Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shape - Shifting

You would never be able to guess that our street was just a hop, skip and a jump away from one of the most child-packed areas in town. Truth is, we do live in a fairly "new" housing area, but a segregated one, so most of the kids are actually on the streets on the other side of the forest - you see them coming over to their friends' places after school, but come Hallowe'en? Good luck getting rid of even one box of candy (hence the birth of things like this in November). Even though I can't see the kids in the area, I still know they're around when I'm outside and hear the school bells during the day and the hubbub of young voices during recess. It makes me pine for the good old days of my elementary school, filled with friends, fun, and the highlight of our week - the bake sale!

Though I didn't make this particular treat when it was my turn for the Friday fundraising adventure, I do recall making it's "kissing cousin" with my mom once or twice. I had half a bag of organic puffed millet in our pantry which almost screamed "crispy squares", but no marshmallows to make the classic recipe (and I wasn't about to go and buy any - I was trying to use what excess I had, not make more!). Googling around didn't yield much other than a few vegan recipes which all used brown rice syrup and agave (which I also didn't have, being a broke student in the boonies of Ontario!). After a while, I kind of gave up and put it on the "back burner" of my mind.

Then I was flipping through my old church cookbook (my all time favourite, by the way!) for a totally different idea and came across one of the ladies' entries for "Golden Puff Squares" that used puffed wheat stirred into a corn syrup, sugar and butter caramel, without a marshmallow in sight. The lightbulb went on, and I abandoned my previous quest (which I now can't remember!) and got right into the kitchen. The recipe struck me as being quite brilliant, actually, since while I do have an everlasting (and some might say irrational) fear of boiling sugar, for some reason the addition of already cooked corn syrup made it "safe" to me. For a more complex, "ooh la la" flavour, I opted for a partial honey swap rather than use only corn syrup. Even if it isn't the maligned HFCS, corn syrup can be a bit... boring. And honey caramel? Yum! For a little bit of visual appeal, I topped the warm pan of squares with a few "dots" of chocolate chips and popped it into a hot oven for a minute just to melt them onto the surface a bit. Cooled and cut (I made triangles, because I can't do anything by the book!), they made for a delicious snack, and I have it on good authority that some young foodies nearby had a pretty delicious dessert too!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Time Waits for No Muffin

I'm stunned that September is almost over. I mean, it seems like only yesterday that we were packing up all my sister's worldly possessions to move her back to college, and now we're arranging all the Thanksgiving hubbub!  The Halloween stuff has been out in the stores since mid-August, and now the Christmas decorations are beginning to pop up on the shelves. Insanity!

But time waits for nobody, not least us procrastinators! With the "children's" back to school rush in full swing, sometimes the college and university kids get a bit lost in the shuffle. They don't want to be packing kiddy-sized Lunchables and pudding cups in with their laptops every morning (though, mind you, I know some who would...). From my experience in both university and 3 different colleges (yes, I know!), the post-secondary crowd is more the coffee-shop variety. I'll admit that I was one of the textbook cases of the "too busy / lazy to eat properly" student when I first moved out, before discovering the joys of Cheerios again! Breakfast easily morphs from a wholesome meal into just a latte, or worse - a sugary coffee "drink" and a pastry of some kind, which spikes the energy for about half an hour before crashing back down. And guess what happens then? Back into the cafe lineup.

I made these gigantic muffins on a whim, really, for one of my clients who was going back to school after a summer of essentially recuperating. Still being a "new" celiac patient, everything is suspect, and not every meal can be successful. I knew she did love the Iron - Rich "Gleegan" Muffins I made before, packed with bananas and all kinds of other goodies, so I turned back to the blog of one of the biggest gluten-free, dairy-free, mostly egg-free bakers out there - Karina's Gluten Free Goddess. I had been coveting her banana muffins for a while, so what better opportunity to play? I kept the same basic formula, but merged it with my previous recipe for a bit of a twist and a nutritional boost. They came out beautifully - huge, fluffy but substantial, filling and definitely something that will keep anyone (student or not) going right through the morning. They're not low-calorie, or low-fat - but they are supposed to stand in for a balanced meal when you can't get to the kitchen, not to fill a "nosh" need mid morning on your coffee break! After one of these for breakfast, chances are you won't even need that 10AM latte - they might even help you break your coffee addiction!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cookin' Greens Coupon Winners!

Apparently, there are only two "Green's Great" readers of this blog! Last week's givaway announcement netted entries from Nic and Kymm - both delicious ideas and well deserving of the Cookin' Greens™  vouchers! Congrats ladies, and thanks for reading and playing along!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Spice-phobics, beware - my latest use for the goodies of the garden is not the sauce for you!

If you look closely at the photo, you'll see all the makings of a great date-repellent: fresh Ontario garlic (I only used half the head, I was restrained!), a whole giant onion, and two (yes, two) habañeros. Everything made it's way (along with a carrot, sweet peppers, tomatoes, fresh herbs, salt, pepper and wine!) into my variation of a classic Roman pasta sauce that just so happens to be one of my all-time favourites. Arrabbiata (or "angry") sauce is traditionally a fairly "quick and dirty", simple recipe made from a blend of canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley and bell peppers with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. Tossed into penne, ziti or (my personal love) rotini, it's supposed to be one of those "thrill a bite" meals.

It's great. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with your Italian nonna's penne all'arrabbiata - but I was looking to take it a little step further. The base for example. Canned tomatoes are wonderful, and definitely have their place, but I had two huge bowls of fresh, ripe, sweet orbs still warm from my garden out back. Dried chili? Well, okay, if you don't have anything else... but I had three types of fresh chiles to choose from - cherries, fingers and the aforementioned Scotch bonnet (AKA habañero). Really, it was a no brainer what I was going to use! A few more minutes out back and I had an interesting two-legged carrot (a purple one, FTW!), two sweet peppers and a couple bunches of herbs perfect for this pseudo-Italian sugo.

The story behind our crop of habañeros is a funny one, to me at least: my rather overtly Italian stepfather, who prides himself on his garden knowledge, bought 4 or 5 of the pepper plants because he believed that "Scotch Bonnet" peppers were simply a small version of a bell pepper. Flash forward to the first (generous) crop of them, where he plucked one right off the vine a popped it whole into his mouth. The look on his face is one I will not soon be forgetting! A few days later found him with sliced fresh ones on a sandwich, followed by hours of moaning and groaning about how his mouth burned. I'm not immune either, though - while making this, I discovered a few cuts on my hands I never knew about, as well as learning the hard way that capsaicin has a nasty habit of lodging under one's fingernails. You've been warned!

It's all a worthy price to pay, though, if you're a chile-and garlic-head like me. While you only need a small serving for a punch of flavour, it's a lingering experience you'll never forget!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Not Having to Choose

This post is not about food.

It's about the flap of wings, the anguished cries of an animal in pain, the decision to do what's right - not for money, fame or other gains - but because it's what's right. Because it's what I would expect anyone else to do in the same situation. I've been called a "collector" and a "rescuer" of broken and lost souls by a fair number of people (including my mom and grandma), but this was the first time I really saw my actions as a separate entity.

This is what today's post is about:

And ironically, the story of how this poor jay came into my posession started with food. I was out in the backyard picking tomatoes and peppers to take to my massage therapist this morning, and decided to check on our grape vines to see if there were any bunches of Concord I had missed (and if I could steal some more of the yummier Cabernet Sauvignons) and maybe grab a few of our strawberries for a mid-morning snack. As I walked down the row, I kept hearing the caws of a bluejay that were way closer than I was used to hearing, and looking around a flurry of frantic activity in the netting on one side of the row caught my eye. While I expected a bird, I was not prepared for the sight I came across: the poor thing was upside down, flailing helplessly, and had tangled one foot in the netting, attaching it to one of the twigs and pretty much binding it six ways from Sunday. In an obvious panic trying to get free, the bird twisted and pulled so much before I came across him that he broke his leg at the knee joint, and I could see the bone poking through the skin. It was the first time I had seen a compound fracture in "real life", and I admit it originally scared me.

Then the adrenaline kicked in. I didn't even have to think it over, I didn't even pause to consider if the bird was sick, what I would do with it, if it would even live for long enough to be worthwhile. I just knew I had to get him out, take as decent care of him as I could, get him any and all the help I could find and afford. Nobody deserves to be in pain at all, nevermind being left alone, hanging upside down by one broken leg. I could never imagine leaving any person or animal in that situation. So I did the only thing I could at that moment - I dropped the bowl of tomatoes I had collected, jumped over the row of strawberries and carefully grabbed hold of the creature from behind, pinning his wings so he couldn't flap about. Not having scissors, I bit through the plastic netting around the tangle and got him free. As soon as he knew he was'ne attached to the fence anymore, he relaxed - exhausted, I'm sure, by the pain and exertion. I made a beeline right into my bathroom, which became (as I called it) Birdy Triage. The first thing I found in the bathroom (as I was looking for a dish for water) was Orajel - and suddenly it made total sense. Not only would it get rid of some of the pain, but it would help somewhat sterilize the wound so that I could look at it closer.

It worked - I was able to not only examine the leg, but calm him down enough that I could wrap it in gauze and tape it with the only thing I could find - Band Aids. I put him in a box with a towel and a little dish of water, covered it so he couldn't fly out (he can still fly!) and spent the rest of the day calling, Facebooking and Twittering anyone and everyone I could think of to find a shelter to take care of him that wouldn't euthanize on site. He had - has - so much life and vim left in him, that aside from his leg he's a totally healthy wild being. If I didn't believe staunchly that wild animals should be as free as they were born to be I would fight to keep him, but given that he is a wild animal, has a mate out there calling to him and that I live in a home with three cats, three other humans and a dog it is so not right on so many levels. But I refuse to give him up to die just because others won't deal with the situation. You don't kill a dog because it's hurt it's paw, or even if it's been hit by a car. Assisted suicide is against the law pretty much everywhere in the world, even if the person is clearly in pain and will never recover. I think all creatures deserve the same respect. Call me crazy, but there you have it.

I did, in the course of my searching, manage to find a shelter willing to take injured wildlife, and they gave me the name and number of a vet to look at his leg. With luck saving this bird's life won't put me in the poorhouse, but in the long run I don't really care - you can't put a price on life. And regardless of what the naysayers think, the good karma I reap from whatever I can do tonight and tomorrow will have effects when I truly need it most.

What would you have done, in my situation? Have you ever rescued an animal?

PS: You have until Sunday to enter my giveaway for a Cookin' Greens coupon pack - and their "Green with Envy" contest to win a $500 grocery gift certficate of your choice has been held over until September 21! What are you waiting for? Pop over to this post and get your entry on!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Staying Sneaky

I'm really having fun finding ways of sneaking the veggies my family "hates" into their diets. Unfortunately for me, the stepfamily doesn't trust anything (except cookies) that I make, since it doesn't either come out of a package or is the result of my mom's handiwork. Mind you, even my mom is suspect when it comes to making something "new" for them, regardless of whether the recipe was something she's just stumbled upon online, something I wrote for her, or something right out of Julia Child's French Cooking. At any rate, nobody in the household (except yours truly) willingly eats dark greens like kale, or pretty much any other "lettuce-like" crucifery, with the notable exception being my mother's cabbage rolls (probably because they're mostly rice and meat). While anything sweet and sinful is not on any of the menu plans around here these days, the tastebuds and appetites of many others around me don't mind picking up the slack regardless of the level of decadence (or guilt!) I impart.

Since I haven't been making my usual Summer pies and had some extra time (and goodies) on my hands, I did want to break out something the sweet teeth could enjoy that was also a little less "heavy" than my winter cakes and cookies. Still being in my "greens" groove (speaking of, have you checked out my giveaway and the Cookin' Greens contest yet?) I was casting around ideas for using the kale puree in something else. Then I came upon the Sneaky Chef recipe for "Brawny Brownies" and I was sold. Given that the original recipe used the slightly sweeter baby spinach and blueberries in it's "ninja" puree, I was curious to see if the tarter Concord grapes and bitter kale would be noticed. I modified the rest of the (half) recipe too - making it 100% vegan (with Earth Balance and pureed tofu), spelt-flour based, and with a jacked-up flavour from both almonds folded into the batter and by swapping half the "fat" ingredient (Missy Chase Lapine, the author, uses melted butter) with organic smooth almond butter.

By the time the brownies were ready to go into the oven, the batter looked and smelled identical to any brownie mix or recipe I'd prepared before, and after they were cooled, chilled and cut not even the finickiest child could have figured out the secret. When my sister gets home from college at Thanksgiving I just might have to try this one out on her - if her tastebuds are fooled, pretty much anyone else's will be too. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vegan Wine Cake (Really!) and GIVEAWAY!

When I was a kid (and still got bedtime stories!) one of my favourite books was a collection of cutesy tales that (without being all Aesop-y and flat out saying the moral or lesson) still managed to instil some sort of "you should do this" message. One of my favourites was a story about a "Green Galumpetty Monster" who hated to eat his green veggies. After scaring away a family of picnickers, he eats all their goodies (except the green lettuce) and turns into a rainbow-hued creature who gets into "big trouble" with his parents and is forced to eat bowl after bowl of grass to turn green again. 

Luckily, we humans don't change the colour of our food (if we did, most of us would be very beige), but greens are still something we should be eating. The trick is to get the veggies from the store to the table seven days a week - before the freshness fades and they start languishing in the fridge. Buying frozen veggies is nothing new, but when it comes to quality and variety the results are a bit mixed. Obviously, blanching and freezing your own (like we do with each Summer's Romano beans and beet greens here) is the best option where both flavour and texture are concerned, but to do that with all your produce, especially the somewhat finicky, bitter dark leafies, is both time and cost prohibitive. In the case of spinach, to make your own 10-oz frozen block you'd have to buy easily a pound and a half of fresh leaves, then stem, blanch, wring out, pack and freeze them. If saving money is the goal when it comes to using produce, a $1 box of spinach from the freezer case will run you almost $18 homemade! "Specialty" greens like kale and rapini are even more.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

Game Time, I Guess?

I know nothing about sports. I totally admit that.

I mean, it's not like I'm trying to learn anything about the athletic sphere... I honestly couldn't care much less about the rules and plays and scorekeeping that goes on for specific "seasons" (which, I may add, have nothing to do with actual seasons at all), and the whole fuss and bother about what are essentially games (they are, people!) totally weirds me out. Seriously, I can't see huge masses of people getting into riots or blowing their life savings over a hand of Go Fish or Hangman. The hype seems to take away from the true love of the game, the enjoyment the players have for it, and the unity it brings to the audience. I have yet to find a crowd of kids playing ball hockey on the street since I was pounding pavement, and the baseball diamonds and soccer fields lie abandoned when organized groups aren't booked to play. Given the stress and pressure placed on the players, its a wonder that anyone gets into sports at all. I guess that now the allure is now all monetary - and lets face it, money speaks volumes.

As much as I'm not personally a fan of the commercialization of athletics, I can still appreciate that many - if not most - others are. And from what I'm hearing on TV and through the internet it's football season now, which means that hockey is close on it's heels. In my (step)family, though, you may as well say "hockey season ended?" (no secret if you've heard me moaning on Twitter), but one things for sure - Fall and Winter are the seasons of crazy families, parties and pow-wows. What better food than comforting, simple, guilty-pleasure inducing treats to herald the season?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do Not Attempt Until...

You know those gift tags that you often see around the holidays, that boldly declare "Do Not Open Until..."? Well, it's kind of the same idea when it comes to recipes where fresh produce is paramount. You really get nothing but a bowl-full of disappointment when you tuck into a bowl of sliced peaches in the middle of December, and a tomato salad in February is about as tasty as gnawing on a piece of cardboard. Get the goods fresh and ripe at their peak, though - which is tough when you live in areas with pitiful growing seasons (so pretty much anywhere up here in Canada!) - you get transported to a totally different world. Those same peaches or tomatoes become vibrant, complex, almost magical stars in the raw, and anything but the simplest accompaniment seems like too much of a "frill" for the already gilded lilly.

When those same elements of taste are at their peak is when they are the freshest - and never is anything fresher than when you've plucked it right from your own backyard. I've been spending the past week or so reveling in the glories that are my heirloom tomato vines (especially my Black Seamans, above), the fruit of which tastes so above and beyond anything "tomato" brought from the grocery store that at first I didn't even recognize the flavour as "tomato". Now, I can't believe that in a few weeks (a month and a half at most) I'll be back to those mealy, cookie-cutter fruits in my salad.

For now, though, I will embrace the fruits (literally) of my garden and our tender, careful management of it's dynamics. I've shown you one of my fresh, herb-laced salsas already, but this one's a bit more "traditional" in the sense of being more tomato / pepper based. I still ixnayed the cilantro (ick) in favour of my homegrown herbs, and added pineapple and "white" onion in with the garden's green onions, hot and sweet peppers and (of course) tomatoes. This is a sassy, tangy, intensely-flavoured fresh dip or topping, and since I was going to pass some of it along to my BBQing, pepper-loving friends Beth and Darryl I added in two full hot cherry peppers (ribs and seeds removed of course). You'd definitely need to tailor the chile types and amounts for your own preference, but I kind of liked the almost Caribbean zing of the spice combined with the slight sweetness of the pineapple. Unless you are really a die hard, hit-yourself-over-the-head heat nut, I wouldn't do the habanero (though we are growing those too for some odd reason) - you want to taste your salsa!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Baking with Herbs and Preventing Scurvy

There is no way I'll be coming down with scurvy any time soon. I adore citrus fruits, especially lemons, and the past week or so was an intense lemon-fest around here. It started with me poking my head outside, into the herb garden, and discovering that not only was the pineapple sage I planted almost as tall as my hip, but that the lemon balm and catnip had gone completely nuts as well. Since I'm still (still!) waiting on the next batch of heirlooms to ripen (as far as I can see it's going to be a gigantic Black Seaman next!) I couldn't whip up another batch of my yummy salsa, not to mention the family were off in Stratford and I wouldn't be able to eat it all.

Since I knew I did have a few opportunities to "pawn off" some baking on other deserving and gracious people, I figured that the two would work in that respect. I had previously made Hannah Kaminsky's “Sweet Basil Shortbread” (p.68 in Vegan Desserts) with a mix of pineapple sage and lemon balm, with excellent "fresh-tasting" results, so I wanted to try out something new this time around.