Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rants from my inner voices: Environmental Anxiety

Sometimes, I just need to let it out...

-Dear Positive Pam,

I suffer from environmental anxiety.

When I stand in someone's kitchen and see all the food that is packaged and processed, I get a panic attack. When I enter a friend's bathroom and look at the shelves full of body products, I see toxic, cancer-inducing chemicals in wasteful, non degradable plastic containers. When someone shows me their new clothes, I see third-world sweatshops, chemically-grown cotton, and oil consuming overseas shipping.

We're doing this: the inside of an albatross (read article here)

A piece of meat on a plate is the flesh of an antibiotic-injected, tortured and cruelly slaughtered sensitive being, fed on the product of extensive and earth-damaging monocultures.
I also see deforestation of the Amazon for the needs of cattle industry, and the worsening of global warming. When I am given paper napkins and disposable dishware, I see waste of energy and the disappearance of non-renewable natural resources.

And then, I picture the end of the chain of events and my anxiety gets even bigger: my mind starts imagining all these items and their packaging winding up in evergrowing toxic landfills on earth and in the ocean, hazardous household products going down the drain, polluting our waters, destroying the ecosystem, etc.

I see a deprived and dying planet and greed ruling over common sense.

Why do I have to be this way? Why can't I just enjoy the beautiful sight of abundance, the joyful prospect of a fast and easy meal, the delicate fragrance of a toilet bowl that was just cleaned with scented bactericide?

Why does everything have to be so dramatic?
Negative Nancy

-Dear Negative Nancy,

My question is: why aren't more people suffering from the same ailment? Clearly, the situation is alarming and our ways of overconsuming are causing great damage. You are not buying into manic delusion and that's honorable.

However: aware, conscious and cautious don't have to mean anxious. Your mental energy should be put to use for something more constructive. Not only is worrying unhealthy for you, it doesn't help the planet in any way.

Don't mope: act. Do what you can, at your level, according to your possibilities. For every level of energy, for every wallet size, there's something useful you can do, from grocery shopping with reusable bags or inviting your friends over for a seasonal, plant-based dinner made from scratch, to starting a worker-owned construction materials scavenging business or a non-profit vegan restaurant -or making the documentary film that will have everybody turn green!

Inspire people to choose a conscious life
style. If you want to convince, set an example with your actions. Learn, do some research, check your facts and talk eloquently: being mopey, angry or judgmental never made a good "green" advocate.

Also, look around you: there are lots of conscious folks out there, who do amazing things. Community farms, bike building classes, scavenging businesses, food justice advocacy: doesn't all this turn the frown on your brow into a smile on your face?

Vertical Garden, Pershing Hall, Paris (read article here)

Now go out and enjoy yourself!

xoPositive Pam

-Thanks, Positive Pam!

-Anytime, Negative Nancy

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fried Risotto with Red Cabbage

Today is Chinese New Year :
Happy Year of the Ox!

To celebrate, I made my own fried rice.

Sometimes, the simplest things are the most intimidating. I didn't know if I would be able to rival the authentic fried rice (but what's the degree of authenticity in restaurant Chinese cuisine abroad?). I decided to not attempt to imitate, but, rather, to have fun, to create, while paying an homage to Chinese gastronomy and using in-season, farmers' market veggies.

My creation could be called a "fried risotto", compact because made with sticky sushi rice, and fried along with a colorful assortment of seasonal vegetables. The other peculiarity is that I made it with caramelized onions.

It was tasty and esthetically pleasing. A success, according to my team of tasters.

(serves 3 -with extra)
3 cups sushi rice, cooked
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 onions
1/4 cup tamari
1 carrot
1 small head of broccoli
3 good looking whole red cabbage leaves
1/4 red cabbage, sliced
1 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup tofu
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp herbes de Provence
3/4 inch ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, pressed

Cut onions in 1/2 inch long slices. In a pot, melt 3/4 of the coconut oil, and sauté the onions on high.

When they start sticking, turn the heat down and pour a little tamari, enough to remove from the bottom.
Keep cooking, stirring regularly. Add tamari or 1 tbsp water if it sticks.

Meanwhile, cut carrot and broccoli in bite-size pieces, small enough to cook easily, big enough to not get totally mushed.

Your onions should be caramelized by now: brown, juicy and sweet.

My favorite: sweet, salty and greasy.
Refrain from eating it all by the spoon...

Add the carrots and broccoli, pine nuts, grated ginger and pressed garlic. Stir.

Delicately, take off 3 cabbage leaves.

Steam cook them. When they are cooked (limp so that they can fold, but not so that they disintegrate), turn off the heat. Keep the lid on and reserve.

Slice cabbage.
Cut mushrooms in bite-size pieces.

In a food processor, blend the tofu (or mash it with a fork).

Add tofu to the veggies. Stir.
After 5 minutes, add the rest of the coconut oil, and the rice. Stir.

Cook for about 10 minutes, and make sure it doesn't stick and burn.
You have a compact substance, different from a classic fried rice, that you can mold into shape.

Molding the rice. Coat the the bowl with a little bit of coconut oil, so that the sesame seeds stick to the whole surface. Pour the seeds and make sure they don't just fall at the bottom.
Fill the bowl with the fried risotto. Press down.

Unmold the rice on a cooked cabbage leaf.


Voilà! (This delicate operation called for a detailed tutorial...)

If you are looking for something more orthodox, come back the Year of the Tiger.

Suggested sides:
Brussels sprouts, for the color coordination, but if you fear a cruciferic OD, a nice green salad will look beautiful.
Think grilled tofu (in that case, don't put any in the risotto). If vous choose green cabbage instead, why don't you bake some beets?


-Stuffed cabbage leaves. Don't mold rice, but roll small portions (like a cigar) in steamed cabbage leaves. Don't make them too big, so you can pick them with chopsticks and dip them into tamari.
-Vary the ingredients according to seasons. In summer, use zucchini, eggplant and stuff it in red peppers.

Today is cabbage porn day

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Food almanach for the next few days

Here are a couple of holidays coming up:

Chinese New Year
The Year of the Ox starts tomorrow, January 26, 2009. Time to try your hand at Chinese cuisine.

Chandeleur (French Candlemas)
February 2nd. My very favorite holiday of the year. Why: because you make CREPES.

I'll be blogging about those. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Apple pie on a date-almond crust

More apple dessert? Why not? Apples are still in season, they are versatile enough to not be boring (*if* you vary their usage), and, most importantly, I got a big load for super cheap out of a box labelled "esthetically challenged", at the Hidden Star Orchard's stand of the Noe Valley's Farmers' Market.Link
I made an apple dessert for a friend who, like many Californians these days, is not eating wheat nor gluten.
Don't curse folks with diet restriction. They're a blessing: they force you to be creative and try out new things. Nothing like a good challenge to open new horizons! This is why I made an apple pie with a flourless crust made of dates and almonds, inspired by a raw food recipe.

(If you want to know what the hammer is doing here, keep reading)

I couldn't bring myself to eat uncooked apples though. I prefer uncooked apples in salads, for snacks, but not desserts… When I was contemplating going all raw for the pie, I kept hearing this voice in my head saying "Raw apples for dessert: BOOOring!", and, juxtaposed, was the mental image of cooked apples, which was making my mouth water. My body had spoken...
The original raw date-almond crust idea remained, but I topped it with cooked apple chunks and raisins.

The pie, very simple and quite fast to make, containing no added sugars, ended up being super rich and delicious.

Apple pie with a date-almond crust
(for a 4x8 pan)

1 cup pitted medjool dates
1 cup raw almonds
1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp coconut oil
6 apples, in chunks
1 cup raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Grind your almonds (if you fear for your food processor, start by crushing those hard nuts by hand, -I used a hammer!- and then finish them off in your machine)

Hammered almonds

Add dates (don't forget to take the pit out!).

Blend until you have a compact paste.

Remove (it's sticky!) and lay flat in your pan.

Looks like a "real" crust
Store in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Peel and core the apples, and cut them into little dice-size cubes.
In a pot, cook apple cubes in coconut oil with raisins and cinnamon, stirring regularly, until they are a little soft, but still properly shaped (about 20 minutes, depending on the apples).

Top crust with your cooked apple chunks and raisins, and put back in fridge.

This topping is delicious. My advice: make extra for later.
With all those apples, I made a big batch that I ate little by little during the week:
by golly, it got even better as days went by!

A word on almonds:
-Raw almonds: here in California, a new law says that almonds have to be sold pasteurized, which means they are no longer raw! You can only find raw almonds on a tree or imported (and probably, from small local producers -I wouldn't be surprised if there were an underground raw almonds market in California...).
I really wanted raw almonds because they carry more good nutrients, which weren't going to be destroyed by roasting or cooking since my crust was raw. I did find some at my favorite grocery store, imported from Spain. I chose to go the non-local route. In my book, sometimes, it's okay...
-Grinding the almonds: unless you have a strong machine, grinding the almonds can be hard on your food processor. My FP is small and a little sensitive, so I fed it preground almonds, which I had crushed by hand. I simply placed them in a napkin and banged on them with a hammer!

Harmless fun: crushing almonds with a hammer

I'm glad I did this because I made 2 batches and by the end, my poor little FP was really struggling (and got really hot, which probably did pasteurize my almonds after all!). You can also buy your almonds sliced or crushed, but I could not find them pre-crushed and raw, and the sliced or ground ones were also more expensive. It ended up being fun: it's very satisfying to smash something.

Apples: don’t omit to peel. I don't peel my organic fruits and veggies because the best nutrients are near the skin, or so I hear, but you really don't want the skin here.

Crust: make more, and cut into rectangles... You now have a bunch of power bars to take on your next bike ride!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Frangipane galette for a vegan Epiphany

Apple King Galette

I have a cooking almanac. That way, I can plan my cooking year and follow traditions. I started a cooking almanac not because I am a compulsive planner but because every year, I would forget a really cool holiday. I would suddenly realize "Oh! Yesterday was la Chandeleur (Candelmas)! And I forgot to make crepes!" I really wanted to share this part of my culture with my friends and family here, and there's no one in California to remind me of the French holiday food calendar, so I had to take matters into my own hands.

I am far from being a traditional person but I love following some traditions, provided they don't involve cruelty or narrow-mindedness. And if they do, I take what I like and leave the rest to make them more karma friendly.

There's not much bad karma involved in one of my favorite French tradition, the "Galette des rois", or Kings' galette, which celebrates the Christian holiday Epiphany, the day three wise men from Persia followed a star and brought exotic gifts to a baby in a barn. At least that's the fable I grew up hearing.

This is what Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar
could have brought baby J.
(And guess who just discovered a new tool on Photoshop...)

In France, the tradition is that you get together and eat a cake called a galette des rois, a kings' galette. There are two types of cakes. One is a crown-shaped brioche with dried fruits. It is typical in the South of France, and I have never had it. What I've had is what people in the Northern part of the country eat: a pie made of puff pastry and frangipane (crushed almond paste).

What those galettes have in common is a "fève", a type of bean, hidden inside the layer of frangipane. The tradition has evolved and the bean is now a tiny porcelaine figurine. But the game remains the same: whoever finds the fève in her or his slice becomes queen or king. For the serious galette des rois purists, and in order to avoid any cheating (the stakes are high...), there is another custom: the youngest of the party hides under the table and calls out, once a slice is cut and set on a plate, the name of the person who gets served next. The king or queen receives a paper crown (and gets to buy or make the galette the following year!).

Pâte sablée, frangipane, apples: my version of the traditional galette.

I am not a baker (I'm learning!) and I got intimidated by the puff pastry making. (Plus, it takes forever). I was really craving the frangipane, so I decided to make something with an almond filling. It turned out to be an apple pie on a pâte sablée (litterally: a sandy crust) with a thick filling of frangipane in between (in which I'd hide the bean!).

Crust: vegan pâte sablée
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup salted Earth Balance, *cold*
(or 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup+2 tablespoons cold unsalted vegan butter)
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Filling : vegan frangipane
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 tbsp Earth Balance (I like the salted version)
1/2 peeled apple, pureed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 tbsp all purpose flour

2 peeled apples, sliced

Pâte sablée: In a food processor blend or pulse together flour, sugar, salt, and Earth Balance until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and toss with a fork or pulse until incorporated. Add enough remaining ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing or pulsing to incorporate, until mixture begins to form a dough. On a work surface smear dough in 3 or 4 forward motions with heel of hand to slightly develop gluten in flour and make dough easier to work with. Form dough into a ball and flatten to form a 1-inch-thick disk. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Frangipane: in the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the sugar and Earth Balance. Add the pureed apple and the vanilla extract. Mix. Add the ground almonds and mix until it forms a crumbly paste.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.

Wearing an old-fashion apron is key
in the making of a great pie.

Galette making: When the crust has chilled, place it on a lightly floured surface and roll it with a rolling pin. Fold it (so it won't break when you lift it) and transfer it into a round baking pan. Fit the dough along the bottom and sides of the pan. Spread the frangipane on the crust. Top with the apple slices.

Bake for one hour.

Once the galette is done, don't forget to hide a fève inside! Half of the pleasure comes from the game (and from the youngest guest getting under the table to call out the names, especially if he or she is an adult). If you don't have a porcelain figurine, just insert a bean in the frangipane, under a slice of apple, and make sure it doesn't show.

Apparently, people eat King Cake in New Orleans too -but for Mardi-Gras. It is crown-shaped and the fève is a plastic baby!
More info about King Cake around the world here.

Credits: I used several recipes for this pie. The crust was an adaptation from a recipe found on here, on Epicurious. The frangipane is the veganized version of a Joy of Baking recipe.