Loveliness from Last Year

Life? Eh. School? Yuck. Housing? Oh boy. Relationships? Don’t go there. But I can say at least that last year, food was good. Actually, all those other things were good in their own ways. And for that I am blessed. Now to share the blessing with recipe links to my favorites, all the lovely treats I failed to share. Great timing, huh? It’s March, for heaven’s sake…

A pizza with pesto, nut “cheese”, asparagus, and green olives in the shape of a three-leaf clover for St. Patrick’s Day. Drinking a lot of beer just isn’t enough to celebrate; I do that all the time.

Layered individual lemon cheesecakes with blueberry cake and syrup, plus a dab of coconut cream. They were quite all right, with some sparkling wine, for my sweetie’s 21st birthday.

A cold salad of vegetables and kelp noodles. I decided I don’t like kelp noodles. They are expensive and have a cartilaginous bite I find not at all appealing.

Chickpea tagine from Vegetarian Times and Egyptian Cauliflower Salad from The Royal Kitchen. Of course, substituting agave nectar and soy yogurt makes the tagine vegan.

Corn, Anaheim Chile, and Eggplant Pizza with Cilantro Pesto from The Millennium Cookbook. I think you need to double the water in that book’s pizza dough recipe.

Sunny Raw Nori Rolls from Vegetarian Times. I love this idea! It’s like what you need if you can’t decide between sushi and a salad.

I made regular sushi rice rolls too: Maki Garden Rolls from Vegetarian Times, stuffed with seasoned green beans, carrots and shiitakes.

Some of the most delectable sandwiches I’ve ever munched, made with some rather flat homemade bread (I fell in love with this bread recipe with semolina for sandwiches). Deborah Madison’s Pan Bagnat with Saffron-Basil Vinaigrette from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone tosses chopped vegetables, olives, and pine nuts in a saffron vinaigrette and puts it into a sandwich with mozzarella. I used a vegan cheesy spread on that and the Mediterranean Pressed Picnic Sandwich from Vegetarian Times.

I made VeganDad’s Perfect Tempeh Burgers and served them on ill-fitting-but-tasty homemade buns and bread-and-butter pickles. Could you use some more friends? Make people those pickles.

Seitan “wings”, or pieces of shallow-fried wheat gluten meat. I like saying “wings.”

I made this pomegranate-chile sauce from Bon Appétit with homemade seitan instead of duck breasts. It was awe-inspiring and got me all fired up about coriander for the first time in my life.

I made this green tea milk bread using the “tangzhong” method described here on Kirbie’s Cravings. It produced a pillowy fluff of goodness.

I want to improve upon my vegan version of Rasa Malaysia’s Hokkaido Milk Loaf.

Robin Robertson’s Fresh Strawberry Pie from VegNews. I forget sometimes how simple things can be surprisingly good (with a dab of coconut cream, mmm?).

The Daily Raw Café has a raw apple pie recipe. I’m sure you could make it into something prettier than my funny little tarts. And serve it with raw vanilla ice cream.

I go head-over-heels for Café Gratitude’s raw key lime pie. Actually, I think other people literally would too, if I asked it of them. It would be a small feat to earn some of this marvelous rich dessert. I almost can’t believe they don’t guard the recipe under lock and key. In fact, they provide it in their Sweet Gratitude cookbook.

Café Gratitude’s lemon cheesecake is pretty ridiculously tasty, too. It’s desserts like this that remind me why insouciant descriptors like “divine” and “orgasmic” are sometimes used for food.

I made pumpkin seed brittle from Gourmet magazine and got more people to fall in love with me.

I made Apple Pie, Patis, & Pâté’s Radish Herb Butter with Earth Balance margarine.

Strawberry & Balsamic Basil Soda, from Surfas Los Angeles. A complex, adult-y drink yet still sweet and summery. Alchohol-free too, but still great.

Okay, I admit it, I just wanted to share the pretty food photos I liked.

And now that I’m getting this blog rolling again, there are many much more wonderful things in the works. Oh yes.

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A Venture to Mary’s Secret Garden

After much harassment and forced tears over the tedium of my life, I got my boyfriend to agree to a little summer trip to Southern California. These days we eat out about, oh… zero times a month. It was time to splurge aimlessly on vegan food.

On our way down US-101 Thursday evening, we stopped in Ventura for dinner at Mary’s Secret Garden, a place I’d seen good reviews about on Yelp. And their online menu grabbed my tastebuds’ attention.

Interior and ceiling of Mary's Secret Garden

As I entered, the size and decor provoked a mental response of: “Oh, great. Little hippie place.” But I want food to speak for itself.

Although without reservations, we were seated right away at one of the little tables. Our server was very pleasant and attentive. My boyfriend got a $7 pistachio-mint smoothie. That’s a steep price for a non-alcoholic beverage, but it was big and was it ever good. I thought I made great smoothies, but I could learn a thing or two from that rich blend of almond milk, mint, pistachios, bananas, and agave.

He ordered the Secret Burger, while I went for a raw salad. (Yes, we really are that sort of man-and-woman couple. Guess who picked up the check.) I was really impressed by the flavor of that burger. I’ve never had a meat imitation burger that I felt was so nicely… well, meaty. The texture was not beyond any other veggie burger, and it came on a bun with plain fixings. I thought the quinoa on the side was an annoyingly healthy, unimpressive accompaniment.

My salad, though, was something else! I’d sell my friends to get the recipe for that sun-dried tomato and balsamic dressing. It was drizzled over some lovely fresh spinach salad, tomatoes, and onions. Rich macadamia “cheese” with dollops of pesto sat atop the tomatoes to round out this great choreography of flavors. A little nut “Parmesan” sprinkled all over made every bite even better.

I really have no regret over the amount spent (by my boyfriend) on my dinner, so I hate to end with a disapproving note. He just couldn’t resist a chocolate-peanut butter cake. And I would not let him feel uncharitable by not sharing it with me. It was just a piece of cake, though, and not worth $8. How special is sugary peanut butter? And after the last few chocolate chips are gone, there’s nothing to console me. Oh well.

I hope to return, but I’ll certainly trade dessert for a smoothie.

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Vegan Chocolate Reviewer: The Tea Room Maté & Cacao Nibs Chocolate Fusion

Product: The Tea Room Maté & Cacao Nibs Chocolate Fusion
Price: $3.49 for 1.8 oz at Cornucopia (local health food store)
Type of chocolate: 72% cacao European chocolate
My notes: Very smooth, silky texture with a even dusting of crunchy bits (sugar? cacao?) like fine sand throughout. Soft snap. Sweet and citrusy flavor with a weird, almost coffee-like note that I assume is the yerba maté. Definitely detected the licorice-y star anise. Interesting.
Note to self: Just because it’s pricey, you don’t have to buy it.
Overall rating (out of five stars): ***

Beautiful. I wish my skin were as smooth as this chocolate.

Did my palate luxuriate in the flavor medley? I guess.

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Raw Summer Pudding for Fruits

No super-fancy photo here, just a recipe for a raw pudding that will be phenomenal with any of your fresh summer fruit: strawberries, peaches, cherries, or (ahem) blueberries. Maybe coconut, too, if you’re lucky enough to have some. I had this for lunch today and it was too good not to share.

Don’t lick it off the blades of your blender. Only I can do that.

Summer Pudding

Serves 2

  • 2 medium avocados
  • 1 large banana
  • 6-8 small dates
  • 1 plum
  • 1 scraped vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • a bit of (raw) agave nectar, to sweeten to your liking

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until silky smooth, stopping to stir or scrape sides of blender with a spatula when needed. Taste before adding agave nectar to sweeten. Serve topped with fresh fruit or berries.

Refrigerate this for up to two days.

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Summertime Fruit Cocktails

Here are some cures for the summertime blues.

Strawberry mojito from A cup of Mai. I blended the ingredients with ice for a slushy refresher. Find a vegan rum on barnivore.com’s list of vegan liquors.

To make a simple syrup for cocktails, stir together equal parts water and sugar, and heat over medium-high until sugar is completely dissolved. Let it boil a minute and then cool completely. Keep it stored in the refrigerator.

Agave nectar is also a great (albeit more expensive) sweetener with a summery personality that I love with fruit.

Now for my own recipe, a fruity and fizzy summer punch. You can make it with juice squeezed from the remnants of watermelon you might have after using a melon baller. I call it Watermelon Candy (because I’m sweet on candy).

Watermelon Candy

Serves 2

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) watermelon juice (squeezed & strained from fresh watermelon)
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) vodka
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) pomegranate juice
  • 1 Tbsp (1/2 oz) triple sec
  • ice cubes
  • grapefruit or lemon-lime soda

Shake the watermelon juice, vodka, lemon juice, triple sec, and pomegranate juice in a jar or cocktail shaker. Serve in two glasses over plenty of ice cubes, and top off with soda (nearly as much soda as other liquids for a friendly, sweet drink).

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Nuts for Vegan Baklava

Substitute Earth Balance margarine for the butter in this baklava recipe from flagrantedelicia.com, and you have a vegan pastry full of spiced nuts and hubristic feelings of superiority.

I made rolls, layered triangles, and mini-cups. I’m sure the easiest way to do baklava would be layering your margarine-brushed phyllo sheets spread with nuts in a baking pan. After the pastry bakes up all golden-crisp, cut pieces are drenched in a flavored sugar syrup to sit. Your patience is rewarded after several hours. It’s a process, but not difficult as long as you work quickly with the phyllo. Have the oven on and all the other ingredients ready.

Sometimes I am in awe at how much I dedicate to cooking to make up for my failures as a human being. Oh… well. With these sticky-sweet, golden phyllo pastries, I may still have the world eating out of my hands, literally.

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Vegan Summer Booze


Lost Coast Great White Beer and Sierra Nevada Summerfest, both vegan-friendly according to barnivore.com.

Other summery beers:

  • Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager
  • Shock Top Belgian White
  • Pyramid Apricot Ale

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