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Accidentally Vegan

September 24, 2021

I am not here to tell anyone how to eat. That has never been my agenda in my 35 years of being a vegetarian. It doesn’t bother me if you order a hamburger when we have lunch together, I am fine if you cook a steak for my kids as long as its not in my kitchen. I have never (I hope) chastised anyone for eating the way they do although many have chastised me for eating the way I do. (Some people, not anyone I know well, had a field day with the fact that my kids were vegetarian for the first half of their lives. “What about protein?” Please. Have you seen them?) I eat the way I eat, you eat the way you eat. If you are curious about a more plant based diet and want some recipe ideas, this is a good place to be. As always, welcome!

I have noticed in the past 5-10 years that there is a big uptick in the number of vegan cookbooks and products available. Even in just the awareness of veganism. I realize I live in the Bay Area so I am probably seeing more of it than other parts of the country/world. But even if you check out the cookbook section of you local bookstore, chances are you will see quite a few vegan cookbooks, maybe even more than the vegetarian ones. The sales of impossible burgers and faux meat products are through the roof. I’m glad to see eating plant based coming out from the fringes into the mainstream but I do wish the emphasis was more on eating whole foods rather than highly processed meat substitutes.

It might be worth it here to clarify the difference between vegetarian and vegan. A vegetarian, which is what I am, does not eat animals or parts of animals. Yes, this includes fish. If you eat fish you are a pescatarian. (I can’t type that without remembering the guy on Silicon Valley who said he was as pesca-pescatarian, someone who only eats fish that eat other fish. Love it.) I like to say I don’t eat anything with a face but then have to include the caveat that I don’t eat mollusks either. I will eat things that come from animals like eggs, dairy, and honey. I will not eat gelatin which comes from cow hooves because the animal has to be dead to get that. And that means that I’ve made the Smitten Kitchen Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats probably 100 times and I’ve never tasted them. (Vegan marshmallows do exist but in my experience they don’t melt well enough to make those treats.)

If you are used to just eating any old thing, a vegan diet can seem restrictive. When I was having this very conversation with my children a couple of nights ago, they told me eating vegan sounded boring. Imagine their surprise when I told them our dinners are vegan easily twice a week. In fact some of their favorite things I make are vegan. An amazing curry from Diana Henry’s Plenty, any of the red lentil dhal variations I make, fava bean pesto pasta from Six Seasons (the pesto itself is vegan, Parmesan can be added later if wanted), Thai yellow curry from Everyday Greens. They love all of these dishes and do you know why? Because they are fabulous. Incredibly flavorful, terrific mixes of vegetables and pulses and grains and spices. Most importantly, they are not trying to be something they are not. They are not assaulting your taste buds with 40 spices and too much salt and tons of ingredients so you don’t “miss the meat”. They pull their inspiration from the wonderful world of plants that, when treated right, can be incredibly tasty and satisfying. I sometimes call these superstar dishes “accidentally vegan” in that they are vegan just because they are. They pull from cuisines that don’t rely so heavily on meat.

I’m choosing to share this recipe in this somewhat preachy sounding post (I am trying very hard not to sound preachy) because it is approachable and has been one of my very favorite things to eat since I got this amazing book from Anna Jones. (Side note – if you are looking for more plant based goodness in your diet, seriously check out her books. I have all of them and they are all terrific but A Modern Way to Eat is my favorite.) Sometimes you just want dinner to taste good, like really good, without having to spend a lot of time and effort. Aside from a bit of chopping, this dish basically cooks itself. It scales up easily, reacts well to all sorts of substitutions and additions, tastes great the next day, and will satisfy most palates. And oh yeah, it’s vegan. (OK, the garnish isn’t but you can use a plant based yogurt if you are vegan.)

Chickpea and Preserved Lemon Stew
Adapted from A Modern Way to Eat
Serves 4

Preserved lemons are easier to find than ever and their flavor is incredibly welcome in this stew. That said, if you can’t find them, grate in the zest of a lemon instead. The additions I make to the recipe are a sweet potato and olives, you can leave the former out, but I think the latter are necessary to balance the sweetness of this dish. You can make this soupier by adding more liquid and stewier by adding more Israeli couscous. Finally, I actually prefer to use fregola sarda instead of Israeli couscous. It is craggier making for a more interesting texture. Rustichella brand has a great one which you can usually find in the pasta section.

Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 stick of cinnamon
1 preserved lemon, halved, seeds removed
Small handful of raisins
12 Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup Israeli couscous or fregola sarda
Handful of parsley leaves, chopped

To Serve:
Good pinch of saffron strands
4 tbsp. whole milk plain yogurt (dairy or plant-based)
1/2 clove garlic, peeled and minced
4 handfuls arugula

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, and sweet potato along with a good pinch of salt. Cook until the onions start to release their liquid, then add the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.

Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Fill both cans with water and add to the pan too. Add the bouillon cube, cinnamon stick, preserved lemon halves, raisins, and olives. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the tomato broth has thickened slightly and tastes wonderfully fragrant.

Add the couscous and cook for another 10 minutes, making sure you add a little extra water here if necessary. If you want it soupier, add another can or so of water.

Meanwhile, put the saffron in a bowl with a small splash of boiling water and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Then add the yogurt, garlic, and a pinch of salt and mix well.

After 10 minutes the couscous should be cooked while still keeping a little chewy bite. Taste to make sure and continue cooking if necessary. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed, stir in the parsley, and then scoop out the preserved lemon halves. Ladle the stew into bowls. Top with a good spoonful of saffron yogurt and a crown of arugula.



A Slice of My Life – The Past Few Weeks

April 9, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, the boys and I went to Seattle for their spring break.  We had a very sweet visit, stayed with four different friends, ate in some restaurants I had been wanting to try, played in some parks, hit the Pike Place Market, visited Book Larder, and drove around in a minivan loaned to us by our friend Debbie.  It was exactly what I needed.  Graham can be a little unsettled when we travel but he was so happy to be in a place he recognized and remembered.  When we got out of the car at the Market, it started to rain.  He lifted his beautiful face up to the sky, held out his arms, and yelled, “I miss the rain!”

We got plenty of sun too and gorgeous skies.

I took the boys to the park I liked best when I was a kid.  Luther Burbank on Mercer Island if you are a Seattle dweller.

The restaurants we went to were a little disappointing (Wandering Goose and Shanik).  By far the best food I had were the meals made by friends.  My friend Joy made this delightful lunch for us.

Favorite coffee spot and a visit with Megan.  There is very good coffee in Oakland but it is better in Seattle.

Leaving Seattle on a day like this is tough.

Back in Oakland, I made these cakes for Easter Sunday.  The recipe was a bit perplexing but they turned out well.

I got a review copy of Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  I made this delicious kale and soba noodle salad.

I shared my struggles with acid reflux and a recipe for this Thai green curry.  Thanks so much to all of you for comments, emails, and suggestions.  It is a journey, that is for sure.

At hair cut time, I was ready to chop most of it off.  My stylist dissuaded me, suggesting I would miss the curl.  She proposed this happy medium.  I liked it for one day, until I realized that it is totally uneven and now I’m back to wanting to chop it.

My books from Book Larder came.  Is there a better mail day?  Sadly, I don’t think I chose well with Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables – too much meat.

Driving around the hill of Montclair can be entertaining.  Many of the streets are named after astrological signs.  Or planets.

So. Many. Lemons.

We picked about 100 of them and gave them to neighbors.  I also made a quick pickled lemon recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook.  They are amazing!

On Friday, the boys and I got on BART and went into the city to meet Randy at his office.  This is the view from Randy’s office, looking back across the Bay Bridge and into Oakland.

We started a supper club here in Oakland.  We did one in Seattle for almost eight years and loved it so decided we should do one here.  We invited some of the other kindergarten families and had a great night.  A friend noticed that you can see Randy and Graham welcoming our guests in the upper right hand corner of this shot.

Appetizers.

I made these potato and Jerusalem artichoke blini.  A bit of work but they turned out really well.  I topped them with blue cheese, broiled them, and then topped them with dressed salad leaves and pear slices.

I didn’t get a shot of the dessert, which is a shame because it was awesome.  Chocolate Whiskey Tart.  I served farmers’ market strawberries along side that I tossed with lime zest and chopped candied ginger.  I learned that tip from Denise and wow! does it make strawberries taste incredible and a little dressed up.



A Sincere Love of French Fries

March 13, 2013

When I was just about a year old, my parents took me to Europe for a three week trip. It was the time of Europe on $5 a Day and the flights and hotels were so inexpensive they couldn’t afford not to go. I don’t think it was a particularly easy trip for them, I was only one after all, and there was some seriously hot weather that we all dealt with in Italy and the south of France. They have told me over the years that I got heat stroke and that I also ate french fries all through Europe. Given my intense love of french fries, even now, this is not surprising. If you are a regular here, you know that most of my savory food is very healthy but you should all know, if I haven’t mentioned it already, that if stranded on a desert island, the one food I would want to eat until the end of time is french fries. Second choice would be ketchup to accompany the fries.

Because I like to fit into my pants, french fries are not a regular part of my diet. One of the benefits of being a parent is getting to steal them off my kids’ plates. But I never order them for myself. While Randy and I were trying to get pregnant, I regularly told him that as soon as I got a positive test, I was having french fries for dinner. We were living in London and had been trying for 8 months which is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but is a very long time when you are really wanting to get pregnant. On April 1, 2004, I went to see an OB because I wasn’t getting my period but was still not getting a positive pregnancy test. I assumed that I was having some hormonal trouble, something I had dealt with in the past and she ran a panel of tests including a pregnancy test, “just in case”. I was sitting in a laundromat later that day, watching our sheets spin around in the dryer, when the previously frosty and now cheerful doc called me back to tell me that I was, in fact, pregnant. I will never EVER forget that afternoon of pure and private joy, the hours spent grinning and dreaming, alone with my incredible secret. I met Randy in his office that evening and told him that my appointment had not gone well. “APRIL FOOL’S!!”

That night we went to a pub where I gleefully ordered lemonade (which is like Sprite in England) instead of beer and “chips” (hold the fish) for dinner. I was in heaven in more ways than one. Over the next few months, I sampled fries all through London, thankful that my morning sickness actually happened right before bed time and was never too bad, so did not interfere with fry consumption. Toward the end of our time in Europe, Randy and I took a trip, supposedly for Randy’s job, that brought us to Talinn, Stockholm, Brussels, and Amsterdam, and then we continued on to Provence for a week with American friends. I continued on my fry diet, adding in plenty of Belgian and French chocolate, along with a few healthy things. I can tell you that the best chips/fries/frites I had were in a certain pub in London (in Chelsea) and also in Amsterdam.

In my non-pregnant and non-world-traveling days, I am perfectly happy making oven fries. Not only are they healthy and almost as good as the real thing, but they create very little mess. The same can not be said of frying your own potatoes. Or can it?

A couple of months ago, the good people at T-Fal wrote to offer me an ActiFry. This is a machine, the email said, that allows you to fry food with only one tablespoon of oil and is so easy to clean that you can put most of its parts in the dishwasher. This sounded suspiciously too good to be true, so of course I said yes. My machine arrived, I took a look at the instructions and enclosed recipe packet and realized that, because I don’t eat meat, that this would be kind of a one trick pony in my kitchen. Potatoes only. But after sampling the fries that came out of it and after making my own potato chips with it, I am happy to have a device that does one (or two) things.

How does it work? Magic, I think. I prepared my potatoes as I usually do for fries, which is that I sliced them as evenly as possible, then let them soak in a big bowl of water – this is essential for getting a crispiness whether you are using an Acti-Fry or making them in the oven. I dried each fry carefully with a kitchen towel, piled them in the machine, drizzled one tablespoon of olive oil (a tiny measuring cup is included) and turned it on. Then I went about my business making the rest of dinner. After 35 minutes, maybe a few more, the fries were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and tasted, well, like fries. Not greasy in the slightest and evenly cooked which is not always the case with oven fries. If 35-40 minutes sounds like a long time to make fries, consider that it takes at least that long with the oven (including pre-heating time) and probably that long for the old-fashioned way (including heating the oil to the proper temperature, double frying, and making them in small batches). I was able to fit 3 medium sized russet potatoes worth of fries in the machine and I am slightly embarrassed to tell you that I had intended for our family to eat them but I made something else for the boys so Randy and I could devour them all. At the end of dinner, I washed machine parts, which weren’t all that dirty to begin with, easily with hot water and a bit of soap. They didn’t even need a trip through the dishwasher.

So, would you like an Acti-Fry? I receive a fair number of product offerings here at Dana Treat, most of which I decline. (Bacon of the Month club for a vegetarian blogger?) When I do accept, I always ask if I can have an additional one to give away if I like the product. I imagine that it is clear that I am fond of the Acti-Fry and they were kind enough to say I could give one away. I’ve shared my desert island food – what is yours? Tell me in the comments what food you would eat until the end of time. I will pick a winner, randomly, next Wednesday. You have until 5pm PDT to enter. Good luck!

UPDATE: Contest closed!  Winner has been selected.



A Slice of My Life – The Final Chapter

December 19, 2012

Hello friends.

First things first.  I absolutely loved reading about your holiday traditions.  Many of them involved food and most of them involved family.  It made me realize that we need to start a food tradition here in the Dana Treat household, some kind of opening presents treat.  I’ll get back to you on that one.  I do want to thank you all for sharing with me.  One of the biggest reasons I like giving things away is that I get to ask questions like this one and learn more about the folks who read here.  The winner of the Harry and David gift box, randomly chosen #86, is Emily who describes her favorite holiday tradition this way, “My favorite holiday tradition is our annual Christmas Tree Hunt off Forest Service roads up near Crystal Mountain. There’s nothing better than playing in the snow, snow shoeing to cut down a tree and our chili lunch cookout. The trees aren’t as thick as a farmed noble, but every year we have one with character and the experience makes it worth it!

So this.  I have come to the end of my Slice of Life posts.  I’m sure some photo worthy things will happen between now and December 31st but I can’t promise that I will have the time to sit and post about them.  (You can always follow me on Instagram, I am @danatreat.)  I am hoping to give you some food, some recipes between now and then, but I don’t want to promise things I can’t deliver.

I’m curious.  What next?  Did you like the Slice of Life posts?  Should I continue?  Should I do something more food related, some kind of round up each week?  Would you rather just have more recipes?  What do you want to see from me?  Your input is most welcome.  I appreciate each of you.

I am leaving you with this photo of my boys.  A typical “please, both of you smile and look at the camera” shots.  I love this shot.  It is posed but not.  They are doing what I am asking (smiling, looking at the camera) and also, not.  It shows their personality.  It also shows their eyes which, and I may be biased, are amazing.  I have brown eyes and Randy has blue eyes.  Graham has gray eyes (which you can really see in this photo) and Spencer has hazel eyes.  These boys – they fill me up so much.  With pride, love, thankfulness and also frustration, fear, and apprehension.  You get pregnant and you carry that baby and you have no idea who that person will be.  You know you will give birth to someone who will keep you up at night and will require a lot of diaper changes and feedings, but you don’t know who they will be at 8 and 5 5/6ths.  Right now I am fielding questions about Rudolph’s role in present delivery and how Santa visits people who don’t have trees and remembering their attempt to say the Hanukkah blessing along with me and feeling lucky, thankful, and blessed.

I am hopeful that I can deliver a post or two before the end of the year.  Please know that posting on a regular basis is at the top of my New Year’s Resolutions list.  I hope you all have a wonderful couple of weeks and the very happiest of holidays to you.



A Holiday Giveaway

December 12, 2012

You might already know this but we are approaching the middle of December.  Fast.  I still seem to be under the impression that we are in October.  It might have something to do with the fact that it has been sunny and in the 60’s here in Oakland.  December, the one that I know, is rainy and in the 40’s.  If that.

I’m doing my best to get in the spirit.  I’ve made up my baking list and am starting to tackle it.  We listen to holiday music at night.  We have been lighting our Menorah.  We went and got our tree over the weekend and spent last night decorating it and setting up an amazing train set that Randy’s parents sent to us.  (We are a mixed faith household.)  The stockings are hung, we have lights on our house.  It just doesn’t feel right to me though.  There is not much I miss about our Seattle house, but I do miss how it looked at Christmas time.  We had very high ceilings and each year got an enormous tree, one that smelled just like a forest.  Our ceilings are lower here, our tree is smaller, and we were not able to hang all the ornaments.  It doesn’t smell as good as a Washington tree.  The day we cut it down, the boys were wearing shorts.  In our old life, I made dinner for my family on Christmas Eve to celebrate my parents’ anniversary and we all opened our gifts that night.  It will be different this year.

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer.  I have a wonderful life and so much to be thankful for.  It’s just moving is hard and the smooth sailing I felt after we first got here has morphed into missing home.  But enough sadness and nostalgia.  Time to cheer up and time for new traditions.  Yes our tree is smaller but when we turn out the lights in the living room, not only do our tree lights sparkle, but so do all the lights in Oakland, San Francisco, and Marin.  We can see them all from our cozy couch.  We have been invited to parties with new friends and I have new teachers to bake for.  I’d like to know what your traditions are, how you celebrate this season.  And I’m giving something away.

Last fall, I went to visit the nice people at Harry and David.  I wrote about my trip here.  Since then, I have bought several boxes of pears from them to give as gifts and also just for our family.  If you have never had a Harry and David pear, they are the best you will ever taste.  They are also gorgeous.  Because they are a generous company, they have sent me a box of Washington apples (the only produce, next to wild mushrooms, that I miss from my home state) and a box of pears this year.  And they offered to give away a great box to one of my readers.

I got to hand pick which box to giveaway and I chose this one for a reason.  This is the Bear Creek gift box and I love it.  It offers the very best of the company, in my opinion.  Plenty of pears, a couple apples, some savory snacks (nuts, crackers, Rogue River cheese), and some sweet (cookies, chocolate covered cherries, and the all-important Moose Munch).  Want one?  Just leave me a comment and tell me what your favorite holiday tradition is.  I always like learning more about my readers.  The winner will be chosen at random on Monday morning around noon.  Thanks for being here and for your continued support.



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