Vegan Gluten-Free Apple Crisp



So here’s what I’m learning about vegan desserts.  The more dairy and egg-laden the dessert you are trying to replicate or “veganize” the more ways that dessert can go horribly wrong.  I learned this one the hard way over the weekend when I bought a delectable-looking slice of vegan, gluten-free (really, it is??) carrot cake from a very lovely lady at a local farmers’ market.  It looked pretty much like the one I make (or made in my not-so-distant past life).  I figured it might not be hard to get a good carrot cake going but I was skeptical about that creamy-looking icing.  Well, this dessert was both gummy and oddly “off” tasting.  Very different and not in a good way.  I was feeling a little underwhelmed about the prospects for mouthwatering vegan desserts, either bought or homemade.

Enter this recipe from Tori Ivey.  I’ve made several of her recipes, and I like how she balances flavors.  Since it’s apple season, I was immediately drawn to this recipe for Apple Crisp.  I was delighted to see that the only veganizing that needed to be done was to substitute Earth Balance for butter in the crumble.  Since this recipe has such strong flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove I didn’t think I’d miss the butter.  I didn’t.  The combination of tart granny smith apples with the sugar and spices was perfect.  The crumble, made primarily with walnuts and rolled (GF) oats, was crunchy and very satisfying. The only new ingredient for me was minute tapioca which I added to the fruit to bring out the juices and help them set up just a bit.

Here’s a look at the apples:


Layered with a nice thick layer of crumble:


And after an hour of baking:


And the house smelled amazing.  While we are enjoying sunny warm weather here in Arizona, the smells of autumn are still very welcome. Any fruit pie can be made this way, and I’m sure that peach and blueberry crumble would be terrific.

Well now, this is all very encouraging.  Perhaps they have room for me over at the farmers’ market :)


Vegan Lasagna- Who Knew?


Really, who knew that vegan lasagna that contains not a bit of cheese (dairy cheese that is) could be so absolutely delicious?  Because it was delicious.  And it seemed cheesy.

How did I accomplish this, you ask?  Well, after David made a request for some lasagna I got busy researching.  I already had some gluten-free no-boil (yes!) lasagna noodles in the pantry and some leftover spicy tomato sauce from my favorite Alex Guarnaschelli recipe.  I scoured the internet looking at vegan recipes, most of which used some tofu-based concoction instead of the usual ricotta.  Since David and I try not to overdo the soy I nixed those.  Finally I found this recipe, a vegan lasagna with basil cashew “cheeze”.

Raw cashews, soaked and pulverized into “cream” are a staple of vegan cooking, both savory and sweet.   This was the first time I used them in this way.  The idea is to create a creamy ingredient that mimics ricotta.  This is achieved by processing a cup of raw, soaked cashews, lemon juice, lots of basil, a bit of dijon mustard and nutritional yeast flakes in the processor:


The nutritional yeast flakes are known not only for providing some essential B12 vitamins but for imparting a “cheesy” flavor to vegan dishes.  Here’s what the cashew basil “cheeze” looks like all ready for the casserole:


The texture is pretty close to ricotta, the basil gives that authentic Italian taste and the yeasts flakes do taste kind of cheesy.  It’s pretty yummy on its own.

The next step (which I forgot to photograph) is sautéing up some chopped onion, garlic, zucchini, red pepper and cremini mushrooms until they are soft.  The casserole is layered in the classic way–sauce, noodles, “cheeze”, veggies, repeat.  I sprinkled a cup of non-dairy shredded vegan mozzarella on top.  Admittedly this cheese doesn’t add much flavor-wise but it makes the dish actually look like lasagna.

We served this dish with a side salad:


Our lasagna didn’t hold together all that well upon serving, but I think it will do better when reheated.  This dish was so flavorful, and if I didn’t know how it was made I would never suspect that it wasn’t a real veggie lasagna.  The cashew basil cheeze did its job adding a creamy texture, and tender crisp veggies made for some satisfying heft.  Our version was pretty spicy because our tomato sauce recipe has lots of red pepper flakes but the dish would be fine with whatever marinara you have on hand. Neither of us left the table hungry, although this version is probably far less caloric than a typical lasagna.  We’re looking forward to having it again tonight.  A definite keeper.

As we are well into our second month of vegetarian/vegan eating I’ve finally amassed lots of pantry items and condiments typically used in this cuisine.  I’m happy to report that my visits to Whole Foods are down to a respectable every other day.  Hmmm.  That frees up some time to do…well, I don’ t know yet, but I’ll be back to report about it when I figure it out.


Look Ma, No Cable Needle!


If you are a knitter who has already mastered the art of knitting cables without using a cable needle, feel free to change the channel pronto.   But if you are afraid of trying out this method, hang in with me for a mini-tutorial and a great project recommendation to get you started.

This work-in-progress is another lacy shawl project, although it’s not nearly as large or voluminous as my last one.  I was charmed by this Bristol Ivy pattern:


Lacy, lightweight and really versatile.  I ordered the pattern and the Quince & Co. linen yarn, settled down to acquaint myself with the pattern and saw, ugh, cables.  I usually associate cables with  heavier wool sweaters and hats.  In fact, my only UFO knitting project was a black fisherman’s sweater I started knitting for David.  This was an early project and maybe a little advanced for my skill level at the time, but once I dropped a few cabled stitches and lost count of my rows on the first sleeve I had to put it down.  I don’t think David will miss it. After all, we do live in Arizona.

Since I hate using cable needles and I’m not particularly good at it, I decided to try my hand at knitting without the cable needle.  For the non- knitters out there, cables are simply a twisted design achieved by knitting or purling stitches out of order.  A cable needle is typically used to hold the stitches you are not ready to knit yet out of the way.  When knitting without a cable needle the approach is to move the stitches around on the regular needle and then just knit across them.  What’s intimidating is that for a split second in the process your “live” stitches are hanging out in no man’s land off the needles potentially leading to dropped stitches, which we never want if we can help it. Are you totally confused yet?

This shawl project turned out to be a great one to experiment on for two reasons.  First, the cables are three stitch cables which means you are either stranding one or two live stitches.  That’s not so bad.  For a six stitch cable, for example, you’d be hanging three live stitches out at once.  I’m not sure I’d try that!  Second and more importantly, in this pattern, if you do happen to drop one of the live stitches (and I’ve done it plenty) it’s very easy to retrieve the dropped stitches because the previous rows are all stockinette stitch.  When I first started knitting this I literally kept a crochet hook between my teeth–  that’s how often I had to go retrieving stitches.  But I finally got the hang of it.  Here’s how I did it:

Here’s a place where I am going to do a right cross cable on three stitches.  The three stitches on the left needle are the ones we’re moving around:


The first step is to insert the right needle into the front of the third stitch on the left needle:DSCN1978

Next you slide all three stitches off the tip of the needle.  This will leave the third stitch on the right needle and the two others hanging out behind the work:


Can you see the two stitches on top?  You quick, quick put the tip of the left needle through those:


And then slide the last stitch on the right needle back onto the left:


Lots of drama just to reorder those stitches!  Once you’ve done that (and that’s the hairy part) you just knit across those stitches like you normally would and it looks like this:



The left hand cross is the exact opposite of this one.  First insert the right needle into the back of the second and third stitches:


Slip them off the tip of the left needle, leaving two stitches on the right needle and one hanging out in front of the work:DSCN1984

Quick, quick (can’t forget that part) slip the tip of the left needle into the free stitch and then slip the two stitches from the right needle back to the left:DSCN1986

Knit across these three stitches and voila:


Cables are done!

This takes a little bit of practice, but it makes the entire process so much more enjoyable and less fussy!

This was my first attempt at offering up any bit of knitting “technique” on my blog and I’m not sure these photos are clear enough to be actual “tutorial” material, but if I’ve encouraged you to face your knitting fear and ditch that cable needle then I’ve done what I set out to do.  As with everything, there are tons of videos and other how-tos all over the internet that can help you get started.

In the meantime it shouldn’t be much longer before this project is done.  I’ll report back with the finished garment.






Going Veg–Our First Month


Wow.  As I sat down to write this post about the vegan Tofu Vindaloo dish you see here, I realized that it’s been over a month since David and I decided to go vegetarian.  It’s been quite a month, full of new recipes, new ingredients and and new restaurants.  We feel great and have no desire to go back.  we have leaned a bit toward vegan but haven’t committed to that lifestyle  yet.  I’m not sure if that’s in our future, and for now we’re comfortable knowing that our environmental footprint is shrinking more and more.

Over the past month I’ve really enjoyed cooking some amazing food and I’m very grateful to all the bloggers who test and share their own vegetarian and vegan recipes.  I make a point of always sharing links, both to give credit where credit is due and to help others find great resources.  I’ve learned that I will not be happy grazing on raw food, piles of greens or uninspired dishes.  That is not to say that all of those things don’t play a role in our weekly rotation of meals.  So far though, our most satisfying and delicious meals were those that took some planning, preparation and execution.  Whipping up a batch of black bean burgers on a Sunday means that I’ll have some great lunch sandwiches all week.  Don’t even get me started on how many different ways I can eat the leftover falafel balls!

David and I have also noted that condiments play a huge role in our enjoyment of non-meat items.  Wasabi, chipolte mayo, tahini and dijon mustard add creaminess and extra flavor to nearly everything.  And our spice cupboard is overflowing.  Cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, oregano, dry mustard, white pepper, black pepper, bay leaves.  Judicious use of spices makes all the difference.  And speaking of spices, that brings me to last night’s dinner, the Tofu Vindaloo (recipe here).

This recipe creates Indian “Vindaloo” flavors with less of the work.  Since I’ve only eaten the real thing (a lamb vindaloo) once I’m hardly an expert, but I can say that this dish had a lot going for it–lots of flavor and heat, properly prepared tofu and ease of preparation.  Unfortunately I just didn’t love the flavor combination of, well, vindaloo.  The method here combines all the spices into a paste in the food processor, then adds them to the warmed pan used to sauté the drained and pressed tofu.  The last step is to add some liquid (veggie broth) and a few additional ingredients along with the vegetables (cauliflower, green beans and red pepper) and let it all simmer together until the vegetables are crisp tender.  I found I needed to add a bit more water than the recommended half cup to create the proper consistency.

Aside from the fact that we undercooked the vegetables, for me, the culprit was the cinnamon.  I’m just not a fan of cinnamon in savory dishes.  In our pre-vegetarian days I used to make lamb burgers with cinnamon as one of the spices.  David loved these burgers  (and he enjoyed this dish also) but it never quite worked for me.  The flavor profile was similar to the vindaloo.  So if this mix of spices appeals to you, give this recipe a try.  It’s very satisfying and filling.

On another note, it’s been quiet on this blog because Sam and Deacon were visiting for the week.  Since going vegetarian, this was the first time that David and I had to consider feeding another person who is decidedly not vegetarian.  We’re pretty clear that while we are very enthusiastic about this dietary change for ourselves (and the animals and the planet) we are not activists, nor do we have any desire to foist our way of eating on anyone else.  So I kept it simple for Sam and used the opportunity to clear out some steak and chicken that was still in our freezer.  He appreciated the consideration, enjoyed his meals and even tried out some leftover falafel balls which he enjoyed.  Patience and modeling. Yep, I know.

Fade to Brown and Beige


Are you having a negative response to this visual?  I would understand if you are because the mystery dish kind of looks like a grainy clay brick. This was actually last night’s dinner, a vegan mushroom/cashew gluten-free “nut loaf”.  And it was absolutely delicious. It seems as though these types of loaves are a vegan staple and are even served at many a vegan Thanksgiving dinner. David had a dish like this the other night at our local vegan restaurant. This loaf is full of cashews, walnuts, lots of sweet sautéed onion, piles of mushrooms, carrot, and garlic.  A bit of red wine and soy sauce add lots of wonderful flavor.   But this looks soooo brown (said with a bit of a whine).

Since committing to eating vegetarian and leaning more and more toward vegan I’ve been forced to address my lifelong habit of not eating foods that I don’t find visually appealing.  I am Jewish, and to this day I have never eaten chopped liver, gefilte fish, or whitefish salad (classics of traditional Jewish cooking) for this reason.  OK, they don’t smell too good to me either, but you get the point.  The idea that we eat first with our eyes holds very very true for me.  I have been told countless times “you don’t know what you’re missing”.  OK, I’m starting to get it now.  Necessity and all of that.

It’s interesting that while vegetables are so incredibly colorful,  the foods that are more dense and satisfying (meat substitute sorts of things) are well, grayish. Tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, quinoa, brown rice, black beans, garbanzo beans, etc. etc.  The first time I made tahini for falafel I had to sprinkle on some parsley just to make it look like something I wanted to eat.  I recently made a fabulous smoky eggplant dip (a baba ganoush type thing) and needed to sprinkle on some paprika.  One of the reasons I serve nearly everything with a green salad is to pep up the plate appeal.  Like with this loaf, for example:


That little dab of dijon mustard doesn’t hurt either.  And this meal was scrumptious–even better on a sandwich for lunch today.  So while the “flavors are there” the food porn is a little lacking in vegan land.  I think this is something I can remedy with the judicious use of herbs, dips and various other condiments.  A dish of salsa verde or fresh pesto may be something to keep on hand.  The veggies and herbs in our newly planted garden will undoubtedly provide some inspiration.

I know that not everyone struggles with this issue (David doesn’t) and I absolutely recommend this loaf (recipe here) for vegans and non-vegans alike.  The only change I made to the recipe was that I used walnuts rather than brazil nuts.  So give it a try, and don’t forget those greens on the side…




Vegan “Crab Cakes”


This is my only photo of last night’s dinner–vegan “Old Bay Crab Cakes”.  While I forgot to take pictures along the way, I learned about some new ingredients that I thought were worth talking about.  This recipe is another from my “The Conscious Cook” book, but it is also online here.  As you can probably figure out, this recipe uses a mix of seasonings including the Old Bay seasoning in the title to flavor tofu-based cakes that conjure/mimic/taste like? the real thing.

For this dish I had to do some exploring at Whole Foods.  Along with picking up a tin of the Old Bay seasoning I needed to find Nori (seaweed) sheets and nutritional yeast flakes.  If you’re a sushi eater or maker you know about the seaweed.  It comes in a pack like this:


The recipe calls for toasting it lightly (holding it with tongs) over a gas flame.  It turns from black to green almost instantly and gives off an ocean “fishy” smell.  After it’s toasted you break it up and pulverize it into a powder in a spice grinder. Basically, it’s about creating this “essence of fish” spice.  Pretty clever if you ask me. The yeast flakes are sold in bulk and look like this:


This is a fascinating and very important ingredient in vegan cooking, both nutritionally (lots of  B-12) and as a binder type thing.  I’ve just begun exploring its many uses.  It is not “live” like the yeast you use to make bread but it smells very aromatically/pungently? yeasty.  I have a very good sense of smell and I could smell that yeasty odor in my car with the yeast bagged and tied and in the trunk area.  In this dish I think it was acting like a binder.

I made these cakes by sautéing some diced carrots, onions and garlic and processing it together with tofu, yeast, cornstarch and lots of spices.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the added salt by half since the Old Bay has plenty of salt. After refrigerating the mixture we (David was home by now) formed them into patties, coated them with soy milk and rolled them in a panko/Old Bay blend.  Technically these are supposed to be sautéed rather than fried, but we got a little over-zealous with the oil.  Not the worst thing actually.  We ended up serving them with a wasabi mayo (not vegan) that we happened to have in the fridge and the combination was quite good.  The texture was a little softer in the center than I’d like but I think a little less processing would address that nicely.

Here’s a look at the center of a cake the next day (slated for my lunch):


These are really yummy, and I am totally amused and, frankly, astonished at how much they remind me of crab cakes.  I had no idea something like this was possible.  Live and learn and learn and learn!




This past Friday morning I was composing a blog post (not this one) as David and I were sitting at the Tucson airport waiting to board a Southwest flight to Chicago.  This would be the time for a very appropriate collective groan.  We planned this trip to see Anne a long time ago and we had goodies for her in our carry-on bag.  I was writing about those goodies and planning on posting after the trip.

Well, as most everyone knows by now, there was a fire at the air traffic facility in Chicago and nothing was going in or out.  Such a bummer. Anne and I cried our tears, and we promised to reschedule as soon as possible.  After some typically infuriating time with American Airlines and some less infuriating time with Southwest we replanned the trip for the end of October.

So David and I found ourselves with an unexpectedly free weekend at home, and aside from restocking our refrigerator we got busy with our respective hobbies.  And that’s when I finished this:


Woohoo!!!!  This was a labor of love if there ever was one.  Endless and tedious but in the end oh so worth it.  This shawl was made from Quince and Company linen yarn that after blocking is soft and beautiful.  Here’s a better look:


I was afraid that after I blocked it and opened up all the lace (the fun part really) my mistakes would be glaringly obvious.  Not so! I’m sure there are mistakes but they’re certainly not obvious. I guess all that ripping and redoing paid off.  Here’s what this gorgeous pattern looks like up close:


If you can spot mistakes, shhh, don’t tell me.

I have to admit, that while I chose this gray/blue color because it’s fairly neutral it is a little blah.  Oh well.  I also really have no idea how to wear this.  I’ve never owned a “shawl” or should I call it a “wrap”?  Some folks can jauntily arrange wraps or shawls or whatever over their shoulders but for me I think it will take some practice.  For my first attempt I went for the ancestral (i.e. “shtetl”) vibe:

DSCN1894 - Version 2

I’m not gonna lie, there’s something about this I like.  I certainly wouldn’t have to worry about how my hair looks!  Ok, never mind.  How about this:

DSCN1889 - Version 2

Definitely a work in progress.

So in the end, the change of plans this weekend provided me with a good opportunity to practice acceptance and not cause unnecessary suffering for myself.  It was so disappointing to not be able to see Anne as planned and the whole airport thing is frustrating and maddening, but all of it was completely out of my control.  In the past I would probably have obsessed about it all weekend but not acknowledged my sadness and anger.  This time I did the opposite.  I let myself feel the full impact of my disappointment and frustration and then I got on with it and enjoyed the weekend.

Good for me.




Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Or more accurately, ten rows forward and five rows back.


This shawl, my latest knitting project, has been sent by the universe to teach me something.  I’m sure that’s what’s going on here.

The short version (of the long/endless shawl project) is that I keep making the same mistakes over and over.  And while I can fix many mistakes now, the one I keep making can’t be fixed (by someone at my skill level anyway).  And this time I can’t “live with it” either because the result will be a wholly unraveled shawl.  I’ll spare you the details about the exact sort of knitting trouble I’m getting into but suffice it to say that I don’t usually notice the problem until I am rows and rows along, which means I have to painstakingly backtrack stitch by stitch, row by row.  There are about 400 stitches in each row.  On Sunday, I spent the entire afternoon watching football and knitting backwards.  Yikes.

Today I finally got back in “drive”;  I was literally down to the last three rows (I’ve been to this point before by the way) when I spotted another mistake about four rows back.  So really, at this point it is time to contemplate those bigger universal lessons.  I think I’m struggling with the same situation over and over because I have yet to master the following : Patience, process rather than results, patience, acceptance of things we can not change, patience, kindness to self, patience, gratitude for do-overs, patience, using lifelines (knitting term), patience.  Oh, and did I mention patience?

In meditation I’m learning that I can hang in and be with some pretty annoying thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.  They won’t kill me.  They will pass.  And in my day-to-day life I’m always trying to remember that, especially when things aren’t going my way.  This Sisyphean knitting project will end.  I will be the proud owner of a beautiful shawl that (hopefully) will not unravel at an inopportune time.  I’m just not going to finish it today as I had hoped and planned.  And that is not a catastrophe.

Oh and there’s one more lesson:


I am allowed to step away from that which is making me unhappy and find something else that will make me happier-baking this cake, for instance.  If you want to bake it, I promise it will make you happier too.  The recipe is here.



A New Garden and an Unexpected Guest

It has been a very strange week or two weather-wise.  The constant threat of rain from hurricanes stalled our water pipe project.  After everything was trenched and the pipe laid, the asphalt company (apparently there is only one in Tucson) refused to make asphalt because of the threat of rain.  The hurricane ended up being much ado about nothing, but yesterday, in stunning end-of-season monsoon fashion we got an inch of rain in about twenty minutes.  The unasphalted trenches siphoned all the water from our cul-de-sac onto our property–there was a little lake in front and a river in the back.  It took some time, but the water all eventually got redirected (David did some retrenching) and absorbed.

Unfortunately, we picked yesterday morning (before any sign of rain) to plant our new garden.  We waited weeks for just the right time (i.e. not too hot), and here’s how it looked with our plants happily situated in the space:


We decided to give ourselves a break and buy the plants this time, but I still started a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse.  They’re coming along nicely but aren’t ready for prime time yet:


In the garden we planted lots of leafy greens, some peppers, eggplant, cauliflower and herbs.

This morning, after the deluge, we reraked around the plants;  they looked a little shell-shocked but after a day of sun and some gentler watering they are perking up.  They must have heard about the BIG CARDINALS WIN against the San Francisco Forty-Niners today!!  (Just had to work that into the post).  So it’s exciting to have all these veggies planted and we’re optimistic that they will do well here.

Now, for our unexpected guest.  As I’ve mentioned before, the torrential rains bring out all sort of critters, but nothing could have prepared me for this guy, who was not out of, but in our house!!!


That’s a desert tortoise that walked himself into a corner of our entryway and didn’t know how to put himself in reverse.  He must have gotten in yesterday when I had the front door open when I was checking out the monsoon damage.  I was sitting in the kitchen, knitting away, when I heard a groaning sort of sound.  I couldn’t imagine what made the sound.  So I followed the noise and … YIKES!!  I handled it the way any level-headed person would–I hightailed it out of the house to find David .  He dutifully dropped what he was doing to begin operation “get the turtle out of the house”.  It was actually a pretty simple “operation”.

Step one:


Step two:


Both the tortoise and I were much happier when he went on his way.

In general, I’m very grateful for all the rain that comes our way.  It’s great for the environment and makes everything beautiful and green.  Plus there’s always the promise of wildflowers.  But right now I’m very ready for the months and months of cloudless Arizona skies that are on their way.