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Becoming Greener

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Greetings dear VVP Potluckers! Hope you’re not full-up on smoothies yet-  I beseech you to give just one more a go. Our featured ingredient (by way of orange) sings along with spinach, pineapple and coconut water in the recipe below my “green awakening” story. Enjoy, and happy potlucking!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was scared of green smoothies until just this past summer. Kind of hard to believe, considering the fact that I love greens, I love my Vitamix, and I’m a vegan nearly-nutritionist. Thankfully, all this has changed, and I have The Seed and Victoria Moran to thank.

The Seed is a plant-based nutrition expo/ conference based in New York- this years’ was held in early August in Soho. Dozens of vegan luminaries gather to speak, give demos and generally inspire us all. There are also scores of vendors showcasing their foods and services. I was lucky enough to attend both days thanks to my friend Sarah, amazing creator of the unparalleled Rescue Chocolate.

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Over the course of the weekend I was awed by incredible speakers, among them were Victoria Moran, JL Fields, Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Dr. Robert Ostfeld of the Montefiore Cardiac Wellness Program. Each of these lecturers left me feeling inspired and re-invigorated in my own plant-based nutrition mission. Months later I still revisit their talks in my mind.

So what does this have to do with green juice? I began my Seed experience at Victoria Moran’s talk on the subject of aging gracefully inside and out. If there’s anyone who is an authority there, it is Ms. Moran, as she is gorgeous, eternally youthful and full of vitality. Each time I hear her speak I hang on her every word- she’s not only entertaining but oh so wise. And she’s one of those women who simply glows. Seriously, her skin is just luminescent.

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During her talk, she lauded the power of green juice. “When you’re feeling like that latte at 3pm- get yourself a green juice instead. And then if you still feel like the latte, have that, but I’m pretty sure you won’t.”  Yes, I love my soy latte. But if Victoria’s regimen has anything to do with that unbelievable glow, I’m willing to give it a shot.

So I started drinking green right after her talk. (I went for the smoothie and not the juice, but I still drank my veggies. More on the difference to come) It was a pineapple-orange-spinach coconut water blend and it was my epiphany. I chased that with several other juice & smoothie samples over the two days at the Seed, I particularly loved the Green Mustache orange mango smoothie.

One of the fragrant green smoothies I sampled at the Seed. Orange mango and greens, another combo I need to make at home!

One of the fragrant green smoothies I sampled at the Seed. Orange mango and greens, another combo I need to make at home!

Still I didn’t believe that this sweet green elixir could ever replace my latte or sundry caffeine/ chocolate fix. But wouldn’t you know, it eventually did just that. There I was yesterday, late afternoon, standing at the refrigerator, poised to eat a piece of chocolate when it hit me. I don’t really want chocolate, I want ANOTHER green smoothie! Yes, two green smoothies in one day- I’m still in shock.

(btw, this is not to say there’s anything wrong with chocolate, but when I want chocolate it’s generally because I have low blood sugar.  Chocolate isn’t going to fix that in the long run.)

 And then miraculously, I actually went for two days in a row without coffee. So yes, Victoria was completely spot on.

The inaugural green smoothie at the Seed

The inaugural green smoothie at the Seed

Why should we drink green smoothies & juices anyway? The same reason we need to eat our veggies. Most Americans eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables daily. No wonder we are so sick- vegetables are really not optional. The micronutrients and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are integral to so many of the basic metabolic processes our bodies perform everyday.

We may not initially see the damage we do our bodies by depriving ourselves of these vital nutrients. But it catches up with us eventually, and may manifest in any number of forms from obesity to osteoporosis to cancer.

In fact the risk of cancer decreases with an increased intake of fruits and vegetables, and the earlier in life one begins eating large amounts of these foods, the more protection one has. So really, we should try to get in as many servings of fruits and veggies as we possibly can. Even the five a day recommendation is really conservative.

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Here’s why smoothies are so amazing. If you really tried, you could probably get in 10 servings of fruits and veggies into one 12 oz glass. My smoothies have at least four or five. I try to get in at least three servings of green veggies along with a fruit or two. Your green smoothie will provide you with iron, calcium, protein, and so many other important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

And why am I touting smoothies and not necessarily juice? Juice is great too, I drink juices now and then when I’m out and about. But I chose to buy a Vitamix because making smoothies retains all of the fiber, and phytochemicals work synergistically with the fiber to which they are bound.  Drinking the vegetables and fruits in their whole forms can be even more powerful than drinking the nutrients stripped from the fiber, which occurs in juicing.

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And fiber is incredibly important of it’s own accord- it helps in cancer prevention, in maintaining good cholesterol levels, a healthy weight, and healthy blood sugar levels. And remember, we only get fiber through plant foods.

Another plus for the smoothie side- many nutrients are fat soluble, so they are more bioavailable in the presence of healthful fats. Adding a little coconut or almond milk to your smoothie will help your body soak up all those vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the fruits and vegetables. But please, don’t add cow’s milk (or any other animal’s) as dairy inhibits our uptake of phytonutrients.

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Nowadays my first stop in the morning is the Vitamix. Even before I have my tea! It took a wee bit of experimenting but I’ve arrived at my favorite combination of ingredients. I do vary it a bit, but my eye opening smoothie needs a base of pineapple, spinach and coconut in some form. I suggest:

2 or 3 two-inch slices of pineapple (roughly 1/8 of a medium pineapple)

3 cups baby spinach

1 small orange

1/2 cup coconut water

3 coconut water ice cubes (just pour coconut water into an ice cube tray, and voila!)

30 seconds in the Vitamix and there you have it- delectable green power.

For variation, sometimes I’ll add some mango or some frozen organic berries. But beware! Berries will turn your juice brown. While it still tastes divine, it makes me sad to lose that green hue.

So thank you Victoria- I’m finally on team green. Hope you, dear reader, will join us!

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Your Soon-to-be Famous Mushroom Gravy

Growing up, my Mom made a divine mushroom gravy but once a year. That day was usually Rosh Hashanah, when our house ran wild with rambunctious children who, quite literally, climbed the walls. (My cousin had an unusual talent for doorway climbing.) For a few brief moments we kids were seated for dinner at a card table added to the end of the heftier legitimate table. I was seated only between frequent trips to the buffet for more of that unforgettable mushroom gravy.

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By the time I had graduated from the kids’ table I was vegetarian, and suddenly that gravy was even more integral to my holiday repast. I ladled gobs of the stuff over chewy barley noodles and sundry side dishes while the rest of the family spooned it upon the “roast.”

I had no veg roast at those family dinners as I came late to many vegan staples like Tofurky. Somehow I lived 30 years without even laying eyes on one! When that day finally arrived, I immediately took notice of the mushroom gravy recipe on the side of the box (originally from The Tofu Cookery by Louise Hagler.) It had been years since Mom had made her famous gravy, so my nostalgic palate was ready._MG_1019

Over the last ten years I’ve worked hard to find the perfect amalgamation of Mom’s gravy and that of the Tofu Cookery. Many a gathering from New York to Cleveland has sampled these attempts, and fortunately every rendition has been a resounding hit. One midwest Thanksgiving I received the props every vegan covets- the gravy was ranked as best dish (at a very impressive table) by an omnivore. I think my aspiring chef ex-mother in law was vaguely annoyed.

My mom’s gravy was a brothy one. That was her intention, but I do recall my plate taking on the appearance of soup. On the other hand, I’ve never liked thick, creamy gravies, so the one you find here is a  compromise- thick enough to stick to your Tofurky/Field Roast etc but not so thick that a fork will stand up in it. In my opinion, that’s what your mashed potatoes are for. Which, by the way, are the perfect vehicle for this gravy. But if you like super thick gravies, no problem,  just use more flour in the roux.

Before roux & nooch

Before roux & nutritional yeast

After adding roux. Just the right thickness.

After adding roux and nooch. Just the right thickness.

This past weekend I brought a batch of our recipe along with cranberry sauce to my friends’ annual pre-Thanksgiving feast. All of which, is vegan, of course. The hosts are fabulous cooks- the hostess is famous for killer mashed potatoes, the host for an unbelievable all-from-scratch un-turkey. The event truly yields a cornucopia of delicacies. In addition our hosts’ talents, the rest of the group really brings it when it comes to potlucks. (Scroll below the recipe for some more snapshots from the evening)

Because the un-turkey was running a bit late, we began our feast with the dishes guests brought- pumpkin breads, mashed potatoes, several versions of mac & cheese, brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, garlicky kale, baked tofu, cranberries, salads, etc…

Just a small section of the buffet.

Just a small section of one of the buffet tables.

Nick's famous un-Turkey from scratch: Homemade seitan & yuba skin, delicious stuffing.

The famous un-turkey from scratch: Homemade seitan & yuba skin, delicious stuffing. See the steam rising? It was delectable.

So when the gorgeous un-turkey emerged from the kitchen, every drop of gravy had already been consumed. It was no tragedy, however, the un-turkey was so succulent it needed no adornments. But bottom line, the gravy was once again a smash. As will you be when you make it. So get cooking!

When possible, I cook gluten-free for crowds because I know a lot of gluten-intolerant or sensitive folks, thus I’ve used brown rice flour for the roux. And I find it doesn’t lump.

I generally use all fresh herbs in this recipe, but if you can’t find fresh rosmary, thyme and sage, (sorry, no parsley here!) you can definitely get away with 1 fresh, the other 2 dried. It’s more complex with all 3 fresh, but it will still be phenomenal with just fresh rosemary.

You’ll need two pans here. I tend to make the roux in a small pan and do the rest in a huge one.

Giant pan works best for this.

Giant pan works best for this.

A note on cleaning all those mushrooms: some people are under the false impression that you can’t clean mushrooms with water. They’re wrong! You won’t want to wet them in advance, but right before using them, it’s no problem. Here’s a good method. Get a large bowl, dump the shrooms in, then pour water over them. Submerge them a few times, rinse, repeat. You get the vast majority of dirt off in one fell swoop, then touch up with a towel as you’re cutting. Easy.

My method of mushroom cleaning. To the chagrin of my ex-mother in law.

My method of mushroom cleaning. To the chagrin of my ex-mother in law.

Mushroom Gravy
Adapted from Tofu Cookery, Louise Hagler
Enough to feed a large group (10-25, depending on how much they like gravy!)

Ingredients:
2 pkgs. mushrooms, sliced (together, 16-20 oz) : I suggest 1 white button, 1 crimini
1/2 Cup sliced onions
3 Tbsp Olive oil, divided
1/4 Cup brown rice flour
4 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
About 5 fresh sage leaves, chopped (more if you really dig sage)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1/4 tsp black pepper

Method:

Lightly sauté the onions in 1 Tbsp olive oil for about a minute in a large pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and incorporate. Add the stock, along with the soy sauce, herbs and black pepper. Lower the flame while you make your roux.

In a small pan, make the roux. Combine and bubble the flour and 2 Tbsp olive oil over low heat for one minute. Scrape the roux into the larger pan, I generally use some stock to thin it toward the end, then pour the thinned roux in. Whisk into the stock, then add your nutritional yeast. Cook (on low-medium flame) until thickened and mushrooms are tender.

For all of you in the US, I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving! And now some snaps from yet another fantastic Harvest Feast.

Seriously, we vegans have nothing to eat.

Seriously, we vegans have nothing to eat. This was just one of the tables full of food!

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the un-turkey

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the un-turkey

It's an exciting moment, obviously!

It’s an exciting moment, obviously!

Check out that steam!

Check out that steam!

Eleanor's colorful plate of goodies

Eleanor’s colorful plate of goodies

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Demetrius at the other buffet- his amazing kale and Mac n cheeze, and a fabulous sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. Yum!

Demetrius at the other buffet- his amazing kale and Mac n cheeze, and a fabulous sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. Yum!

David guards a plate for late arrival Cathy.

David guards a plate for late arrival Cathy.

Lovely Robyn.

Robyn, one of the beautiful Moms at the soiree.

Annie and her beautiful daughters Seneca and Rae

Annie and her beautiful daughters Seneca and Rae

Sorry Rae,, I was never very good with that thing.

Sorry Rae, I was never very good with that thing.

Grace's amazing and gorgeous apple pie!

Grace’s amazing and gorgeous apple pie!

Always fashionable Rachel!

Rachel, another vegan babe.

If you can believe it, this is only a sampling of the desserts. Two more pies and cashew cream soon took up residence on the table.

If you can believe it, this is only a sampling of the desserts. Two more pies and cashew cream soon took up residence on the table.

Our lovely hostess, Susanne, and LiLi. Everyone has someone/thing to hold here. Always something to do chez Susanne/Nick!

Many a set of full arms!

Susan spearheads the activities committee

Susan spearheads the activities committee

In her green dress I thought Jen resembled the girl in the painting. Only Jen's prettier and not at all spooky.

In her green dress I thought Jen resembled the girl in the groovy painting. Only Jen’s prettier and not at all spooky.