Recently, the folks at Vegan Mainstream asked me to submit an article/blog post on the topic of my choice.
If there is one thing I hear more frequently than anything else about my approach to cooking, it is that it is “creative.” I am humbled by such a generous assessment. So, lest the well ever run dry, I decided not too long ago to try to become more conscious and deliberate about what, until then, had been just a natural inclination.
The result of my self-reflection was four simple strategies that I had been inadvertently returning to again and again. And I am delighted to share them with readers in “Four Simple Strategies for Keeping the Creative Culinary Juices Flowing,” published just today:
Click on over to the article to find out how you too can adopt these same strategies for a near endless flow of kitchen inspiration!
Back in the summer, my friend Katherine Huntoon, introduced me to Alimentum, a literary and art journal devoted to food.
I investigated a bit, got up my courage to make a pitch, and sent off requisite materials. Quite a long time passed–publishing the journal is a labor of love–but when I heard back, the news was thrilling: the editors planned to feature two of my mixed-media pieces in the December issue and they want to feature my “Natural Intelligence (Fungus)” series in a future issue!
Had I known at the time how pedigreed and accomplished their editorial staff of 8 is, I might have been too intimidated to contact them. Fortunately, I only read their bios after my work had been accepted and published in this month’s issue! However, my contact, Eric LeMay, was beyond warm and gracious with his feedback from the team.
I would love for you to follow the link above to the journal’s home page where you can click on the featured artwork icon to go directly to the “gallery” of my work, which is accompanied by an artist’s statement and bio.
The journal describes itself thusly:
Since 2005 Alimentum has been delighting readers with stories, essays, and poems that use food as a kind of muse to inspire memory, ideas, humor, joy, melancholy, triumph and reflection. The works are not just about what’s on your plate. They explore our deep personal connection to how we eat, what we eat, and the very primal part food plays in our lives.
We’ve published 13 print issues (a baker’s dozen—still available as collector editions) each packed with over 30 writers and poets, featuring well-known authors like Oliver Sacks and Mark Kurlansky, award-winning authors, and never before published writers.
Our current online journal presents a revolving roster of food-themed fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, art, music, featurettes, recipe poems, favorite food blogs and more from writers and creators who live across the U.S. and abroad.
Alimentum has participated in several AWP conferences and many other conferences and book fairs including the Southern Festival of Books, the Brooklyn Book Festival, NY Small Press Book Fair and has hosted numerous public readings and forums. We’re a member of CLMP and have received kudos from the New York Times, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, NY Daily News, Connecticut News Times, Poets & Writers, BBC Radio, Weekend America, and other media. Our writers’ essays have appeared in Best American Essays and Best Food Writing. We’ve received 1st Place Awards from the Bookbinders Guild New York Book Design Show two years in a row, and were honored as Best Food Magazine in the World from the International Gourmand Awards.
This season, when thankfulness is at the forefront of our minds, seemed the perfect time to post a mini-review of Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World (New World Library, August 15, 2013) by Adrian Butash.
This globe-, religion-, culture-, and century-spanning book brings together some 160 mealtime blessings for many reasons, including building a sense of community and connection among those who bow their heads and break bread together and to that for which they give thanks.
Poets, thinkers, and activists join religious figures in articulating our gratitude for daily sustenance, food for the body and soul.
A beautiful book–lovely enough for a special gift–it is also educational, in that background information on the cultural traditions represented is included as context. As with anything, not all of the prayers “spoke” to me, nor embodied my own feelings of gratefulness. But the three that follow did in a profound way.
May we all live with gratitude toward whatever or whomever squares with our beliefs and may we accept and extend the amazing grace bestowed by same.
I begin with the shortest which is, perhaps, the most expansive and my favorite:
Bless our hearts
to hear in the
breaking of bread
the song of the universe.
— Father John Giuliani (b. 1932)
For the order and constancy of nature;
For the beauty and bounty of the world;
For day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and
For the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every
We praise thee.
— John Hunter (1848-1917)
Eternal Spirit of Justice and Love,
At this time of Thanksgiving we would be aware
of our dependence on the earth and on the
sustaining presence of other human beings
both living and gone before us.
As we partake of bread and wine, may we
remember that there are many for whom
sufficient bread is a luxury, or for whom
wine, when attainable, is only an escape.
Let our thanksgiving for Life’s bounty include a
commitment to changing the world, that
those who are now hungry may be filled and
those without hope may be given courage.
— Prayer by the Congregation of Abraxas (1985)
And feast it was! I asked Bryanna if their company had to spend the night after this incredible meal, but she assured me that all of the portions were small, except for her Chinotto Cake(!), and that their guests only required a brief rest on the sofa before heading home.
Bryanna is Bryanna Clark Grogan, author of a number of beloved vegan cookbooks–most recently World Vegan Feast–and I became friends via our connection with Vegan Heritage Press. She provides me with endless inspiration and encouragement. And as it turns out, we share the same birthday of May 26!
However, her most recent celebration was not a birthday but her 22nd wedding anniversary, shared with close friends all the way across the continent in British Columbia where she lives. I was so surprised and humbled to learn that she had created a whole menu inspired by The Blooming Platter for this special dinner.
I invite you to read about in on her blog, Vegan Feast Kitchen. You will love her warm and informative style. A library branch manager, she is passionate about research and sharing helpful resources and information. Her posts are always loaded with photos and links, including, in this case, to the recipes here on The Blooming Platter and to my cookbook.
You will also love her sinful Chinotto Cake that she graciously says is inspired by my Coca-Cola Cake. But she puts her own spin on it, and you are also sure to enjoy the story of its creation. In case you aren’t familiar, Chinotto is a grown-up, gourmet and organic version of cola with it’s own special flavor profile. It is now on my list.
Happy Anniversary, Bry!
Look for the first edition tomorrow, September 3!
What? “Vegan Q&A Tuesday”
A snappy 10-question online interview with vegan bloggers, cooks, authors and others involved in the vegan culinary world. The format is slightly adapted from the one James Lipton developed for Inside the Actor’s Studio on Bravo TV.
To my way of thinking it is one of the best programs on T.V.: a slower-paced interview program that started as a craft seminar for students of the Actor’s Studio; a master class that allows each guest to engage in a dialogue with Lipton in a couple of side chairs on a stage. They cease being celebrities and become artists and teachers. The content is all craft, no gossip. Near the end of the interview, Lipton conducts a Q & A adapted from French TV personality Bernard Pivot on his show “Apostrophes” after the “Proust Questionnaire.”
Who? My first six guests for the fall and winter line-up are Bryanna Clark Grogan (September), Robin Robertson (October), Caryn Hartglass (November), Nava Atlas (December), and Laura Theodore (January).
When? The first Tuesday of every month.
Where? Right here: The Blooming Platter of Vegan Recipes, mywebsite/blog devoted to vegan cooking with occasional lifestyle posts.
Why? To connect people and ideas by revealing insights about each guest and his or her culinary points of view in a fun, fresh way.
With each interview, I will publish one of my guest’s recipes along with a photo of the prepared dish and, of course, the guest.
What are the Interview Questions?
I stay true to Lipton’s Q & A with two caveats: I ask my guests to answer the questions from a culinary perspective, and I slightly adapted #7.
*Lipton’s question #7 is always “What is your favorite curse word?”–and the answers are always colorful– but I reworded it since this is a “family show.”
TBP: Will you share a little something about your background?
BM: My background is in design and my co-founder’s background is in software development and mathematics. We have always been highly intrigued by nutrition. We follow the quantify self movement and we enjoy measuring what we put into our bodies. This year we embraced the challenge of creating MealsApp.
TBP: What exactly is MealsApp and why do Blooming Platter readers need to know about it?
BM: MealsApp is good nutrition in your pocket. We help people improve their nutrition habits. Blooming Platter readers will love MealsApp because it is all about nutrition. We guide, educate and give advice to those who are interested in improving their diet.
TBP: What prompted you to take off on this adventure?
BM: I have personally always been linked to nutrition or nutrition problems. My father suffered from a stroke a couple of years ago due to following a diet that was not right for his condition. Being a vegetarian I have always been intrigued by the kinds of food I select to be part of my menu. “Am I eating what I need since I am a Vegetarian?” was something I asked myself constantly. “Will I run into some nutrition problems because of being a vegetarian?” These were some of the questions I always had. When traveling it was very hard for me to keep track of the food choices I was making, and I ended up always feeling very weak and sick. I knew technology could help me and other people that might be having the same problems.
TBP: What else do Blooming Platter readers need to know about MealsApp that I haven’t asked?
MealsApp is available in the AppStore and it is free to download. We now have more than 15,000 users that have trusted us tracking more than 43,000 meals in our system. Since we started building MealsApp we have been working with a team of Registered Dietitians who have taken us deep in their process, sharing their knowledge with the purpose of reaching thousands of people who might need their help. We would love to include a couple of links to our site and to the app download page: Website and Download
TBP: Thanks, Bellatrix and best wishes!
Thanks to Allison Nordahl and her software developer husband, creators of Vegansprout.com, it is now easier than ever to “root out” the 411 on vegan cookbooks, recipes and products (including, uh-hum, The Blooming Platter Cookbook)!
Read and write reviews to make informed purchasing decisions and help others do the same.
I would have loved to interview Allison, but I didn’t want to ask her to answer the same questions that she answered so completely HERE on Tastespace, so just click the link and read all the skinny.
Congrats, Allison, on your “growing” endeavor and thanks for including The Blooming Platter on Sprout!
The whole experience of working with the *team at VegNews and in my own kitchen, trying out recipes on my friends (and on one friend’s horse, Rocky who loved the cilantro!), has been deliciously rewarding on every level.
I am humbled to be associated with VegNews, as it is the award-winning vegan magazine and website packed with recipes
Run, don’t walk, to the nearest newsstand–or better yet, subscribe to VegNews–to get your copy. Inside the May-June issue, you will find my tasty and easy take on:
Crispy Potato Tacos with Queso Fresco
Cheesy Spinach and Black Bean Quesadillas with Cucumber-Mango Salsa
Swiss Chard and Mushroom Tamales with Red Wine Sauce (Escabeche Sauce)
Churros with Coconut-Kahlua Chocolate Sauce
You will only find these recipes in the May-June print issue of VegNews Magazine (with additional recipes online). So, for the whole enchilada, as it were, be sure to pick up your copy as soon as it hits the stands!
*Olé (!) to my fabulous editor, Jennifer Chen, photographer, Vanessa K. Rees, and graphic designer, Sutton Long (who originally hails from Richmond, VA, right up I64). They brought my recipes to mouth-watering, eye-popping life!
Recently, when I went on a mission to create “THE BEST” Vegan Gumbo, I started feeling the itch for a Dutch oven. You know, the ones for which the brand name Le Crueset is synonymous. (Theirs are, technically, “French Ovens.”)
These cooking vessels are enameled cast iron beauties that do what they do (like braise) without parallel in the culinary world. Or so one would believe…
Fortunately, when I waltzed into one of our high-end kitchen boutiques on a whim, ready to make the commitment, they didn’t have the size and color I wanted in stock–and it was a few days before “pay day” anyway–so my impulse buying was derailed. Fortunately. By vowing to come back after “pay day” to place an order, I inadvertently saved myself about $250!
One of my close foodie friends who works part-time at the shop saw me on my way out, inquired about what I was shopping for, and when I told her, she quietly asked, “Have you looked around?” That planted the seed for the prudence of doing a bit of online research, which I actually enjoy doing unless it gets to protracted and baffling, say, when researching something technological, like a camera.
When faced with a technical culinary question, I typically turn first to two sources: the Food Network’s mad kitchen scientist Alton Brown for cooking questions, and Cook’s Illustrated/Cook’s Country for both cooking and product-related questions.
The latter highly recommended the Tramontina 6-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven available, believe it or not, at Wal-Mart among other places. It currently retails for $59.97 there and a bit higher elsewhere. So, at a sixth of the price, I thought, “Why not?” as I rarely second-guess Cook’s Illustrated. But I wasn’t wild about the limited color selection, so I decided to read some reviews which, despite the Cook’s endorsement, weren’t glowing. One of the biggest complaints seemed to be an ill-fitting lid which is problematic when the point is to contain moisture. And I began to have second thoughts.
The gold standard for enameled cast iron Dutch ovens is unquestionably Le Creuset, but I wasn’t sure I needed an “heirloom” pot. I certainly wanted excellent quality, but I also wanted a good value. So then I heard about a highly touted Costco brand called the Kirkland. It’s 6-quart model sells for in the neighborhood of $50 as well. But, again, the colors were limited, though the reviews I read were a bit more convincing.
Certainly, Calphalon, Staub and all the major manufacturers of high- to moderate-end kitchen equipment make their own versions. But since I wasn’t sure how often I’d use the pot–there are just the two of us dining most weeknights (if you don’t count Minnie and Huff!)–I really didn’t even want to spend $160 or so. Then I remembered that I had seen both jewel- and earth-toned enameled cast iron Dutch ovens by Lodge, the makers of my cast iron skillet and grill pan which I use virtually every day. Indeed, the reviews were excellent, the price was right at Ka-Tom Restaurant Supply ($57.75 + $12 shipping), and it came in my color of choice: rich “Pumpkin.”
The only negative I recall was that one reviewer said the lid was made with 3 raised points so that it would sit flat like a three-legged stool on the pot rim without the extra expense/labor of planing it to fit flush. Hence, some steam escaped. But either that reviewer or another one said he had heard that Lodge had started planing their lids for a perfect fit so that escaping steam is no longer an issue. Plus, the pots have an anti-chip coating, a fairly common issue with Dutch ovens.
Convinced, I decided to take the plunge, ordered it, and it arrived this week with a perfectly fitting lid, no chips, and in a glorious pumpkin tone. It is so handsome and a perfect weight. Everything feels exactly right about it from the lid knob, to the handles, to the way my bamboo spoon glides across the interior surface. I was happy to rearrange a cabinet so that it had it’s very own, easily accessible storage spot.
It’s maiden voyage was a vegan tagine I made yesterday for a dinner with two gal pals last night (Joe is out of town–home today!), and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I will post that recipe soon, as it is definitely a keeper! The pot cooked it beautifully, creating lots of moisture and allowing yummy caramelized browned bits to form but not stick on the bottom. And it cleaned up in a breeze.
If, like me, you’ve been contemplating such a purchase, but have yet to commit. I highly recommend the enameled cast iron Dutch oven from Lodge, a trusted, long-established, American company.
Wow!–One Green Planet chose to feature me as this week’s Green Monster! I’ve been called a lot of things, I’m sure, but I am ecstatic to have been dubbed a Green Monster!
OGP will be featuring my recipes throughout the week on their site and on social media. Get the skinny HERE.