San Francisco Treats

July 28, 2011

I used to think San Francisco was a city par excellence. That was before I visited Portland though. San Francisco has its charm — quirky, vibrant, hippy-dippy, uber-liberal and chic. But it’s also sprawling, gritty, depressed and depressing. There are North Beach’s hilly, verdant and windy courtyards and byways, but there’s also the Mission’s spottiness. There’s the pristine and peerless Ferry Building as well as the seediness that’s  just outside Union Square. There’s urban decay in lots of places, but there are also fertile green spaces sprinkled throughout. It’s local-centric and tourism friendly. SF truly is a metropolis — a mystifying city with lots of beauty and sketchiness.

However, its vegan food is abundant and well established. I could dedicate a whole entry (or series of entries) to Gracias Madre. I’ll say it again and in many different ways, but it was incredible. Everything was intensely flavorful and fresh. Menu, service, presentation, drinks all fantastic. We had two of our first three dinners there, and we didn’t feel as though we were making a safe choice. We also had a wonderful meal at the famous Millennium. The facade of the place is fairly unassuming; it’s been housed inside a hotel for a long time and doesn’t seem to suffer any consequences from this. We also had memorable eats at Cafe Gratitude, Herbivore and Source.

Gracias Madre – I don’t think any meal could be better than what we got here. We sampled a good portion of the menu on the two nights we ate there. We had grilled corn on the cob, an empanada, a quesadilla, a Caesar salad, mole, tacos, guacamole and a wonderfully sour-ish cauliflower and cheese dish. The salsa was outstanding and so were the tortillas. A wonderful cashew cheese was dripped on nearly everything, and the drinks and drink lists were stellar. We fell in love.

Cafe Gratitude – I can’t believe someone advised against us going here. This is owned by the same folks as Gracias Madre, and the same care is taken with each aspect of this business. We had an unbelievable cacao shake that was nutty, malty and chocolatey. Then we had a coconut-bacon BLT, which was exotic, but also impossibly tasty and healthy. We also shared a great rice bowl, and had to visit another location in Healdsburg, where we got tacos, falafel and raw key lime pie (made with avocados).

Millennium – This is the vegan mecca. It didn’t disappoint. We couldn’t resist the fried squash blossoms as an appetizer. The flowers were polenta encrusted and accompanied by a grilled nectarine and jalapeno salsa, zucchini remoulade and pickled green tomatoes. I ordered a pastry roulade as an entree, and Nicole had a semolina crepe. Mine had grilled seitan sausage with mushrooms, potatoes, lentils, chard, shallot and fennel. It also had a cherry red-wine reduction and black pepper-thyme oil with pickled chard stems. This was not a texture I see much anymore — flaky, chewy, crispy. Just an ideal, artistic meal. Nicole’s was not as impressive, but great nonetheless. Her crepe contained leeks, carmelized onions, lemon tofu cheese, roasted zucchini cream sauce as well as a chili powder and onion salsa. That’s masterful, right? We felt like we were in the hands of experts the whole time. We also shared an almond-chocolate dessert with white chocolate mousse, mocha filling, almond crust and a raspberry sauce.

Herbivore – This wasn’t on the same level, but we had a nourishing, tasty meal. I had falafel, and Nicole got moussaka. Both were well executed meals, and Herbivore delivered on the fast and healthy vegan front.

Source – Good stuff here, though we only shared a delicious artichoke spread. Their menu is huge, and the location is strange.

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Our newest foster dog

July 21, 2011

I’ve posted photos and blurbs about many of our fosters before and wanted to share about our newest guy, Jordan. Jordan is a 10 year old chocolate lab who was surrendered by his former owner because of a move to another city. Jordan is enormous at 130 lbs. My estimates tell me that he needs to lose about 70 lbs. in order to be comfortable and healthy. Jordan came to us from Philadelphia dirty and full of tufts of hair just waiting to come out. After many hours of brushing and bathing, he is handsome and sparkly. Getting him healthy is going to be a challenge, but we’re happy to take it on because we want the best for this guy. He’s surprisingly happy and energetic despite his large size. I’ll be chronicling his weight loss here. When we got him, he weighed 130 lbs. and had a 40 inch tum circumference. Stay tuned for updates.

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CSA goodness

June 13, 2011

We decided to forgo the huge garden this year and join a local CSA. Truth is, the CSA costs less than what we spent on our garden last year, and the yield is much higher. We’re using our newfound free time to build up some nice perennial plots around the yard. And, of course we’re still growing some of our own food too. This year, we’ve got kale, salad greens, lots of potatoes, carrots,various tomatoes, a bunch of herbs, onions and garlic, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and our pear tree. We’ve also planted some pumpkins and squash for the doggies.

We’re still in shock over the quantity and variety that we are getting from the CSA. Here’s a rundown of weeks 1 and 2:

Week 1: head lettuce, baby arugula, komatsuna, tot soi, baby bok choy, garlic scallions, broccoli

Week 2: sweet hakurei turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, baby bok choy, tot soi, broccoli raab, swiss chard, baby lettuce, curly kale, red Russian kale, collards, salad greens, cilantro, dill, oregano, thyme & sage

And, we’re excited to pick up this goodness this coming week: napa cabbage, large bok choy, hakurei turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, summer squash, zucchini, cauliflower, head lettuce, arugula, baby salad mix, broccoli raab, collard greens, curly kale, red russian kale, Swiss chard

What we’ve made so far:

A delicious arugula, radish and pecan grain salad with vegan blue cheese.

Roasted potatoes and turnips with truffle oil

Greens and broccoli with cilantro pesto

Pasta with greens, garlic, olives, Field Roast sausage and an herbed dairy free cream sauce.

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We’ve enjoyed some lovely dinners out lately. Two were local and one was at a vegan mecca in NYC. All delivered in their own ways.

We participated in famous Dan’s ( birthday dinner last month at the Apollo Grill in Easthampton. We have only been there a handful of times for full-on dinners, but it doesn’t disappoint. They threw together a wonderful vegan plate for us with risotto cakes, asparagus, roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts. And we couldn’t resist the sweet potato-avocado tostada with roasted tomatillo salsa. Makes us want to go there more often.

Magpie, Hope and Olive’s sister in Greenfield, does it right. It’s supposed to be just a pizza place, but its layout and details work on a different level than one might expect. It’s beautiful and delicious and just very well thought out, just like Hope and Olive. They’ve done well by Greenfield. We ordered roasted veggies with truffle oil and an arugula-fennel-lemon-thyme pizza. Tasty stuff all around. They cook nearly everything in their 700-degree wood-fired oven, and the tastes and textures are superior because of it.

We spent some of our April vacation in Jersey and New York. We ventured into the city, partly to try out a vegan place called Candle 79. The owners have been in the vegan restaurant business in NYC for some time, and it shows at Candle 79. The interior is gorgeous, and the meals are well crafted. It’s fine dining. We started out with the chef’s amuse bouche arancini, then ordered spinach-morel ravioli and cocktails. The arancini and ravioli were fabulous. Every ingredient was fresh and cooked precisely. The ravioli was a highlight.

For dinner, Nicole ordered the seitan piccata, and I had mushroom-stuffed tempeh. Again, both were expertly prepared with maximum sensual impact. I think Nicole’s was superior, and mine was delicious, but I think I prefer a less stacked meal. I don’t like when ingredients blend together. I’d rather have an entree with sides, for example. We also ordered onion rings with a chipotle sauce and a peanut butter-chocolate dessert with raspberry sauce. Overall, a great meal that came at a great price. The cocktails were forgettable and $15 each. I expected less of a stacked iteration from the dessert, too. I’d only recommed it if you’re flush.

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April 19, 2011

I love tortas. Avocadoes, tomatoes, onions, beans, greens and delicious bread. It’s some kind of bastardization of tradition, but it works. Take what you’d normally see in a burrito, but put it on white bread. Comfort, spiciness, savoriness, deliciousness and textural contrasts. What more could one ask? We made ours with drunken refried beans, sauteed spinach and artichokes, garlic and onions, avocado, tomato, scallions, Daiya cheese and Ciabatta bread. We should have these more often.

Spring has teased us with warm weather and light harvests. We bought some wonderful watermelon radishes and paired them with lettuce, pickles, Hungry Ghost bread and broccoli salad. This is lunch to me — an invigorating, seasonal, fairly healthy and tasty small feast and small victory. I love sandwiches and sandwich making.

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We made a wonderful,  but belated, Valentine’s dinner, combining old meal memories with new recipes. As an appetizer, we made a beet carpaccio, similar to something we savored at Portobello in Portland last summer. Tofu ricotta is really the center piece, but the fruitiness (olive oil), the zestiness (lemon juice) and the earthiness (beets) offset the tofu’s cheesiness and tang. I also added nutritional yeast, capers and greens to the dish. The contrasting textures contribute a lot, too, and I think they force a certain slow-eating appreciation.

From Tal Ronnen’s cookbook, we tried a cashew-saffron pasta with white wine and artichokes. The creaminess of the meal might have been indulgent, but it made sense to our taste buds somehow. The pasta was satisfying, piquant and fitting as a celebratory meal.

The dessert was creamy, too, and also recalled that fabulous meal at Portobello. We made cannoli, and they really didn’t fall short. Nicole included chocolate chips, orange zest and sweet, delicious cannoli shells. They finished our indulgent, creamy and memorable meal.

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Raw Deal

March 2, 2011

Nicole’s mother, brother and his girlfriend recently visited. The latter visitors, Mike and Maria, tried a raw diet for a couple weeks and are trying, in general, to eat more raw food. We (mostly Nicole) accommodated them by making cashew cheese, flax crackers and a kale salad. They’ve inspired us to try out more raw food, too, because of the way the food turned out. We also borrowed an Annie Phyo raw cookbook that contains a lot of enticing ideas.

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Polarizing Pesto

February 18, 2011

I love cilantro, but I know people who can’t stomach it or even sniff it. I read an article to that effect last year in the New York Times, too. But Nicole and I love it. Cilantro pesto has been a go-to meal for us lately. To us, it’s tasty, savory, herbacious and fresh. We used to have green curry more than once a month. Cilantro pesto has taken its place.

We make it in our own ways. Nicole is more adherent to the pesto label — she uses nutritional yeast. I don’t, but we both use garlic, aminos, tamari, pumpkin seeds and oil. Sometimes I throw in peanuts and ginger, too.

It makes a wonderful sauce for stir fried vegetables and rice or raw vegetables and papadums or even, if you diluted it, salad dressing. It isn’t something we tire of. We can’t get enough.

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Group Cook and More

January 10, 2011

We recently celebrated our holiday break by having some friends over to cook and eat a vegan dinner. We used Terry Hope Romero’s “Viva Vegan” to make mango rice, mojo potatoes and tempeh, a green sauce and corn pancakes. We also made our own drunken refried beans. I would’ve liked to marinate the potatoes and tempeh for more time, but the rice, pancakes and especially the green sauce came out very well. Great food and great company as usual. The way the meal came out made us want to use the book again soon.

Sometimes I get a hankering for some Southern delights. And grits are one of those cravings. Collard greens are another in some way. The grits actually came out very creamy and tasty. We used soy milk and Daiya to get the texture and taste right. In the collards, we used liquid smoke and apple cider vinegar for flavor. Together this dish is divine, and with fresh tomatoes really flavorful stuff.

We also recently used celeriac for its flavor. We copied a regular recipe from the New York Times for a creamy celeriac-chestnut soup. It came out so tasty vegan, too. It reminds me how much flavor comes from vegetables and how they really provide a great base for non-veg soups and sauces, too. One always starts with Mireproix (or some variation of it), and one must build flavors from that, but it really is the base.  We also often use liquor (usually wine), nutritional yeast and a good brand of broth to build the flavor. Celeriac brings its own earthiness to bear, too. It smells and tastes like a combination between a broccoli stem and a celery stalk.

We also got a Dutch Oven for Christmas and Nicole recently made a whole wheat and thyme bread. It was dense and delicious, and will inspire us to do more bread baking soon.

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December 28, 2010

We tend to be a bit nontraditional during the holidays. Of course, one can expect that when one is vegan. Being vegan or progressive or modern around the holidays is really about honoring tradition, while also honoring our bodies and minds. Some of our family members eat meat, but we encourage vegetarian and vegan food, and often volunteer to cook old favorites in a vegan manner.

For Thanksgiving, we made a squash-mushroom Wellington, which came out better than I thought it might. We made Brussels Sprouts with apples, onions and a mustard glaze. Nicole’s mother brought our favorite breadcrumb-and herb-stuffed vinegar peppers, and we also had traditional sides like mac and cheese and stuffing. The Thanksgiving tables, along with the guests, were stunning.

The centerpiece and fondest dish for Christmas was the Easter Pie. Traditionally, Italians would make this quiche-like entree for Easter with eggs, sausage and cheese. We did it for Thanksgiving, and it couldn’t have been tastier. Pesto, bruschetta, stuffed peppers, marinated mushrooms and artichokes also accompanied the pie.

It’s always great to spend time with family on holiday breaks. We’re fortunate they’ve been supportive and appreciative of our lifestyle choices (mostly), and we think it’s especially nice that they let us reimagine holiday traditions.

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