Friday, October 30, 2009

Apple Cake

Finished the apple cake, it certainly smells amazing and we're ready to jump right in and devour this dessert. After we eat our dinner of course.

It may look like apple pie, but it's actually a german apple cake we baked in a pie pan because our springform pans were recently retired (they were poor quality and bent out of shape).

The recipe is from Vegan Baking one of our absolute favorite cookbooks.

The apples are from Curtis Orchard (see previous post), and the rest of the ingredients are organic and were purchased at the Common Ground Coop and Strawberry Fields in Urbana.

Apples, Apples, Apples

The season of fresh veggies and fruits is starting to wind down as we enter the colder months of Fall. The farmer's market still has a wonderful selection of herbs, squash, and other veggies; but every week we can count the items that are fading away as the season comes to a close. However, one favorite has only gotten better as the weeks have gone by this chilly October: Apples

Tom, myself, and his parents all made the trek out to Curtis Orchards to pick up some delicious Champaign grown apples.

Curtis Orchard is the Disneyland of apple picking in Champaign County. Not only do they boast a large orchard for all to enjoy the picking of fruit, they also have an amusement area for the kiddies where you can feed goats, attempt a maze, ride some ponies, or mine for treasure. As a result this orchard can get very CROWDED. My best experiences have been waiting until after Halloween to visit the orchard, since they also have a large pumpkin patch people. Of course, since Tom's parents were in town we ended up going during the big Halloween crowd, but it was still a great time.

Here's a tip, it's cheaper to buy the pre-picked apples then pick them yourself (which is a bit of a drawback on the fun, but easier to get quality fruit).

Check out the bushel of apples we bought at Curtis Orchard:

Of course a couple of my other favorite items from the orchard are the homemade apple cider (100% Curtis Orchard apples), and the delicious apple donuts.

photos from

We've made and devoured an apple pie, and today I'll be making some apple cake.

Fun ways to use your apples everyday:
  • Grate apples and add them to a salad for an added sweet crunch
  • Slice them thin and put them on a sandwich
  • Homemade applesauce!
  • Baked Apples (just core an apple and toss in some vegan-butter, sugar and cinnamon. put in the oven on a low heat and let bake for 20-30 minutes) yum!
  • Chopped up over oatmeal or cereal
  • Heat in a sauce pan with a little brown sugar to make a delicious topping for pancakes and waffles
  • and of course the classics: pie, cake, crips, crumble, brown betty, donuts, muffins, etc.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pumpkin Soup in a Pumpkin

It's been a mild summer in Illinois. Very few really hot days, and plenty of cool ones. As a result, my craving for Fall weather meals has arrived early. Thankfully, the pumpkins from our garden were harvestable this past week so I took it upon myself to finally make some delicious pumpkin soup.

I have been wanting to make this recipe since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last January. Barbara Kingsolver has a wonderful little story around this meal in her novel. I knew the moment I read it I'd be making it with the first available pumpkin from my garden. It can be a little tricky, but I'm still a big fan. For the recipe click here (pdf).

Some tips:
  • Make sure to scrape the insides of the pumpkin pretty regularly. Around every 15 minutes or so. The cooked flesh in the soup is definitely the best part. I started by using a spoon, but a long, sharp bread knife ended up working the best.
  • Toast some of the seeds you scoop out from the middle and sprinkle them on top of your serving.
  • We doubled the garlic because we are such garlic fiends. Don't be afraid to experiment a little.
  • Pepper is your best friend in this recipe.

Obviously we made this using soy milk and vegetable stock. It came out delicious! Serve with a nice chunk of thick, crusty bread.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Roasted cherry tomatoes

Here is a delicious snack you can make out of all those many cherry tomatoes coming into season right now. I used the sun golds that we have growing, but any type of cherry tomato will work.


- 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes (enough to cover the pan that goes in your toaster oven, one layer only)
- 3 or more cloves of garlic
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp fresh rosemary
- 4-5 fresh basil leaves torn into pieces

Spread the tomatoes out over your toaster oven pan. Peel garlic cloves and distribute among the tomatoes. Sprinkle olive oil, balsamic, rosemary and basil leaves over tomatoes. Mix up a bit with your hand or a spoon to make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Set toaster oven for 400 degrees F and roast for 40 minutes. When finished tomatoes should be bursting out of their skins.

Eat as a snack, or throw into pasta, on toast, in a salad, or on a pizza for an added burst of flavor to your favorite dish!

You can also make a larger version of the recipe in your regular oven by upping the portion size and using a baking pan.

I like them on focaccia bread:

Sunday, August 16, 2009


August is tomato month! They started arriving a few weeks ago, but it really wasn't until this week that we've been getting them in full force. Check out a few of these delicious varieties we've been picking so far:

Roma and Beefsteak

Roma and Beefsteak tomatoes are your classic red variety which are excellent for making into pizza sauce, pasta sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce, and your other favorite tomato products. Additionally, these are excellent for canning! We planted quite a lot of them just for this purpose.

Sun Gold Cherry Tomato

These yellow cherry tomatoes are great for snacking! I've also made a uniquely delicious pasta sauce with this variety. They grow like crazy and were the first to arrive this season. We put two plants in and have gotten probably a hundred from each plant!

Sweet Pea Currant

This is my new favorite variety of tomato. You can't tell from the picture, but these tomatoes are tiny! Their size make them perfect for throwing into many types of dishes such as salads, soups, quiches, etc. They are very sweet, and wonderfully delicious. I highly recommend this variety. I purchased the seeds from seed savers, so look out for them next season! I also planted one of these in a container on the balcony and it's done fairly well. I'm posting a picture below that will give you a better idea of their size; it's of just a few of the goodies we've been harvesting lately (they are a little dirty because this was taken right after they were picked!).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Peppery Potato-Leek Soup

Potatoes are in full season right now with many different varieties available at the Farmer's Market. I love love love potatoes and all the different recipes you can make with them. Potato-Leek soup is one of my favorites and as such, I couldn't resist putting together my own vegan version of the classic, hearty soup. Additionally, I added cayenne pepper to the recipe to give the soup a nice little kick.

Peppery Potato-Leek Soup


2 leeks
4 large yukon gold potatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp olive oil
½ cup vegan margarine (stick form works best)
1 tsp celery salt
2 cups vegetable broth
2/3 cup vegan unsweetened cream (alternatively, you can use soy milk, but the soup will be thinner)
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper

Chop off the ends of the leeks and cut into slices. In a colander break apart the leek slices and wash thoroughly. Scrub potatoes and slice into quarters. In a large stockpot over medium, heat olive oil and melt 1/4 cup of butter. Add chopped garlic, leeks, celery salt, and potatoes and saute for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups vegetable broth and let simmer 25-30 minutes until potatoes are soft. When potatoes are ready, pulse mixture with hand blender until a thick, soupy texture develops (a potato masher also works). I suggest leaving a few chunks of potatoes behind for a heartier meal. Add rest of butter, cream, pepper, chives, salt, and cayenne. Set heat to medium-low and let sit 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve deliciously hot and tasty.

I recognize this is summer and it might be a little hot for this meal! Another option is to freeze a large portion and reheat it in a stockpot when it's a little colder outside. Either way it is a delicious and filling dinner for all to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vacations and Puppies

Hi Everyone!

So sorry about the long absence since our last post. Tom and I went on a two week vacation, had visitors for a week after that, and then had an added and welcomed distraction of a new little puppy adopted into the family. Yes that's right, sus.tom.ability now has a new member of our happy little group. Here he is:

Meet Bowie, the beagle mix puppy

We adopted Bowie from the humane society of Champaign County two weeks ago. When Tom and I decided last January that we were ready for the puppy we'd been dreaming of for the past year we sat down and discussed our options for growing the family. There are many options when adopting a new little puppy such as breeders, pet stores, craigslist, rescues, and the humane society. It's important to think about the background of each of these places. For example, you should never ever purchase a puppy or kitten from a pet store. First off, the prices are outrageous, but most importantly, you can bet there is a good chance that cute little puppy came from awful breeding conditions with little healthcare or consideration for their well-being. Pet stores are known as outlets for "puppy mill" fodder. In fact, the humane society and a few other sources have reported that the local puppy store in the mall absolutely participates in the sale of puppy mill bred dogs. So outrageous and absolutely something sus.tom.ability would never support!

Breeders are another option, although also pricey. However, if you do your research you can find a respectable breeder. Avoid backyard breeders and make sure to visit the location where the puppies were born and initially raised. if anything doesn't feel right then get out of there fast. Tom and I briefly considered a breeder since we both wanted a Corgi so badly, but we soon realized that we would be a lot happier adopting a dog from the humane society or an animal rescue. We're not in the market for a "show dog," we don't care about the lineage of our puppy, and purebred is no big thing to us.

There are so many dogs without homes, and unwanted litters of puppies eager for a happy new life. We knew we'd never be entirely comfortable purchasing a puppy from a breeder when there are so many wonderful dogs from the humane society eager to be adopted into a forever home. We are not show dog people, or interested in pedigree, we just wanted a cute little guy to love and lavish attention on.

We started visiting the humane society in January and I was so impressed by their operation. The dogs are very well taken care of with excellent healthcare and a wonderful staff who walk them everyday. The website is updated regularly with new pictures of their animals, and the adoption procedure is a well thought out and reasonable process. For about six months Tom and I visited the shelter almost every week. It's important to understand that you most likely won't find your dog on the first visit to the shelter. It can be a long process through which you'll meet many dogs and lots of cuties. We played with a number of animals before we found Bowie. It's heartbreaking when you can't say yes to all of them, but it's also important to find a dog that will fit with the lifestyle you lead. We needed a dog that would be comfortable in an apartment, happy to go on jogs with Tom, and capable of handling lots of people (we get visitors all the time). We also decided early on that we were committed to the work it takes to raise a puppy. Check out the humane societies website here:

Finally, after months of visits to the humane society, a litter of six little Beagle mixes arrived at the shelter. We knew immediately that one of those little puppies would work out perfectly for us! We met with three of the dogs, and decided that Bowie was the right fit. Right from the start he showed an interest in getting to know us, just the right amount of playfulness, and very little anxiety. Unfortunately, when we put in our application we found out that there was someone else ahead of us in line. We figured that there was no way the application would fall through because who could give up the chance to adopt such a wonderful little guy. However, three weeks later we received a phone call that Bowie's first adoption fell through and he was ours if we wanted him!

Hanging out with Bowie in the "Get Acquainted" room at the shelter

We went back to the humane society, met with Bowie one more time to make sure he still felt right, and sure enough it was love! The next day Bowie was on his way home to our happy little apartment.

Tom and I have completely, and utterly fallen in love with this puppy. My favorite moment was when Tom was watching him sleep and quietly whispered "he's so precious." Well, when Bowie is sleeping, he's nothing but adorable and precious!

Bowie requires A LOT of play time

It's been two weeks now, and yes Bowie is still adorable, but also a ridiculous amount of work! Puppies require SO MUCH ATTENTION. I am constantly on puppy surveillance. Luckily I have a job that allows me to work from home quite a bit. As a result, Bowie has had me around a lot the last two weeks and has gotten to go outside and on walks at least three times a day.

So if you were wondering if we'd totally disappeared, we haven't! We've simply been a bit overwhelmed this last month. Luckily, things are settling down and sus.tom.ability is ready to get up and running again! ESPECIALLY now that it's tomato season! Yes, we have tomatoes coming out of our ears and there will be many more blog posts to come on that subject...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Big Neighborhood Supper

The first planning meeting for
The Big Neighborhood Supper

My friend Maggie is currently working on an exciting project this summer! It's called The Big Neighborhood Supper and fits right in with the philosophy we espouse here at sustomability. Tom and I will both be participating by donating produce from our garden, helping prepare the meal, and possibly coming up with some menu ideas. I volunteered us to help design some of the vegan items that will be served. We'll also be hosting one of the workshops out at our community garden plot at Meadowbrook. Here's an article Maggie wrote about the project:

The Big Neighborhood Supper is a public art performance in the form of a carefully orchestrated community meal. This meal will be unique in that all of the people (and animals) that consume the meal will have had a direct hand in its production. For example the supper table will be shared by chickens and humans alike (chickens may get to attend because they laid the eggs used in the meal, the people attending will have produced a range of ingredients and elements of the meal from homebrewed beer to garden harvests!) The contributors aren’t limited to agricultural folks alone; artists and musicians are playing an active role in creating the event’s environmental components by setting up an installation-like table setting with sculptures and sound pieces.

Not only is the Big Neighborhood Supper project a meal, it’s an opportunity for community members to share resources and local knowledge surrounding the topics of local and urban food production. Throughout the summer the Big Neighborhood Supper participants are hosting public workshops on a variety of topics all over town. June featured two workshops: the first on chicken husbandry and care, the second on home beer brewing and wine fermentation. July workshops include: home food preservation (canning, dehydration and freezing how to), organic gardening techniques and foraging for wild edibles (plant identification in Meadowbrook park)! August workshops will include fall planting preparation (composting, broad forking, suggestions for fall crops in this climate, etc.) For more information on upcoming workshops check out the project blog at

Maggie Taylor, the project coordinator, says that the intentions behind this project are to investigate art as a communication tool and to establish a forum (both live and online) for the community to exchange information relating to local food production. She has been working in the medium of performance art for the past seven years. This project relates to the process-oriented, new-genre, community-based food performances began in the 1970s and resurged in the 1990s. “Not only is the work time-based, live, and interactive, it can also be perceived as socio-political,” says Taylor.

We all have the basic need to feed ourselves. In this time of air shipment, limited fuels, rising costs, depleted resources, and desire for convenient food, it's important to investigate the impact we have politically and environmentally when we make decisions regarding where we obtain our food. Learning, producing and sharing our food within a community is an important step towards returning to sustainable food-sourcing methods.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spring Harvest

Yesterday may have been the first day of Summer, but in our garden the harvest still sings of Spring.

There has been a TON of rain this Spring in Illinois. As a result, Tom and I have not gotten out to the garden as much as we'd like to and the weeds have really thrived. Yesterday we played some serious catch up and weeded our little butts off. Thankfully, we were rewarded with a beautiful spring harvest of beets, greens, peas, chives, basil, fennel, oregano, lemongrass, and marigolds. We're still waiting on the broccoli and cabbage, and unfortunately our spinach was completely ravaged by little caterpillars. We'll be using a row cover on the spinach we plant for the fall harvest. The damage those little pests did was incredible!

The real superstars right now are the beets. We chose to grow Detroit Dark Red which turned out just beautifully. We've been munching on the greens for the past few weeks, and yesterday we harvested a huge bundle of plump, juicy, beet roots. Tom immediately roasted them up for us when we got home, and they came out so good that we've already eaten them all up!

We also had a lot of fun both harvesting and shelling the peas. You wouldn't think shelling peas would be such a great time, but when it's peas from your own garden, it's actually quite satisfying. However, despite the fact that we planted loads of plants, we still only ended up with half a tupperware full of the little guys. We'll definitely plant a whole lot more when we try for a fall harvest.

The broccoli is being quite frustrating having produced no heads yet. The plants are beautifully lush with big green leaves and they don't seem to show any signs of bolting. Yet, we still don't have any heads. We'll wait a bit longer to see if we get any. Otherwise, we'll have to resign ourselves to just the stems.

The cabbage is doing well, just coming along slowly. It's finally starting to head up which is great. Both the tomato and pepper plants have flowered which is always exciting! So far the only loss is the spinach, and we get another shot at that in the fall. I'd say the garden is going very well as we enter into summertime.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Basil and Garlic Scapes Pesto

This delicious recipe will take you less than 15 minutes to create and works in many different ways as a dip, spread, or sauce. It's a lot like the pesto most people are familiar with, but instead of regular garlic we use garlic scapes from our farmer's market. Scapes are the stems which grow from the garlic bulb. They can be picked as soon as they develop and used in place of regular garlic. If you don't have access to scapes, garlic works just as well in the recipe. Also, scapes are CHEAP. A lot cheaper than garlic. The stems cost 10 cents each at our market. What a deal!

Garlic Scapes:

I LOVE BASIL. Our basil came from a couple of sources. We've got three plants out at the garden and one in a container on the balcony. I like to harvest evenly from each of the plants in order to keep them all happy. All the plants are doing well, and our container basil is doing better than any of our previous efforts on the balcony. The plant in the picture below has already been harvested three times!

Container Basil

Basil and Garlic Scapes Pesto


4 scapes
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
3 cups loosely packed basil
3 tbs firm tofu crumbled
1 tbs nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper

Chop scapes using every part of the plant.

Heat 1/2 tbs olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Add scapes and cook about 5 minutes until they barely start to brown on the edges.

In a food processor add basil and pulse a few times. Add rest of olive oil and cooked scapes to basil and pulse a few more times. Add tofu, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Process until smooth.

Spread on a sandwich, toss with pasta, use as a dip, spread on pizza, stuff ravioli, etc. etc. etc.

Make again and again and again. Double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. Freezes very well!

When scapes go out of season use 3 garlic bulbs instead. This recipe is pesto-perfect!

EDIT: Here's a version from our friends over at di-wine and dine that's much heavier on the scapes:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

layered sweet potato and black bean enchilada casserole with homemade tortillas and sauce

When I was younger one of my favorite dishes was my mom's enchilada casserole. Her recipe was made with chicken or ground beef and loads of shredded cheese. Although it was tasty, the main ingredients in the old recipe don't fit in with my diet anymore. Using her casserole as inspiration, I've come up with a layered feast of black beans, sweet potatoes and homemade everything. The recipe below includes homemade tortillas and homemade enchilada sauce. If you don't have enough time you can always substitute in store-bought tortillas and sauce, but for the best results, take the time to try making this from scratch (at least once!).

Tortillas from Scratch

2 cups Masa Flour
1 3/4 cup water
pinch of salt

Mix flour and water in a bowl with a fork. Roll into a ball, making sure the dough consistency is even. The dough should hold together, but not be overly moist.

Divide dough into 4-16 balls depending on the size tortillas you want. I recommend 8 balls for the enchilada casserole recipe.

Here's the tricky part. If you have a tortilla press, use it! Lucky you! I on the other hand do not have one (I need to steal my mom's!). Instead, I take two cutting boards, place one ball between them, put it on the floor then stand on it. My weight flattens the ball into a nice, round tortilla. However, even with all my weight I'll never get it as flat as a tortilla press, but the thick tortillas work great in this enchilada casserole. For thinner, more rollable tortillas a press is a must!

When you separate the cutting boards be careful not to pull apart the tortilla. If you end up with half the tortilla on one board and half on the other, it's not that hard to peel them up and press them back together with your fingers. Another help is to put parchment paper, wax paper, or saran wrap on the boards to prevent the tortillas from sticking.

On medium high heat in a dry skillet cook the tortillas for about 1 minute on each side. Remove from heat, stack on a plate, and cover with a towel until ready to use.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

For Filling:
2 Sweet Potatoes or Yams
1 Onion Diced
3 Cloves Garlic minced
2 tbs Olive Oil
1 can Black Beans drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight and cooked)
2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Cilantro diced
1 Avocado sliced
Cheezy Sauce recipe from Veganomicon, Soy Cheeze, or any other favorite cheese substitute (optional)

For Enchilada Red Sauce:
3 Cloves Garlic minced
1 tbs Olive Oil
2 red chilis or 2 tbs Cholula sauce (more if you like it hotter!)
1 1/2 cup Tomato Sauce
1 tbs Cumin
1 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel sweet potatoes then slice into quarters. Brush with 1/2 tbs olive oil. Place in baking pan and bake 30-40 minutes until soft.

Start the sauce now: In a sauce pan heat 1tbs olive oil over medium heat. Throw in garlic and let cook 1-2 min. Stir in cholula (or chilis), tomato sauce, cumin, and salt. Lower heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes have passed, set at low until ready to use.

In a skillet, heat 1 tbs oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook about five minutes until starting to brown. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add black beans, cumin, oregano, and salt and lower heat to medium. Cook ten-fifteen minutes, stirring regularly. Using your spatula or spoon, break the black beans apart.

When sweet potatoes are finished baking, remove from oven and place in food processor with 1/2 tbs oil. Puree until a smooth mash develops.

Lower oven heat to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized casserole dish set down a bottom layer of tortillas. Pour black bean mix on top, spread a third of the enchilada sauce and some cheeze(if using) across black beans. Add second layer of tortillas. Spread the sweet potato mash on top with more sauce and cheeze then add top layer of tortillas. Spread the remaining third of the sauce and some more cheeze.

Bake for 17-20 minutes.

Remove from oven, sprinkle cilantro and sliced avocado across the top.

Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Foraging: Mint, Dill, and Lamb's Quarter

I've been really into foraging lately, steadily growing my repertoire of foods I feel comfortable picking and munching on from the wild. It's a lot of fun to walk down the sidewalk and look at all the foods I could be eating! I've been using friends, family, internets, and edible plant reference guides to help decide what I can forage. So far, my favorite guide is "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places" by "Wildman" Steve Brill.

Before I discuss specific plants, please be diligent in your research before you eat them! I am no expert and you shouldn't entirely trust me on what you should and shouldn't eat. These first few are relatively straightforward, but many others have poisonous look alikes.

Also, watch where you're foraging from. Keep away from roadways where pollutants can settle on your snack. The Wildman suggests a minimum of 50 feet away from roads. You should also avoid areas that may be sprayed with pesticides.


Our community garden plot is infested with mint. This makes foraging for mint very easy. You can identify it by the minty smell. It can really overwhelm some parks and garden areas, so you should definitely explore and try to find a mint patch! Several of the other plots are infested and I like to walk in between some of the plots and collect the huge amounts of "border mint." I've found a few varieties, but prefer the spearmint (or what I think is spearmint) which is darker and more flavorful. I toss a fistful in bowling water and make delightful mint tea. When the lemongrass starts to grow, I'll chop that up and add it for lemony goodness. You can hang the mint upside down to dry it out and use when the fresh stuff is gone.


Dill also likes to invade our garden. It's identifiable by the dilly smell when you crush it between your fingers. It looks like a small carrot top and tries to pass itself off as a carrot sometimes. However, it smells much better than carrot greens! One of the garden plots has not been used and is covered in dill. I have decided to ignore the possibility that the would-be gardener actually decided to grow a dill patch and have been collecting my dill there. I especially like covering asparagus with olive oil, dill, and salt and roasting it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You're supposed to store dill in a jar of water covered in a plastic bag. That seems to working alright so far. I haven't experimented with drying it, but I presume it's similar to mint.

Lamb's Quarters

For weeks and weeks, I've been obsessed with positively identifying lamb's quarters. It's a green similar to spinach and I heard it was quite tasty. However, I kept getting nervous that I was not correctly identifying it. The several sources on lamb's quarters showed varying types of leaves and made me uneasy about what I'd been finding, although I had a strong feeling that I had it right. I've compared it to many sources many times and have now decided I know my lamb's quarters. The leaves are diamond shaped, with the base of the leaf fatter than the end. The leaf edges are notched and the stems have grooves. The younger leaves are covered in a white, powdery substance. There aren't any poisonous look-alikes, but some relatives aren't that delicious and can be mildly irritating.

My lamb's quarters experience taught me that you can read all of the guides, but until you've actually seen and connected with the plant, you can really second-guess yourself. It really helps if you have someone show you the plant live. (Thanks to Eric for connecting me with purslane! I'll chat about it when I see more pop up!)

You can use lamb's quarters like any other green. I stir-fried it up with a touch of oil, lots of pepper, and soy sauce. The leaves shrink by about two-thirds, so make sure to keep that in mind when you're cooking! I underestimated its amazing shrinking abilities and ended up with a very peppery dish. You can mix it in with other greens if you want to slowly introduce it to your taste buds, but eating it by itself will allow you to full acknowledge its deliciousness.


This is not edible and is actually very poisonous. Susan thought it looked pretty and picked it up to put in our awesome chemistry themed vase. I wasn't sure if it was Queen Anne's Lace/Wild Carrot or Hemlock. After consulting with the Wildman's book and the internets, I'm going with hemlock. Not like we were planning on eating it anyway. Until you're a pro, stick with the easily identifiable plants that don't have highly poisonous dopplegangers.

Foraging can be a lot of fun, so I encourage everyone to partake at what ever level they feel comfortable with. It's delicious, introduces you to new foods, cheap, and has a low environmental impact.

And if you really can't find any mint, dill, or lamb's quarters, Susan invites you to help weed our garden!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Morel and Asparagus Hunting!

Several weeks ago, I went morel hunting with my parents in the woods behind their house, who live in an undisclosed Midwestern state. You see, as a morel huntsman, I must keep my hunting grounds secret, for fear you will find it and eat all of them.

Morels are an incredibly delicious (and pricey) mushroom. They pop up in mid-spring and can be found in woods across the country and beyond. They are popular in Illinois and several nearby states. There are all sorts of tips on where you can find them with varying degrees of usefulness. I've had success looking near dead or dying elm trees. This year, a pile of dead trees was the most plentiful spot.

This was my second year hunting. It was fun, but there didn't seem to be as many as last year. There's an exhilaration to wandering around the woods searching for the evening's meal. There aren't really any poisonous mushrooms that look much like morels, but a few look close enough so please confirm any finds. Since I waited so long to post this, you'll have to wait until next year for morels. Morels are very identifiable and delicious so I highly recommend trying to hunt them yourself!

For guidance, I used the new book "Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States." One of the authors, Joe McFarland, was at the Urbana Farmer's Market a few weeks ago. He signed my copy with a threat to stay off his morel patch. The book mentions several other tasty looking mushrooms, which I'll have to keep my eye out for.

In the book Omnivore's Dillema, Michael Pollan has an excellent section on morel hunting, so I recommend checking it out! You should actually read the entire book while you're at it.

I fried some morels with an experimental batter, but it didn't turn out good enough to post. I brought some home to Susan who fried them deliciously. She will follow up on that one!

My parents and I also stopped by a local farm to hunt some asparagus. Since it was in a field of asparagus, it was much easier to find than the morels. I still can't get over how asparagus looks while it grows. It just sticks out of the ground! Hilarious! Asparagus takes several years to establish itself, so we don't get the joy of growing it ourselves since we garden in a rented plot at a community park. However, as soon as we have our own spot of land we will definitely grow this awesomely delicious veggie.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

vegan mac n' cheeze done right

This recipe is near and dear to my heart. After eating the delicious vegan mac n' cheeze from Soul Vegetarian in Chicago we needed to know how it was done. However, when we learned the recipe from one of the cooks we found it to be way too oily. So oily that when we tried to keep leftovers, the ingredients would separate and there would be an inch of oil at the bottom of the pan. not so delicious anymore. I knew that there had to be a way of introducing some thickeners and adjusting the ingredients to make a delicious, and somewhat less bad for us version of this favorite. Tada! After years of making it over and over, I've developed this ultimate recipe. As long as you follow the directions exactly, you'll have the tastiest vegan mac n' cheeze ever in addition to a recipe which stores well and provides yummy lunches for the rest of the week.

The recipe makes a lot because Tom and I love having mac n' cheeze leftovers in the fridge. I've never tried scaling it down, but feel free to give it a try.


12 oz bag of Cavatappi
3 cups Soy Milk
1 cup Nutritional Yeast
1/2 cup Olive Oil (Veggie and Canola Oil work well too)
1 tbs Paprika
1 tbs Onion Powder
1 tbs Garlic Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Turmeric
3 tbs Tahini
1 tbs Soy Sauce
1 tbs Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tbs Corn Starch
1 tbs Arrowroot

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

There are a lot of steps to this recipe, and they must be followed exactly. It's actually not that challenging, but it is important that ingredients are added in the right order if you want the awesome creamy consistency of mac 'n cheeze.

Step 1: Boil water and put pasta to cook.

Step 2: Pour soy milk into a blender. With lid in place, turn blender on a medium speed. Most blender lid's have a center piece which can be removed, do so now. If no center piece, carefully remove entire lid. While soy milk is rotating in a funnel shape, slowly pour oil into the center of the blender. If blender is not turned on when oil is poured in, it will not incorporate well with the milk. Once oil and milk are combined, turn off blender.

Step 3: Add nutritional yeast, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and turmeric. Pulse a few times until combined.

Step 4: Add tahini, soy sauce and apple cider vinegar. Blend.

Step 5: Blend in cornstarch and arrowroot.

Step 6: When pasta is ready pour into a 9x13 baking dish. Spread cheeze sauce over cooked pasta and stir until noodles are well coated. The sauce will still be pretty liquidy at this point, but no need to worry!

Step 7: Place pasta mixture in oven. The total baking time will be 30 minutes, however there is an important last part you must not neglect! Every 5-7 minutes while the pasta bakes, you must open the oven and stir the noodles. If you skip this part, the top of your sauce will get creamy and the bottom will remain liquidy. If you want cheezy deliciousness you must stir the pasta during the baking process.

Step 8: Remove from oven and serve!! Tom likes his salty and I like to add black pepper, so feel free to season it up to your liking. So YUM. I also like mine with ketchup and bbq sauce. Or with cut up cooked veggie dogs! Reminds me of when I was kid.

The mac 'n cheeze will keep well in an air-tight container one week in the fridge. Leftovers are the best.

Monday, May 25, 2009

garden's first bounty: delicious baby greens

Last week Tom and I harvested our first bounty of the season from our garden. We were able to remove a ton of baby greens from the garden including buttercrunch, spinach and mesclun mix. Additionally, we needed to thin out the beet seedlings which turned into a wonderful addition to our baby greens salad mix.

On Saturday the farmer's market really kicked it up a notch with loads of strawberries, green onions, greens, and asparagus. As a result, I decided to make a delicious and %100 local salad highlighting some of our purchases during this early part of the growing season.

Baby Greens Salad with Honey-Strawberry Dressing


For Salad
Around 4 cups of Baby Greens
2 Cups Strawberries sliced
6 Green Onions chopped

For Dressing
2 tbs Honey
1 cup Strawberries
1 tbs Rosemary

Blend strawberries and honey for dressing. Toss with salad ingredients. Eat up!

All ingredients were purchased at the market or harvested from our garden!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

book review: animal, vegetable, miracle by barbara kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
(AVM) is Barbara Kingsolver's non-fiction memoir which follows her family's decision to eat only locally produced food for an entire year. They commit to eating only the food they grow and raise themselves, or food produced from within the county they live. The novel is largely Kingsolver's story as she breaks the chapters into a month by month journey of food life. However, her husband and daughter supplement the book with recipes and essays which compliment Kingsolver's narrative. The novel is a comprehensive look at what goes into living a life of local food with in-depth observations on small-scale farming, cheese making, home gardens, raising animals for food, foraging, eating locally while traveling, and much much more.

I read AVM in February, the perfect time of the year to dive into this novel. As Kingsolver notes, February is "the hungry month" where there is little if any local food available. However, by the end of February and into March it's time to start planning for the next growing season by starting seedlings and ordering garden equipment. When I read AVM I knew I'd be gardening again, but it was the success and joys presented by Kingsolver which really inspired me to become better prepared for this year's growing season. She inspired me to consider the plants I chose for this year not just for their immediate rewards, but for those that will preserve well as a source of local food through the winter. The novel presents how it is possible to eat locally through the entire year, but makes it clear that it is important to prepare for the winter all through harvest-time. As a result, Tom and I will be investing in a food saver for freezing and canning equipment for preserving. Before reading this novel I did not feel fully committed to the local food diet, but Kingsolver has won me over. I highly recommend the novel for anyone interested in local eating, especially those trying to raise a family in this grossly industrial food society.

One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Kingsolver and her husband travel to Italy. Their travels across the Italian countryside were inspiring and show that eating responsibly and respectfully is absolutely possible when on vacation. I've never considered myself a huge fan of Italian food, but after reading this novel I feel inspired to travel there and learn what real Italian food culture is all about. Somehow I don't think we've quite got it down here in Illinois.

I was surprised to read Kingsolver's arguments against vegetarianism. Although I was not entirely convinced, I found her novel to include the most compelling argument against vegetarianism I have ever read. However, I must emphasize that her arguments against not eating meat do not translate to an argument for eating meat in the way the majority of meat eating happens in this country. Rather, it is an argument for respecting and understanding the process and animals which go into the production of meat for food. More importantly, she argues for bringing the production of meat into the hands of the people eating the food. Knowing where the animal was bred, raised, and how it was fed are just as important as respecting the life taken. The chapter provides a new perspective on meat eating and I would urge all vegetarians to read the book before passing judgment on my poor efforts at restating her beliefs. That being said, I could personally never pluck a chicken or slaughter a lamb and have no intention of changing my mind when it comes to the decision whether or not to eat a dead animal.

A,V,M is an inspiring story, beautifully written and wonderfully educational. Ideally, everyone would read this novel, but I recommend it most highly to all those interested in local eating, home gardening, and the slow food movement.

To learn more about the book and Kingsolver's family visit:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

hardening off the seedlings

Happy seedlings enjoy a short trip to the balcony. After about a week they'll be ready for the garden.

It's finally time to start planting all our wonderful tomato, pepper, and herb plants out in the garden! It's very exciting and I can't wait to get all the little guys and girls out in the dirt where the belong. Since February they have been nurtured, cared for and loved. Now it's time for them to grow up and venture out into the big, sunny, and nutrient filled garden plot. However, there is one last step required before the little plants are ready for the big life. The process is called "hardening off" and it will greatly improve the plants chances for successful growth outdoors.

For 7-10 days before planting your seedlings out in the garden you should start setting plants out during the day and bringing them in at night. Set the plants outside for most of the day in order to transition them into living under harsher conditions than the cozy countertop or windowsill they enjoyed indoors.

Start by placing them out in a semi-shady area for the first couple days; somewhere that gets a few hours of full sunlight, but not an entire day. After a few days, start positioning the plants where they'll get more and more sun. If there is a hard rain or a particularly windy day make sure to keep the plants indoors.

Near the end of the week they should be able to comfortably sit under full sun for the whole day. Make sure they stay well watered during this process. If after a week the plants are not showing any signs of stress, you're ready to plant them out in the garden.

Some ways in which you can start the "hardening off" process are as follows:
  • as soon as your seedlings start to present themselves begin the practice of "petting." Gently, sweep your hands across the tops of the plants, or agitate them a bit by shaking their containers. In this way you'll promote stronger stem growth.
  • a few weeks into the seedling growth process set a fan to low and allow to it blow on the seedlings a few hours a day.
  • on nice days keep windows open in the room the seedlings are living in order to promote air circulation (make sure the temperature is warm enough first!).
Unfortunately for Tom and I, our balcony never really gets full sun for more than half the day. However, even this much is enough to improve the success of our seedlings in the garden.

By this weekend these guys will be ready to go! Check out some more pics of our seedlings enjoying the balcony and getting a taste for the outdoors: