Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fit for the New Year: Vegan, Gluten Free Banana Nut Muffins

Having just returned from our annual Christmas Pilgrimage to North Carolina -- an eight-day road trip adventure all the way from Philadelphia to Clemson, SC and back again, with our game-for-anything pup in the back seat -- our pantry wasn't exactly stocked when we walked in the door on New Year's Eve.  What to make for brunch the next day? Having just spent a week trying to stick to a vegan diet in the midst of my avid meat-and-dairy-loving family, I wanted to bring something to share that would be accessible to everyone.  After a little browsing, I found this vegan, gluten-free recipe for Banana Nut Muffins from the Minimalist Baker that aligned closely enough with the limited resources in our depleted pantry.  Though not gluten-free myself, I decided to make these without it to keep them diet friendly for all. Evidently it worked out beautifully -- all twelve of these were gone in fifteen minutes flat.  Moist and hearty, with the added decadence of dark chocolate chips and toasted walnuts on top, these made for a perfect New Year's Day treat that would be healthy and filling enough for any day of the week.  With my own substitutions, here's what I used....

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed (throw some whole flaxseed in a high speed blender, voila: ground flaxseed)
2 1/2 tbsp water
2 ripe bananas (original calls for 3, but we only had 2)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (we keep a few vanilla beans soaking in a bottle of vodka for this purpose)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 c brown sugar (I halved the amount of sugar in the original recipe, because I tend to prefer things less sweet)
2 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
3/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 c coconut milk (we hadn't made almond milk, so I opened up a can of coconut milk I had on hand. This worked out beautifully)
1/2 c dark chocolate chips, 70% or greater and dairy free (because who doesn't love melted chocolate in things?!)

For the flour: original calls for a mix of almond meal/flour, a gluten-free flour blend, and rolled oats.  Not having any of the gluten free blend on hand, I mixed my own to add up to the same quantity. Here's what I used --

1 1/4 c almond flour
3/4 c almond meal (coarser than flour)
1/2 c coconut flour 
1 1/4 c rolled oats

I also pressed some walnuts into the top of 8 of the muffins before baking, so they came out nice and toasted by the end.


Preheat oven to 375
Line a standard muffin tin with muffin cups, makes 12 muffins

1. Prepare a "flax egg" by mixing the ground flaxseed and water together and giving it 5 minutes to gel.
2. Mash up your bananas to a liquid but slightly chunky consistency, then mix with the flax egg, baking powder, and baking soda.
3. Add vanilla, oil, salt, sugar, and syrup and whisk to combine. Then whisk in coconut milk. (Set aside leftover coconut milk to use later, or blend it up right away with some frozen fruit for a smoothie to tie you over until these come out of the oven...)
4. Add all flour ingredients and oats, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined, and then fold in chocolate chips at the end. 
5. Divide evenly into your muffin cups, and then press in walnut topping (or add hemp seed, or shredded coconut, or chia seeds -- whatever suits your fancy).

Bake for 28-32 minutes or until golden brown.  Enjoy :)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pan Fried Tempeh and Market Stir Fry

Day 1. Pan Fried Tempeh and Farmer's Market Stir Fry
Monday, 25 September 2017

Farmer's Market stir fry.

  • Mushrooms. These were something fancy from the farmer's market mushroom stand, but I don't remember what. I do know they were delicious, and they stood up really well in the stir fry. Wash them really well, and cut into bite size pieces.
  • Red onion. How could you make a stir fry without one? Once these and the mushrooms are ready to go, get them all going in your saute pan with 3 Tbsp coconut oil and 3 Tbsp water.
  • Garlic. Mince 3-4 cloves and throw them in with your onions and mushrooms.
  • Bell peppers. Add 1-2 of these depending on size, the brighter the better. Add a bit more water to the pan if it starts to dry out too much here.
  • Purple cabbage. This holds up really well in the stir fry and adds amazing color.
  • Spinach. Add this right at the very end, splash it all with water and cover for about 2 minutes. This will steam the spinach just enough, and then you're done!
Fried tempeh.
  • Tempeh. If you're not familiar, tempeh is a fermented soy cake originating in Indonesia, and it has probiotic properties similar to yogurt but without the dairy. I used one package and just followed the instructions. Super simple. Slice in 1/4" thin slices, and marinate (or douse, if you're in a hurry like I was) in a bowl while you heat up your skillet with about 3 Tbsp coconut oil on medium heat. Lay out the pieces and let them brown on one side for about 4-5 minutes, then flip them over and repeat. 
  • Marinade. Probably best to mix this up ahead of time, but I literally spooned it over the tempeh three minutes before it went in the pan, and it turned out just fine.
    • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds

It was vegan, and it was delicious. I had forgotten how amazing tempeh can taste, and the combination of tempeh, mushrooms, and a pile of colorful veggies was completely satisfying.  The best part? It all came together in about half an hour, so I had time to make that and write this too :) 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Best Damn Vegan Pancakes

Vegan Pancakes. The Gold Standard Cafe, West Philadelphia.
Sunday, 24 September 2017.

I don't usually write about pancakes. Sometimes, however, I happen upon some food thing so profound that I am compelled to whip out my camera in the middle of the restaurant to capture the sheer delight in front of me.  These were no ordinary pancakes.  These were vegan pancakes, and they tasted like heaven. 

I should probably explain why I was ordering vegan pancakes. I recently met a girl who happened to mention that she was a vegan, and having been a long-time 80/20 vegetarian myself I inquired about what had prompted her to make the Full On Commitment.  Her reasoning was rooted in ethics and it pretty much made sense to me, so I decided to give it a try for a few days.  You know, just to see if I could, since I wasn't really ready to commit to no eggs and no cheese forever.

I've been trying it for a few weeks now, and in the meantime I've been doing some pretty intense research. What am I going to eat for breakfast? How does it feel to totally turn your back on the concept of wine and cheese? (My soul absolutely yearns for Paris when I think of wine and cheese...) What are the positives, and what can I expect from my body if I do this?  What is my why? This photo journalism project really rocked me to my core. 

Long story short, I've been more or less successfully eating about 90% vegan for the past two weeks, and it has turned out to be far easier than I expected.  My body feels great, my mind feels clear, and I'm still really happy with the food that I AM eating.  I'm enjoying the challenge of cooking at home (though many of the meals I usually make are actually vegan anyway), and restaurant menus are actually making it pretty easy.  Chris and I love eating out just as much as we love cooking at home, and I'm not really willing to give that up. I need days off from the dishes just as much as the next girl. 

Thank goodness for vegan pancakes. I think I'll just go ahead and give this thing a try for good. 


I haven't posted in a while, and this is largely because the last five months have been consumed with finding, buying, and designing the restorations for our new (old) house... possibly with a dishwasher?!  More to come on that later. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring Looks Good on You, Salad

As April very nearly gives way to May, it's becoming my favorite time of year again: the farmer's market stands multiply from the few winter standbys to the rows and rows of newcomers, their tables overflowing with the first real fruits of the new season.  The farms showcase leafy spinach, flourishing in the cool and rainy weather of the Northeast spring, alongside the first few weeks of asparagus as the sleeping roots begin to shoot up their tender stalks.  The fall harvest of sweet root vegetables hasn't quite been exhausted, and sweet heirloom squash varieties and beets -- greens removed for storage -- are still out in the baskets next to their early season cousins, carrots and turnips.  

Having missed the market one Saturday, my husband even scored some fresh strawberries and fiddleheads at the grocery co-op coming in from farms a bit further south -- no doubt thanks to our unseasonably warm spring.  Strawberries favor the cool season before the onslaught of real summer heat, so take advantage of their abundance and flavor while you can.

Whatever your region, keep your eye out for newcomers to your local market or items coming from your area at the grocery store.  These are clues that these varieties are in season right now in your area, and will most likely have been picked recently at or very close to ripeness.  This is where you'll find the most color, flavor, and nutrients -- not to mention enough variety to consistently spice up your dinner rotation. It's the perfect storm for salad creation: abundance, simplicity, and freshness, easily thrown together on any night of the week. 

Spring market salad:

Curly leaf spinach

Yellow carrots

Fiddleheads (furled fronds of a young fern)


Butternut squash, roasted in coconut oil 

Beets, roasted in coconut oil 

Local blue cheese crumbles (easily omitted if you're doing it vegan or paleo)

For protein: edamame (or eggs, paleo)

For fat: olive oil + avocado

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Happiness is a Portuguese Pastry

Pasteis de Nata and Port. Saturday, 08 April 2017

Exactly six months ago I married my husband, in a hurricane, in Virginia.  Two days later, we packed our bags, said goodbye to our dog, and boarded a plane -- Lisbon bound.  The city was a dream; we spent our days walking miles of marble-tiled narrow streets, winding up and down hills and in and out of stone-walled cafes, drinking port and sangria and dreaming about our future as the sun set and the sounds of melancholy voices singing fado echoed off alley walls.  

One morning, we stopped by a bakery, Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata, selling nothing but espresso and what seemed to be the national pastry of Portugal, an egg custard tart.  We watched in rapt fascination as the white-clad bakers behind the glass deftly rolled, pressed, and poured the contents of the tarts into long rows of pastry cups.  They had it down to a science -- the assembly line as art.  Five minutes later, we were biting into fragrant layers of hot and crispy pastel de nata -- properly enjoyed with powdered sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top just after coming out of the oven.  Custard tart devoured only moments after its creation, we finished our espresso and set off into the early morning bustle of downtown Lisbon.  

Fast forward to Friday, the day before my birthday.  I get home to find my husband intently focused on spreading out his pastry dough carefully into a muffin tin, a bowl of egg custard standing at the ready, the aroma of the first batch already wafting from the oven, flour covering everything.  A bottle of port wine waits patiently on top of the fridge.  

Happiness is a homemade Portuguese pastry -- best enjoyed with friends. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Honor of Spring... Building a Better Breakfast Bowl

Colors for breakfast -- a typical workday feast.

As someone who frequently packs breakfast and eats it at work, my typically colorful breakfast bowls have drawn their fair share of curious looks.  With the familiar grain-based breakfast stand-bys no where in sight, it's easy to mistake these savory bowls-full-of-veggies for anything other than what they are - breakfast.  

What is breakfast, anyway?  Intended to "break the fast," this is actually the most important meal of the day: our opportunity to fuel up with nutrient dense energy to get our brains and bodies ready to face the activities of our days.  When you're looking for nutrients, the powerful phytochemicals in plants are an ideal place to start, and they aren't shy about advertising their presence.  A good rule of thumb? Cook by color (this goes for all meals, not just breakfast!) The brighter the hue, the richer the nutrients, and the more variety the better.  

Another key to building a breakfast that will last you all the way to the lunch break? Make sure you've got a good balance of proteins, carbs, and fat.  All fruits and vegetables are carbs, so it's completely unnecessary to fortify your meal with lower-quality, higher-glycemic carbs such as breads, pastries, or cereal grains.  While I would heartily agree that these foods are delicious, they are completely counterproductive if you are trying to build a healthy, filling breakfast as they will only make you hungrier faster.  Because they digest quickly but bring few nutrients along with them, they trigger your brain to seek additional sustenance elsewhere.  

For fats, lean heavily on the plant-based fats -- olive/coconut oil, avocados, nut butters -- and use saturated animal fats from responsibly-raised animals in moderation.  When eating eggs, do yourself a favor and eat the whole thing.  The yolk is the healthiest part, and it contains incredible amounts of vitamins, minerals, and good fats.

Without further ado, the breakfast bowl:

2 eggs, soft boiled. (See how golden the yolks look? That's an indication of a really well-cared-for hen out there)

Butternut squash + caramelized onion, skillet fried. 
Lacinato (dinosaur) kale, sauteed with ginger and garlic.
Blueberries + blackberries. (I admit, these were an out-of-season treat -- can't wait til they reappear this summer!)

Olive oil, drizzled on top.
Coconut oil, used for sauteeing squash and kale.
*Half an avocado - not in this version, but often present.  

Happy spring, and happy eating!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Philadelphia, at Last

First breakfast at home in Philadelphia. Friday, February 17th.

It's been quite a while since I last posted, and a week since I last wrote.  The past month has been spent diligently preparing for our move to Philadelphia: packing, throwing away, donating, and carefully cramming our entire host of worldly possessions into about 50 boxes destined for our new home in West Philly. The kitchen alone took an entire day to pack -- the last day -- and another to reorganize everything into our new space.  

After finally getting heat in the apartment on Tuesday night (we had a bit of a rough landing, and the house had not even been cleaned when we arrived), we have spent the last few days exploring the neighborhood, trying new cafes and restaurants, and unpacking our lives into our new home.  West Philly is exquisitely beautiful; giant Victorian mansions of impossibly intricate shapes and detail line nearly every street, shaded by ancient and wizened trees, their naked winter branches writhing densely against the sky.  Our house sits on the edge of a park: the wide open, tree-canopied epicenter of public life in the neighborhood.  

From our living room window we can survey the southern corner of the park and look across it to the University on the other side.  Built just after the turn of the century, the house exudes the ancient character of bygone days.  None of the original hardwood floors are truly flat, and the kitchen is a melody of curves and angles.  The floor slopes so much that you feel like you might slide right off your chair, and all the oil in the pan runs quickly to one side, making it difficult to cook anything without burning. The pantry door will probably never close.

The living room has high ceilings above an arched bay window, the new home of our piano and outdoor-furniture-turned-breakfast-table.

The skylights above the stair and master bedroom and bath flood the rooms with light at all times of the day. The house itself is huge, with our apartment occupying the top two stories.  We've turned the upstairs into two dedicated workspaces for Chris and myself, and guests will sleep here in the nook, where I have my writing desk.  The nook is the size of our bedroom in the old apartment, with a single small desk and one bookshelf and a chair. The white space is magnificent. 

After picking up a few essential groceries at the neighborhood co-op, we were finally able to cook breakfast at home today.  After feeling like a stranger in our own home for three days -- we arrived to a cold, filthy shell on Monday night -- everything is finally falling into place.  At last, we are at home in Philadelphia: my kitchen is organized, the radiators are warm, and I can walk through the house without my feet turning black from the grime of someone else's life.  

This first breakfast -- a simple spread of eggs, toast, and greens -- was truly something to be grateful for.