Archive | April, 2011

Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.

28 Apr

I am just back from a long Easter weekend in North Carolina. We stayed with my parents for 5 days and had a wonderful time. The warm weather and sunshine were such a welcome change from the cold, rainy days we’ve been dealing with here in Michigan.

I came home refreshed…and inspired.

While in North Carolina, I saw a poster in a store window that said “Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.” I thought it was so perfect. I know it refers to everything consumers spend their money on — not just food. But, of all the things I’ve learned over the last 16 months or so since I started this journey, trying to buy locally-made or locally-grown products as often as possible is the one that’s the easiest for me to incorporate into my daily life. I know it’s not always feasible to buy local goods…hey, I’m on a budget! But when it comes to food, I can’t stress enough how smart it is to really know where your food comes from, know your farmer personally, grow your own vegetables or support your local farmer’s market, and shop at smaller family stores instead of the big box stores whenever you can. Not only does this almost guarantee your food is safer, tastier and healthier, it also provides financial support to your own neighborhood. Now that’s inspiring.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, my mom is a fantastic chef. I always enjoy her cooking and our discussions about food, cooking and health. My Easter dinner was SO good. While the omnivores in my family dined on grilled pork, I devoured marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms. The side dishes were all vegan –- oven-roasted vegetables, grilled asparagus and a wonderful chopped salad with toasted almonds and chai vinaigrette.

While in Asheville on Monday, we had a fabulous lunch at Rezaz Mediterranean Restaurant. (I should have taken a picture!) We started with an appetizer of polenta fries with their housemade tomato jam (a sort of chunky sweet catsup). Honestly, I could think of a hundred things to slather that tomato jam onto! It was that good. My meal was a fat little potato cake topped with a green olive tapenade. On one side of this was a fresh arugula salad. On the other side were four thin slices of grilled ahi tuna. Then the whole plate was lightly drizzled with an orange vinaigrette. After lunch, we shopped some more and came home with 3-4 new cookbooks each. That gets me inspired!

Speaking of inspiring…I consider my dad the king of all things house-related. He’s a builder, woodworker, tile layer, painter, wallpaper hanger, upholsterer, deck designer, plumber, and master of just about everything under the sun. Honestly, my dad can do anything! His latest project is a restaurant in downtown Waynesville, NC, where they live. The owner/executive chef bought an existing restaurant building but is basically gutting the whole place and starting fresh — using local products such as reclaimed barn siding, tin panels and other materials. My dad has been working on this project for months. We got to tour the construction site while there and meet the owner/executive chef. His name is Kaighn Raymond and he, too, is an inspiration.

The name of his restaurant is Frogs Leap Public House. It will be a farm-to-table restaurant meaning they will focus on locally-grown, sustainably-farmed organic foods, which will then be transformed into amazing regional dishes. He’s planning to have a seasonal menu that will feature the freshest produce from local farmer’s markets and farms. I got to talk with him as we toured the place and I absolutely cannot wait to eat there! It looks like the grand opening will be in June, but I’m not sure we’ll get back down there before fall.

If you want to know more about Frogs Leap Public House, check out their website at http://frogsleappublichouse.org or “Like” their Facebook page. I left the restaurant…inspired.

So inspired, in fact, that I already have several new recipes on the menu for next week. Recipes and photos to follow, so stay tuned!

Oh, and put your money where your heart is!

Can you be vegan-ish?

5 Apr

I think that’s what I have to start referring to myself as. Vegan-ish. Not 100%, but mostly vegan.

I’m still making the majority of my meals vegan. But I do eat eggs a couple of times a week (fresh from happy chickens at a home in my neighborhood). I have, on occasion, enjoyed a small piece of humanely and sustainably-raised chicken or beef, purchased locally. Not too often, but once in a while. I’ve also been actively searching out sustainable seafood. I downloaded the National Sustainable Seafood Guide (here), which helps me choose seafood that is not overfished, is environmentally-friendly and supports healthy oceans. I’ve always enjoyed seafood and I’m glad it’s back in my diet.

I feel good about my food choices. I’m still eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And I’m not supporting industrial animal farming in any way except dairy. Though we’ve cut way back on the milk consumption in our house, I still haven’t found a local source for it, so I’m stuck with the grocery store variety for Jason and the kids. Luckily, they like almond milk, so I keep buying it even though it’s more expensive than regular milk. I think that will be one of my goals this summer — locally made cheese and other dairy products.

But let’s get back to the vegetables. I think spring might actually arrive here in southeast Michigan sometime soon! Goodness, this weather is making us all crazy. We are 10 degrees or more below normal just about every day. I’m dying to get out into the garden and get my veggies planted! In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes. Some vegan, some gluten free and some vegan and gluten free. Check back often, because I’ll be posting them!

Here are a couple of recent ones that don’t require an actual recipe.

Sesame Green & Yellow Beans
Rather than the standard old steamed green beans with butter, try these for a quick side dish. Place cleaned beans in a deep saute pan with a little water. Bring to boil, cover and steam them until just barely tender-crisp. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. In the same saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Toss the beans back in and give them a quick saute. Remove to a serving dish and toss with salt, pepper and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Polenta Pizzas
The kids wanted to do make-your-own pizzas Saturday night for dinner. They made theirs on regular pizza crusts, but I wanted something gluten free and vegan. I have a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Dough mix, but just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I stared into my pantry hoping something would jump out at me. And it did! I pulled out a container of instant polenta. I cooked it per the package instructions (which takes all of 5 minutes) and poured it into a foil-lined baking dish. I spread it out evenly and placed it in the fridge to chill while I got all the pizza toppings ready to go. Once cold, I lifted the foil and polenta out of the pan and put it on a cutting board. Using a biscuit cutter, I cut it into 4″ circles and sauteed them in a little olive oil, turning once, so they were crispy on both sides. Then I used these to build my pizzas on. Though they don’t have the texture of pizza dough, they were really tasty and still had all my favorite pizza toppings. I just popped them into the oven with the kids’ pizzas so the vegan cheese got melty. Cut slightly smaller, these would be fun appetizers! Here are my combinations:

BBQ Chicken Pizza (top)
BBQ sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + red onions + sauteed vegan chicken slices + minced cilantro

Mediterranean Pizza (bottom right)
Vegan pesto mayo + Daiya vegan cheese + grilled red peppers + kalamata olives + red onion + dash of dried oregano

Sausage Pizza
(bottom left)
Pizza sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + crumbled vegan Italian sausage