating breakfast with one of my children’s book buddies, I returned home and cleared off and cleaned both my work/art desks, sorted out where I’d left off on my projects, and yup, made a new plan, Stan! I wasn’t the only one who had plans for my studio chair … one kitty named Jazzy wanted in on the action. OK by me. Well, OK until Mama needs the chair and then there’s that lovely patch of sun by the window.

 

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FarinaStrawberries2It’s always a good sign when I want to take a photograph of something, even if it is only my breakfast, and even better when I want to write about it. Still fighting some persistent flu or virus, I have been using all my energy these last 6 days to keep up with my workload. Creativity on my own behalf has hardly been an issue. Most days, just getting up and moving has been my primary focus. I’m sure you’ve been there.

But this morning I planned on making a hot breakfast and including the most luscious organic strawberries folded in and on top. What you see is a delicious brown rice farina. Yum! I’m not a shill for Bob’s Red Mill, really I’m not, but I do love many of their products, all of which are whole grain. If not organic, they are all non-GMO, and knowing my food is safe and not gene-spliced makes me a happy camper. As for the yes, pricey, organic strawberries, I look at it this way. Although I am all for cooking with produce in season, I’ve come to the conclusion that, as is often true in life, exceptions can be made. On the plus side, berries are phenomenally rich in anti-oxidants. I recently read about a study where women who faithfully ate strawberries 2 times a week actually reduced their risk of cancer. (Blueberries are another powerful anti-oxidant fruit.) The other plus is that because mainstream strawberries are the most heavily pesticide-sprayed fruit in existence, buying organic also buys me peace of mind.

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Now before I sign off, take a look at that bowl. It was given to me as a gift by a friend  about 14 years ago and is my favorite bowl for hot cereal all fall and winter. It’s the perfect size, has a handle, but most importantly, features the artwork of the so very talented wildlife artist, Marjolein Bastin. I know for some time she had an arrangement with Hallmark, and it was fairly easy to find her wonderful work, now a little harder. I’ve bought her calendars in the past, from which I’ve plucked a print to mat and frame in my kitchen. Her work is so lovely, why not toddle over and take a look? Bastin is a modern day artist whose work is something to emulate.

And so I’ve mused. Isn’t it wonderful how some of the simplest things in life can brighten our day? Good food, friends, inspiring art … it needn’t take much to bring us a bit of happiness and gratitude. Thanks for stopping by and sharing breakfast with me, and may your day be warm and bright!

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Yes, there has been a bit of an absence on my part and with good reason, but irrelevant here. So that being said, why not a food moment for my return?

Each year I volunteer at Mylestone Equine Rescue’s Open House, (see previous post), and also bake for their big bake sale. This year, circumstances conspired and I was unable to do either. However, I had bought the ingredients and there they sat … exactly what I no longer eat on my path to being vegan – eggs, butter, cream cheese.

AlomondPoundCake-Batter2

Batter in a greased and floured Bundt pan always looks messy.

Had I had more time to practice, I would have baked something vegan, but as I had not, I thought it better not to foist my inexperience on an unsuspecting public. So I decided to bake the good, old-fashioned way, the way I know how. But … the weekend had passed, and the ingredients remained.

AlmondPoundCake-Done2

But quite beautiful when done!

So I decided to make the cake this past weekend, and I would just give a goodly portion to my friend who runs the rescue, a chunk for neighbors who share their cooking with me from time to time, and a very small amount for myself, (just to make sure it’s safe, of course.)

AlmonPoundCake-Frosted2

This almond pound cake with almond glaze was quite simple to make, not a long list of ingredients, nor a complex process. I probably could have added a bit more liquid to the glaze so it  fell down the sides of the cake more freely, but this will do. The end result? A pound cake with a delicate flavoring of almond and a glaze that tasted more like marzipan. Delicious!

If interested in making this Almond Pound Cake, here’s the recipe.

(And now I’ll be looking into my new cookbook, “The Joy of Vegan Baking,” and see how I can stay deliciously on track while baking.)

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Farmstand-appleTomatoes2

There are always wonderful things to love about wherever we live. Out my way, in a highly agricultural area, there is fresh produce.

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I am so grateful that from the first greening of asparagus in the Spring through apples and pumpkins in the Fall, there is always an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available. And even though they are not grown in my part of the state, (fairly) local blueberries and cranberries can be found in season as well. (Did you know that New Jersey is the #1 producer of blueberries in the U.S.? And #3 for cranberries!)

Farmstand-Peppers2

New Jersey has an unfortunate reputation of being like the very small area of smoggy highways and industrial refineries located in the eastern part of he state. But hello! New Jersey is the Garden State, and best known for its seasonal unfolding of tomatoes, corn, apples and everything in between. We are joined by nearby Pennsylvania in offering a true harvest of delicious and healthy foods from early April through late November.

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Particularly in Fall, the beauty of apples, squash and pumpkins is a treat for the eye and palate, and an inspiration to cook and bake. Local farmers often have up to 10 varieties of apples daily which change as the trees come into fruit. Their own fresh-pressed cider tastes completely different each week thanks to the blend of apples they include.

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To live in an area where I can stop and pick up fresh, locally grown food along any number of routes is indeed a blessing, for which I truly am grateful.

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In my search for healthier, lower fat/cholesterol, non-animal based and still tasty food, I continue to come across new items which have proven quite good. For those of you who also want to eat healthier, I figured I’d share some of my recent finds.

Vegenaise2Vegenaise – giving up mayonnaise is pretty difficult. I don’t eat or need it all the time, but it sure does make something even as simple as a fresh tomato sandwich sing. So I was very happy to find that the Vegenaise, from Follow Your Heart, I bought was, as the label states, “better than mayonnaise.” I say this as a Hellman’s fan, although for years I’ve been buying the “light” version. Well, Vegenaise actually tastes better than Hellman’s, in my opinion, and without the suffering of egg-laying chickens and without the animal-based fat, (a major source of cholesterol.) This product is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and non-gmo. But while it avoids the animal products and is cholesterol-free, it’s not completely fat-free. One tablespoon of Vegenaise equals about the same fat as Hellman’s light, so be aware if you’re looking to cut fat as well as for a vegan product. And, of course, coming from a smaller manufacturer, it is pricier than something from a conglomerate producer. BetterThanBouillon2Follow Your Heart also has a wonderful line of salad dressings, cheeses that are not animal-derived and more.

Better than Bouillon is an organic vegetarian/vegan base to use in soups and stews. It was called for in a recent recipe I made, and worked great. I just whisked the base up with the stated amount of water and voila! Perfect. Made by a company called Superior Touch, who also makes a variety of other soup bases, many organic, gravy bases, also many organic, and a variety of crockpot season mixes.

BobsRedMill-HotCereal2Bob’s Red Mill makes a variety of grain products, many organic, but all non-GMO. I’ve bought flour and rolled oats from him before, but recently tried granola – very good – and this package of Organic High Fiber Cereal, a hot cereal made with a blend of stone ground oatmeal, nutrient rich flaxseed, wheat germ, high fiber oat bran, and wheat bran. There are plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber and … 1000 mg. of Omega-3! I would much prefer to get my Omega 3 from a non-animal based source, and now I’m seeing how I could switch over. Check out Bob’s Red Mill website – he has a really vast array of natural grain products, from oats to cereal to flour to baking mixes, including gluten-free.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd last but not least … a snack …. from Food Should Taste Good. I agree! My local supermarket is now carrying a full line of these non-GMO, mostly vegan, some organic, etc. snacks – crackers, kettle-cooked chips, and tortilla chips. I bought the lime tortilla chips and they are truly tasty – not too heavy on the lime. FSTG has a great line of products in really good flavors.

So there you have it – some delicious, wholesome, non-animal derived foods to try out. Enjoy!

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VeganSalad2

This was so easy it’s almost silly to even post it as a special dish! My picnic host, (a meat eater), was open to having our meal vegan style, so I said I would make a “main dish” salad, he would make a variation of his famous potato salad without eggs or dairy, (i.e. mayo), and he’d make a fruit salad for dessert. Since I know he likes meat, I offered to bring my own veggie hot dog and bun while he grilled whatever inspired him. Surprisingly, he said “I’ll have a veggie dog, too.” So there we have it … an easy vegan picnic!

The salad, completely organic,  consists of whole wheat chioccioli pasta, (look like little snail shells), orange pepper, lightly steamed fresh asparagus, zucchini, and chick peas in a dressing of EVOO, lemon juice, a nice amount of garlic, salt and pepper. I also ventured into the world of tofu to replace what I would have normally added … feta cheese. I crumbled a bunch in, but I think in the future, I would marinate it in the dressing ahead of time. I adjusted the seasonings and added a bit more lemon juice when I packed the salad up.

Voila! Easy-peasy, delicious and healthy!

Happy Fourth of July!

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ChestnutVendor-2Now here’s something that no longer means what it once did … street food. I recently came across an article on how the most amazing foods can now be found curbside in just about every city. This article focused on the Mid-Atlantic states.

How drastically have things changed? When I was a kid and we used to go in the city, there were food vendors here and there, and one of my favorites was those who sold roasted chestnuts. I remember there was always a “chestnut man” outside the Museum of Natural History, much like the one pictured here, (who is actually selling chestnuts in Spain.)

When I was older and worked in NYC, you didn’t have to go too far to find a street food vendor – they usually sold Sabrett hot dogs, hot pretzels and somewhere nearby there was always a souvlaki truck. selling souvlaki, (pictured), gyros and falafel. As I recall, everything was pretty tasty. And then more recently, working on a dead end street in an industrial area of a NJ city, (long story), we had a real food truck. It was standard silver and served a variety of pre-packaged lunch foods and sweets and on this truck, a few homemade Portuguese dishes cooked by Tony’s wife – they were always pretty good.

Souvlaki-2Now? There has been a meals on wheels revolution. Standard silver no more! Food trucks are rolling works of art and they are selling every type of food imaginable and are located all over every city – international cuisine, main dishes, desserts and beverages. What’s more, you’re going to find a line up to that truck, with fans waiting for their favorite food. Aside from cooking up fabby cuisine, the vendors are taking advantage of the digital world and tweeting the time and location when their truck will show up and/or posting it on their Facebook pages.

The food truck world has grown so that they even have their own accolade – the Vendy Award. These are awards given in a variety of cities where vendors sign up for a big food fest in a spacious location. Fruckies, as fans are called, buy tickets to the event and sample as many foods as inspire them. There are judges voting on the best food served and a People’s Choice award.

If you’re a foodie and want to check out this new expanded world of street food, check out this link for the Vendys – awards, events and how to find a great food truck near you.

p.s. There’s a Vendy event coming up in NYC on September 7th in Brooklyn!

p.p.s. Check out the NYC 2012 winner – a vegan, organic truck called Cinnamon Snail – operates in NYC and NJ – not what people – myself included – expect when they hear vegan!

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Just like life is filled with dreams and plans, so is it filled with transitions.

TheMac2Over the last 2 months, I’ve had a number. The most recent, though initially stressful, has been the now-happy upgrade of my beloved Mac, the primary tool of my trade.  Reliant as I am upon my Mac to make a living, I was not happy to find it behaving increasingly squirrelly as of late. It’s stood up to the test of time, but has missed a few OS upgrades as well as the accompanying program upgrades. My Mac superhero, Steve, told me that right about now is when hard drives often start to fail. Gulp.

It seemed the time had arrived. So off it went to Steve to have a new hard drive and double the memory installed as well as the latest OS and other upgrades. He brought it back, did his on-site magic, and then the biggest transition began, my learning all the (sometimes) improvements of the latest and greatest software. Trust me … a transition! (I’m much calmer now.)

But the bigger transition has been – and will be –  in my diet. While not really horrible by any means, my cholesterol was found to be sufficiently high that it needed addressing. Before you could say “lower your cholesterol,” I found myself plopped on 3 drugs — me who takes no meds at all, just vitamins and supplements, and eats largely organically, MainStreetVegan-VMoran2relatively low-fat and 99% vegetarian is suddenly infused with three. And so began a series of escalating side effects, med changes and so on … not a happy experience.

Meanwhile, at a recent picnic I was pleased and surprised that a friend bought me a book – Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. – which she read because of the benefit of the suggested diet to the prevention of cancer. I started reading. The regimen the author describes is beyond vegan in its restriction of fats, and a possibility, but has some very strong limitations. Still, I want to find a way to change my diet sufficiently to get off the meds, so I ordered additional books, one of which is pictured here, plus  2 cookbooks, Forks over Knives and the Joy of Vegan Baking and The Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps.

If I’m to consider going vegan, I need to know I have options … lots of them. I’m a bake it with butter, sugar and eggs kind of girl, and this is going to be a HUGE transition. And so I’ve begun reading, investigating, considering and shopping. That I already eat animals rarely makes one part easier, but giving up dairy? Now THAT’s tough. So I’m cutting out more dairy and animal fat than I already have and wading in.

I know plenty about the quality, or lack thereof, of our food supply and the toll it is taking on the health of millions of people as well as the planet and the horrendous suffering it is causing billions of animals. I’ve never wanted to be a part of that and have taken many steps over the years to limit my participation. Apparently, the next step – this transition – is mine to take.

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