(B)limey, it’s cannellini, not chick peas!

26 Nov

When most people hear the word hummus, they think of chick peas (assuming they’ve even heard of hummus to begin with).  I love chick peas, and they are probably the one bean I truly could not live without.  However, cannellini beans, or white beans, are also a close second place in my world of foods I cannot live without.

In addition to testing the Black Bean Hummus with Orange from Robin Robertson‘s upcoming book, I also tested her new recipe for White Bean and Lime Hummus.  Cannellini and lime?  Another citrus and bean marriage made in heaven!

The ingredients were simple — cannellini beans, garlic, tahini, lime juice, cayenne, and salt with cilantro for a garnish.

I began with salt and garlic in the always lovable food processor.

Never use that bottled stuff.  Fresh lime is always best — believe me!  I squeezed fresh lime with this easy to use lime squeezer.  Simply place one half of a lime, inside facing down, into this hand-held device and squeeze so as to pop the lime inside-out.  In this case, I squeezed it right into a small measuring glass so I could measure as the juice came out.   I do have an electric citrus juicer, but for the sake of one fruit, I just use the hand squeezers — I also have a bigger, yellow one for lemons as well as a much bigger, orange one for oranges — very convenient!!

The next step combined everything else together in the food processor:  white beans, tahini, cayenne, and lime juice in with the garlic and salt.

A few pulses, and it’s done!  Garnish with some cilantro, and take it to a party.

The best part of this white bean hummus is how amazingly simple and fast it it could be.  Seriously, the most time-consuming aspect of this recipe was chopping a few pieces of cilantro.  Delicious!


Thanksgiving Dinner

25 Nov

Busy morning!  I’ve been up since 6 a.m. preparing food, but I have to confess I was so overwhelmed that I did not take pictures!!

However, I do want to post about what I have made and plan to eat in a few hours:

Quinoa Stuffed (Buttercup) Squash

Delicious, and with a Latin twist!  I used buttercup squashes instead of acorn, because they are sweeter and I was lucky enough to obtain them from a friend.

Lentil Roulade with Chestnut Stuffing

I haven’t sat down to dinner yet, but it is absolutely delicious from what I sampled.  The outer dough of the roulade is made from lentils, bread crumbs and Earth Balance, and the inner stuffing is chestnuts, bread crumbs and sage.  I did change the recipe slightly, however, by adding garlic, celery, and an apple to the stuffing.

For my family, I also prepared two trays of roasted veggies with garlic, olive oil, and rosemary.  I used potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, fennel, carrots, and onions.  Yum!

With all the hustle and bustle, I did not take pictures of the process, but I did take one picture of my plate, after serving it:

Clockwise from the top:  mystuffed buttercup squash, cranberry sauce, my roasted veggies, my roulade (that fell apart), mashed potatoes, and stuffing.  A very satisfying Thanksgiving dinner!

Talking Turkey About the Thanksgiving Myth

24 Nov

A mother turkey and her children foraging for food on the Cumberland County College campus

Thanksgiving — an American holiday, originating with the first colonists of what is now the United States, and celebrating their first harvest with the help of the Native Americans.  A tradition every year since then, that includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, string beans, cranberry sauce and gravy.

Well, that’s what we are supposed to believe…

Every year, children are indoctrinated with the story of Pilgrims.*  Every adult my age or older could surely recite it from memory…”The Pilgrims were English settlers who sailed on the Mayflower seeking religious freedom.  They landed on Plymouth Rock and established a colony in 1620.  With the help of local natives, including Squanto, they planted and later harvested an abundance of crops.  They then invited their native friends and had a huge feast with turkey and called it Thanksgiving, wherein they gave thanks for their good fortune.”  That’s how I learned it, and many others still believe it.

*As an interjection here, I will add that in all my years of teaching I did not experience a perpetuation of this flawed curriculum and was not obligated to teach this story I had learned — however, it was mostly due to lack of time to digress from the regular curricula.  With the fervor for raising test scores, most schools do not have time to teach anything about holidays any more.

As an adult, I finally learned that almost every word of that Thanksgiving story is false — (all except the word “English,” “1620,” and maybe some articles and prepositions such as “the” and “of”).  And  yet so many people will gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table tomorrow and swear that they are eating turkey as a tradition traceable to 1620.  In fact, some of us vegans and vegetarians may even hear, “What do you mean you’re not eating the turkey?  It’s tradition!  It’s the American way!”

Well, to help those of you who might hear these comments, I’ve summarized some main points surrounding Thanksgiving and the original settlers of Plymouth Colony to retort the Thanksgiving myth.

A few years ago I purchased a book entitled Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen.  After perusing it in a book store, I felt compelled to read it, as a responsible school teacher who certainly did not want to continue lying to my students!  The book is written by an historian who examined tons of history text books meant for schools at all levels, finding serious flaws throughout all of American history.  In general, the history written in these books is typically boring, overly abbreviated and simplified, and overly positive.  In particular, a lot of negative events are omitted, or only discussed from a particular point of view (such as the oppressor’s).  Loewen asserts that history textbooks avoid controversy and instill patriotism so that children can “feel good” about their national pride.  The content is driven by publishers and school boards more so than actual historians with knowledge.

Chapter 3 is called, “The Truth About Thanksgiving,” and is approximately 21 pages of historical information debunking common misconceptions.  What follows are aspects of the Thanksgiving myth that Loewen has explained:

  • The Pilgrims were not the first settlers; the native groups settled in what is now known as the United States 30,000 years ago.  Too long ago for it to count?  Well, then believe it or not a group of African slaves were abandoned in South Carolina in 1526 by their Spanish captors, so that makes Africans the first to settle here.  But if you want to be specific about what Europeans were the first to settle, then that would be the Spanish that settled an area of the U.S. that covers — oh, just about half of the continent!  (From San Francisco to Arkansas and also Florida).  In fact, they had their own group fleeing religious oppression before the English Pilgrims — Spanish Jews settled in New Mexico in the 1500s seeking freedom.  What?  Do they still not count since they’re on the West Coast?  Well, what about the Dutch who settled in the area of Albany in 1614?  Or, if they really must be English settlers — what of Jamestown in 1607?  Right from the start of this myth, our characters (the settlers of Plymouth Rock) have been chosen rather arbitrarily — and by the way, only 35 out of 102 people on the Mayflower were actually “Pilgrims” (the name coined for them in the 1870s!) — the rest were just pursuing new fortunes, not religious freedom.
  • Squanto and friends did not welcome the Pilgrims because they were so kind, or the Pilgrims were so blessed and good, but rather because a terrible plague had wiped out 90 to 96% of natives in the area of New England.  Fisherman who had visited the area in 1617 infected natives with whom they had contact, and within three years the population was decimated, leaving villages abandoned and tribes without the resources to fight off invaders.  The Wampanoags, for example, were so weakened by the plagues that they formed an alliance with the Pilgrims to increase their numbers in the face of a threat from the neighboring Narragansets.  As in all areas of the Americas settled, or at best visited by Europeans, epidemics of small pox, influenza, chicken pox, viral hepatitis and even bubonic plague defeated native populations who might have otherwise fought off these invasions.  So in truth, the Conquest really happened on a microbial level.
  • The Thanksgiving myth often states that the Pilgrims originally meant to go to Virginia and settle near the existing English settlements, but that “bad weather” veered them off course and led to a navigation error.  There is evidence to support that it was no accident.  Earlier fishing expeditions in the area of Cape Cod had already taken place, and the area was thus known to people back then.  Some historians believe they went there on purpose, since back then it was not difficult for sailors to measure latitude and realize they were off course right away.  Moreover, they could have headed south towards warmer weather, since they still had supplies to travel further.  Thus they chose to stay in Cape Cod on purpose, and settled in Plymouth — which was actually the village of Patuxet, abandoned because of the plague, but ready to go with lands cleared, corn growing in fields, and even homes still in place.  The Pilgrims rummaged through these homes, and even dug up graves, finding food, baskets, bowls, and other objects.
  • Who was Squanto and how did he speak English?  Apparently, around 1605 Squanto had been captured and sent to Europe as a slave.  He lived in England and then Spain, where he escaped slavery and managed to seek passage to Newfoundland and then catch a ride back to Cape Cod the next time Captan Thomas Dermer went fishing in that area.  When he made it home, almost everyone in his village was dead until the Pilgrims showed up.
  • The Pilgrims did not introduce the concept of Thanksgiving to the natives, since the natives had observed autumn harvest celebrations long before.  In fact, Pilgrims did not even call it Thanksgiving — that word came later in history.  But even if the Pilgrims did have a lot to be thankful for (there are some scary primary resources from back then thanking God for the “pestilence” that removed the natives), they weren’t so religious and moral about it.  In fact, they were also in Plymouth to make a profit by way of the fur trade, and many also sought gold as other settlers like those in Jamestown had.  That makes them no different than other settlers, but they certainly weren’t holier-than-thou.
  • When did Thanksgiving actually become an official holiday?  1621?  1776?  No, try 1863.  Declaring it a national holiday was a strategy to encourage patriotism during the Civil War, and ironically, the Pilgrim story wasn’t even a part of it until the 1890s.
  • Who was at the first Thanksgiving?  Definitely some Pilgrims, but there is no definite record of natives present.  Several sources suggest that it lasted three days, and was earlier than November — probably October.

While Loewen does not get into the specifics of food, here are some more facts about the first Thanksgiving from a few other resources:

  • Food: Well, there is no absolute record that specifies turkey — instead, there was specifically venison and waterfowl (ducks and geese probably).  In addition, it is likely that there were shellfish on the table and eels too.  Plant foods were abundant: cornmeal, beans, squash, grapes, plums, onions, blueberries, parsnips, and turnips.  No potatoes or sweet potatoes, apples, or even cranberry sauce actually, as these foods would not be introduced until much later!

So is all of Thanksgiving a lie??  Pretty much!  But why?  Loewen, citing another historian Mircea Eliade, states that Thanksgiving is a ritual observance of an origin myth for the following reasons:

“1) It constitutes the history of the acts of the founders, the Supernaturals.

2) It is considered to be true.

3) It tells how an institution came into existence.

4) In performing the ritual associated with the myth, one ‘experiences knowledge of the origin’ and claim’s one’s patriarchy.

5) Thus one ‘lives’ the myth, as a religion.”

A national religion, it seems, as Thanksgiving is our national holiday.  Obviously, the United States were literally divided during the Civil War, and so the country needed to market a positive publicity campaign to inspire national pride and respect.  As an English-speaking nation with ties to English cultural and probably little to no cultural identification with the Spanish — much less the Africans — the protagonists settlers for this origin myth had to be English.  The first ones, in Jamestown, had basically ruined their reputation because they had enslaved natives, dug for gold instead of planted crops, and were basically just out to make a profit.  So the 35 Pilgrims who had sought religious freedom made much better characters for an origin myth.  The rest of the story falls into place as presumption and a simplistic plot with a happy ending, completely ignoring any controversial tragedies and not-so-flattering Pilgrim activities.

I am not slamming Thanksgiving, nor do I believe it should be discontinued, but I do prefer that our traditions and rituals be truthful and transparent.  I do not like the myths because unfortunately too many people accept them as facts.  Some of us grow up believing in Santa Claus until someone — a parent, or a bully at school — tells us the truth.  That does not mean we stop giving (or receiving!) gifts or celebrating Christmas (another holiday full of myths).  Instead, we change our perspective of it, either from a religious point of view or otherwise.  The settlers of Plymouth need to be regarded for who they were in reality — we do them no justice by making up fantasies about them — and the plight of the natives that suffered in the plague should not be ignored from our history either.  As Loewen concludes in his chapter about Thanksgiving, “Origin myths do not come cheaply.  To glorify the Pilgrims is dangerous.  The genial omissions and the invented details with which our textbooks retail the Pilgrim archetype are close cousins of overt censorship…”

I suggest we completely forget this myth and reinvent Thanksgiving for ourselves.  If you are interested in a return to truly traditional foods, then focus on creating meals with cornmeal, squash, and beans (known as “The Three Sisters” in some native groups).  If not, just make your favorite (vegan) food and just reflect on what you want the holiday to mean for you.

Personally, I’m going to enjoy a delicious stuffed acorn squash with several sides and desserts, and I will reflect on my gratitude for the Earth’s food.  I will also say many prayers for the abused and wrongfully murdered turkeys gracing everyone else’s table (including the table I will share with my extended family), as this holiday is very much about death as it is about life for me.

And I also plan on having some drinks!  Haha!!!

So What Do Vegans Eat For Thanksgiving?

23 Nov

Typically one of the first questions posed to a vegan by a non-vegan is “What do you eat on Thanksgiving?” (As if turkeys were the only choice otherwise).  I had the good fortune of attending two vegan Thanksgiving so far this season.  The first one was smaller, with 12 people in attendance, but the second one was much larger — perhaps close to 3o people.  Such an event is the perfect place to answer that age-old question, with an abundance of delicious examples.

Below are some photographs of foods from the second, larger Thanksgiving Potluck I attended, hosted by Vegetarian Society of South Jersey.  I apologize for the grainy quality of some of the photos, and for the fact that I did not have the opportunity to track down all the people who contributed a dish in order to get all the ingredients and information accurately.

Orange You Glad For Black Beans?

22 Nov

Don’t get me wrong — I love hummus, and believe chick peas (garbanzo beans) are the world’s most perfect bean.  However, every now and then I like to try something else for my veggie dip or spread.  Lo and behold, I had the opportunity to test a new recipe for a black bean dip by vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson.  As a tester, my job is to prepare a recipe exactly as directed by the author, and write feedback on its taste, practicality, portion size, and directions.  While I have permission to photograph and blog the recipes, I cannot reveal the exact recipe — you’ll just have to wait for Ms. Robertson to publish her next book!

The recipe I tested was called Spicy Black Bean Hummus with Orange — intriguing.  Spicy and citrusy?  I had to sign up to try it!

I gathered all my ingredients, which basically would include black beans, tahini, jalapenos, salt, cumin, garlic, and cilantro.

The beauty of this recipe is that it was remarkably quick using the food processor.  First, I put in the garlic, jalapenos, and salt.

The orange flavoring would come from the zest of an orange.  I love using a microplane in order to zest.  I usually do it over a small bowl or plate, so I do not lose any of the zest.  I did not zest it directly over the other ingredients, because I needed to measure a precise amount for this recipe.

With the zest ready and the garlic and jalapenos already chopped, I added the remaining ingredients and whirled it around in the food processor.

The bean dip was meant to be garnished with cilantro, which I cut on a board with a chef’s knife instead of using a food processor.  Years ago, I used to get lazy and use the food processor for both my parsley and cilantro, much to my mother’s chagrin.  She insisted that it ruined the herbs, and I wouldn’t listen until I finally tried cutting them instead and tasted the difference.  Yes, indeed, the food processor cilantro or parsley ended up pulpy and watery, while the hand-minced herbs retained a better texture and flavor.  When chopping cilantro, I always include the stems too, because they are just as tasty!

A final garnish around the black bean dip.

Delicious!  I can’t wait to read what the final version of this recipe will be, and try it again in the future.

Bitter About Buckwheat No More

21 Nov

After my treasure hunting expedition in the kitchen yesterday, I came across ingredients I had long forgotten in the bottom of my deep freezer.  One of these was kasha, also known as buckwheat groats.  I purchased them once, almost a  year ago, in order to make a breakfast meal that turned out absolutely disgusting.  The concept and pictures seemed promising — it was a chocolate pudding with fresh strawberries and soaked buckwheat groats.  But the groats are bitter, and they just didn’t do anything for me that couldn’t have been achieved ten times better with rolled oats.

But I hate wasting food, and so the buckwheat sat in my freezer until now.  And it probably would have continued to stay in my freezer for months to come, had I not come across a recipe by Wendy Gabbe Day, author of the book Scatter Vegan Sweets.  I am currently reading it and writing a review for the American Vegan magazine, and just recently read the recipe for a buckwheat smoothie.  Perfect timing!

What sets Scatter Vegan Sweets apart from other vegan cookbooks is the fact that Wendy focuses exclusively on gluten-free, nutrient-dense ingredients with low fat, low sugar, and no oil.  The book includes sweets that are not limited to desserts, such as breakfast foods and the smoothie I made today

With her permission, here is Wendy’s recipe for her Raw Berry Buckwheat Smoothie:

  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats (soaked overnight)
  • 1/3 cup raw nuts (soaked overnight)
  • 4 medjool dates (pitted, and soaked overnight if you do not have a high speed blender)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 frozen bananas (chopped)
  • 1-1.5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (or other frozen fruit)
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries (or other frozen fruit — I used raspberries)
  1. In a bowl or jar, combine the buckwheat and nuts and cover with water.  Soak overnight or for 4-8 hours.  (This water will be discarded).
  2. In a separate bowl or jar, soak the dates in 1 cup of water overnight of for 4-8 hours.  If you’ve got a heavy duty blender, you can skip soaking the dates.
  3. Drain and thoroughly rinse the buckwheat and nuts.  Place in the blender.
  4. Add the dates and date water to the blender.  Blend thoroughly.
  5. Add the remaining four ingredients and blend until smooth.  Add additional water, if needed, for smoother consistency.

The idea would be to think about what you’re having for breakfast tomorrow morning, and soak the necessary ingredients over night.  Once you wake up, it really is hardly any work at all to make this smoothie.  Last night, I did measure out and soak the groats and nuts in water, but I forgot about the dates.

This morning, I blended the buckwheat and walnuts in the blender, as the recipe specified, but unfortunately, I do not have a high speed blender.

So before adding the dates, I put the dates and the 1 cup of water in the food processor separately to ensure that they were thoroughly chopped.

Once chopped I added them, water and all, to the blended buckwheat.

The frozen fruit was the last step, in which I did substitute raspberries for strawberries, since that was all I had.

I was pleasantly surprised that all the fruit and dates completely obscured the bitterness of the buckwheat.  The walnuts gave the smoothie body, and the buckwheat had a milkiness to it after having been soaked overnight.  This smoothie was different for me, however, because it wasn’t a green smoothie. This one actually did not contain kale, spinach, dandelions, or lettuce like my typical green smoothies — my husband was thrilled to see that this morning’s smoothie was indeed pink, and not green or brown!!  I will definitely make this smoothie again with the remainder of my buckwheat groats — and who knows?  I might even buy some more that won’t live in my freezer for a year.


Kitchen Clean Out

20 Nov


Having thoroughly cleaned my refrigerator a couple of days ago, I am nevertheless still up to my elbows in some serious house cleaning that I have been working on week to week and room to room.  In the last four months, I have systematically cleaned out closets, dressers, old boxes, and other nooks and crannies around the house.  I have actually gone to Goodwill four times to donate old things I no longer want or need.  Today was the most dreaded task of all: the kitchen.

Why would it be so difficult, compared to other rooms?  Three reasons:  clutter, old food, and old grime.

I sorted through all my pots, pans, preparation bowls, plastic storage containers, plates, coffee mugs, glasses, spatulas, gadgets, and other kitchen clutter that had long since been invading my home and falling out of my cabinets every time.  I hauled out tons of stuff, ready for another trip to Goodwill tomorrow.  Really, do I need 7 wooden sppons, three pizza cutters, and 23 water glasses?  I hope not!

But that was just the beginning.  Next came the food.  My pantry was actually not too bad — I don’t make it a habit of buying too many packaged goods.  My real problem was in my freezers.  Yes, freezers — two of them.

I’m not sure if I am afraid of one day not having fresh vegan food on my table, but it seems that my deep freezer has become a graveyard for chilis, stews, and even cupcakes of questionable birthdates, all long forgotten and destined for the trash.  I actually found two containers with last year’s Thanksgiving food — two Spanish tapas dishes I had made to go with the theme my family had last year.  Sadly, the patatas bravas and the tomato artichoke dish were only delicious the first time — but I hate to waste food and make feeble attempts to preserve it.

I did find some treasures among the pitiful leftovers — black sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, buckwheat groats, and a big bag of wild blueberries.  I also uncovered several bags of frozen veggies I had forgotten about, including edamame and black eyed peas.

I also had two disasters.  Apparently, ziplock is pretty serious about distinguishing what is a freezer bag and what isn’t.  Unfortunately, a bag of amaranth tore and spewed tiny round pellets all over the freezer.  What a mess!  I had to use a dustbuster to clean it up — but at least I found the amaranth, which I did not know I had!

And finally, I had to clean.  Really clean.  I swept, scrubbed, disinfected, scraped, and wiped every surface including the insides of drawers and cabinets.  I even used a toothbrush to get the crud out from around the sink faucets.

Exhausting work!  So, what did I eat today?  We went out to Chili’s and I ordered a Caribbean Salad — no chicken or honey lime dressing — but full of greens, pineapple, mandarin oranges, dried cherries, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds and extra slices of avocadoes.  I ordered it with vinaigrette dressing on the side, since they tend to be heavy handed with it and it tends to be soggy.  But overall, it is a good choice, especially since unfortunately their veggie burger is not vegan.

Stay tuned for what I come up with for my newly found amaranth and buckwheat!