Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What do Maryland and holiday trees have in common?

Okay, so that’s a trick question, and this post is all about getting our holiday tree (more accurately, Yulemas tree, per EcoYogini. Pagans represent!). But first, you know that song “O Tannenbaum”? Duh, of course you do. Well, our state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” is sung to the exact same tune. It’s a long-ass song, too. There was a bit of a dustup last year over a proposal to change, like, the ninth stanza because it mentions “Northern scum” and people who had nothing better to worry about were scandalized. I guarantee you nobody even knew the song had nine freaking stanzas until then, but anyway. If I have to choose between Northern scum and the Confederacy, I’ll take the former. (If you care, large parts of Maryland remain, shall we say, unreconstructed.)

That was probably the most labored introductory paragraph ever. State song, evergreen trees, whatever.

One bright cold Saturday, Red and I warmed up the truck and met my parents at Feezer’s Farm, where my family has harvested Christmas trees for years. We chose a lovely Douglas fir, and after asking the tree if it wanted to come home with us, we (well, Red) cut it down and we were on our merry way to Chinese takeout. Truly, it was the quickest tree-cutting trip of my life. I wanted to get pictures, but it was cold and I’m sure Red was glad I opted to help him instead of stage-directing his efforts while snapping away.

In case you’re all, “Hey, why’d you cut down a living tree? We need trees to breathe! Man, you’re a shitty vegan” right about now, slow your roll. Farmed evergreen trees are grown as a crop, just like fruits and vegetables. The tree we chose was 1) local and 2) organic. We supported a family farm, just like we try to do when we buy food. After the holidays, the tree will be recycled and returned to the Earth. Bonus: Plenty of deer and other wildlife live in and around the tree farm.

By contrast, fake trees are just that: fake. You really want to spend money on a petrochemical-laden monstrosity made in some factory overseas? Then you want to breathe in all the toxic shit that it off-gases, year after year? Then you want to throw it out and pretend it’s gone, when really it’s just languishing in a landfill somewhere, poisoning our soil and water? Well, do you?

Okay, so that was a no-brainer. Here’s our Yulemas tree, all dolled up:

With bonus goddess prayer flags as a backdrop.

Mama Burnout is, as you know, the best mom a girl could have. Red would agree that she is the best mother-in-law. Every year since we were kids, she’s given my sister and me a new ornament each Christmas. When we moved out, we had a box of ornaments, thoughtfully chosen year after year, all ready for our first Christmas on our own. She is also crafty as all hell, and made us these sweet little Nativity ornaments:

I requested ethnically diverse wise men.

I love all the Christian iconography tricking out our pagan tree. It’s a fabulous metaphor for Red’s and my relationship. (Note for next year: Find Buddhist ornaments!)

So, darlings, that is our Yulemas tree. Whatever you celebrate or don’t, I hope that you get a few days off work to spend in whatever way is most meaningful to you. Pass the soy nog!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cupcakes with Jess: an East Coast odyssey.

Back in October, my friend Jess had a birthday. She’s the first person I ever baked a birthday cake for, way back in 2004, in our pathetic little apartment kitchen. I only baked one more birthday cake after that before deciding that frosting was for suckers, so Jess’ cake remains my crowning glory. See?

You see why I stopped with the cakes, right?

Anyway, Jess and her awesome husband Matt live way the hell up there in Massachusetts. They are the sweetest, goofiest couple and they have a kitty named Luka. (You can sing the Suzanne Vega song; they do.) Anyway, for her birthday, Matt surprised her with a trip to Washington, D.C.! I was super-happy because I missed my friend.

Jess recently celebrated her first veggie-versary, so we spent quite a lot of time on the phone and over email planning where we’d eat. We settled on Soul Vegetarian’s Exodus for lunch and Sticky Fingers for dessert. I’d never been to either place before—I know, I know, bad vegan who’s never experienced the glory of Sticky Fingers!

Soul Vegetarian was great. I had to be different, so I ordered a Garvey burger (YUM) while my companions sampled different items from the buffet. Matt, our lone omni, admitted that if he could eat Soul Vegetarian’s mac-n-cheese every day, being vegan would be a snap.

Jess’ birthday present: chocolate-chip cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar!

Then, we set out for the walk to Sticky Fingers. Normally it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but Jess was nursing a sprained ankle and the Metro was of no use. So, hoof it we did, slowly and gingerly. The lure of vegan cupcakes is most powerful.

This is when Jess and I wanted to die, because we realized that Sticky Fingers has lunch, too. Instead of our death-march from Soul Vegetarian, we could have saved ourselves (and her ankle) and just met up at Sticky Fingers to begin with. It was not our most brilliant moment. But, the day was sunny and the company grand (plus Sticky Fingers was packed with hungry dessert fiends), so we splurged on tasty vegan cupcakes and grabbed a table outside to enjoy them.

They were delicious, indeed. I surprised myself by ordering a Coconut Delight cupcake instead of something chocolate. Red surprised himself too, by ordering a Peanut Butter Fudge cupcake. He hadn’t realized it was so densely chocolatey, but it took care of his chocolate fix until New Year’s. Here’s Jess’ sweet little Cookies ‘n Cake cupcake:

This look of disapproval was brought to you by the pot-smoking gutter punks at the next table.

After all the drama we had getting there, I wasn’t leaving Sticky Fingers without a souvenir. I bought a cinnamon bun and a Little Devil to take home. They were awesome the next day. Thanks for making my breakfast memorable, Sticky Fingers.

It was quite a large cinnamon bun. The Little Devil was long gone at this point.

Following our cupcake binge, Jess and Matt needed to get back to their hardcore sightseeing routine. (I saw their list, and it was epic.) I’m glad we loaded them up on sugar to power them through the rest of the day’s itinerary. See you soon, guys!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Get Frogged for the holidays!

Since I was a wee Burnout, my mom has been making Joe Froggers at Christmastime. More than gingerbread angels or sugar Santas, these spicy molasses cookies define the holidays for me. Until I started writing this post, I hadn’t thought to look them up to see if anyone else had a recipe—but wouldn’t you know it, the Internet is full of them! As it turns out, Joe Froggers are a seriously old-school cookie, originating in Marblehead, Massachusetts during Colonial times. Because they’re thick, sturdy cookies, they were the perfect snack for fishermen to take with them during their days at sea. They’re also the perfect snack for Mama Burnout, who likes her cookies heavy on the molasses and ginger.

They’re sassy, like my mom.

This weekend, Red and I made this winter’s first batch of Froggers. Would you like to know how? Of course you would! Read on, it’s easy:

Joe Froggers (courtesy of Mama Burnout)

½ cup vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 cup sugar
4 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½-3 tsp ground ginger
½-1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup molasses*
1 tsp baking soda
⅓ cup dark rum** (we used Sailor Jerry’s because it’s what we had)
3 T hot water or rum**

*This one time when I was in college, I had almost but not quite a full cup of molasses, so I shoved it to the back of the counter while I went to get more. When I returned, my parents’ dog Duke had eaten the. entire. cup. of. molasses. You can guess what happened to the carpet later.

**If you avoid alcohol, I bet spiced apple cider or chai would be great in these!

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl, mix flour, salt, and spices (the spice amounts are really just guidelines; because I am my mother’s daughter, I always go heavy on the spices, but you might prefer a less aggressive cookie). Slowly add to sugar mixture. Combine molasses and baking soda, then add to flour mixture. Beat until well mixed. Combine rum and water, then add to dough and mix well. At some point, your electric beaters may start to give up and you’ll have to grab that wooden spoon. The dough may still look pretty crumbly, but it should stick together if you pinch a little between your fingers.

At this point, the dough needs to go in the fridge for a while—at least half an hour, but a full hour won’t hurt you. Mama Burnout likes to gather the dough into a big ball or two, then wrap it in plastic wrap. The other day, I simply scooped all the dough into a plastic bowl just barely big enough to hold it all, smushed it in there, popped the lid on, and put it in the fridge. Your call. If you’re my mom, you’ll wash all the dishes you just got dirty while the dough chills.

After your dough has chilled, clear off your counter and flour it, because things are gonna get rollin’. (Ha. See what I did there?) Have your rolling pin, cookie cutters, and extra flour handy, and keep your extra dough in the fridge until you’re ready for it. If the dough gets too dry while you’re working, I find that a spritz or two of water from a spray bottle does the trick. Roll your dough out ¼” thick and use a 4” plate to cut out your cookies. That’s the traditional way—if you like thinner, less massive cookies and want to use festive cookie cutters, go for it. We like ours thick, and we used a combo of cookie cutters and a drinking glass. We ended up with several dozen cookies, so that’s as good an estimate as I can give you. You know the bit about greasing your baking sheets and putting them in the oven, so do that. Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes, depending on how big your cookies are and how crunchy you want them. Slide ‘em onto wire racks to cool if you want; for years I didn’t own wire racks, so I just used plates, and all my cookies came out fine.

I have never frosted these, but I won’t hunt you down and murder you if you decide to deface them in such a way. They’re amazing dunked in tea or coffee, or eaten straight up. Red swears he’s gotten buzzed from eating too many, so that information may be useful to you. However you enjoy them, happy holidays!

That’s flour, not powdered sugar. You can tell I care about presentation.

Hearts and stars and teddy bears, oh my!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Veg Edgin’.

Last night, I actually scheduled a time to watch TV. In our current age of Netflix and On Demand and DVR, it felt very archaic, like I was in high school again and planning my Friday night around The X-Files. But thanks to the vegan blogosphere (and Facebookosphere), I knew I had to make time to tune into the Cooking Channel for The Veg Edge, a special all about vegans and vegetarians and the weird shadowy corners we inhabit. My plant-based posse, represent!

Having never even heard of the Cooking Channel before, I tried to temper my expectations. I mean, really, how much AR rhetoric were they conceivably going to include in 47 minutes? (Answer: just about none.) Still, I was willing to give it a shot, because if we don’t know how we’re being portrayed, we can’t get out there and change it.

I figured it would be like any other cuisine-scene special, with a cute host running around various cities sampling fancifully arranged meals. For starters, there was no host—not even a voiceover. I was very confused when the program simply launched into sound bites with members of Austin’s restaurant scene—which I’m told is bangin’, so my Texan brethren, I do hope to visit one day. It continued like that, with further vignettes highlighting people and restaurants in Seattle, New York, Portland, and LA. I would have liked a narrative thread of sorts to tie it all together, but instead, questions like “Why are you vegetarian?” and “Are vegetarians sissies?” flashed on the screen before diners or passersby responded. It gave me the feeling of a documentary whose editors had run out of time, but like I said, expectations.

Things I enjoyed: Isa Chandra Moskowitz rocking it out, as usual; learning about all the restaurants I hope to visit one day (click on that Cooking Channel link up top—it takes you to many of the recipes that were highlighted!); and one of the guys from Food Fight! responding to the “sissies” question with, “Sometimes you get pushed. That’s when you wear this shirt.”

Yes, I have it. It is hella cute.

It was also interesting to meet a chef who was raised vegetarian and had never tasted meat—I wondered what that must be like, and for a moment I was the tiniest bit jealous of him. It almost made up for the “Do you miss anything?” segment, where almost everyone interviewed confessed their longing for bacon. We can stop with the fucking bacon worship, people. It’s time for the hipsters to find a new plaything. Bacon had a mom.

Since it was a food show on a food-centric network, I wasn’t shocked by the lack of any mention of the ethical or philosophical grounds for the choice to be vegetarian or vegan. It’s all about the food porn, after all. I was a bit surprised that the restaurants and people showcased leaned more towards the vegetarian side of the seesaw; once more, vegans were nudged to the fringe, even on a show ostensibly about us. I love you, vegetarians, but most of you have no problem going out to eat. You are the harmless eccentric cousin, while we vegans are the anarchist hitchhiker your sister brings home for Christmas.

Overall, I’d give it a B. An engaging tour guide would have really amped it up, as well as some more vegan love, but for a channel I didn’t even know existed, I was pleased. Besides, now I know about Heavy Metal Vegan Cooking, so it appears that the Cooking Channel has done me a solid, after all.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

So long, and thanks for all the greens: a CSA postmortem.

Whew! That was a wild 24 weeks, wasn’t it? Well, maybe we have different definitions of wild. It feels odd to not get our vegetables midweek anymore, though I’m sure Red is happy to be able to come straight home after work on Wednesdays instead of trucking on down to our hippie grocery first. Thanks for your dedication, love. Thanks also for eating most of the cabbage.

We’ve learned a lot these past few months. I learned all about new-to-me vegetables: garlic scapes, mizuna, tatsui, fennel, celeriac, escarole, sweet potato leaves, bok choy, various squashes. I pride myself on being a well-rounded vegan, but I had never even heard of mizuna or tatsui! It was truly enlightening to expand my palate and cooking repertoire, especially because, left to my own devices, I probably never would have bothered with sweet potato leaves or bok choy.

As you saw, all our random veggies didn’t always go together in any intuitive way. That meant quite a few curries and stir-fries. I didn’t really mind, but sometimes it got a little boring. I know that Red, in particular, likes a little variety, whereas I’ll slog through a whole pot of mediocre whatever just because I made it and it’s gotta get eaten.

We also learned that our lettuce threshold is extremely low. Like, one head per month. It is just boring stuff. I like salads and all, but I like cooked food more. Unless we’re talking pasta salad, but even then, I’d rather have my pasta warm and comforting. Anyway, if you join a CSA, there’s no getting around the fact that you will be snowed under with lettuce and similar greens. I’m proud of us for rocking all the spinach and chard and kale that One Straw threw at us, but you can actually cook those. You can’t really cook lettuce. I’ve heard tell that you can kind of stir-fry it a little and it works out, but just…no.

Which brings me to my next point: compost. Namely, we composted more food than I would have liked. Composting is awesome and I’m glad we’re doing it, but I felt awful every time we chucked a sad-ass head of lettuce or forgotten beet. Some weeks, we simply got too many veggies. We cook a lot, and we eat a lot, but sometimes we couldn’t keep up. If we do this again next year, I think we’ll only buy a half-share. That might leave us needing to buy more at the grocery store or the farmer’s market, but I’d rather do that than have to throw some away. I split a half-share with my mom a few years ago, when I was cooking only for myself, and I really liked it—it was cool to go to the farmer’s market, talk to Joan from One Straw, and pick out whatever struck my fancy. The downside is that once or twice I ended up at the market in the bitter November cold (or the cold November rain), but that’s what gloves are for.

I’m not sure we saved much money, either. We don’t really buy too many extras or junk food, so we weren’t trying to trim our budget, but saving money is always a nice perk. Even if we didn’t, I’m glad we were able to support an organic local farm. I’d happily spend a little more for that.

All in all, I would call this CSA experiment a success. It was interesting to fit our meal plans to the veggies we had on hand, rather than choosing recipes and then shopping for ingredients. Like the damn hippie I am, I felt very in tune with nature, eating corn and watermelon in the summer and root vegetables and winter squash in the fall. We take for granted that we can get anything at any time, when for most of history, it wasn’t like that. For many people today, it still isn’t. It’s good to remember where we come from.

So, thank you, One Straw Farm, for feeding us these many weeks. And thank you, blog friends and lurkers (I know you’re out there!), for coming with me on this journey.

Monday, December 6, 2010

CSA Weeks 23 & 24: Tat-what?

We’re in the home stretch, kids. Here’s Week 23:

Aight, let’s see what we’ve got here. I have a confession about the turnips. I was really excited for them, because I don’t think I’ve ever had turnips before. So I saved them to roast for Thanksgiving—they were in the fridge for about two weeks, mind you, and they got all soft and mushy. *sad panda* Really, turnips? You’re a root vegetable! You’re supposed to last all winter in chilly conditions!

Okay, turnip fail acknowledged. Once we determined that the weirdo squash was a delicata, we roasted it for Thanksgiving (I told you about that here). It was quite yummy.

I was super-excited about the red chard, because I’d been craving Vcon’s Chard with Chickpeas. I can almost make this recipe by heart by now, and it never fails. We even had a bit of lemon zest in the freezer, which was a treat. Usually I skip it because it’s a pain to go buy a lemon and then zest it when I can just cheat with lemon juice.

Pointed cabbage, ahoy! Red’s grandma never fails to take extra cabbage off our hands. Yes, this one was going to be cooked with ham, same as the last one. *sigh*

We made a really nice salad with those salad greens, spinach, and green peppers. I tossed a few kalamata olives in there too, I think, and some cucumber and shredded carrot. Annie’s Woodstock salad dressing was a great find. Red didn’t like it as much as I did, but if you’re like me (if you are, I am sorry for you), you’ll find it very tasty.

We had friends over for dinner and roasted the cauliflower with some broccoli as a side dish. The main course was Vcon’s Pumpkin-Baked Ziti, which I like more every time I make it. Our omni guests were appropriately amazed at its deliciousness.

So, we had kale, but I can’t remember if it was the same kale we had for Week 24 or not. I wrote it down twice, but you know how I am. My record-keeping suffered during the last week (see below), so whatevs, there was kale, but whether we had one bunch or two is anyone’s guess.

There is no picture for Week 24, which is a shame. Our routine was off: Red picked up the veggies as usual, but I went to yoga after work and didn’t get home until late, then I didn’t feel like wrestling everything out of the fridge and posing it for a photograph. So, use your imaginations.

This incredibly beautiful but alien vegetable appeared as though from the mothership:

Red reported that it had been labeled “tot soy.” Given our CSA’s track record with labeling some of the less-common-to-us vegetables, we were in doubt that it was actually named tot soy. Google confirmed that for us, then helpfully suggested that perhaps we were looking for tatsui. Praise Google, we were.

Our tatsui made a lovely stir-fry with some tofu:

Red cabbage! This one we kept. Some went into 30-Minute Vegan’s Peruvian Quinoa-Vegetable Soup, which is delicious and very easy. It reminds me of an upscale minestrone. Bonus points: It freezes well. Because it was a large cabbage, Red made Vegan Soul Kitchen’s coleslaw as well.

Continuing with our accidental soup theme this week, I made 30-Minute Vegan’s Pleasing Greens Soup. I was a bit apprehensive about this one, but since its genesis was a problem similar to ours—too many random greens and a shortage of ideas—I figured, what the hell. We used kale for our base and fennel stalks instead of celery, and I am glad we did! This soup is quite tasty. Yes, it is extremely green, and that is a little weird. I wouldn’t serve it to omnis, because it really does look like a cliché of what us poor deprived vegans eat regularly. But once you get past its looks (we can’t all be beauty queens!), you can enjoy its taste. Plus, I love any recipe that is basically “Chop some veggies, throw them in a pot, boil for a few, blend, eat.”

Please join me in playing the world’s smallest violin for the last salad of our CSA. This salad was a total failure, and it was probably my fault. Not even the Woodstock dressing could save it. Maybe it was the greens—they looked a little sad, and didn’t taste very good. I tried to liven them up with some arugula, carrots, and kalamata olives, to no avail. Bummer, because olives ain’t cheap.

The arugula soldiered on, however. We made a few lavash pizzas, although Red’s only had Daiya and peppers because he’s not a fan of greens on his pizza:

Turns out that lavash, or probably any flatbread, is an excellent pizza base.

More greens! Not really feeling another batch of green soup, I had Red chop the collards and the red mustard greens, then cooked them up. The mustard greens got with some garlic (Vegan with a Vengeance-style, though it is so simple as to not even need a recipe), and the collards became 30-Minute Vegan’s Gingered Collard Greens. Overall, I think I like collards better than mustard greens, but both were good with brown rice.

Top: collards. Bottom: mustard greens (they made the garlic purple, which was bizarre.)

It wouldn’t be a CSA week if we didn’t forget something in the back of the fridge, and this week it was the fennel. Sorry, fennel.

Okay, I realize that this is kind of anti-climactic, so let me make it up to you. I’ll be posting a CSA follow-up, complete with lessons learned over these almost-six months and whether we think we’ll do this again next year. Deal?

Bonus Lucy, with a napkin on her head: