Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guest Post: The Crafty Green Poet takes us to Scotland!

Today, I'm happy to welcome fellow writer and vegetarian cook The Crafty Green Poet to give us a quick tour of her corner of the world. Be sure to check out her poetry blogs with lovely seasonal haiku and other works, as well as her green living blog, full of artful ways to live and eat.
Peace, Mari

Vegetarian in Scotland

Scotland is home to a wide range of vegetarian dishes from the healthiest breakfast (porridge) to the unhealthiest snack (the deep-fried Mars Bar). This range sums up the Scottish relationship with food. We like to think we're trying our best to be healthy but there are a lot of dark secrets in the larder. After all we are one of the unhealthiest countries in Europe.

However, Scotland is an easy place to be a vegetarian. There are a lot of vegetarian restaurants (you can see a list here). In the relatively small capital city Edinburgh (where I live) there are over 20 vegetarian establishments; shops, restaurants and cafes, including two restaurants that serve specifically Indian food. Most restaurants, cafés and pubs understand the concept of vegetarianism and can offer something more imaginative than macaroni cheese. Many will make vegetarian versions of meat dishes if you ask them.

There is even a vegetarian version (or rather several vegetarian versions!) of the well-known Scottish dish haggis. Traditionally haggis is made from a sheep's stomach stuffed with ingredients such as heart and lungs of lamb. Not surprisingly, it's not only vegetarians who prefer the vegetarian version! The vegetarian versions are made from oats, pulses, vegetables and herbs and spices. Traditionally, haggis is served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) but Scottish chefs enjoy creating interesting new dishes with haggis, including fusion dishes such as haggis burritos and haggis pakora.

If you like to cook, Scotland has a good number of vegetarian wholefood shops. Edinburgh is home to Real Foods which has two branches in the city, plus Henderson's which has a shop, a bakery, two cafés and a bistro bar. There are several veg box schemes in Scotland that can deliver fresh produce to your doorstep every week. Some people find the unpredictable ingredients of their veg box* a challenge, so the Scottish Organic website Organikal has put together a list of veg box recipes.

More and more people in Scotland are growing their own fruit and vegetables, in back gardens, in allotments or in community gardening projects. I grow tomatoes and herbs on my window-ledge and have grown potatoes in pots outside the back door of our tenement block.

For the adventurous, foraging is becoming increasingly popular in Scotland. Traditionally, we've been less confident about gathering wild food than have continental Europeans. Of course you need to know what you're picking and several organisations now from local countryside ranger services to upmarket food shops offer foraging courses.

So Scotland is a great place for vegetarians, just stay away from the deep-fried Mars Bars!

*Similar to a CSA assortment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tried & Tweaked: Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Maybe it was the crazed wind that inspired me, but the tail end of this afternoon found me rushing about, doing ten things at once in an effort to be ready to leave the house by 6:30pm. Hadn't had lunch, hadn't cooked dinner, hadn't put on a happy and colorful face.

Enter this salsa-- a crisp and colorful chop-chop-stir of a dish that is a cinch to make, doubles or triples well (for parties, where it's always a huge hit) and works just as well piled into wraps for a sandwich as it does served with tortilla chips for scooping, or on top of more traditional taco fillings.

It's also part of the early history of my life with hubby-man: knowing I was vegetarian and that he liked to cook (back then-- sigh) my MIL bought a neato little "world vegetarian" cookbook for us to share and we ransacked its pages for years, in the process making damn near all of the recipes in the Mexican and Italian sections. This one, I still make often, tweaking to adjust to what's in my pantry: having tried other recipes of the same type in vain, I stopped looking and instead use this perfect and simple recipe as suits my needs. It makes a good crunchy meal for 2-3 three with some wraps or chips-- you can be sure it tastes wonderful with or without some grated cheddar thrown into the wrap, too.

To make this utterly vegan, simply use a different sweetener than the honey called for; I sometimes use a squeeze of fresh orange juice instead myself, and the lift of citrus is always welcome. Raw tomatoes, in a slightly smaller amount, are fine in place of canned, though it doesn't hold as well overnight. Adjust the seasoning to your taste and feel free to add fresh cilantro; the main way that I've tweaked this is to use fresh garlic and veg wherever possible. It really sings that way, but use the stocked up canned or frozen when you have to-- it's still fresh-tasting and hard to stop eating.

From Bobbie Hinman's The Meatless Gourmet, Favorite Recipes from Around the World.

BLACK BEAN and CORN SALSA (adapted slightly by Mari Kozlowski)

Serves 8-12 as a dip.

2 1-lb cans salt-free tomatoes, chopped and drained (I use less)
1 1-lb can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 C cooked black beans)
1 1/3 C canned corn, drained, or frozen corn, thawed and drained
1/4 C each finely chopped onion and chopped celery
1 4-oz can green chilies, chopped and drained, or raw chopped jalapeno to taste (start with about half a jalapeno, go from there)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, plus more or fresh lime juice to taste
2 tsp honey
1 tsp each ground coriander and ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
pepper or hot sauce to taste
handful chopped zucchini, olives, or cucumber*, optional

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing well. Chill several hours or overnight. Stir and adjust seasonings before serving with tortilla chips or veggie dippers.
*If using cucumber, use it seeded, peeled, chopped, and don't add till just before serving or it waters down the flavors with its juice.

Tomorrow we have a guest post from the Crafty Green Poet-- be sure to stop by!

Peace, Mari

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Junk Food Breakfasts and Bean Dip Dinners... A Spree

Now that the snow is falling, and staying, we Buffalonians have to get our winter attitudes on. The hubby-man got up earlier today, knowing he'd need time to wipe off the car and maybe even (gasp!) shovel, and we can look forward to that till April, at least.

Remember, it snowed the first week of May last year; melting on impact, but still!

Good thing that pantry inventory took place a few days ago, because the truest sign of January for me is not wanting to run to the grocery store again just to make a meal. Not being able to afford another grocery run plays into it also. That means we have to get creative. While my neighbors are living on baked chicken thighs, I'm figuring out what to make for breakfast two days after the oatmeal runs out... and seeing if I can stretch it till Monday.

It's times like this I find myself baking a lot, but you can only eat so many muffins or pancakes, whole-grained or not. And biscuits, and pizza. After the first few easy options, weird assemblages may occur. The brie I bought to take somewhere never got taken, and so we end up eating an oddly luxe dinner of brie torta with a quick homemade chutney, nuts, pears and a baguette, salad on the side.

This morning I discovered that brie and soybacon work well together, thrown into a quick vegetable hash; the last few pieces of baguette became individual bread puddings. Apparently, the key to cooking breads and quick breads in the microwave is adding extra liquid, and cooking on low power. I figured it out last January, when I needed to make corn bread and didn't have the time to preheat the oven.

For me this is junk food cooking, when I use the microwave for more than melting chocolate, and let those forgotten frozen veggies take center stage. When despite the resolution to eat less starch, I rely on the old bag of potatoes three times in two days. It gets worse, too.

How about an English muffin stuffed with cheese, fakin' bits, onions and green pepper slices?

A veg imitation of fast food horrors, but tastier.

Then I'm stuck making dinner out a can of beans and some olives. A million ways to cook them, yes, but doesn't bean dip sound better than most of them? Less work, too. Mash 'em with spices, saute with the final garlic clove, top it all with cheese and olives or leftover chopped tomatoes from a can, and bake the corn tortillas hiding in the back of the fridge into chips. Put Netflix on. Desperation, I mean dinner, is served.

It's the January Spree-- when each day, my standards for highest health go down a notch as the fridge slowly empties. First, it's an okay meal as long as I use the fresh veg. Then as long as there's some veg in it, canned or frozen or whatever. Then, well, as long as I throw in some fruit. Soon, we're down to three frozen stawberries and some craisins, and hey, peach jam... but how can we complain about three meals a day?

I think I can just make it till Monday. Have a good weekend, and be sure to stop back next week: Wednesday is our trip to Scotland with The Crafty Green Poet.

Peace, Mari

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mother Hubbard's Messy Old Cupboard

Speaking of the pantry, as I did in the last post here, I'm dreading opening mine, knowing it desperately needs to be cleaned out.

Aside from the bar of concentrated dried tamarind that's caught there in the back of my lazy-susan cupboard, there's bound to be partly used bags of unmarked & unidentifiable grains, dried chilies that have sprung loose from their containers, cans of ancient milk products and a light dusting of cocoa. I suspect I'll find a few things I don't even remember buying; you know, the items you purchase to use in just one recipe but never do. They linger in the dark corners until you discover them during a massive cleanout, and then you rail at yourself for wasting the money.

Or maybe you don't rail at yourself for that kind of thing, but I do.

Despite all this, it's time. Eating habits need space to change, so it's out with some of the old, like the canned evaporated milk, and in with the new organic dates.

Out with cane sugar and in with agave syrup, flax seeds and a fresh can of water chestnuts; they are a phenomenal way to add a surprise crunch to any soup, salad, or sandwich, and they keep a long, long time... till my next pantry rampage, very likely. This effort will somehow help me jump-start my mental clarity, I hope-- neat cabinets lead, for me, to a clearer mind.

In the meantime, I'm searching the very back of the deepest shelf for the ingredients (I know I did buy) for a homemade gluten-free flour mix found by way of the reliable CLBB. I don't seem to have a gluten sensitivity but it's a good bet to have a few egalitarian recipes in your repertoire; you never know who'll show up for dinner. Me being a big fan of pastry and baking, I really want to be able to make good, delicous pies, breads and cakes for everyone, even though they eat raw/vegan/gluten-free; so this mix from Bette Hagman (author of The Gluten-Free Gourmet) helps. All the components can be used separately, too. I haven't tried it for yeast bread yet, but for crackers, cakes, muffins, and crumbly scones or pie dough, it fills the bill.

Featherlight Flour Mix (Bette Hagman)

1 part rice flour
1 part tapioca flour
1 part cornstarch
1 part potato flour (note that potato flour and potato starch are two different things)

Mix and store in an airtight container. Use as you would any flour.

Looking ahead, I'm delighted to announce I'll be having a guest post from The Crafty Green Poet, who will share what it's like to be veg in Scotland these days.

Wishing you a clean and uncluttered view-- Peace, Mari

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012: The Year of Eating Dangerously

Looking out at our winter's first stay-put dusting of snow, it seems wrong that there are still buds on the tree from a few days of 50 degree temps. You can see that there are subtle changes happening in our weather systems, changes that may cause more unpredictability. Changes that will certainly continue to affect how and what we grow and consume. Last year the strawberries in our area were almost non-existent, beaten by hard rains that didn't let up. But the long, mild Autumn kept us in fresh peppers till November.

These little differences do pop up over time, of course, but the gradual shift from 4 clearly defined seasons to a weird melding of three-ish has been noticeable here in WNY. It's not a fluke, it's a sign-- directional or warning, I'm not qualified to say, but let's not pretend we don't see the patterns forming.

I expect that having a versatile cooking style and a well-stocked pantry may become more than convenient in future-- it may become necessity, or at least a huge bonus. Let's face it, being able to cook well with abundant, stellar ingredients is no great shakes. You don't have to do much there. Being able to make nourishing, sustaining and tasteful meals from what's on hand is a real skill, at times maybe even a life-saving one. It's something I'm always working on, aided by a low income and a love of reading about food.

My mother and grandmother both developed this skill. Mom had 6 kids of her own to feed, and later a couple of our cousins, too. Gram lived through the Great Depression. The need was there, and they didn't shirk their duty. I'm hoping to take it farther, in a way: making good food without meat, heat, or a bevy of seasonings if needed. You never know what you'll be up against in a crisis!

So many people have suffered lately from weather events, but we tend to think of those crises in terms of what material goods are lost in the end. What about how they got through it? Surely that is worth focusing on, too. From some firsthand accounts I've read, a shared meal put together by a circle of equally affected neighbors has truly been a way to face down disaster and bolster weatherbeaten spirits, just as a progressive dinner is a way to build up community in good times. I ask myself, how would I come through such an experience? It's not an idle question; I saw the blizzard of '77, and it was no joke, whatever Mayor Griffin said about settling in with a six-pack.

* Perry's ice Cream-- a homegrown favorite!

In the meantime, I think we can hope for the best, and prepare ourselves by learning to be flexible, generous and forgiving, as cooks and eaters; and conscientious as consumers. Do what you can towards keeping this a blue & green planet, and skip the guilt over what you can't.

It's been just over a year since I began this blog. In 2012, I am going back to basics in some ways-- rekindling my hubby-man's connection to our kitchen-life by revisiting old recipes we made together over a decade ago. And I want to learn more, try more ways of eating, more types of restaurants, more styles of food prep, more choices in baking. I'd like to take it to the edge-- but honestly, I'm not sure what that means.

Do me a favor, if you would, and post your own food resolutions, fears or predictions here. Or tell the tale of your year in food... I love to read a good story!

Peace, Mari