Monday, June 10, 2019

A Birthday with Lasagna, Spumoni & Spritz!

Yesterday was my birthday (46! woot!), and this year I was in the mood for a little party... so I threw myself a fun and festive shindig. I really like having my actual birthday free to do whatever things I feel like doing... so I had my party on Saturday night and had all day on my actual day for yoga, lazy times, and time with friends. It was a pretty perfect birthday weekend. 



Aperol Spritz 4EVR

Even though the New York Times had a mean-spirited article saying that Aperol Spritzes are terrible and cheap, we remain devoted fans of this crazy orange drink. I almost never drink alcohol... but the Italian part of my spirit just loves an Aperol Spritz every once in a while. We had lots of fizzy water and fizzy fruity drinks for the non-imbibers, but we also have lots of "spritz supplies" for those in the mood. 

We started with some appetizers, spritzes, and hula-hooping in the backyard! I got some hula hoops at a swap meet recently and I love them so much! Even my mom and my auntie hula hooped! 


My birthday lasagna

I really love lasagna, and so sometimes I decide to myself lasagna for my birthday. Lasagna is a lot of work, but it is also a lot of yum... and a lot of food... so I think it's worth it! This year I made THREE lasagne - a regular one, a gluten-free one with brown rice noodles (really good), and a small secret one (not pictured) that I saved so we could have leftovers all to ourselves the next day. Ha ha. 

I am pretty proud of my lasagna recipe... you can find my recipe here from a birthday celebration blog post many years ago.


Trio of Summer Salads

My mom is kinda the Queen of Salads. She has so many super delicious and varied salads in her repotoire, so I asked her to bring some salads to my party. As you can see, she did a great job!! These were all so delicious, and a great balance with the lasagna. I mean, y'gotta have salad, right? 


Focaccia

When I lived in Florence I ate a metric tonne of Schiaciatta on the daily, which is essentially Florence's version of focaccia. I just LOVE me some high-quality bread product. Sometimes I bake my own bread for parties, but I had a busy weekend planned and 3 lasagnas to make... so I bought some simple focaccia at the farmers market and popped it in the freezer until the day of our party. Perfect! There's actually a whole 'nother one in the freezer waiting for the mood to strike. 


VEGAN SPUMONI!
Doesn't it look great??

The whole inspiration for my Italian dinner theme was a vision of creating vegan spumoni ice cream. I remember spumoni ice cream from when I was a little girl, but haven't ever seen a vegan version of it. When I was visiting my friend Sophia in Brooklyn earlier this year, we were looking at the spot called "Spumoni Gardens" ... and that's what got us started thinking about Spumoni and how to veganize it. So, I set about getting to work!! 

I read lots of articles online about the history of spumoni and read lots of different recipes to have a good sense of my options. In the end I went for Pistachio, Cherry Amaretto, and Chocolate-Chocolate Chip. 


Amey's 100% Pistachio Ice Cream
I used Somer's recipe for Pistachio Almond Ice Cream, but super-pistachio-fied it:

1 can full-fat coconut milk
1/3 cup pistachios soaked overnight, then drained
1 cup pistachio milk
1/4 c. pistachio butter
2 cups packed organic baby spinach
1/2 cup-2/3 cup agave syrup, to taste
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup shelled raw pistachios, roughly chopped

Put everything except the chopped pistachios in a blender and blend it until it is SUPER smooth and there are no spinach flecks or nutty bits. Then add in the chopped nuts and blend just for a second to integrate. Pour into a container and put in the fridge to cool for several hours or overnight. Freeze your ice cream container at the same time. Then pour the mix into your ice cream maker and you are good to go! 


 Cherry Amaretto Ice Cream 
I modified the Amaretto Gelato recipe from Wicked Healthy

1 cup raw cashews
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup soy or almond milk
1/4 cup Amarena Cherries & Syrup
1/3-1/2 cup fresh cherries, chopped
1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp guar gum or xantham gum (optional)
1 cup fresh cherries, chopped

Freeze your ice cream tub overnight. Soak the cashews overnight, or boil them for a few minutes to soften them... then drain off the liquid. Add into your blender: the soaked cashews, coconut milk, soy milk, Amarena cherries, 1/3-1/2 cup fresh cherries, Amaretto, agave, almond extract, and guar gum. Whiz it up good until it's all super smooth. Gently mix in the remaining cup of chopped cherries. Transfer the mixture to the fridge and chill for several hours or overnight. Then make ice cream according to your ice cream maker's instructions. 


the soy milk, I used Fabbri Amarena cherries and their liquid. Then I also added about 1 1/3 - 1 1/2 cups of chopped cherries - I got them at the farmers market, pitted them, froze them, and chopped them. I pureed 1/3-1/2 cup of the cherries in with the rest and then added the remaining 1 cup.



Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
For the Chocolate Ice Cream I used this recipe from Minimalist Baker. I'm copying and pasting it here so that I won't lose track of it. Let me tell you, this is some of the best ice cream I have EVER had. The only change I made was to add chocolate chips.
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups full-fat coconut milk
2/3 cup organic cane sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
6 ounces vegan dark chocolate (finely chopped)*
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
scant 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Put your ice cream freezer tub in the freezer.
To make the base, add the water, cane sugar, coconut milk, cocoa powder, and salt to a large saucepan and whisk to combine. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Once it reaches a low boil, continue cooking and whisking for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and vanilla. Whisk until melted. To remove any graininess, add to a blender and blend for 30 seconds on high. Then transfer to a tub and chill thoroughly overnight. It will get super thick!
The next day, add your chilled base to the ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions - about 30 minutes or until it looks like soft serve. Enjoy as sort serve, or transfer to a parchment-lined dish or loaf pan, cover securely, and freeze for 4-6 hours, or until firm. Let thaw 10-15 minutes before serving to soften.

*note: I used 6 ounces of Cioccoarancia spread instead of melted chocolate, it was great and gave the ice cream a dash of orange flavor. 


A slice of Spumoni!!

OMG. You guys. I was SO DELIGHTED at how delicious and beautiful my spumoni turned out! It was so pretty and all three flavors were super delicious. We all loved it and it was such a fun and super special treat. I did a crazed happy dance of joy - it's so fun to take on a culinary project and have it turn out perfectly!

 I actually made two whole spumonis - I lined two banana bread loaf pans with saran wrap. Then I made the pistachio ice cream, and spread half of it evenly in each loaf pan. Then, repeat with the cherry-amaretto, and with the chocolate. It was easy to get them out of the loaf pan and remove the saran wrap. 


Cookie Platter

Just in case the spumoni was a total failure, I thought I'd better have a whole lot of cookies on hand. Plus, you know I love cookies. I made Somer's Chocolate Chip Cookies and a batch of Amaretti and some Cowboy Cookies - both of which were gluten-free. Why are cookies so perfect and delicious? Of course the Spumoni wasn't a failure, but the cookies were a perfect compliment. 


Having a birthday in early June means that often my birthday is cool and foggy, or even rainy. But this year, the weather gods graced me with a truly perfect weekend. The day was warm-bordering-on-hot... and even the evening was not too cool. That's pretty rare with our coastal weather here.

We had our fire pit going, and a few blankets for extra coziness... and we were able to enjoy our dinner and our dessert outside all night long. It was such a beautiful and peaceful, intimate gathering of pals and family. Such a perfect way to celebrate - to love and feel loved. 


Usually we bring Footie in before dark, but since we were enjoying the evening with the doors open and in the great outdoors... we let Footie enjoy the evening too. Mr VE&T got this beautiful picture of him up on our back fence... enjoying the stars. What a good kitty. 


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Vegan Shoe Review: JBU Wildflower Sandals

OH HAI!
at the park with our beloved Ms. Stevie Wonder

It's time for my final Jambu vegan shoe review of the season! Today's review is for these fun and fantastic Wildflower Sandals from JBU (a sub-brand of Jambu Shoes). 

Honestly, even though it's almost June, we haven't been having a lot of sandal weather in these parts... rain, rain, rain! - but I've found a few sunny days to break out these cute sandals, and there's plenty of sunshine in the forecast and I am READY! 


Wildflower Sandals with Wildflowers

These sandals are secured with that cute little floral ankle strap - they're easy to slip in and out of. You can't really tell from these pictures, but if you look at the pic of Stevie and me at the park, you'll also see that the soles have a little height to them. They aren't quite platform sandals, but they do give a little height boost... maybe an inch or so.

The Wildflower Sandals come in several colors. After an internal debate about dark grey vs. red, I went for dark grey. But the red ones are super cute. They also come in light grey/beige and blue. I wanted a neutral color so I could wear them with a wider selection of summer dresses, pants, and yoga tights.


 Watching the Ground Squirrels!

Mr. VE&T took this sneaky picture of me watching the ground squirrels at the park. When it rains a lot, the ground squirrels are closer to the surface, and on this day, there were tons of them running all over and chirping at our dogs. So cute.

The first time I wore these sandals, I popped 'em straight out of the box and on to my feet and went for a long dog walk. I suppose that could have been a bad idea - but it wasn't! They didn't require any breaking in at all... comfortable and easy to wear right out of the gate. I've been gardening in them (spring time WEEDING galore!), running errands, and wearing them to teach, and haven't had any issues with discomfort or blisters.


Sandals in the Sky! 

COUPON CODE!
If you also want to spend your Spring and Summer bopping around with flowers on your feet - you're in luck! You can use the coupon code VEGANEATS19 to get 20% off any purchase at Jambu.com
Coupon code is good through June 30th

Remember, Jambu makes lots of cute vegan shoes for women, but they also make shoes that aren't vegan - so make sure you're shopping in the vegan shoes section! 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Vegan Shoe Review: Tahoe Encore by Jambu


 Oh, Hello!

Last month we travelled to Florida to visit Mr VE&T's mom on the Atlantic coast. It had been a while since we'd been back there and I had sort of forgotten how much I enjoy Florida. Springtime was the perfect time to visit too - not too hot, very few bugs, and not too much action on the beach. We stayed at a cute little hotel about 1 block from the beach and had a nice little beach walk together every morning. Can you see that I was seriously in beach mode?? We actually live near the beach, but here in Santa Cruz the water is extremely cold. It was such a luxury to just jump in the ocean and frolic with joyful abandon!

For our trip, I brought along my beloved new pair of Tahoe Encore sneakers. This is one of the spring styles I was sent to review from Jambu shoes, and I have been wearing them A LOT. They're a simple slip-on sneaker, and for my feet, the fit is perfect: pleasantly snug so that I feel quite sure-footed in them, but not tight or constrictive.


The beaches in Florida are pretty spectacular - even if it was a little windy on this particular day! 

I was able to wear these shoes straight out of the box, with no socks, and my feet were perfectly happy! The Tahoe Encore sneakers are "water ready" so you can also wear them in the water. I've actually wanted a pair of water shoes for a while - I remember when we went to Croatia and the beaches were made of pebbles.... all the locals had water shoes, while we clumsily hobbled around. There are also some really pretty streams in the woods here in Santa Cruz, where we would like to be able to explore and walk the dogs, but water-friendly shoes are a must. So, I'm eager to put these shoes to use in the water! 


Sun, Sand and Sneakers! 

The lighter-colored fabric on the Tahoe Encore sneakers is a micro-buck (vegan, of course!!), and the darker fabric is a mesh. These sneakers fit with a nice snug feel, but are quite breathable as a result of the mesh. The insole is memory foam for maximum comfiness, and because these are also water shoes, the insole is made with a material that never felt clammy when I wore them with no socks. A lot of shoes end up feeling yucky with no socks, and I haven't had that issue at all with these. (That said, I also enjoy wearing these with socks - just not when I'm in Florida!! ha ha) 

Mr. VE&T snapped that picture on the top left - when I had tucked my hotel key and sunglasses into my shoes to go for a dip in the ocean! So cute... always looking for a good shot, that guy.


the beaches in Florida have these beautiful shaded paths to the water.

So far, I've worn my Tahoe Encore shoes for zipping around to and from class, dog walks, errands, to my workout, and even on a couple light hikes. Really, I have been wearing them all the time! I love that they're so easy to slip in and out of, but that they also look cute, like a proper sneaker. 

On my feet, they're SUPER lightweight, and very comfortable to wear. I wear a size 9 and these fit me true to size. That said, if you want to wear them with hearty socks, or if your feet run a little large, you might consider trying both your usual size and a half-size up and seeing which works better for you. They don't have a ton of arch support, so if that's something you need, you may need inserts (but unfortunately, you're probably already be used to that!). They also come in 6 different color palettes. 

Incidentally, these were also great travel shoes - really lightweight in my pack, comfortable for walking around all day, breathable, quick-drying when they got wet... I'll definitely remember that for future travels! 



COUPON CODE! 

Use the code VEGANEATS19 to save 20% off any purchase at Jambu.com 
Offer good through June 30th! 

Jambu makes a lot of really great vegan shoes for women - sneakers, dressy shoes, boots, and sandals... but not all the shoes they make are vegan. So make sure you're shopping in the vegan section before you fall in love with a style that turns out not to be veegs. 

NoRooz Mobarak! A Persian New Year Celebration!

Happy NoRooz!

Happy springtime to you! If you are a long-time reader of my blog, you already know about my deep love for Persian New Year. I first started celebrating NoRooz about 25 years ago, when I had a boyfriend who was from Iran. I just fell in love with pretty much everything about this beautiful and meaningful holiday. So, even after he and I parted ways, I decided I would keep on celebrating NoRooz! 

This year we celebrated Persian New Year a little bit late... but technically the NoRooz season goes on for a good little stretch, so it's all good! For me, NoRooz is a lot like Christmas or Thanksgiving, I spend a few weeks scheming what dishes I'll prepare, I clean the house, I set up my Haft Sin display on the mantle... It all builds excitement and anticipation. 


Sabzi!
One thing you need to be prepared for with NoRooz: SO MANY HERBS. This year I bought 5 bunches of scallions, 5 bunches of cilantro, 6 bunches of parsley (and then I had to send Mr VE&T out for more!), 5 bunches of dill, and a ginormous bag of baby spinach. Herbs galore! NoRooz is a celebration of springtime and the herbs are symbolic of the verdant growth of spring. They are also super beautiful and aromatic and delicious. Several years ago, I got a tip that I could do my herb mincing in the food processor - a major boon! The night before NoRooz, my pal came over and helped me de-stem and separate all my bunches of cilantro and parsley. So helpful and way more fun with a buddy!! 


Saffron!
Many Persian dishes also call for saffron - such a gorgeous and special ingredient. This is a dish of saffron threads soaking in rosewater... getting ready to be a part of one of the sweeties I made. I love all the beauty and aromas of the ingredients as I'm cooking and preparing for NoRooz.


Nan-e Barbari
I found this recipe on the King Arthur flour website several years ago and it's been a favorite ever since. The bread is a bit chewy, but not too dense. Those long ridges are made by pressing the end of a wooden spoon into the surface. Such a cool effect. This year I used my homemade "everything but the bagel" (with added nigella seeds) on top - so good! Next year maybe I will make 3 loaves, since this stuff always flies off the appetizers table in a flash!!


all sliced up and ready to be enjoyed!


Cheese and Herbs Platters
I made two cheese platters for hungry NoRooz celebrants! I started the homemade cheese about 5 days before the party, using the cashew chevre recipe from Miyoko's Artisan Vegan Cheese cookbook. It's actually really easy (especially if you cheat and use store-bought rejuvelac), but it does take several days to ferment and get the best flavor. I rolled each log in a mix of minced fresh herbs and walnuts. To go with the cheese was lavash, fresh herbs, sliced dates, radishes and olives. SO good!! I prepared two large platters and there was barely any left by the end of the evening.


Shirazi Salad
Every party needs a giant fresh salad - and NoRooz is no exception! Shirazi Salad is simple and perfect - cukes, tomatoes, red onion, olives, and a hearty dose of fresh herbs. This year my friend Kenan came over and spent the whole afternoon helping me in the kitchen. It was so fun and so appreciated. Kenan is Turkish and knows his way around a good salad! In fact, he was so super helpful that we even had time to sit down and take a rest for 45 minutes or so!!


Ghormeh Sabzi
Oh, the magic of Ghormeh Sabzi!! So flavorful and perfectly rich - boatloads of fresh herbs, some portabello and onion sauteed for umami, kidney beans, and dried Omani limes for seasoning... this is a really special dish and a NoRooz classic! Can you see the big round dried limes in the bowl up near the top of the picture? Dried limes are a very special and underappreciated ingredient! I used one of my very favorite and most special serving bowls for this dish - a huge bowl that I bought in Portugal several years ago. 


Vegan Kuku Sabzi

Kuku Sabzi is traditionally an omelette full of minced herbs, chopped walnuts, and barberries. After years of trial and error, I settled on a good recipe based on the mini tofu quiches from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe. Yet, trying to wedge those little quiches out from my mini muffin pan was an unappreciated amount of labor and struggle on a day when you need every minute! So, I've been working my way back to trying to prepare kuku sabzi in a more traditional form: a giant piece cut into wedges. Using my usual recipe, this time I put the batter into my biggest cast iron pan, put the pan on a pizza stone in the oven, and baked at 375 for about 30-35 minutes. It takes a while to backed through, and the pizza stone really helps the bottom cook at the same place as the top. 

 This is one of my top top top favorite NoRooz dishes. Seriously, you should try them. The flavors are so harmonious, and unless you're used to Persian food the flavor combination will be new and unexpected! If you don't have barberries, just use cranberries or leave them out all together. You will love them either way!


Sabzi Pillow
A proper Persian rice is one of the highlights of any Persian feast, and sabzi polow is the dish to make for NoRooz! This is rice mixed with a bazillion minced herbs, some sauteed leeks, some vegan yogurt, and vegan butter. The rice is rinsed and parboiled before being slowly steamed to create a crunchy "tahdig" crust all around the exterior. The crunchy bits are the best part!! 

The final act of flipping the polow out of the pot and onto the serving platter is always a moment of hope, prayer, and trepidation - will the crust be undercooked and not sufficiently golden? Will the crust be overcooked and burnt?? This year I was delighted with my golden crunchy tahdig, even if a little spot stuck to the pan and had to be cosmetically repaired! I'll choose that dilemna over insufficient crunchiness every time!


Amoli Rice
I don't make this rice every year, and I know it's kinda crazy to have two rice dishes, but there were plenty of folks in attendance, and this dish is just so delicious. This recipe is from Silk Road: A Vegetarian Journey. It's a visually beautiful dish, with an elegant combination of sweet and savory flavors: rice with candied orange peel and grated carrots, barberries (and/or cranberries), raisins, almonds, all tossed with a dressing of fresh herbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil - and served over baby arugula. It's just so lovely and colorful, and the flavors and textures are great together.


Aash-e Reshteh

This soup is a NoRooz necessity! And as long as you use veggie broth, it's authentically vegan! When I was making the aash this year, I was just transported to a flood of NoRooz memories - kinda like eating a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving time. The aroma of the herbs and spices cooking together is so distinct and so evocative. This is a hearty bean soup with three kinds of beans and lentils, along with noodles, beets, onions, lots of seasoning, mounds of herbs and spinach... It's so satisfying and actually so healthy. 

The food of NoRooz is special and elegant, but not overly rich or decadent. I love this about the holiday actually! It's so seasonally appropriate that foods celebrating springtime wouldn't be meant to leave you feeling overly bogged down or heavy. Instead they are full of freshness and life! 


Magical garnish!!!
This little bowl may not look like a beautiful picture, but this is a sublime concoction of finely sliced onions cooked into oblivion with dried mint and turmeric until the flavors meld and harmonize and become absolutely stunning. This is meant to be a garnish for the aash-e resteh, and I always make a double batch so that my friend Jasmine and I don't have to fight over it! Ha ha. 


My dinner plate of celebratory joy!
Here's my plate full of Persian food - colorful, beautiful, varied, delicious, healthy, elegant, and amazing. 

Party drinks!

I made two simple party drinks: a pomegranate limeade and a mint limeade. For the pomegranate limeade I just combined fresh pomegranate juice from the farmers market with fizzy water and a good dose of fresh lime juice from our lime tree. For the mint limeade, I made a batch of simple syrup, which I poured over a big heap of fresh mint while it was still hot and left it to steep for a few hours. Later I took out that weary mint and added the minty syrup with fresh lime juice, fizzy water, and several sprigs of fresh mint. Easy and delicious! It's nice to have a fresh, light drink with the rich and nuanced flavors of NoRooz. 


Tut!

"What about desert?", you may be wondering. Oh yes, there was desert!! This year I was very proud of myself for only slightly overdoing it with three different sweeties, rather than completely overdoing it with 4-5 sweeties!! Ha ha. That's what I usually do. 

The first thing I made was a big batch of tut - Persian marzipan sweets made with almonds, powdered sugar, and rosewater. They are so beautiful and elegant. They're meant to resemble little mulberries, so after they've been formed into oblong shapes, they're rolled in sugar and then you put a little pistachio slice in the fat end so that it looks like the stem on a mulberry. If you have a food processor, this is an extremely easy and quick recipe, with very lovely and elegant results. If you don't have a food processor, I'm not sure what to tell you! Borrow one from your neighbor? 


Kolompeh!!

Look at these beautiful cookies!! Persian culture values beauty and elegance - you can see it in their poetry, architecture, music, miniatures, and of course also in the food. Several years ago I bought this beautiful wooden Kolompeh press from zozobaking.com - Fariba's website has a TON of amazing recipes and she also has a great bazaar with her baked goods (several of which are vegan), as well as beautiful objects that she brings back from her visits to Iran. I've bought several things from her over the years and I love them all.

I was so excited to use my kolompeh press at last, and to make these gorgeous and sophisticated cookies! These cookies don't actually have any sugar in them - the dough is savory kinda like pie crust, and the filling is made with dates and walnuts and a Persian spice mix. They're very light and lovely! I sprinkled the tops of some with ground up pistachios and left others plain so the design would be more visible. I was so happy with how they turned out and will definitely make them again!!


Dessert platter full of pretty sweets!

Here you can see my tuts, my finished kolompeh cookies and some sohan as-ali. Sohan were the first Persian dish I ever learned to cook and I love them so much. Usually there's a bit of drama with candy making, but this year I was patient and relaxed and they came out perfectly! Was this just a fluke of good fortune, or am I getting the hang of it?? Next year will be a true test! Sohan are a toffee of sorts, made with almonds, saffron, rosewater, and topped with pistachio bits. Oh man. They are just amazing. 

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Are there any holidays that you celebrate that most people don't celebrate? NoRooz has become one of my favorite times of year and I feel so much energy and anticipation and joy during this whole time. It's funny to be at the market shopping fory 100,00 bundles of herbs and having other people ask "what are you going to do with that??" One year I went to the Persian market about any hour away, right before NoRooz, and the whole store was bustling with excitement and happiness. It was so wonderful to be part of the collective vibe of the holiday. 

Either way, springtime and rebirth and renewal and the return of light are all beautiful things to embrace and recognize with ceremony and joy. Happy spring to you!!