Monday, July 30, 2018

A Vegan Turkish Feast!




Have you ever heard of Burek?? I first learned about burek many years ago, when Mr. VE&T and I were traveling in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because parts of that region were historically part of the Ottoman Empire, there are many connections between Bosnian and Turkish cultures. The first city we visited in Bosnia was Mostar, which is a very special place. I remember vividly my first burek sighting... It was at a spot in Mostar with a huge wood oven (like a pizza oven) and inside was a huge cast iron pan with a huge THING on it. This "THING" was clearly amazing - it was rolls of very thin dough, filled with something definitely not vegan, and arranged in concentric circles... like a giant, target shaped savory pastry. I was mesmerized. I asked Mr. VE&T (who is not vegan) to please order a piece and tell me all about it.  

I've had the mystical vision of that decidedly non vegan burek in my head for years... and I mentioned it at some point to my excellent friend Kenan, who is Turkish... and he promised to someday make me a vegan burek...



This weekend, Kenan did just that!!! Because he is amazing, he made the most beautiful spread of TWO KINDS of burek, Turkish tea, and treats. It was such a wonderful afternoon. Here he is, with his beautiful piece-de-resistance! 


Spiral Burek

The picture above gives you a sense of how big this was. Kenan made this burek using the "official" Turkish dough - which he explained to me is a lot like phyllo dough, but a bit thicker so that it is easier to work with and has a bit more chew to it. It was SO good. Kenan was fancy and made the two inner spirals with one type of filling and the outer two layers with another filling. The middle filling used some amazing vegan Feta cheese that he had found at The Butcher's Son in Berkeley. Oh man it was so good, especially with that burek dough. The outer two rolls had a hearty filling of spinach and onions that was extremely delicious - perfectly savory and seasoned. He must have used SO MUCH spinach! This whole creation was just incredible and it sounded like he had done more pretty advanced level veganizing for some parts of the traditional recipe that called for egg. Whatever he did worked, because it was all fantastic.


"Cigar Burek" 

Kenan taught me that there is another kind of burek called Cigar Burek - for obvious reasons... they are rolled up like little cigars! These were stuffed with a potato mixture that was UHMAZING. And they were deep fried, which was a special treat - so crispy on the outside and smooth and delicious on the inside. These ones had a bit more dough, and were a little more bready, which was different but equally delicious.


Kenan and Kendra also made some special lemonades - lemon and rose, and lemon and mint. So good and summery! Plus there were big beautiful tomato slices and cucumber spears... and most especially, Kenan made Turkish tea in his beautiful special tea pot. It was such a beautiful color and was so good. It went so perfectly well with the burek... like you could just tell that these two flavors have been side by side for centuries.

Kenan told us that he read in his Turkish cookbook that people have been eating some version of burek since the 11th century!!! WOW. 




My tea, my VEGAN BUREKS (plural!!!), lemonade... my heart! 
This is definitely one of the very most special vegan treats anyone has ever prepared for me and I was just overwhelmed with the deliciousness, the gesture, and how lucky I am to have such awesome friends in my life!!! And, as if that wasn't enough, I was also sent home with an equally huge and glorious portion, which I devoured for lunch the next day. Ahhhh. HEAVEN. 



We really just had the most lovely afternoon, in the sun, catching up, laughing, munching away, sipping our tea, eating cucumber slices, surrounded by flowers, and it was great. 


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Hotel Eating in Colorado!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the grand experience of traveling to Colorado for a Yoga and Sanskrit workshop. The workshop was held at a really beautiful spot, the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. I had never been to a hot springs before! or to Colorado! I had such a wonderful time and I've been absorbing and digesting all the learning I did. It was a great experience, in just about every way.

Dudes. This was the view from my hotel room. What?!
Colorado is really, really beautiful.

I am now a card-carrying Colorado fan



This beautiful spot was about 3 hours SW of Denver ... quite far from any of Colorado's beloved vegan restaurants or natural foods stores! Luckily, I was well-informed! So, I brought a lot of food with me (basically I just went through my pantry and plucked a bunch of weirdo items that were languishing). Once I landed in Colorado, I made a beeline for Whole Foods to get a few perishables. I made sure that I'd have a microwave and a mini-fridge in my room.

This is my little hotel pantry set up. I didn't actually end up eating all of this, but it was nice to have a good array of choices! 

Like a well-versed vegan, I always travel with a lot of food... but this time I traveled with A LOT OF FOOD. ha ha ha. 


I bought this Thai Tom Yum a while back for a vegan swap I was supposed to do with someone who was following a Keto Diet. And after I bought everything, they never wrote back again. ha ha. So, suddenly I had a bunch of keto stuff I wouldn't usually buy. 

I had my vegan Tom Yum soup with added water (to make it more hydrating), and I added some microwaved broccoli florets. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by this packaged product. It had some legit spices and seasoning! It also definitely benefited from the addition of some green veg. 

The broccoli florets were a last-minute inspiration and brought me so much joy during my 4-day adventure in microwave eating. I just microwaved them in a mug with a little water to steam them. I eat so many green veggies at home and this was an easy way to have veggies in my hotel room. Next time I will buy two bags of broccoli florets so I don't have to ration them! 

Breakfast!

I had pretty much the same thing for breakfast everyday while I was there: Instant oatmeal, half a yogurt (I only bought two, so I made them last), a banana, and coffee. I thought I'd be able to find soy creamer at the Whole Foods in Denver, but they didn't have any. What's up with that??!! So, I bought the Ripple Half and Half, which I didn't really like. I thought it made my coffee taste weird and fishy. :( Boo. 

Instant Oatmeal is really not my favorite. It's always so gluey and sugary. Next time I go, I'll have to come up with a more thrilling and satisfying breakfast plan. I looked at a lot of the oatmeal cups, but they were also all super sugary. Any suggestions? 

Notice how my yogurt is all poofed up? Because the elevation there was quite high (8,250 feet)! 


This frozen meal from Frontera was the culinary highlight of my trip. This bowl was *by far* the most delicious frozen meal I have ever had. I was so impressed. As you can see - the bowl is full of real beans, real and sizeable veggies, herbs and seasonings. It was flavorful and satisfying, and was actually just very tasty. I am officially grateful! 

I didn't have a freezer in my room, just a mini fridge, so I only got a couple frozen items since I knew I'd have to eat them in the first day or two. I'm so glad I got this one! Would eat again! 


Glam shot of my frozen meal with the Colorado mountains in the background


Way to go, Frontera!



A long time ago, Patagonia sent me two dehydrated soup mixes. Unfortunately, I never reviewed them because I was always home with actual fresh food to eat. I'm sorry, Patagonia. Anyhow, I hauled them along for this trip. I made the Black Bean Soup for two meals (using microwaved hot water, mixing it together, and then microwaving again for a bit). I had also picked up some Heidi Ho Cheeze Sauce in Denver, and I added a big dollop to my soup as well as to my Broccoli.

I gotta say, this soup was also pretty good. I think maybe dehydrated foods have come a long way since I last had them! The flavor was good and there were spices and it was actually quite satisfying. It was good to eat a lot of soup and steamed veggies because between the altitude and the extremely dry climate, you really gotta stay of top of keeping your body hydrated.

One day I spilled my water bottle all over the passenger seat in my rental car and by the very next day it was completely dry - as though it had never happened!!! WHOA Colorado.


You can tell which pictures are lunch pictures and which pictures are dinner pictures, because I ate my lunches outside looking at the beautiful mountains, and I ate my dinners after dark in my little hotel room! 

I had picked up an Amy's frozen bean burrito at Denver Whole Foods, and I didn't realize that I had accidentally grabbed a gluten-free version. I'm sorry to say, I was not very enthusiastic about that gf tortilla. I ate the bean filling, had some miso soup, crackers and cherry tomatoes. Still a pretty satisfying light dinner.

I really like these little Tsubi miso soup cubes - have you ever had them? They are so amazing - they weigh almost nothing, and when you open the package there's a dehydrated little cube in there. But when you add the hot water, suddenly you have a really nice cup of miso soup with herbs and mushrooms and goodies! I highly recommend them! 


McDougall Soup

I also picked this soup up at Whole Foods, and it was pretty good! I don't eat much prepared / packaged food usually at home, so I probably wouldn't buy this just to have around the house. But if you rely on prepared food to help you get through your work week, I would recommend this soup. It had a good nutritional profile, tasted like real food made with real ingredients, and was quite tasty (and not a hideous salt bomb compared to many canned/packaged soups!). 



I also tried the Miracle Noodle Kitchen Pad Thai, which was fine, but I didn't like it nearly as much as I enjoyed the Tom Yum. The flavors weren't as strong or interesting to me. I suppose if you prefer more mild spices, you might actually prefer this one - but I like the spices and spiceness of the Tom Yum. As you can see, I added the last of my precious baggie of broccoli, which was a major bonus. I think this meal would have felt pretty bleak without the veggies!


On our drive back to Denver, we saw TWO moose, right on the side of the road.
I absolutely lost my cool (such as it is). I have wanted to see a moose for SO LONG and it turns out that seeing a moose in real life is not at all disappointing and they are truly huge and amazing creatures. Such a cool moment. 


I WAS SO HAPPY 


This was the view when I walked from my room down to the space where we had our yoga classes. Despite living off bean soup and paleo noodles and microwaved broccoli florets for 4 days, I think you can see why I would 100% do this again! 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Birthday Weekend with lots of Celebrating!

ha ha. it's not actually super-glamorous to turn 45

This past weekend was my birthday (woot! 45!) and I had a pretty great weekend from start to finish. Usually we have a little family dinner or gathering to recognize each other's bdays, but this year my bday was (happily) eclipsed by my nephew's high school graduation (more on that below!). Obviously a high school graduation is a more festive and important life event than a 45th birthday. Nonetheless, I was feeling festive, and I was especially in the mood to have some friends over and have a friends party... so I decided to throw myself a bday party! 

My day started off great with a trip to the farmers market, a great workout, and a nice long yoga practice at home. Then I started getting ready for my party, and one of my best besties (ever since high school!) came over to spend some time together and help me get ready. It was so fun to see her and to have company as I puttered in the kitchen and back yard.



Because she knows me *so well*, she brought me some amazing bday gifties (all edible, of course!) - fresh mulberries from her farmers market, a gorgeous basket of strawberries, and two baggies of "energy bites" from a fancy retreat center that she went to recently... so many delicious treats!


MULBERRIES

I just love mulberries so much. They are funny looking (like giant caterpillar berries) and so sweet and delicious. A long time ago, my pal and I were talking about mulberries and how there is a vendor at her farmers market who sells them. I have never seen them at the markets I go to, and I was so touched and stoked that she remembered my love of mulberries!! There are only a couple left and I am going to savor them. 




   
Birthday Lasagna!

For my birthday, I really wanted to have a vegan potluck... even though only two of the people I invited are vegan, everyone else very lovingly played along (thanks, pals!). I declared it to be a Mediterranean-themed vegan potluck and told everyone I would make a vegan lasagna, some cookies and buy ice cream.

At first I was going to make minestrone soup, which I also love, but then I soon realized that I had to make lasagna instead because lasagna is the #1 food of all time and I love it so much. I actually made TWO lasagnas - one for the party and another one to eat all week. Because the idea of going to all the work of making lasagna and not having leftovers was just too tragic. I used my very own "Amey's Birthday Lasagna" recipe - a recipe I am very proud of! 


glorious array of goodness! 

My pal L brought this awesome mix of spreads and veggies and breads. SO RAD. Regular hummus, beet hummus, a very cool pomegranate and olive tapenade, olives, veggies, pita chips. So much good stuff! 



I wish you could see just how huge this platter really is - my friend J brought this huge and glorious salad platter with one of my most beloved spring ingredients: fava beans!!!! Oh man it was really good: spinach, crunch from sugar snap peas and celery, shredded beets, ** favas ** and a creamy avocado. Plus some nice dressing she brought too. So good.


This picture looks silly but this salad was really good and special! J brought a really nice salad with greens (underneath all that good stuff) and then when we were ready to eat, she poured on a big mix of veggies that had been marinating in dressing: cukes, tomatoes, corn, and cranberries! It was really good! I like the idea of marinating the veggies in the dressing for maximum flavor delivery. 


Yaaaasssssssss. Dolmas for President! M and M brought a glorious array of dolmas that were so extremely good. Who even thought of dolmas and figured out that they could be so delicious and perfect??


Another non-stellar photo - but this was a really nice salad. K brought an orzo and lentil salad with "a bunch of other good stuff" ha ha. Artichoke hearts, sliced almonds, bell peppers... it was a nice hearty salad to go with all the other lighter salads.


Birthday party dinner plate - first pass!

It turns out that a Mediterranean theme vegan potluck is a good way to go! It's a pretty loose theme, and people will bring delicious and overall pretty healthy food, which feels good. Even after eating this huge plate of food, I didn't feel like I had eaten way too much. It was perfect! 


We had lots of different drinks on hand - fancy juices, fizzy water, beer and wine, and we even made Aperol Spritzes! I almost never drink alcohol, but I'll make an occasional exception for an Aperol spritz. They are so beautiful and not too boozy and transport me back to my wonderful trip to Italy with Mr VE&T a few years ago. 


Cherries are probably my very favorite fruit of all time and I promised my party pals that I would have a big bowl of cherries on hand. I love that cherries are in season for my birthday, I think it makes me feel a special kinship with them. I have been eating so many cherries, you guys. SO MANY.

cherries are the best, forever and ever, AMEN.


In addition to the big beautiful platter of salad, J also brought a big bowl of organic strawberries, straight from her farm. SO good. I feel so lucky to live in the land of strawberries. 


We had a really fun evening, eating dinner outside (with blankets and pillows to keep cozy). It was so fun. See our new solar-powered party lights? I love them! 

Vegan Cheesecake

My daring and wonderful pal A brought a homemade vegan cheese cake with some nice raspberry sauce! It's so beautiful. Then she took one bite of her own creation and declared "oh no, this cheesecake is terrible!" Ha ha. I didn't think it was terrible, but it was better to think of it as something other than a cheesecake!! 


Cooooooooooookies

I decided to make cookies for my party and figured that in the end, there is no better cookie than the classic chocolate chip cookie. None of our guests were gluten-free, so I went for a straight up gluten fest! These are the Soft Set Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Aquafaba Cookbook, my favorite chocolate chip cookie ever. I made a double batch, because I made them the day before the party and I still wasn't sure how many people were going to come. Now I have a big bag of cookies in the freezer, which is kinda like a birthday present to myself. 


When I told my trustworthy pal J that I was going to make cookies and buy ice cream, she wisely suggested that we make ice cream sandwiches. DUH. So I went all out and bought a ton of vegan ice cream. I didn't know what kind people would want, or if someone might prefer coconut base or almond base etc etc. OH SHOOT, I had to buy four kinds of ice cream. Ha ha ha. Now we have so much ice cream in the freezer to eat. Another bday gift to myself. I bought Coconut Bliss Dark Chocolate, So Delicious Cold Brew (my new favorite!), So Delicious Salted Caramel Cluster, and Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia. Heaven on Earth! 


Dessert Plate! 

My cheesecake slice with raspberry sauce, and my ice cream sandwich (half cold brew, half cherry garcia). I don't know if you can see, but I also put out a bowl of mini chocolate chips so that we could roll the outside edges of our ice cream sammies in mini chips. yes! These cookies are perfect for ice cream sandwiches because they are so soft, so you can bit through them and they don't crack or crumble. I highly suggest ice cream sandwiches as a summer activity. 


In case you were wondering. Snoopy is still adorable.
He's had most of his bottom front teeth removed, and now his little tongue often slips out into a sweet little DERP. I love it. 


Graduation!!!
Like I mentioned before, this year I shared my bday weekend with my wonderful youngest nephew, who graduated from high school on Friday. We all went to his high school graduation and it was a really powerful and moving day. All the seniors had to present their senior projects and they each gave a speech. It was so emotional and wonderful. I think you can see how excited we both were.


Of course on graduation night, my nephew went off to have fun with his pals and it sounds like they had a fun night. But we were determined to have a big family party for him -- to celebrate his accomplishments and our love for him. I made a big huge chocolate cake! (I used a triple batch of batter from the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World). I also made one little cupcake, which I inverted and used as a graduation cap. The mortar board is a graham cracker with black frosting on it! I even bought yellow fondant to make a little edible tassle, and used parchment paper for the mini diploma. I went to the party store for the fondant, and to get that nice silvery cake board, and ended up also spending $6 on a tiny little container of edible gold star glitters. I mean, how could I possibly have resisted??

I've never learned how to use all the fancy frosting tips, but I really wanted this cake to look fancy, so I did my best! I was really happy with how it turned out, and - more importantly - it was also super delicious and well appreciated by all!

What a wonderful weekend of festivities and fun and family. Phew! This weekend, I have a much more lowkey agenda. There will be sitting around, no baking, no parties... just some pet snuggles, yoga practice, and cherry eating.

Also! Thanks to everyone for entering my giveaway for a copy of the wonderful new book "Wicked Healthy." I used the random number generator... and Josiane Richer is the winner! 
Congratulations, Josiane! 
Send me your mailing address and the book will be on its way to you. <3 nbsp="" p="">