Scones and Sandwiches and Sweets | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Ten

It’s been a lovely Saturday so far, and it’s not even 4:00 p.m. — the day is young!
I made my weekly pilgrimage to the farmers market in (relatively) cool weather; it was just 71˚F when I headed out. Positively autumnal! I forgot to snap a photo of my haul, but here’s what I picked up:
  • Brussels sprouts
  • An heirloom tomato
  • Cilantro (a nice bunch for $1.50, score!)
  • A basil plant (I had bad luck with basil seeds this year, so I bit the bullet and bought a plant. Yeah, it’s a little late in the season, but I’ll get lots of use out of it!)
  • Two heads of broccoli
  • New potatoes
  • Sansa apples
  • White nectarines

When I got back home, Steven was baking scones! This is becoming a bit of a weekend tradition for him, and I’m not mad about it. This week, he made tomato-basil scones, which I enjoyed with a cup of coffee. I quit coffee a couple months ago after realizing I was getting caffeine withdrawal headaches when I didn’t drink it, so it’s a somewhat rare treat now. I enjoy the taste of coffee and I liked the morning ritual of drinking it, but I haaate the idea of having a caffeine addiction, so I quit cold turkey as soon as I realized what was going on. :( Now that I don’t drink it regularly, I’m extra sensitive to it — a glass of cold brew gets me wired! Anyway, this was just regular ol’ hot coffee with So Delicious caramel creamer. I usually drink hot coffee black, but I had some of this leftover from a family visit last month and didn’t want to waste it.

After the scones came out of the oven, a loaf of sourdough bread went in! I blogged about Mary Berry (my starter <3) last MoFo, and she’s still alive and kickin’. I don’t bake bread every week, but I’ve got some heirloom tomatoes that are just crying to be eaten atop fresh bread, so this loaf will serve us well.

Post-bread baking, we headed across the street to celebrate our friend Ron’s birthday! Sara had gotten a platter of vegan sandwiches from Firehouse Deli, a local deli that bizarrely offers a TON of vegan options, so I feasted on an Italian cold cut sandwich. She’d also picked up a really tasty sesame slaw, along with chips and dip — basically, the perfect summer party plate. Firehouse also makes vegan cupcakes; I chose lemon while Steven had birthday cake (!). I really appreciate that we can support a small local business when we need vegan catering rather than a massive company like Whole Foods. Firehouse is a funny little place located right along a busy main road, but you can spot it by the electronic marquee that flashes the word “VEGAN” along with “GYRO” and “REUBEN.” Ha.

Sara and Ron have a pack of four small and wonderful puppers, including their newest addition: Scooter! Look at this little doofus.

Now I’m off to do a bit of cleaning — we’ve got friends coming over tonight. Happy Saturday, all.

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Homemade Vegan Bread | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Sixteen

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

Welcome to week three of VeganMoFo 2018! As you can see, this week’s prompt aims to demonstrate that veganism is affordable. I promise I’ll get to that, but first, time to put on my Debbie Downer hat!

Here’s the thing. I often cringe when the response to “But being vegan is expensive” is a quick, reflexive “No, it’s not!” Because sometimes… it is. Sometimes those of us who are financially comfortable might forget the challenges faced by folks on a very strict budget. We might play at budgeting (“I did a budget week and only spent $25 on food, go me!”), doing it out of curiosity or to prove a point, but if we have a financial cushion that means we don’t have to spend $25 on food for our family, I don’t think we can truly understand what it’s like to worry about every penny every day of every week of every month of every year.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Yes, you can buy bulk rice and beans and lentils and frozen veggies and eat perfectly fine, perfectly healthy vegan meals without breaking the bank, but what if you live in a food desert and don’t have a car and you literally can’t buy bulk rice and beans at the shops near you? What if they only sell one brand of canned beans, but it’s more expensive than a same-size can of ready-made meat chili or stew? And what if — heaven forbid — you actually want to eat MORE than rice and beans? Vegan convenience foods and snacks are not cheap, at least not in the U.S., and they’re not available at, say, your corner bodega.

It’s disingenuous to say that everybody can eat vegan on the cheap and still enjoy a plentiful, varied, healthy mix of meals. Some people certainly can. But not everyone. So please take my budget week recommendations with that in mind. If you want to incorporate more vegan foods into your diet but are constrained by your location, your schedule, or what’s in your wallet, please just do the best you can. Eating a little less meat or dairy or eggs is better than giving up on veg eating entirely. Thank you for trying. <3

Okay, removing my Debbie Downer hat now! So, what to expect this week? Tips for saving money on a vegan diet, along with a look at vegan items that can be expensive but don’t have to be… if you make them yourself or are a savvy shopper. First up: BREAD!

Oh, bread. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t devour a slice of steaming homemade bread and feel like that’s the best thing they’ll eat all day. Yet poor maligned bread gets blamed for all sorts of health issues, its carby goodness cast aside during the diet fad du jour. Wheat gets a bad rap, gluten gets a bad rap, and meanwhile I firmly believe that bread is one of life’s simplest, most delicious pleasures.

I grew up on whole-wheat sandwich bread. None of that white stuff, despite my brother swearing it made the best grilled cheese based on what his friend’s mom made at her house. That habit has always stuck with me. And as an adult, I started trying breads other than the simple soft sandwich loaf I was used to eating. A garlicky ciabatta from the to-go grill at college, a loaf of sharp sourdough from the co-op when I lived in Madison… I’ll try it all.

 

So it seems only natural that I’d start making it myself. Since last March, when a sweet friend hosted a sourdough workshop at her house and thoughtfully gifted us starters, I don’t think I’ve purchased a single loaf of bread. It’s a tradition to name your starter (and to pre-name it when you give it away), and my friend named mine Mary Berry. Mary’s got pride of place on my counter or in my fridge at all times!

(Yes, I know Paul Hollywood is the bread enthusiast, but let’s be real… I’d rather have Mary Berry in my home than Paul. Also, I’ve taken to calling my starter “Frankenberry” because she was almost dead at one point, and I revived her by adding some of these dried sourdough starter shards Steven had given me a few years ago. So now she’s a Frankenstein’s monster of two separate sourdough strains, plus whatever wild yeasts are floating around my own kitchen!)

Anyway, six months later, my sourdough breads are still not perfect. Some loaves are faultless, with a soft-yet-not-doughy interior, a beautifully crisp outer crust, and a lovely dark sheen. Others don’t rise well or are a little stodgy or, on one terrible occasion, are denser than a stack of bricks. Many factors can affect sourdough, but rarely do they create truly inedible loaves (brick aside).

And you know what? With a no-knead recipe (see below), they are really, really quick to prepare. You mix up the ingredients on day one, leave them to rise for a certain amount of time, give the dough a fold and a short second rise the next day, and bake them to bread-y perfection. There’s very little hands-on time required, although you do need to plan in advance. (There are plenty of similar recipes for regular yeast (not sourdough) breads, too!)

Homemade bread is cheap, too. Water is inexpensive, salt is cheap, and you can buy generic store-brand flour for not too much dough, if you’ll pardon the pun. And if you use a sourdough starter, you don’t even have to pay for yeast!

The downside, of course, is that homemade bread doesn’t last as long as most store-bought breads… both because it gets gobbled up by hungry carbophiles and because it contains no preservatives. But rarely in the past half year have I had a loaf go truly stale or moldy, and if it does get hard, you can just make your own breadcrumbs!

Have I sold you on homemade bread yet?! If so, here are tips and recipes.

  • This overnight no-knead sourdough recipe from Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe is one of my staples, although I usually halve it. I keep a scrap of paper with the measurements tucked behind a cookbook on my kitchen counter for easy baking!
  • For a no-knead, non-sourdough bread, try this recipe. You can halve it or follow the instructions so you have enough dough for two loaves.
  • Prefer cup measurements to weight? Try this no-knead sourdough loaf. (Fun fact: Kristie’s sourdough starter is my starter’s grandmother!)
  • King Arthur flour has a trove of resources and recipes for both sourdough and traditional breads, along with this guide for maintaining a sourdough starter. Honestly, I am pretty lazy with Mary Berry and she’s doing just fine!
  • Vaishali has some great bread recipes AND some fun ideas for using a sourdough starter (think pancakes, pretzels, and more). I made her sourdough challah once (see photo above) and it was perfection.
  • I invested in a Dutch oven soon after getting my starter and I haven’t looked back. You can absolutely make bread without one, but to get a perfect crust, a Dutch oven is invaluable. I have this one from Lodge and I love it.
  • I recently stumbled on this quick bread recipe that breaks all the rules: YOU MICROWAVE THE DOUGH. You only let it rise for 20 minutes total. It’s insanity. But it works. (Photo below!) The texture and overall appearance are both different from that of a traditional loaf, but you know what? It’s a totally decent bread! The crumb is very soft, with none of the  big whopping holes people love in their artisanal breads, but for something you can whip up in an hour, I think it’s great. No shame in the speedy bread game.

No matter what kind of loaf you attempt, don’t be afraid of breadmaking! Experiment, have fun, and remember that even if your loaf isn’t perfect, it will almost never be entirely inedible. And it’ll make your house smell amazing while it’s baking.

What’s your favorite bread recipe, sourdough or otherwise?

Note: This post contains an affiliate link.

Snow Drift/Pantry Challenge

VeganMoFo 2015 banner

Day 26: It’s cold and rainy and there’s a snow drift outside your door! 

Wow, it’s cold and rainy and there’s a snow drift?! That’s some weather. Thanks, climate change! Truly, this prompt is really just a pantry challenge — and y’all know how I love a pantry challenge!

I had to set some ground rules for this prompt, though. Roots Market — one of my favorite local grocers — has been celebrating its “grand reopening” throughout the last week, and they’ve been running some great sales. I headed out to Clarksville to stop by and pick up some goodies, like Califia Farms almond milk (two for $7!) and a few Gardein items (buy one, get one free!), along with a pound of organic almonds (on sale for $5.99/lb!). But I didn’t think it would be fair to include anything I bought today, since I wouldn’t have been able to make it out of the house with that big ol’ cold/rain/snowdrift keeping me in. Instead, I used ingredients I already had to put together a super simple, super comforting kale and yellow split pea soup.

Kale and Yellow Split Pea Soup

Truthfully, I didn’t measure everything I put in this soup. If I were snowbound, I likely wouldn’t be worrying about keeping track of everything! And in a soup like this, the proportions don’t really matter; you can’t go wrong. This particular soup was nice and brothy, with lots of kale. Roughly, here’s what went in:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 big bag of Tuscan kale (from TJ’s)
  • ~1 cup dried yellow split peas
  • ~6 cups water + concentrated veg broth
  • Lotsa spices (coriander, cumin, onion powder, turmeric)

This is exactly the type of thing I’d make on a snow day! I’d also whip up a loaf of crusty homemade bread — because what could be better than hot straight-out-of-the-oven bread when it’s cold outside?! Today, I used this recipe, because I wasn’t in the mood to knead the dough. I don’t have a Dutch oven, so I cooked it in a cast-iron skillet instead. And I didn’t include any herbs because I wanted a simpler bread. It was so simple and surprisingly good. Again, perfect for a snow day! (Or, y’know, a somewhat cool early fall day. Same thing?)

Sunday is Bread Day

The inaugural vegan bloggers’ conference, Vida Vegan Con, took place this weekend in Vegan Mecca, AKA Portland, Oregon. Vegan bloggers ate, drank, socialized, attended panels, and basically celebrated everything vegan. It was three days of awesomeness, and everybody who attended seemed to absolutely love it.

I didn’t go.

I bought a ticket way back when they first went on sale, optimistically thinking I’d attend. But when summer began, I started thinking seriously about the conference and travel logistics. Eventually, I decided to not attend, for quite a few reasons, but mostly because I’m planning a trip to Italy in October and I couldn’t quite justify this trip, too. At the end of the day, spending a week in Florence with my best friend, who’s currently living there while finishing up an MA in art history, wins out over almost any other travel plan. Still, I was a bit bummed out over it, knowing I’d probably regret my choice when August rolled around. I sold my ticket, and waited for the envy to set in. And it did; I felt left out and envious when I saw people counting down on their blogs and planning meetups and drooling over doughnuts.

So this weekend, when I knew the more hardcore VVC bloggers would make time to blog after each day’s events, I ignored my Google Reader, wanting to avoid the all-too-appealing temptation of poring over VVC posts and beating myself up for not attending.

It wasn’t hard to do, though, because I had a really lovely weekend with my man, playing with shelter dogs and spending time with friends and reorganizing bookshelves. I also worked on an embroidery project and tried my hand at weekly meal planning (more on that later) and read books.

And I baked bread.

Sunday is bread day.

This was by no means my first experience with yeasted bread, but it was the first time I baked bread for bread’s sake, instead of making something fancier to accompany a specific meal. This is a simple wheat bread, an unassuming, unpretentious loaf that satisfies my most basic desire to consume carbohydrates. Equally tasty when toasted or eaten straight-up after slicing, it’s versatile in its simplicity.

And it was a joy to make. Because I wasn’t doing anything fancy with it and was baking purely for my own pleasure, I didn’t feel pressured to make it perfect. Instead, I enjoyed the simple process of mixing yeast and water and molasses, watching it bubble and foam, and then adding flour and oil and salt and kneading away. Instead of worrying about the consistency of the dough and fretting over flour, I simply pounded, molded, and stretched it, adding spoonfuls of flour until the dough just felt right. I savored the hour or two the dough spent in the loaf pan as it slowly ballooned to twice its size. And when it was puffy and ready to bake, I put it in the oven and left it there, instead of nervously peeking at it every ten minutes. When it seemed done, I used the old “tap the bottom of the pan” method to gauge its completion and trusted my judgment.

And, despite my laissez-faire attitude to its creation, the bread came out near-perfect. And, really, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a centuries-old technique produces reliable, reproducible results, should I? :)

Do you have a go-to bread recipe? Please share!