A Very Isa Thanksgiving

Happy Tuesday, friends! Before we get too deep into the holiday season, I thought I’d share a quick recap of my very tasty — and shockingly stress-free — Thanksgiving. But first, a few housekeeping notes:

  • A sincere thank you to everyone who commented on my post about losing my cooking mojo. It seemed to resonate with quite a few of you! I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, but I did feel relieved to realize that I’m not the only one who gets worn down with meal prep. On my end, Steven is still going strong with the cooking (and cleaning). A few recent highlights included a creamy tomato-basil bisque with GARLIC BREAD GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES! on the side; tacos with TVP chorizo, spicy black beans, cheese sauce, avocado, and a tangy slaw; and a super comforting samosa soup. I even roused myself to make a mid-afternoon snack on Sunday: poutine! Featuring store-bought waffle fries, Steven’s homemade cheese sauce, and a quick brown gravy I whipped up. I’ve never had poutine — vegan or otherwise — and I suspect a cheese sauce isn’t the best choice, but it was still a decadent delight.
  • Second, a gentle reminder to check out my Q&A with Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener. The book giveaway closes at the end of this week and is open to everyone!

https://vegga.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/img_2888.jpgNow, Thanksgiving! Spoiler: We rocked it! Steven’s mom and stepdad came for dinner, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy our animal-free spread. In the name of simplicity, I had the genuinely good idea to cook all our sides from a single source: Isa’s fabulous The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion cookbook. I don’t own it, but I do own a library card! Here’s what we made — and how it all turned out.

  • Creamy whipped potatoes, p. 341. This recipe employs an immersion blender to whip up cashew cream with tender russet potatoes for an ultra-rich and creamy side. They were quite tasty, but Steven (who handled this recipe) said that the immersion blender wasn’t quite up to the task. I didn’t notice too many lumps, but the taters also weren’t particularly creamy.
  • Green bean casserole, p. 346. This classic dish was actually never a staple in my family’s Thanksgiving spread, but Steven’s a fan, so we decided to include it. YUM. Mushroom-y, creamy, bean-y goodness, all topped with Trader Joe’s fried onions. Perfection!
  • Caramelized onion and cauliflower casserole, p. 330. Oh dear. This did not turn out. I know my proportions weren’t quite right (my tofu block was a few ounces larger than called for, and I didn’t have quite enough cauli for the topping), but I don’t think that’s entirely to blame. We just didn’t care for the texture of the casserole base, which was kind of mousse-y and unexpected. The flavors were also a bit off, a little too acidic and just generally not enjoyable. Alas!
  • Orange-scented cranberry sauce, p. 344. You cannot go wrong with homemade cranberry sauce. If you’re still eating the jellied stuff from the can, I encourage you to try making it yourself! It’s a no-fail process and the results are so tasty. Isa’s recipe was, of course, delicious. Tangy and zippy and the perfect topping for a plate piled high with savory goodness.

Vegan Thanksgiving plate

We also cooked up a Trader Joe’s vegan roast as the main and found it quite tasty. This roast is, somewhat bizarrely, breaded! I was dubious, but it actually worked quite well. This roast was tasty, juicy, and affordable! We also picked up some store-bought stuffing mix; I think it was Pepperidge Farm. Call me uncultured, but I don’t want fancy homemade stuffing on Thanksgiving: I want the kind that comes in a bag and is salty and savory and comforting. Same goes with the rolls: We got Wegmans-brand crescent rolls and have #noregrets.

On the homemade front, I stirred up a big ol’ batch of gravy using a C’est La Vegan recipe that doesn’t appear to be online anymore. (I was working from a printed recipe my mama keeps on hand — she sent me a photo of it.) I added lots of poultry spice and a (not so) secret ingredient for umami deliciousness: Gravy Master! My mom has an ancient bottle of this delightfully retro browning sauce that comes out every Thanksgiving, and to me, gravy just isn’t the same without it. It’s accidentally vegan, so I picked up a little bottle of my own this year.

Vegan Thanksgiving appetizersFor dessert, our guests brought two vegan pies (apple and pumpkin) from Roots, our favorite local/ independent grocer, and I made a cranberry-orange loaf that isn’t worth mentioning — it was too sweet, and the orange was barely detectable. Oh well! Our guests also brought appetizers: samosas, crackers, rolled-up Tofurky slices, and a wheel of Miyoko’s cheese. Perfect for snacking while I wrapped up all the cooking.

In terms of said cooking, everything went eerily smoothly. No burnt roast, no lumpy gravy, no messes. I credit my obsessive levels of preparation: Steven and I chopped, diced, and prepared nearly all our ingredients the night before; I even blended up all the creamy elements for the various dishes (the cashew cream for the potatoes; the creamy sauce for the green bean casserole). That meant all I really had to do was bring it all together on Thanksgiving day. We ate almost exactly at 3:00 pm as planned, everything was hot, and I felt bizarrely relaxed sitting down to dinner. I’m not complaining!

I also had a brilliant idea for holiday breakfast: a massive, protein-rich smoothie that you can drink throughout your entire food prep process! It’s a quick, healthy meal that will keep you full until it’s time to overdose on savory sides. (Although I made a peanut butter-banana-chocolate-oat smoothie, so the “healthy” descriptor is arguable.)

So, all in all, a very successful Thanksgiving with LOTS of leftovers for Steven and me… and a reminder that even omnivores can enjoy a meat-free Thanksgiving. No turkeys need be harmed in the making of your belly-filling dinner!

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Q&A with The Humane Gardener — and a Book Giveaway

The plant charmed me the first time I saw it. With its lanky stalk and cloud-like clusters of white flowers, it reminded me of a slightly more unruly version of Queen Anne’s Lace. From a distance, the plant seemed to have a few large flower heads; up close, those flower heads resolved themselves into hundreds of tiny white blooms. Looking even closer, each little flower sported a few tendrils of white, snaking up toward the sky. Bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of wingéd friends crowded in for a snack, like thirsty office workers bellying up to the bar at happy hour.

I wanted to identify the plant so I could add it to my yard. After coming up with a few possible options, I posted a photo on Instagram and tagged my go-to plant expert. “Is this boneset?” I asked.

Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener, responded quickly to my query. “That’s boneset!” she said. “The best plant ever!”

Pearl crescents on boneset. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Pearl crescents on boneset. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

That enthusiasm for what’s commonly considered a weed typifies Nancy’s approach to the world outside our doors. She’s an advocate for all that’s green and good, and for the creatures small and large with whom we share the globe. In her work as the Humane Gardener, Nancy advocates for a return to plants that support our native wildlife and for a gentler, more tolerant approach to living with those animals. She blogs at humanegardener.com and recently published her first book. The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife introduces key concepts for making your backyard a haven for wildlife, and its gentle, welcoming tone makes the subject approachable and inviting. (Read on for a chance to win the book!)

I had the pleasure of working with Nancy for a few years, and today I edit her Humane Backyard column for All Animals magazine. I invited her to answer some questions about her work to share with Go Vegga readers, to introduce everyone to the concepts she espouses, and to give some helpful, actionable tips for making your own green space — whether it’s a big backyard, a tiny apartment balcony, or even a shared communal green space — more hospitable and welcoming to wildlife. I hope you’ll find it as inspiring a concept as I do. (And I hope you’ll enjoy her photos as much as I do!)

Pickerel frog. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Pickerel frog. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

First, what does being a humane gardener mean to you? And what are the benefits of gardening this way?

A humane gardener is someone who is compassionate toward all creatures, someone who appreciates the milkweed beetles as much as she appreciates the monarch butterflies who also visit the milkweed — who understands that rabbits and groundhogs and deer all need to eat plants just as much as we do. A humane gardener knows that the outdoor spaces we care for, whether it’s two acres in size or a postage stamp yard or even a balcony, are not really “ours” to cultivate in whatever way we deem pleasing to us. The earth and the sky belong to all species trying to make a life here, and our actions need to reflect that.

Milkweed beetles mating on milkweed while a voyeur looks on. Photo by Will Heinz.

We are so heavily marketed to by lawn care, pesticide, and nuisance wildlife control industries that we often think there is a right and a wrong way to garden. We buy into the notion that the plants that help wildlife most are “weeds,” that animal nibbling of plants is “damage,” and that some of the most life-giving habitat elements — dead wood, leftover stalks, fallen leaves — are “messy.”

It’s usually the animals themselves who break through this negativity. It often takes only one discovery — that the holes in the rosebush leaves are the handiwork of a mother leafcutter bee lining her nest with leaf pieces, for example, or that the dead tree slated for removal has become the perfect nesting spot for bluebirds — to change a gardener’s whole perspective. Watching a rabbit chow down on a dandelion becomes a revelatory experience. I actually get chills, and my spirit lifts, when I walk among the plants around our home and see all the creatures large and small who are eating, nesting, and sheltering there. What could be more joyful than knowing how much difference we can make for so many lives even in a small space?

A rabbit takes care of the weeding. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

How has your personal journey as a humane gardener evolved? What led you here, and was there a single moment when you started thinking about gardening and land usage differently?

I’ve never been a fan of lawns. I grew up in Bowie, Md., a community built in the 1960s by the Levitts, famous for pioneering cookie-cutter homes in communities known as Levittowns in New York and New Jersey, and for implementing strict lawn requirements that associated masculinity and the paternal-family-man ideal with manicured turfgrass. My father resisted all of that and planted flower gardens in the front and back yard when I was a kid, and those were the places I would gravitate to. I watched ants under the trees and played with my dolls on the pine needles and made little bouquets of spring flowers in Fleischmann margarine tubs for my teachers. Wherever there were plants, there was life and beauty and great joy. It was apparent to me even back then that life did not thrive in a frequently mowed, heavily fertilized space treated with pesticides.

Mama Goose and her baby. Photo by Jennifer Howard.

But what really opened my eyes to the tragic consequences of conventional landscaping was a conversation with wildlife biologist John Hadidian in the late 1990s. He and I were both working for The Humane Society of the United States at the time, and he was leading an effort to help people resolve conflicts with geese humanely. Unfortunately the standard answer to perceived goose “overpopulation” was to cull them by rounding them up and mass gassing them; that practice continues today in communities that decide they can no longer tolerate their presence.

From John I learned that geese are attracted to mowed-down landscapes directly adjacent to water — a common landscaping aesthetic in the U.S. These environments provide visibility and easy access to the water, where geese can quickly escape from predators, especially during nesting season. Efforts to revegetate such areas with native plantings had already proven successful, creating natural buffers that made geese just uncomfortable enough to avoid nesting there.

Well, this was a revelation to me! I was just becoming interested in native plants at the time, but I hadn’t yet made specific connections between plants and their effects on wildlife. I began to refer to the idea as “humane landscaping,” and I put it into practice in my own yard, but it took 12 years for me to begin really writing about it and exploring it as a career.

 

Nancy’s husband Will found this young Eastern box turtle in their lawn. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

What are some common actions or behaviors that are actually harmful to animals and/or the environment? There are so many things we don’t even think to question, like using netting to protect vegetable gardens!

Rescuing a snake trapped in netting. Photo courtesy John Griffin.

Oh, there are just so many. Yes, using netting is a perfect example because it seems so innocuous, yet it can so easily strangle animals, especially birds and snakes. Another action people mistakenly think is humane is relocation of squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs and other mammals. There are so many detrimental effects of relocation. First, you could be separating a mother from her young without even knowing it. Also, the stress of transport to another territory could be overwhelming for the animal. But just as importantly, even if that animal is not being separated from her young, and even if she survives the journey, what then? What is she supposed to do in a new territory she’s never seen before? She no longer has a cognitive map of where her food sources are, where she can escape for cover, and where the threats and competitors are. Imagine if someone forced us into a car and drove us to a foreign land with no money, no map, no knowledge of the local customs and people. We would be very vulnerable, and that’s often what happens to relocated animals; they are easy prey.

Of course, it goes without saying that pesticides of any kind — insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, can be very damaging, both in ways that we can see and in ways that we can’t. Mowing kills countless animals — from the turtles and toads to the butterfly caterpillars. When we first moved to our home, we accidentally ran over a turtle with a mower. It was awful. And turtles can live for many decades, yet they reproduce very slowly, so the untimely demise of just a few can lead to local population extinction. To help these animals and many others, we have to reduce our lawns. Keeping a play area for kids or dogs or a hammock is fine. But do we really need the 42 million acres and counting that we have in the U.S.? Most of it is not even used by anybody! What a travesty.

Green metallic bee on coral honeysuckle. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

What does the ideal humane backyard (or apartment balcony, or communal strip of land, or whatever!) look like to you? What have you done in your own yard to make it welcoming to wildlife?

Beautiful broomsedge. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’ll start with the second question because I think it leads naturally into the first. The best way to describe our evolution is to say what we haven’t done. We stopped mowing more than half of the backyard. In place of lawn, there are now broomsedge and purpletop grasses, both native plants. (And I almost bought these plants once at a nursery before coming home to realize how many hundreds of them were starting to volunteer on their own!). Goldenrods and boneset and native sunflowers are also coming up in this area; some of these plants were likely seeded by birds in their droppings, while others were likely already dormant in the seedbank. They just needed a chance to sprout without constantly being mowed down.

In the other half of the yard, we’ve added as many native plants as time and money allow. I’ve grown a lot of these plants from seed — it’s very easy to do! — and I’ve also bought many of them at native plant sales and nurseries over the years. What you’ll usually find with natives is that — since they are accustomed the soil and have longstanding relationships with animals who eat and spread them — you might start with one or two plants but eventually have lots of offspring to transplant and share with friends. I’ve heard people call this “planting it forward,” and I just love that!

In the front of the house, we’ve also planted and nurtured as many natives as possible. My neighbors have become very interested in the plants because they are seeing just how insanely attractive they are to an amazing variety of butterflies, bees, wasps, and so many others. Really, animals help sell these plants if we let them. People understand that our pollinators are in crisis.

Green tiger beetle on leaves. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

We never remove leaves from the property, instead using them to create new garden areas. A nice layer of leaves will kill grass and enrich the soil and the plants as they break down. We also create brush piles out of twigs, fallen branches, sticks, and we line beds with branches and logs. This creates habitats for salamanders, beetles, and wood-nesting bees (30 percent of our 4,000 native bee species nest in cavities) — and then the birds come to forage on all these little creatures.

So really, the ideal humane garden is the thoughtful one — the one that takes into account what’s already there for wildlife, nurtures that, and then modifies in ways that will enhance that space for our fellow creatures. There isn’t really any one recipe for a given space, and I think that’s what people get hung up on — they worry about whether they’re doing the right thing, but if you take a little time to watch the animals and plants, they will help guide you.

Masked bees mating on shrubby St. Johns Wort. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

When I think about this movement towards humane gardening, it seems to me that it’s above anything else a mindset change — it’s altering how we view and understand different elements of nature, and then further altering our behavior to do what’s best for those elements. (I’m thinking of the “A Harvest for All” chapter of your book in particular, and especially about the poor maligned rabbits!) What mindset changes do you think are crucial?

You are exactly right — it’s all about questioning our long-held, culturally ingrained assumptions and learning to view the world from the perspective of other species, both plant and animal. One of the most unfortunate phrases I hear from people is “I have a brown thumb.” There is this notion out there that plants need constant coddling and inputs to survive, when the truth is that plants were far better off on this planet without our help! They managed just fine without us for about 700 million years. We are a blip in evolutionary history, yet we’ve managed in a very short time to obliterate many species across the planet.

We need plants to survive, but often what they need most of all from us at this point is for us to just leave them alone. One mistake made by many people trying to care for a plot of land is to assume that the things they didn’t plant are “weeds” — that whatever wasn’t purchased or designed by humans is somehow of less value. In reality, the opposite is often true. Whereas our big-box centers and mainstream nurseries are experts in selling invasive plants that crowd out wildlife habitat and sometimes even directly harm animals through toxic berries and leaves they can’t digest, nature excels at providing everything our local flora and fauna need — if only we would let her.

Groundhog eating lawn forbs. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

The dominant societal attitude toward plants has a direct impact on animals. That is one thing I really want my animal-loving friends to know. If you care about rabbits, leave clover and dandelions and other forbs in your yard for them to eat; grow hedgerows where they can take shelter. If you care about groundhogs, leave your fleabane and sassafras volunteers and other herbaceous and woody plants that will get them through hot summers and long winters. If you care about bees, nurture native plants that feed the specialists — the native bees who’ve evolved to gather pollen only from violets or spring beauties or asters or goldenrods or common evening primroses.

Don’t buy into the idea that there are “too many” deer or too many of any type of animal; who are we — the species that has taken over the Earth and holds her fate in our hands—to declare that? Deer were nearly shot out of existence, as were geese, and then bred and released back into the wild in many regions in an attempt to restock them for hunters. Humans have subjected many different kinds of animals — turkeys, mountain lions, wolves — to cycles of decimation and reclamation. Then we get angry with them when they do happen to start to thrive again, instead of looking inwardly and challenging ourselves to ask: What mistakes have we made in the past, and what can we do now to avoid further harm? In the case of deer, for example, our mowed-down landscapes create inviting habitat for them because they like open land near woods’ edges. There are so many things we can do to change this, starting with planting more plants and nurturing the ones we already have.

Great spangled fritillary and pearl crescent on Joe Pye weed. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

For folks who are reading about this concept for the first time, it might seem overwhelming. What are some simple yet effective first steps people can take to start turning their outdoor space into a more humane area?

Cardinal munching a caterpillar. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Start by looking at what you already have, and don’t assume that everything good and helpful to wildlife has to have our imprimatur on it. Many people first learn the connection between native plants and wildlife through this essential statistic quantified by entomologist and ecologist Doug Tallamy: 96 percent of North America’s terrestrial bird species feed their young spiders and insects — mostly caterpillars, and often thousands of them just to raise one brood of chicks to the fledgling stage. Those caterpillars rely heavily on native plants; 90 percent of plant-eating insects can eat only plants of certain lineages that they co-evolved with. So if we don’t have native plants, we’ve broken the food supply chain for baby birds.

That resonates with people, and when they start to understand the connections, they want to replace all their plants right away. This is not a reaction I want to discourage, necessarily, because a garden filled with native plants is the ideal. However, it’s not exactly doable for most people in the short term, both for time and financial reasons. But I also worry about this from the animals’ perspectives. For example, we have a forsythia bush that’s been here since we moved in. It was once the only bush in our expansive backyard. Animals need shrubs for cover and nesting, not just for food. Cardinals, catbirds, rabbits, finches, and many others use that large bush. Of course, since it’s not a native plant, the forsythia likely doesn’t provide the same level of floral and foliage resources to bees and caterpillars that native plants would. But instead of ripping it out and leaving one less space for birds to nest in, we started adding native bayberry and spicebush near it — so that eventually we will have a native hedge that can expand. At some point I will then be more comfortable with reducing the forsythia presence.

Forsythia and bayberry in the backyard. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’ve begun to think of this concept as the Three Rs, something I borrowed from the animal protection field — which of course uses the Three Rs as a way to advocate for reduced consumption of animal products and reduced use of animals in research. My husband and I apply it to the outdoors in this way:

  1. Reduce invasives and lawn areas through gradual removal.
  2. Refine plant choices by buying only native plants, which have been proven to be more helpful to wildlife they co-evolved with.
  3. Replace nonnative plants with native plants whenever possible.

So it’s not hard to start. I like the advice of Ken Parker, a horticulturist I interviewed in my book: Start with a dozen native wildflower species — four for each season of bloom. Add a few native grasses, a couple shrub species, and a couple of nut-bearing trees. But if that’s too much, start with three native wildflowers and one shrub. You don’t have to go crazy. Just do what you can, and it will be more than the animals had before.

Do you have any favorite animals or insects, ones always put a smile on your face when you see them hanging out in “your” space? Any plants that you particularly love?

Sleeping bee on mountain mint. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

It seems almost impossible to choose! I can’t help but love the little guys I affectionately refer to as the bachelor bees or the sleeping bees. Every evening and morning in the summer through early fall, male bumblebees find a flower to sleep under. Usually they hang upside down, and often they choose flowers with umbrella shapes that will protect them from rain. Male bumblebees aren’t really allowed back in the nest once they leave; they pollinate flowers and, if they’re lucky, get to procreate, but they otherwise aren’t helping the colony the way the females are. Sometimes they hang out in clusters to sleep. I think of them as little ancient Romans; they sleep all night under a beautiful flower, wake up when it’s warm enough, and climb onto a nearby flower to start drinking all over again!

We have had some rare sightings, including a scarlet tanager who showed up in the staghorn sumacs just beyond our patio for about half an hour one night this summer. That was a real treat, and I didn’t realize just how difficult it is even for experienced birders to see the species. To me it validated how inviting our place has become.

Seeing a groundhog or a fox, hearing a coyote in the middle of the night, coming upon a fresh molehill in my walks around the land—all of these things are magical experiences for me, too. I tend to gravitate toward the misunderstood animals and plants. The plants that give me real joy are the ones that grow in the cracks of the driveway or pioneer a disturbed spot in the meadow. Often they are the ones most helpful to wildlife, too; boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) sprouted here on its own and has spread to many spots, drawing more and more bees, wasps, butterflies, bee flies, and others with each passing year. Other plants that warm my heart are blue mistflower, ironweed, Joe Pye weed, milkweed, jewelweed — all the species that aren’t really “weeds” at all to our wildlife. They are self-seeders, self-starters, lifesavers, and survivors.

Newly hatched male monarch drying his wings. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’m so grateful to Nancy for answering my questions with such thoughtfulness and candor.  Trust me when I say that this open-minded, gentle tone is exactly the same approach she takes in her book — which is partially why I’m giving away a copy!

The Humane GardenerTo enter, follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter giveaway below. And why not purchase an extra copy, for yourself or for someone else? The Humane Gardener would make a perfect holiday gift for someone who might want to invite more wildlife into their yard!

While Nancy’s book does focus on plants and wildlife common to the U.S., her principles are universally applicable. If you live in the U.K. or Europe, Nancy recommends A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm, A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees, and Moles (The British Natural History Collection).

~~~

This giveaway is open from Wednesday, November 29th through Sunday, December 10th, to entrants from any country.

Please read the Rafflecopter instructions carefully. You must leave a comment on this blog post to enter, and then you can earn extra entries in a few other ways.

>>>Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!<<<

The giveaway is closed! Stacey W. of the USA is the winner. Stacey, I’ll be emailing you shortly! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Editor’s note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing items through my links costs nothing extra to you, but it does help me cover hosting costs.

On Not Cooking

Hello, hello! As usual, I’ve been relatively quiet post-MoFo. And not just for all the usual burnout reasons. There’s another one: I simply haven’t been cooking! If you read between the lines of my MoFo posts, you’ll find a formerly exuberant home cook who was becoming extremely tired of cooking. Or, more accurately, tired of planning and preparing meals.

Steven and I have had a long-standing arrangement wherein I do the cooking and he does the clean-up. Mostly for dinner, but also the occasional weekend breakfast. Leftovers often serve as lunches for us both. And we both thought it was an equitable arrangement.

Until I realized it wasn’t.

One day toward the end of October, I was at work. As the afternoon passed, I began to think — and stress — about what to make for dinner. I was already pretty worn out from MoFo cooking, so I decided to use a big bowl of leftover beans and rice and recycle it into bean burgers.

Then I got home and discovered that Steven had eaten the leftovers for lunch.

I overreacted. I was unduly upset, and it took me a while to figure out why: I was so, so worn out with the anxiety of planning meals, of managing — in my head — the pantry, of making sure we had ingredients, of thinking ahead, of spending all this time in the goddamn kitchen not for the love of cooking, but just to get something on the table. I realized that all the emotional and mental energy I was putting into cooking — not to mention the time — was not equal to the simple task of cleaning up, post-dinner. Steven could plug in his earbuds and mindlessly wash dishes. No stress.

I should mention here that I don’t at all “blame” Steven for this. There’s no blame to be had. He never set unfair expectations about what we’d eat for dinner and was happy with semi-frequent “fend for ourselves” nights. We both thought it was a good and fair arrangement. But after six years, it wasn’t. And the instant I realized what was bothering me, the instant I articulated it, Steven volunteered to cook all our dinners — and the occasional weekend breakfast — for the indefinite future. And this marvelous human has also been doing 85% of the post-dinner cleanup, too.

It has been wonderful.

Wonderful for both of us, I think. Because I created this role for myself as THE cook, Steven has never really had the chance to develop his own culinary skills. In the past, when he tried, I was a bit… overbearing. The kitchen was *my* domain, and I knew best. So I would hover, giving him “tips” and “pointers” and generally being a pain.

But now I stay the hell out of the kitchen while he’s cooking, only offering advice if asked. I banish myself to the living room and take the time to work on freelance assignments or to simply read. And then I get served up a nice hot meal, which I did not have to think about or plan for or prepare. It’s glorious!

I feel very lucky to have such a kind partner. I know this is a silly, self-induced “problem” to have, but it was causing me legitimate stress. I hope that by stepping out of the kitchen for a while, it’ll rekindle my enjoyment of cooking. I think it will. We’re going to share the cooking for a low-key Thanksgiving we’re hosting for Steven’s mom and step-dad, and I’m actually looking forward to it. That’s a good sign.

So! Where does this leave us? Well, I realize that I should have peppered this post with pictures of Steven-prepared meals, but I shamefully haven’t photographed a single one. I’ve just enjoyed them. But I do have some great content planned for y’all, including a really lovely interview with an author and a giveaway of her book. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I’ll be over here eating food I did not cook. ;)

Halloween Snackin’ | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Thirty-One

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Halloween – Try not to scare us too much with your spookiest dish.

Hallelujah, it’s Halloween! Or, more accurately: Hallelujah, it’s the last day of VeganMoFo — a fact for which I’m embarrassingly thankful. Man, this has been a tough month. While I wouldn’t say I’ve been phoning it in, per se, I definitely haven’t given 100% this year. Seven new recipes, a few half-recipes/half-templates, and a bunch of round-up posts would be quite (!) productive for a normal month, but are maybe a little lackluster for VeganMoFo. Next year, I think I’ll come up with my own theme. It’ll give me more time to prepare and free me from the prompts that didn’t inspire me. Hindsight!

Anyway, on to Halloween. I didn’t dress up this year, for a variety of reasons, but I did get to enjoy a whole lot of treats at work. An enterprising new employee arranged a staff party, complete with be-costumed dogs and a vegan potluck! (Perks of working for an animal welfare organization.) I wanted to snap a few photos of the spread, but the room was dim (you know, to enhance the the spookiness) so here’s a photo of my plate instead.

Plate o' Halloween snacksThat vegan buffalo chicken dip on the right might be a bit visually unappealing, but it was insanely good! Rich, creamy, and a total indulgence, but yummy with celery dippers. I also loved the mini Almond Joy bites on the top left. And I wish I’d gotten a photo of that orange cake — one of our talented coworkers made a vanilla cake decorated with orange frosting and black piped spiders and spiderwebs. She also made a chocolate cake frosted to look like a gravestone.

What did I contribute to this massive table of vegan treats? Absolutely nothing. Frankly, my reserves for non-essential cooking are at an all-time low. (And actually, Steven has taken over the essential cooking to give me a break.) Plus, we were downtown last night at a panel discussion on the changing face of American journalism, and we didn’t get back till nearly 10pm. No time to whip up anything! I usually always contribute to potlucks and other group meals, so I didn’t feel bad not doing so this time. Instead, I just enjoyed the food.

And with that, I bid adieu to VeganMoFo 2017. Time to hand out vegan lollipops to the trick-or-treaters!

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Holiday Plans | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Thirty

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Practice-run a dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another upcoming holiday.

Dudes, I cannot even think about the holidays right now! But I have to. Steven and I are hosting a (very low-key) Thanksgiving this year for his mom and step-dad, so we’ll have to come up with a Thanksgiving dinner menu. It’s not the first time we’ve hosted — back in 2011, back when we were in Wisconsin, we hosted Thanksgiving for my immediate family and his mom, all of whom flew in to join us. I’m a little shocked we did that, now that I think back on it — we’d only been dating for nine months, yet we tackled a holiday dinner together. And it was 100% vegan! And we didn’t strangle one another!

If I learned anything from that experience, it was to keep things simple. I made three main dishes (including my first-ever Tofurky), and it was overkill! This year, I think we’ll offer one main dish and a whole bunch of sides. I might tackle some kind of turkey Wellington… or maybe we’ll just stick with one of the commercially available ones. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy are a given for the sides, and I’ll probably do some roasted garlicky Brussels sprouts. Maybe I’ll add something new, like this cauliflower gratin or even this roasted kabocha squash. For dessert? My sweet potato pie, for sure, and whatever else catches my eye.

Boring? Maybe. Also classic and no-fail. No need to bring added stress onto a laidback Thanksgiving, right?

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Vegan Chamomile-Lemon Scones | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Nine

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
History. What would you cook for your favourite historical figure?

The idea for these chamomile-lemon scones came to me a few weeks ago, but I haven’t had the energy to try them till this weekend. On our all-vegan fjords cruise last month, Steven and I became wholly enamored of the afternoon tea tradition. Between 3:30 and 4:30 PM, we could choose from a massive display of little finger sandwiches and sweet treats — including lots of vegan scones (served with cream and jam, of course). We inevitably filled up on all these delicacies, but that meant we just availed ourselves of a later dinner. No problem.

This is perhaps an obvious pairing, but I’m going to invite Jane Austen over for afternoon tea. I wouldn’t say she’s my all-time favorite historical figure, but I’ve long admired her writing and think she’d be a lively companion. I could ask her all about her life and her works, getting answers to the questions biographers have puzzled over for centuries. We’d chat over pots of dark tea and heaping baskets of scones — including these chamomile-lemon ones.

Vegan chamomile-lemon scones // govegga.comThis is a relatively straightforward vegan scone recipe, but the inclusion of dried chamomile and lemon gives these scones a somewhat unusual — yet subtle — flavor. They’re not super sweet, so feel free to add a little more sugar if you’d like. I opted for refined coconut oil as my fat of choice for; unrefined will give you a more coconutty flavor, and you could easily substitute vegan butter or shortening. I also used oat milk instead of the usual suspects (soy, almond); it’s America’s Test Kitchen’s alt-milk of choice for baked goods, so I figured I’d give it a shot. (Look for a review of their new(ish) cookbook, Vegan for Everybody: Foolproof Plant-Based Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and In-Between, soon!) For the chamomile, I used the contents of a few teabags, but looseleaf would be a great choice here as well. Serve these with butter and vegan clotted cream, if you’d like!

Chamomile-Lemon Scones

Makes 12

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon solid coconut oil (use refined to avoid coconut flavor)
  • 1/3 cup vegan sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers, ground
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Scant cup oat milk (read instructions for details)

Preheat oven to 400˚F and prepare a baking sheet by lightly oiling or lining with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined. Add the coconut oil and use either a pastry cutter, your fingertips, or two forks, cut in the oil to make a crumbly, sand-like mixture.

Make a well in the center of bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, holding out some of the milk. Mix gently until a soft dough forms. If it’s too dry, add the rest of the milk.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured, clean surface. Flour your hands and gently give the dough a few kneads. Pat dough into a circle about 3/4″ to an inch high. Using a floured cookie cutter or a glass turned upside-down, cut out circular scones about 2 1/2″ in diameter.

Transfer scones to the prepared baking sheet. (Optionally, dust the tops with extra sugar.) Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the edges are slightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool for a minute or two before serving.

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Vegan chamomile-lemon scones // govegga.com


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The Best Places for Vegan Brunch in D.C. and Maryland | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Eight

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Brunch: the under-appreciated get-together meal.

‘Round these parts, brunch is most definitely not an under-appreciated meal! It’s a weekend tradition for many, and whenever I have friends or family visiting, Steven and I nearly always take them for brunch. We’re lucky to have a few top-notch vegan brunch choices in Maryland and D.C., so I figured I’d share them with you today. (If you’re looking for a whopping big post of DIY vegan brunch recipes and inspiration, I direct you here.) Now, on to the list! Here are my recommendations for the best vegan brunch in Maryland.

Great Sage

I never ever regret going to Clarksville-based Great Sage for brunch. Although I’m occasionally disappointed by their main dinner dishes, which can sometimes lack creativity, their brunch selection is consistently solid. They always have a perfect mix of savory and sweet options, so all your dining companions should be able to find something that appeals. Plus, they have boozy breakfast drinks — including a massive vegan Bloody Mary! I’ve enjoyed quite a few Great Sage brunches in my day, such as the crabcake sandwich, their amazing pierogi quesadillas, and their yummy breakfast sandwich (featuring a tofu egg, sausage, and cheese). You’d also do well to get one of their signature cinnamon buns to go — they are massive and delicious.

 

Glory Doughnuts

I’ve sung the praises of this Frederick-based establishment a fair few times over the past few months, and for good reason. Not only are their doughnuts top-notch, but they have a fabulous and creative selection of all-day brunch eats! Think PBR-infused Belgian waffles, big ol’ plates of huevos rancheros, and decadent apple pie stuffed French toast. Their coffee is also exceptional; it’s from a local woman-owned, fair-trade roaster and is just really, really tasty. Get here early to make sure there are doughnuts available, and stake your spot early — tables fill up fast!

Smoke and Barrel

Tofu scramble and Smoke & Barrel in D.C.

For a vegan brunch in D.C. proper, Smoke and Barrel in Adams Morgan is an excellent choice. Yes, it’s a BBQ and bourbon joint. But if you can get past all that BBQ, you’ll be rewarded with some surprisingly creative vegan brunch options, like a a house-made sweet potato and oat burger and a massive chili-cheese tofu scramble (featuring Daiya). They even have vegan wings! I ordered the tofu scramble last Galentine’s Day when I was out with my ladies and did not regret it. It comes with a massive pile of tofu scramble; a smoky, spicy chili; thick slabs of Texas toast; and crumbly delicious home fries. And although we ordered a mimosa pitcher on that day, Smoke and Barrel also has brunch cocktails! The Happy Trails (bourbon, peach liqueur, orange bitters, soda water) sounds particularly nice.

Fare Well

Owned and operated by Doron Petersan — the same brilliant gal who started Sticky Fingers bakery — Fare Well is an old-fashioned (yet all-vegan) diner with plenty of brunch and breakfast options. Truth be told, I’ve never actually been here for brunch — just for small snacks (including the croissant pictured above), but I really need to rectify that mistake. Just look at that menu: French toast casserole, featuring challah French toast?! Seitan and waffles?!? Cookie dough pancakes?!?!? Give me a break! I have no doubt everything is excellent, and I need to get here stat.

Sticky Fingers

No list of vegan spots in D.C. would be complete without Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats, Petersan’s original vegan joint. It’s really more of a bakery than a full restaurant, but you can still enjoy brunch at this small cafe. The weekend brunch menu is small but features a few options similar to those at Fare Well — challah French toast, for example. You can also get biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito, and a few other options. I’ve been to Sticky Fingers plenty of times and have never been disappointed.

Other options

The buffet-style vegan Sunday brunch at Equinox is a bit of a legend around here, but somehow I’ve never been. It’s $35 a head — excluding drinks, which will set you back ~$11 each. That’s a bit steep for me; I have a small stomach and buffets don’t play to my eating style (I prefer smaller but frequent meals, spread out throughout the day). Still, I know I should try it — with options like a chickpea cassoulet, stuffed whole-grain French toast, and a tofu scramble station, I’m sure it would be a great experience.

NuVegan Café in College Park is one of our favorite spots for comfort food: I can never pass up their mac ’n’ cheese, their fried chicken “dummies,” or their garlicky kale salad. They also have brunch, though I’ve never tried it. But the options are vast and varied, with everything from oatmeal to pancakes to omelettes, and I’m willing to bet it’s all quite tasty.

Local chain Founding Farmers is an oft-hailed farm-to-table establishment with vegan-friendly main dishes (including the Impossible Burger). They allegedly have vegan options as part of their set-price brunch buffet, but their online menu is unclear. That’s a shame — and a missed opportunity. I’m not about to pay upwards of $30 when there’s a chance I’ll only have fruit and toast for breakfast.


This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I haven’t even touched Baltimore! I’m sure there are plenty of other spots in D.C. with vegan options, but I live far enough from the city that a trip in for brunch is rare. I’ll update this list if I try any great new places, though.

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The best vegan brunch spots in Maryland and D.C. // govegga.com

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Kid-Friendly Vegan Eats | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Seven

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Meals for the young (at heart)!

Maybe this is my idealistic, kid-free self shining through, but here’s what I think: If you introduce a variety of foods to kids early on, if you don’t make a big deal about any of them, if you encourage kids to try everything and reintroduce foods later if kids balk at them immediately, if you invite them to help out in the kitchen and make some meal decisions themselves, you can probably tamp down on that whole “kids are so picky!” thing. Sure, some kids are absolutely pickier than others, and we all have our own taste/texture preferences, but I think parents unwittingly do a bit of the damage themselves when they don’t model healthy, curious eating patterns or when they build up “eating your veggies” as a chore that must be completed, not a normal part of life that’s tasty and fun.*

Which is why I believe all foods are for all bodies, big or small, young or old! Eat what you want, when you want! Make most of it healthy, but don’t worry about the junk food and sweets too much.

So, to the prompt. Frankly, I’m just as likely to enjoy so-called kid-friendly recipes as an actual kid! I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat googly-eye chocolate pretzel “screams” or homemade gelatin-free Lucky Charms?! Does that make me young at heart? Ehhh… I just like cute things. ;)

But anyway — I do understand the point here. As adventurous an eater as your kid is, kids in general will typically prefer simpler flavors and familiar meals. Here are a few of those, both from me and from others around the web.

PB granola and vegan yogurt // govegga.com

  • Kids love crunching and munching handfuls of snacks, so how about some granola? Try this peanut butter-chocolate chip version, or strawberry-coconut for a more allergy-friendly version. Or add it to yogurt for a filling breakfast.
  • These cinnamon crackers would also be fun to munch! (Be sure to check out the kid-friendly tag at Fork and Beans — she makes some seriously fun food.)
  • For lunch or a snack, how about these homemade broccoli tater tots? They’re packed with veggies but feel like junk food!
  • Super simple, toddler-endorsed, pasta. The sauce is made of hummus!
  • Colcannon — mashed potatoes with a healthy twist.
  • Mac and cheese! Start your kid off on the good stuff (like this one) and they’ll never crave Kraft.
  • This colorful fruit pizza would be fun to make and fun to eat.

*Having said this, I will probably end up with the pickiest, most obstinate eater if I ever do decide to have a child. Oops.

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A Few Not-So-Showstopping Sweets | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Six

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Showstopper dessert: Something that would earn a handshake from Paul Hollywood!

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever made anything truly, showstoppingly, spectacular. (And given my current malaise when it comes to cooking, I’m not about to do so any time soon.) The most visually impressive dessert I’ve ever attempted was a five-layer cake for Steven’s and my five-year anniversary in 2016, but the results were… less than perfect, at least visually speaking.

Our five-layer cake was Neapolitan inspired, with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry layers sandwiched between vanilla buttercream. It was massive! It was delicious! It was… kinda plain? My cake-decorating skills are not exactly finely honed, so that vanilla frosting quickly became quite crumb-laden. I think I foisted the task onto Steven and refused to take part after I realized it wasn’t going to come out perfectly. (That’s why you can see him in the bottom left photo, earbuds in place, frosting away while I snap pics.) Not the end of the world, but not the visually stunning cake of my dreams. Oh well — looks, as they say, aren’t everything.

Lego cupcakesA slightly more appealing dessert presentation: these Lego cupcakes I made for my dad’s 60th birthday a few years ago. Dad’s Lego-themed party obviously needed appropriately matching sweets, and these did the trick! Simple chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, dressed up with Lego-inspired wrappers, vanilla buttercream, and candy Lego bricks. Not terribly fancy, but perfectly befitting of his Lego theme.

…and that’s it. That is the full extent of my showstopping. Paul Hollywood would definitely NOT give me a handshake for either of these desserts (though I might merit a Fielding fondle).

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Vegan Treats for Furry Friends | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Five

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Cook for your best friend. Tell us about your best friend and their favourite dish, and make them a vegan version of it.

My best friend is a grey-furred, four-legged little beast with an under-bite and an uncanny ability to throw some serious side-eye shade.

Moria

Oh. A human best friend, you say? How boring. My best two-legged friend is Steven, but I cook for that dude just about every day! (He does all the clean-up; it’s a mostly fair trade.) He’s also a plant-eater like me, so all his favorite dishes are already vegan. That’s why I’m going to show you what we feed our best furry friends instead! It’s also the perfect chance to introduce our new dog: Rosie!

RosieWe adopted Rosie from a local rescue this weekend. We don’t know too much about her past; she was brought to Maryland from a high-kill shelter in the south and was with the rescue for about three months without getting much interest from potential adopters. Dummies! She is the sweetest. This lady is probably 5-7 years old, and she has the best ugly-cute face. Her left eye is smaller than the right, probably due to a genetic deformity. She has the serious case of snaggleteeth, and she occasionally limps (luxating patella?). Since we just love broken dogs nobody else wants, she was the perfect fit.

She’s been with us for three days and has settled in beautifully. Her former foster family said she didn’t really like sleeping in bed with them, but guess who spent both the past two nights snuggling us? Yep, this girl.

She and Moria seem to be mostly ignoring one another, which doesn’t surprise me — Moria and Luna had a similar arrangement. Honestly, I don’t think Moria particularly likes having a second dog around, but we make sure to share the love (and the treats) equally.

Which brings me to the prompt! If Moria could talk, she’d probably say that her favorite food is “everything,” followed by “treats.” The good news for Moria? There are tons of vegan doggie treats out there! Moria particularly enjoys Whimzees, a brand of chews, breath bones, and other delicacies derived from plant sources. They’re the perfect substitute for those nasty animal-based chews you’ll find at pet stores. They even make one that looks like a pig’s ear…. which is both disturbing and probably unnecessary. Pretty sure Moria doesn’t care what her treats look like, as long as they taste good! And apparently Whimzees do.


Editor’s note: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something from one of my links, it costs nothing extra to you, but I get a few pennies to cover hosting costs.

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