Guten Appetit: Traveling Germany, vegan-style

9 Jun

No, you didn’t imagine it. I have almost totally neglected this blog for many, many months. There were lots of reasons, but one major reason was a fun one: preparing for and then completing a month-long tour by bike and train of Germany with my boyfriend.

Obviously, Germany’s a bit far afield from this blog’s explicitly geographic focus, but I wanted to post about it here anyway for a few reasons.

"Yes, EVERYTHING here is vegan!"

“Yes, EVERYTHING here is vegan!”

First, I’ve run into a lot of skepticism that veganism is even possible in the land of Wurst, Schnitzel and Käsespätzle. As you’ll see, with only a few challenges it’s not only possible, but we here in the States are missing out on some really good vegan food. Also, given that there are hurdles to get over any time one travels, I thought a post like this might offer some ideas about how to travel as a vegan in areas not as easy as the PNW. Finally, for whatever relevant readership finds its way to this post, I just wanted to give some props to the outstanding businesses I found over there in hopes that I might help them succeed now that I can’t stop by multiple times in a day and give them money. Continue reading

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Coconut and Ginger

16 Jan

Just a quick post (without so much as even a picture!), but I wanted to share this tasty soup I made for dinner tonight. It’s easy and fast to make, and the spicy, creamy treatment of the pumpkin made it very welcome during this cold snap we’re having.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Coconut and Ginger

1 tangerine-sized shallot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. coconut oil (preferably skimmed from the top of the coconut milk)
½ tsp. red curry paste (watch out for shrimp in the ingredients of some brands)
1 Tbsp. minced or grated fresh ginger
15-oz. can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!)
2 cups broth (I used Better Than Bouillon vegan chicken style)
½ cup coconut milk (one of the small, 5-oz. cans would be great)
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat the oil over medium low in a pot with a wide base, like a Dutch oven. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until quite soft and just starting to color. Add the curry paste and ginger, and cook two more minutes. Add the pumpkin, broth and coconut milk, and stir well to break up any lumps. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. With an immersion blender or conventional blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add the lemon juice and taste to adjust other seasonings. If you use a low-sodium broth you might want to add salt, but it wasn’t needed with what I used.

Makes a little over a quart, for two large servings or four small ones.

Vegan Italian-style Shellfish Soup

8 Nov

I owe you a wrap-up post for October Unprocessed, but the cooking bug caught up with me tonight, and I decided to go for it and share this recipe with you instead.

First, let me say this: I’ve always hated seafood. With the occasional exception of tuna in childhood sandwiches or casseroles, even in my meat-eating days I wanted nothing to do with fish or shellfish. Which is why it’s sort of odd that my reaction today, upon reading a reference to Italian-style shellfish soup, was immediately, “I need to veganize that!”

I’ve never had shellfish soup, and other than a mention that the soup in question was made with tomatoes–and clams and mussels–I really had no idea what I was doing. But a few minutes with Google fixed all of that, and a stop at Whole Foods on my way home had me ready to go.

Ready for some fish-o’-the woods soup!

Here’s what I came up with, and I’m pleased to report that I’m quite happy with it. It’s kind of exactly what I wanted. I have no idea whether it resembles any traditional shellfish soup, but it’s really good in any case–warming against the cold front that just showed up, full of vegetables and tangy tomato and lemon, and with just a hint of seafood flavor that could be played up for those who don’t share my aversion. The soup is relatively light, so round it out to make a meal. Some blackened tempeh and avocado would be great with this.

No shells–just tasty soup

Vegan Italian-style Shellfish Soup

6 large cloves garlic, minced and divided
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced, ends and any leaves reserved
1 medium bulb fennel: green tops cut off and set aside; white bulb quartered, cored and thinly sliced.
1 large leek: green tops cut off, washed well and set aside; white part quartered, washed well and thinly sliced.
4 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
3/4 lb. oyster mushrooms: thick/tough stems trimmed off and set aside; remaining parts chopped in small bites
1/4 lb. lobster mushrooms (more if you like fishier flavor), minced and divided
3 sprigs thyme or 1/4 tsp. whole dried thyme. Lemon thyme would be great if you have it.
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. yellow mustard seed
1/2 tsp. dill seed or 1 tsp. dried dill weed
olive oil
1 tsp. Herbamare (or 3/4 tsp. salt)
1-1/2 tsp. fish seasoning
1/2 tsp. aji amarillo paste (optional–adds a little heat and a nice, fruity flavor. I found mine at Big John’s PFI)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 15-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (if the tomatoes are salted, you might want less salt in the recipe)
good handful flat-leaf parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon
black pepper

First, make a “fish” broth based on many of the trimmings from your soup vegetables. If you have a pressure cooker, this won’t slow you down much. If not, you should build in another 30-60 minutes. In a pressure cooker, combine half of the garlic; the ends and leaves trimmed from the celery; half of the tops trimmed from the fennel, coarsely chopped; the leek tops, coarsely chopped; the stems from the oyster mushrooms and about 1/3 of the lobster mushrooms; and 1/4 of the shallots. Add the thyme, whole peppercorns, mustard and dill. Add 1 quart water and seal the pressure cooker. Bring to high pressure; lower the heat and keep at pressure for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let pressure release naturally. Strain and set aside. Without a pressure cooker, start with a brief sautéing of the vegetables, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 30-60 minutes before straining.

Straining the broth with my handy nut-milk bag

While that’s cooking, chop the rest of your vegetables and start them cooking.

Shallots, leeks and fennel, chopped and ready to go

In a Dutch oven or other soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the remaining garlic, celery, fennel, leek, and shallots. Saute 8-10 minutes, or until vegetables are softened but still have some texture.

While those vegetables are cooking, on another burner heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add a bit of olive oil and then the lobster mushrooms, stirring until about half tender. Add the oyster mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and reduced in volume by roughly half–about 4-6 minutes.

When the vegetables in the Dutch oven are ready, add the fish seasoning, the chili paste (if using) and the Herbamare or salt. Cook for one minute more. Add the white wine and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until liquid is mostly evaporated. Add the cooked mushrooms, the broth and the tomatoes. Cook another 5 minutes, not allowing the soup to get above a simmer. Add the parsley, the lemon juice and several grinds of black pepper. Check for salt and other seasonings and adjust as needed. If you really want it fishy, you’ll probably want to add some dulse, nori, or kelp to the broth or the finished product. Makes about two quarts, which should serve 4-6.

October Unprocessed: An Update

22 Oct

Time is flying by, and I wanted to do an update of this unprocessed-foods challenge I’m doing for the month of October.

The basics

Overall, it’s going well. For the most part, it’s really not that hard, though it’s making me spend significantly more time in the kitchen. To compensate, I’m often eating much more simply than I normally would. Friday night I took leftover roasted broccoli and sweet potato, added some pinto beans and chopped fresh tomato from the CSA, splashed on my new favorite hot sauce (purchased at Sugarpill Apothecary), topped it with chopped avocado, and that was dinner. No multistage cooking; no custom blend of herbs and spices, freshly ground in a mortar; no multiple dishes–just a melange of stuff heated up and thrown in a bowl. And it was good!

I do miss having so many options of places to eat out–or variety of dishes I can choose from the menus of vegan restaurants–but thanks to Thrive, Chaco Canyon, Veggie Grill and Whole Foods I haven’t had to rely entirely on my own cooking and could have some very tasty food prepared by others now and then. Jud has (as usual!) been quite supportive and flexible with where we eat, and has even forgone some processed foods in my presence in solidarity. And my awesome friends brought lots of unprocessed food to eat at a potluck brunch I hosted, so there was plenty of variety then.

I’ve definitely embraced some routines for the sake of time and simplicity: breakfast is very often a rice cake topped with peanut butter or sunflower seed butter, along with an apple or banana. Could I make a rice cake in my kitchen? Absolutely not. But when the only ingredients are whole grain rice and air, I’d say that counts as unprocessed. Lunches are often brown rice + beans + broccoli + oil/vinegar/spices, if I don’t have leftovers from dinner to heat up.

In general, I’m eating far fewer grains because it’s so much less convenient to grab ready-made stuff or make pasta the center of a meal, but since I know grains and grain-like seeds have a lot of valuable nutrients, I’m making a point not to get too skimpy on them. I’m eating a ton of nuts and seeds, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Although I am “allowing” oil in this challenge, I’m being more judicious with it than I normally am, and trying to get my fats from less-processed sources. For example, instead of a standard vinaigrette, I’ve been dressing salads and vegetables with lemon-tahini dressing and sauce.

The low points

For the first two weeks I actually felt pretty lousy. I had a stomach ache almost all the time. I honestly don’t know how much of that–if any–had to do with the dietary change. I’m sure there was some adjustment to the extra fiber I was consuming, but both generally and in this particular case I’m quite skeptical of things like “detoxing,” so I don’t attribute it to that. It’s also fair to say there has been plenty of stress in my life recently, which frequently manifests itself in the form of stomach upset. So there’s that. A bummer, but it’s better now.

Also, it seems I may be more sensitive to soy in certain forms than I’d previously thought, so I’m steering clear of soy milk for now, and when I do eat soy it’s usually as tempeh. I figure that’s one of the least-processed forms of soy anyway.


Freshly made almond milk is fantastically delicious. If you’ve only had the stuff in boxes, I highly recommend trying it freshly made. I’ve been working on a couple experimental recipes to use the pulp from my current batch of milk, and I’ll post soon with the results! I also tried making hazelnut milk–and made hot chocolate with it using roasted-and-ground cacao nibs, cinnamon and vanilla. It was a little more textured than I would have liked, but quite tasty nonetheless. I’d also like to try roasting the hazelnuts first rather than using them raw.

There are some nice chocolate bars out there that arguably fit the unprocessed guidelines–and some that I really don’t like at all. Stirs the Soul makes a line that is not cheap, but in some cases is quite tasty. I particularly recommend the orange goji-berry (even though I’m not particularly fond of goji berries) and the mint. I was much less impressed with the cayenne-cinnamon and the currant-chai flavors, which seemed not sweet enough (all are lightly sweetened only with whole dates) and with poorly balanced flavors. If I’m going to splurge on expensive, raw chocolate, I want it to really satisfy that chocolate craving. Speaking of expensive chocolate, I picked up one of these at Thrive, and it was very, very tasty. This Hibiscus-Ginger chocolate, on the other hand, I didn’t like at all. I might try other flavors from that line, but the tartness of the hibiscus did not work for me in this bar.

I’ve become pretty well hooked on Heidi Ho Veganics Chipotle Cheddar (overlooking the agar, it’s remarkably unprocessed), and today I tried an herb-cashew cheese from Punk Rawk Labs, which was just as delicious as it was expensive ($10 for a 5-oz. tin–ouch!). At the same time I picked up the smoked cashew variety, which I haven’t yet tried. At that price, I can’t see those cheeses becoming a regular item in my fridge, but they sure would be nice for an occasional splurge.

Some things I’ve been eating for dinner

Tabbouli with homegrown parsley and mint, plus homemade hummus and carrots (yes, they’re supposed to be yellow rather than orange!)

A small-plate-style dinner after a late lunch: Rice cake and Triscuit-type crackers with Heidi Ho Veganics Chipotle Cheddar, pickled asparagus and pepper, and an heirloom-tomato-avocado salad with smoked salt

Mexican-inspired dinner of polenta, pinto beans cooked with zucchini and tomato, raw heirloom tomatoes, avocado, pepitas and cilantro

October Unprocessed

1 Oct

Last week I came across a link on Facebook, posted by Seattle Tilth. A blogger named Andrew Wilder was inviting people to join his challenge, October Unprocessed 2012. The idea is very simple: commit to eating only unprocessed foods in October (or at least commit to doing your best toward that goal).

Yes to potatoes!

I was immediately drawn to the idea. I’ve always liked personal challenges like this and have tried many of them over the years. For me, they’re a way to bump myself out of routine, to question assumptions about how I live and interact with the world, and to learn which pieces of a different approach to living I might want to adopt as longer-term ways of life.

October is always a very demanding month for me at work, so I’m going to be a little extra forgiving with myself on exceptions when I really think I need them. But what the heck? I’m going to give it a try.

I like Wilder’s definition of unprocessed, and in general, I’ll follow his approach, with tweaks as they make sense to me. So no white flour, no white sugar (and limited sweeteners like agave or maple syrup), no Daiya, no seitan. I will include oil (anyone who knows me knows I need every calorie I can get!), but during October I will pass on delicious, greasy sandwiches from Highline or Wayward or donuts from Mighty-O. Good thing I had all of those things this past weekend ;-)

Really, though, I have confidence that despite all the things I’ll be cutting out, in so doing I’ll also be forced to try new things and in many ways expand my food choices and cooking repertoire, just like when I went vegan. Although I won’t be making any effort to restrict gluten, I expect I’ll be eating significantly less of it because I’ll be avoiding many of the things that contain it.

What’s there to miss?

I’m hoping to eat more healthfully, to reduce the amount of packaging I buy with prepared-food shortcuts, to eat more locally produced food, and to learn some new tricks.

And periodically throughout the month, I’ll blog about it here!

Here’s what food has looked like for day one:

Breakfast: Rice cakes with sunflower seed butter and an MacIntosh apple
Snack: Hazelnuts with cacao nibs (you didn’t think I was going to skip chocolate, did you?), and homemade nectarine fruit leather

(Brown rice with broccoli and black beans, topped with raw pepitas and dressed with olive oil, vinegar, smoked salt and red chili flakes)

Snack: Banana and cashews

(Pumpkin-crusted tempeh with baked sweet potato, topped with parsley-lemon sauce)

With a demanding schedule I won’t promise much in the way of stellar food photography, but I’ll try to include representative photos as I go, plus recipes when I find ones worth recommending. If you have recipes I should try, I’d love to see them! And if you have suggestions for making my pumpkin-crusted tempeh less dry, I’d love to hear about those, too.

Delicious new discoveries in Portland

23 Sep

Almost a year ago, Jud and I headed to Portland for a quick weekend of vegan food tourism with my sister and her boyfriend. We ate and discovered so much it took two posts to report on!

Portland’s Vegan Street of Dreams: Alberta

Dining Vegan in Portland: Portobello’s new brunch, and getting down to Brass Tacks

This weekend we returned, putting our bikes on the Amtrak Cascades train for a car-free trip that took advantage of this ongoing beautiful weather–and gave us a hand in working off some of the food we shoved into our mouths for another 24-hour whirlwind. Although it might seem odd to have skipped VegFest, which was happening while we were there, it would have been the third such festival Jud and I would have attended in less than a year–and we’re not much on crowds. So we focused instead on enjoying a handful of businesses and the beautiful sunshine!

We started with a delicious lunch at Blossoming Lotus. I won’t go into a lot of detail and will just say that this is one of my favorite, most consistently good restaurants anywhere. The menu is a mix of raw and cooked items (all vegan, with several gluten-free options) prepared in fresh, creative combinations. The atmosphere is pleasant and would be very nice for a special date but also works for a casual drop-in while wearing bike-friendly clothing, and the prices are quite reasonable for the quality of food and ambience. There’s a Sunday brunch I’d love to try sometime.

Fruit and cheese plate, with house-made nut-based cheese spreads

BBQ soy curl sandwich with whiskey BBQ sauce

Tempeh with a coconutty red curry sauce and yams

Raw falafel wraps. I was alone in thinking they didn’t taste that much like falafel, but we all agreed they were very good.

My sister also grabbed a gluten-free brownie to go, which we tried later. Yowza. Super, super good. Fudgy without being stodgy, and plenty of chocolate intensity.

There was a bit of time left before the Portland Farmers Market at PSU closed, so we headed over there and made a beeline for Petunia’s Pies and Pastries (Note: the website automatically plays music when you load it–don’t jump!). I’d read about this all-vegan, all-gluten-free bakery business on Facebook and heard my sister’s enthusiastic reviews, but I hadn’t yet tried any of the treats.

Now I have, and I can tell you with authority that you should find your way to some of these products just as soon as your legs will carry you (regardless of whether or not you can eat gluten). Check out this case:

So many difficult choices! Fortunately, Lisa, the owner, was on hand to help me narrow things down, but it was still a struggle.

Those would be s’mores cupcakes, with graham-cracker bases, chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting, chocolate ganache and more cracker crumbs. Tragically, I did not sample. But Maren did and gave full approval.

Fluffernutter cupcakes. Seriously. I also summoned the courage to pass on these since I knew they wouldn’t travel well in a pannier.

My spoils: Olive-oil orange bundt cake, Almond Joy pie, and a chocolate-covered peanut-butter crispy treat bar. Amazing, every one.

I also tried a bite of the pumpkin-chocolate-chip whoopie pie. Perfection. If you like any one of those things, even if you don’t like the others, you want one of these pies. And today, I lucked out and found more Petunia’s products at a Stumptown coffee, allowing me to try one of the mint-chocolate brownies I’d reluctantly left behind yesterday. Again, spot on:

I might guess that this was gluten free, but I absolutely wouldn’t care. Definitely up there with the best brownies I’ve had.

Petunia’s is scheduled to open a storefront in January, which will make it easier to get a hold of these wonderful treats. I will insist on a stop the next time I’m in town!

It was time to take a break from eating for a while, so we hit Powell’s, took a ride on the brand-new Eastside Streetcar and checked out the grand opening of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. We still weren’t hungry, so we threw in a little more biking and a short walk before settling in for dinner at Canteen, the relatively new storefront run by the owners of the Sip juice cart. Canteen is a small, casual place, with about as much seating outside as in. The inside part smells wonderful from the fresh juices being prepared behind the counter, but we went for the bowls that make up the bulk of their menu.

The Portland Bowl, with quinoa, maple tempeh (or sub Soy Curls), delicious yeasty sauce and hazelnuts. I loved the bite I had and would be glad to get my own another time.

The Bangkok Bowl: brown rice, adzuki beans, steamed vegetables and kimchi, with peanut sauce. Very good, if maybe a little too similar to the lunch I’d had.

Walnut taco salad. OMG. Maren alerted us that someone needed to get this, and she was so right. Next time, this is what I’m ordering. You can see how bright and fresh it is, and the flavors were wonderfully balanced.

I wish there were more restaurants that served food like this: nutritious food, simply prepared in delicious combinations. Grain (usually) + legume + vegetables + fabulous sauce. In a reasonable portion and for a reasonable price. Why is this so rare to find in restaurants? If this business were anywhere in Seattle I would be there all the time.

Brunch today was at Portobello. For the most part, I love Portobello as much as the next food-lovin’ vegan northwesterner. Maybe because it does so much so well, I found a few nits to pick, but we did have another fantastic meal there.

We were pleasantly surprised to beat the line by getting there when they opened (beating a breakfast line is no small feat in Portland, and our last brunch at Portobello involved a little more competition), but for the second time were perplexed at how long it took to get seated with no obvious reason for delays. Once we sat down, the service was just fine, but going two for two on being left to stand around with little acknowledgement was a bit obnoxious.

Still, we were in for lots of good food:

Cashew-cheese-filled “Sweety Pepps,” which were a surprise hit.

Jud got the “Vegan Benedict,” which was easily the best version of several I’ve tried. The Hollandaise had a faint almond flavor to it, which was an interesting surprise, and the “housemade smoky seitan ham” was outstanding.

Brian got the blueberry waffle. I overload quickly on sweet dishes at breakfast and therefore don’t tend to order them, but the bite I had was delicious.

I ordered the “Wild Cascadia” omelet, which I liked but don’t know that I’d order again. In hindsight, I’m not sure they included the cashew cheese sauce it was supposed to come with, which could have made a difference. The chanterelles and slightly cooked heirloom tomatoes were a nice reflection of the shifting seasons, though.

Maren got the current incarnation of the savory waffle. The one I ordered last time, I declared–and still believe to be–one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, period. I only tried one bite of this one, so I can’t say whether it still reached that high, but it was excellent, and I’d urge you to try it if you you find it on the brunch menu. It’s gluten free, to boot!

Mushroom homefries, with lots of parsley pesto, were another big hit with all of us.

After twice trying both the mimosa and the bloody Mary on their menu, I’d encourage you to stick with the mimosa. It’s very well done, and has some nuances of flavor that don’t show up in most mimosas. The bloody Marys, somewhat surprisingly, are the opposite: the one last year was made with tasty, raw, heirloom tomato juice and came with a pickled green bean and wedge of lemon, though its spicing was really underwhelming, and some more fresh or pickled vegetables would have been welcome. Today’s drink, with standard, heat-processed tomato juice, was oddly ordinary and bland, and came with no “salad” at all–just a lone slice of lime. Given the skill and attention to detail evidenced in the rest of their menu, I’m not sure why this one drink seems to slip through the cracks, but it certainly needn’t get in the way of a great meal.

This afternoon, I squeezed in one last purchase at Stumptown, which I enjoyed on the train:

This cookie had some of the unfortunate crumbliness that’s hard to avoid in gluten-free baking, but it was very tasty and among the best gluten-free cookies I’ve tried. For those who love Skydottir cookies in Seattle, you should definitely look for these when in Portland.

All in all, another fantastic trip! The bike-train combo worked pretty much exactly as planned (be sure to reserve a bike spot well in advance if you do this, since there are only six spots available per train), and we got home to Seattle in time for dinner. Next time I hope to plan far enough in advance to get dinner reservations at Natural Selection or Portobello, which have now twice eluded me in each place.

For those of you who went to VegFest, what did I miss?

Heading north for good Mexican–at La Vida Vegan

22 Jul

Through the magic of Twitter I just found another great vegan business: when I recently tweeted my happy discovery of vegan Nanaimo bars at a coffee shop just a few blocks from work, I netted a new Twitter follower (who quickly became a followee).

La Vida Vegan is an all-vegan food truck serving a simple menu of tacos and tamales, plus lots of made-to-order juices and a few sweets. Although they’re based in the central-Vancouver-Island town of Parksville, Jud and I caught up with them in Qualicum Beach and managed a quick snack before meeting my parents for dinner farther up island.


La Vida Vegan, serving up delicious food at the Qualicum Beach visitors’ center.

We opted for one taco and one tamal to share, plus juices.



Both dishes were really delicious–topped with similar crema, salsa verde and fermented vegetables (similar to sauerkraut), but different in form, of course, and with different fillings of black beans, lentils and vegetables. Their focus on making their products from scratch clearly comes through in nicely balanced fresh flavors, right down to the tortillas.

Jud had a beety “Duncan” juice, and I had a “Tofino,” with celery and lime. Thumbs up on both!

If we hadn’t already had dinner plans, I would have been glad to make a meal of some more tacos and tamales. Did I mention that they’re gluten free to boot?

Check them out on Twitter and Facebook to learn where to find them on a given day.


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