Monday, March 14, 2011

Plant food on the menu in Beantown

For my birthday (29 of course), my husband treated me to a weekend trip to Boston. A pleasant train ride from Portland and we were in the city of John Hancock and John Singleton Copley. Our first order of business was to check into The Lenox, my favorite place to stay in Boston. It's not only an impeccable boutique hotel with two bars and a restaurant, but a modern oasis offering up-to-date amenities and an industry-leading approach to conserving resources, employing energy efficiency and using natural cleaners. The rooms are stocked with recycling buckets (covered in a stylish rattan) and Aveda toiletries. Ours even came with a Pure Room air purifying system.

Here's one of the views from our corner suite, with the Old South Church on the left, the Public Library in the foreground and the Hancock Tower on the right.

While we were in town, we checked out the new treasure-filled Art of the Americas wing at the Museum of Fine Arts. Of course, we couldn't pass up the chance to eat in the New American Cafe in the glass enclosed courtyard.

On the busy weekends, it's a good idea to show up a little before noon if you don't want to wait for a seat in this light and airy restaurant. The current menu doesn't offer any all plant-based entrees, but I did order a lovely salad and an indulgent order of house-made potato chips.

The mixed greens came topped with cauliflower (stained pink from the vinaigrette), carrots, shallots and pecans. It was bright and refreshing.

This was just one of many memorable meals I enjoyed while in town.

Two of the restaurants we dined at serve up unique cuisine resulting from the blending of two exceptional food cultures. At Mumbai Chopstix on Newbury Street, we enjoyed the zesty fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisine. While at The Elephant Walk on Beacon Street, we savored the mingling of Cambodian and French cookery. Both restaurants offer numerous vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Oddly enough, the spot where we found the most comprehensive plant-based menu was at a steakhouse. The Oak Room and Oak Bar are two opulent establishments inside The Fairmont Copley Plaza. At the start of the year, the luxury Fairmont hotel chain unveiled its new Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu, which features vegan, raw, macrobiotic, and gluten-free dishes, at all its properties.

I chose the chickpea and roasted tomato dip with raw vegetables to start and selected the curry spiced tofu with Asian cabbage slaw, rice noodles and mango chutney for my entree. Both were excellent.

And for dessert, I savored this soy milk yogurt parfait, which proved a smooth finish to a very sweet trip.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grazing on plant foods at Maine's Veg Food Fest

Maine's herbivores gathered yesterday for the annual celebration of plant-based cuisine that is the Vegetarian & Vegan Food Festival. Now in its sixth year, the event attracted hundreds of attendees and more than two dozen food vendors, vegetarian-focused businesses and animal rights nonprofits.

One of the most popular tables was staffed by Portland's premier vegetarian restaurant, the Green Elephant. Here co-owner Dan Sriprasert serves up free samples of fresh and fried spring rolls, while his team members offer up wontons, soy nuggets and stir fry.

The Vermont Soy booth also attracted a line with samples of tofu stir fry.

Maine Animal Coalition, the event sponsor, used a variety of donated products to create a Tofurky sandwich stand and a top-your-own baked potato bar, both of which attracted lines and positive reviews.

I enjoyed trying Dr. John's Brain-ola made by Little Lad's Bakery using Dr. John Herzog's recipe. Unlike other granolas, it's not coated in sweetener. We couldn't resit buying a bag to bring home.

David Homa who owns Kzeloumsen Permaculture Gardens presented a lush display highlighting his edible landscaping services. I love the fact that he included these gorgeous rocks in his design. He tells me he and Eli Cayer are cooking up an interesting project, which I hope to check out soon. If I get the scoop, I'll be sure to share it in my Natural Foodie column in the Portland Press Herald.

Once again, the festival proved to be another stellar event showcasing the diverse ways to enjoy plant-based meals in Maine. It's great to know that eating low on the food chain is so easy here in the pine tree state.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring sandwich with black bean tempeh

At yesterday's Portland Winter Market, Jaime Berhanu of Lalibela Farm offered me a sample of her latest experiment: black bean tempeh. Right away I was intrigued by the exotic black and steel color.

The flavor was mild and went well with the ginger-lime marinade I created. The texture is softer than soy tempeh, however, it crisps under high heat just like soy tempeh.

Black bean is the third sample I've tried, after navy bean and garbanzo bean. Jamie and her husband, Andy, are testing a variety of beans to see which one makes the best soy-free tempeh.

Each one's flavor reflects the bean it's made from while still offering the classic tempeh taste. Of the three, the garbanzo's texture was most similar to soy, but right now I'm feeling partial to the black bean.

After I let the black bean tempeh slices marinate for a couple hours, I cooked them on the griddle. Using toasted slices of a whole grain loaf I bought at the market, I served the tempeh with Raye's Mustard, mixed greens, fresh basil leaves, green onions and sliced red onions (my last storage onion from the fall). It was the perfect spring sandwich, and a wonderful testament to all the great food at the Portland Winter Market.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Portland Winter Market off to a busy start

The new indoor Portland Winter Market opened this morning to huge crowds. I heard from one of the vendors that shoppers started trickling in at least a half an hour ahead of opening time. You'll find a number of familiar faces from the Portland Farmers Market - including Freedom Farm, Thirty Acre Farm, Fishbowl Farm (above), Lalibela Farm and Sumner Valley Farm - plus a number of vendors new to the city.

The organizers of this market - who also organize the indoor winter market in Brunswick - have had a rough go trying to meet all of Portland's regulations and licensing requirements. Four vendors, including organizer Mother Oven Bakery, who intended to be part of the market couldn't get approval to be there today. Their exclusion happened after the city gave the organizers 24 hours notice that certain vendors would have to set up in the space yesterday for a health inspection. A coffee roaster that couldn't get city approval is there, but instead of selling coffee, the vendor is handing out free samples.

I'm hoping things can be worked out so everyone can be there next Saturday. Judging by the crowds, it seems clear that Portlanders want year-round access to local food.

The market runs every Saturday until the end of April from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 85 Free St.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Organic eats at the Common Ground Fair

A fabulous cocktail party Friday night (thanks David, Vanessa and Lauren!) delayed our departure last Saturday morning for the 33rd annual Common Ground Country Fair. But eventually Adam and I hit the road for Unity, a tiny college and farming town in the central part of the state.

The celebration of natural living always draws a big crowd, and the day we showed up so did 26,000 others. We all wanted to check out such things as the state's only organic farmers market, the renewable energy demonstrations and the angora bunnies and pygmy goats.

Without a doubt, the food court is the biggest attraction at the fair. The walkways along the concession booths were jam packed throughout our visit. By closing time many stands had run out of popular items.

The fair's vendors use local and organic ingredients whenever possible, and the emphasis is on freshly prepared whole foods. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings abound, without forgetting fair staples including organic fried dough and locally grown french fried potatoes.

I snapped these photos of a few of the booths we sampled from:

Even with food everywhere and more than 700 talks and performances, my favorite thing about the fair continues to be finding myself surrounded by natural foodies as far as the eye can see.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Put purslane back on the plate

The lettuce at Sunshine Farm has gone by for the season, but that doesn't mean I go without greens when we arrive for an early autumn visit. Instead I enjoy the taste, texture and amazing nutritional profile of purslane. Too often overlooked as a common weed, purslane is a superfood packed with omega-3s and antioxidants.

This peppery plant has a rich culinary history in countries such as Greece, China, Mexico and India, its original home. Here in America, purslane was standard fare in Colonial kitchen gardens before it declined into obscurity.

Due to its wild pluckiness, purslane isn't something my parents need to cultivate in their organic gardens. Instead, the low-growing succulent reseeds itself between the rows. In the photo above, you can see some of it growing in my dad's garden, with the strawberry patch, the Honeymoon Cottage and the Middle Cottage in the background.

Purslane is so tenacious, it even grows between the sidewalk bricks in downtown Portland.

During our most recent time at the farm, I paired fresh purslane with my long-time, go-to veggie burgers. It's an easy to prepare meal that goes well with a range of toppings, including superfoods masquerading as weeds. Pick some, you'll see.

Chick-n-Rice Burgers

16 oz. cooked chickpeas
3 cups cooked brown rice
12 0z. tomato paste
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried dill
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. xanthan gum
salt & pepper to taste

In a large bowl, mash chickpeas with a potato ricer. Add rice, tomato paste, onions and spices. Blend together with a wooden spoon. Form mixture into patties and cook on an oiled skillet over medium heat. Cook until brown on both sides. Serve with burger toppings - especially purslane!. Makes 10 burgers.

Make Ahead: The burgers hold together on the grill much better after being refrigerated, so if you have the time this is the way to go. Form a handful of the mixture into a patty and place it on top of a square of waxed paper inside a food storage container. Place a piece of waxed paper on top and then add another burger and another piece of paper. Repeat until mixture is gone.

Vegetable Hash: If you're not in the mood for burgers, you can saute the burger mixture in a skillet like you would a hash. Serve it browned and crispy as a breakfast dish or rolled inside a warm tortilla with your favorite Tex-Mex toppings.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Farmers' market on a stick

With the recent gorgeous weather, Adam and I have been spending quality time with our Weber grill. The compact unit is ideal for small city lots and works well with hardwood charcoal. Adam gets the fire going by lighting newspaper drizzled with vegetable oil. Once the wood begins to burn, the curling smoke lacks the acrid aroma of petroleum-laced briquettes, and instead matches the tantalizing smell of the ever-growing legion of Portland restaurant wood grills.

When the coals glow red hot, I bring down the food.

One of my favorite ways to cook on the grill is with skewers. Pretty much any plant can be pierced with a stick and roasted over flames. Mushrooms, tempeh and fried tofu all work well too. A set of metal skewers makes a good investment, and wooden skewers work in a pinch, but it's a good idea to soak them in water before you add the vegetables.

At this time of year, I pick up fingerling potatoes, red peppers, onions and baby squash at the Portland Farmers' Market. I head home dreaming about how they'll taste caramelized and infused with smoke. To me it's the sweet flavor of Maine's waning summer days, and a taste I'll recall fondly when the frozen days of February arrive.

Late Summer Farmers' Market Skewers

15 fingerling potatoes
2 red peppers
6-8 mixed baby squash
2 red onions
Extra virgin olive oil
Maine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried basil

Cut each to roughly the same size and place in a bowl (setting aside the onions so they don't fall apart). Coat the vegetables with olive oil and then toss with salt, pepper and basil. Drizzle olive oil over the onions. Using a metal skewer (or a wooden one first soaked in water) add the vegetables one at a time. Add to the grill and cook 15-20 minutes. Turn after 10 minutes. Test the potatoes with a fork to be sure they're cooked through. Serve hot.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Going natural for the Portland Press Herald

As a professional scribe, I now have a new gig. I'm working for the Portland Press Herald's features department and one of my assignments is to write a weekly column called Natural Foodie. I began my inaugural column with a reference to my early days on the commune turned organic farm, so I thought I'd share a vintage photo with you.

This was shot in 1975 on Sunshine Farm and I'm standing in front of the newly constructed pig pen. It was the shelter given to a whole series of pigs, including the one I caught in a pig scramble at the Litchfield Country Fair, raised as a friend and later was asked to eat a slice of for dinner. As I said in the column, this is why my mother thinks I became a vegetarian.

While that and a series of other up-close-and-personal food encounters on the farm may have been traumatic at the time, they ultimately proved beneficial in nudging me toward the many delights of plant-based cuisine.

Such as these tasty samosas from Tandoor in the Old Port, which I mention in the column's sidebar that lists my lunches from last week.

My choice to eat plants rather than flesh has also introduced me to a whole bunch of fellow vegetarians, including members of the fast-growing Maine Vegan Meetup. Here we are enjoying lunch at the always packed and super vegan-friendly Silly's in the East End.

So if you're a fan of natural eats, be sure to pick up a copy of the Press Herald every Wednesday. And should you have news to share from Maine's healthful food scene, give me a ring at 791-6297 or drop me an email.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sunshine Farm Sombrero

Mainers consume more Allen's Coffee Flavored Brandy than the residents of any other state (including Massachusetts, where it's made). So it's a good mixer to have on hand for the sweet coffee flavor it imparts to a host of drinks. Here in the Pine Tree State, the Allen's cocktail of choice is the sombrero, mixed from equal parts Allen's and cow's milk.

During a recent party at Sunshine Farm, we gave the classic a new dairy-free twist. It happened because my parents don't keep cow's milk in the house. So when a guest asked me for milk to mix with Allens, I offered up hemp or rice milk. Hemp proved best and the Sunshine Farm Sombrero was born.

Just last week, I picked up a half pint of the tasty and budget-friendly Allen's to use in this photo shoot for the cover of The Maine Switch. After photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette worked his magic, I took the Allen's home and mixed two Sunshine Farm Sombreros.

The tall, cool drink is perfect on a muggy day, when the icy liquid envelopes and cools. A slightly creamy texture makes it reminiscent of a coffee milkshake. And on a recent (and this summer all too rare) hot summer night it proved a welcome refreshment to enjoy in the shady confines of my downtown courtyard.

Sunshine Farm Sombrero

3 oz. Allen's Coffee Flavored Brandy
5 oz. hemp milk

Shake and pour over ice. Serve. Sip. Relax. It's that simple.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wild red clover harvest

Yesterday I was talking with Sarah Richards - Portland's go-to herbalist who runs Homegrown Herb & Tea - and learned that we're in the midst of a worldwide shortage of dried red clover. Sarah says it will be months before she can get another shipment.

Good thing Maine is blessed with an abundance of this useful plant growing wild in fields and ditches.

I snapped these photos while I was up at Sunshine Farm for the Fourth of July weekend. After most of the guests left, I helped my mother gather a basket of red clover blossoms from where they grow wild on the front lawn. The pretty blooms can be used to top salads, but we were interested in drying them for storage.

Long grown as an agricultural crop, this nonnative legume has naturalized itself in North America. Farmers prize the crop for its ability to add nitrogen to the soil without using chemical fertilizers. It's harvested for both hay and silage.

My mother placed the freshly picked blooms on a cloth-lined basket to dry. She harvests and dries them throughout the summer and gathers enough to last her until the following spring.

Mixed as a tea, most often with other herbs, the dried blooms are used to treat a variety of problems, including respiratory issues, prostate problems, menopausal symptoms, PMS, high cholesterol, cancer and inflammation. Used topically, red clover soothes skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema. The blooms contain high levels of isoflavones (plant estrogens), and as a result are best avoided by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Dried red clover also contains significant amounts of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine and vitamin C and is often used as a dietary supplement and a tasty way to ward off osteoporosis.

Not bad for a plant often mowed down as a weed.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The joy of baking beans

This past Christmas I had the great good fortune to receive a set of antique bean pots from my husband's parents. Finally I'd have a chance to make my own Maine Baked Beans. Of course, to the south of us, this regional specialty is called Boston Baked Beans, but here in the Pine Tree State we like to call them Maine Baked Beans.

The first Saturday night after Christmas, I covered two cups of dried beans in a pot, submerged them in water and placed them against a warm wall. The next morning, I was up at 6 am to mix the sauce, add it to the beans and stash it in a low heat oven for eight hours of baking.

It's a ritual I've followed as many Sundays as possible since.

During the icy holiday season, I assumed I'd tire of baking beans once the warm weather rolled around. Turns out that's not the case. This past Sunday I once again fired up the oven and set my beans to baking.

As they bake, our apartment fills with the most tantalizing aroma. Even on the deepest winter day, the smell of baking beans is like a ray of sunshine in the house. But the sweet, comforting fragrance of caramelizing molasses is no less delightful when the real sun shines.

As the beans bake, I like to make bread dough and set it to rise. Then when the beans come out of the oven, I can crank the oven dial and bake the bread while the beans cool.

The credit for this baked bean recipe all goes to my mother-in-law, who included her traditional Maine recipe with the pots. The only tweak I added is an 1/8 tsp. of liquid smoke in place of the salt pork. Served with a dollop of stone-ground Raye's Mustard, these baked beans taste fabulous no matter the season.

Maine Baked Beans

2 cups dry, organic navy beans
3 Tbsp. Blackstrap molasses
3 Tbsp. organic whole cane sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mutard
1 tsp. Maine sea salt
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp. liquid smoke
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups boiling water

Pick over the dry beans. Discard any rocks or broken pieces. Place remainder in a colander and rinse the beans with cold water. Place beans in a good oven-top covered cooking pot and cover them with water. Place the lid on the pot and allow the beans to soak overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 250, drain the beans into a colander and spoon them into an appropriate size bean pot. Mix all the seasonings together in a small bowl. Be careful not to add too much molasses, as it can cause beans to harden as they bake. Turn spices into the bean pot on top of soaked, drained beans.

Add enough boiling water to cover the beans. Mix together until seasonings are well dispersed. Bake for 8 hours. Check the beans occasionally to make sure they aren't drying out, but don't stir the beans. Begin to test if the beans are baked after 6 hours (baking time will vary depending on your stove). The cover can be removed during the last hour of baking.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tempeh toast to summer

Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer season in Maine. Now is the time of backyard BBQs, easy lakeside lunches and simple camp fare. Growing up, I remember eating salmon and peas on toast in the early summer, usually around the 4th of July.

In a nod to that traditional open faced sandwich, I created this quick lunch. The strawberries were leftover from yesterday's Opening Day picnic at my husband's family camp. Imported from California, the berries lacked intense flavor but made up for it in bold color. Any locally-grown fruit would make an excellent substitution. I also piled on my early farmers' market finds: pea shoots, onion, chives and baby kale, sauteed with garlic and tamari.

Early Summer Tempeh Toast

10 strips smoky tempeh, fried crisp
4 slices whole grain bread, toasted
2 Tbsp. sweet & spicy mustard
2 tsp. Maine maple syrup
2 cups pea shoots
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 small onion, sliced
2 organic strawberries, sliced

To assemble the sandwich: Spread two toast slices with mustard and two with maple syrup. Pile sauteed kale and sliced garlic on the maple syrup side. Top with a sliced strawberry. Top the other side with pea shoots, onion and chives. Eat with a fork and knife as is, or assemble, slice and serve as a sandwich. Serves 2.

>>Sauteed Kale
4 cups baby kale
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 small cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp. organic tamari

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute. Add freshly washed kale. Move the kale through the hot oil using a pair of tongs for 1 minute. Pour on the tamari and turn the kale for less than a minute. Turn off the heat and serve immediately.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eco-chef Bryant Terry brings his soul food to Portland

SPACE Gallery in downtown Portland was packed last night for the Food+Farm talk and cooking demo by eco-chef and food activist Bryant Terry. He hails from Oakland, CA, but grew up in Memphis, TN. When he was a child, Terry's grandparents cultivated huge gardens in their backyards and used the bounty to cook southern soul food, which Terry described to us as much more plant-based than popular culture makes it out to be.

Today he teaches low-income kids how to cook and eat nutrient dense plant-based meals. He's also the author of "Vegan Soul Kitchen" and "Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen" (with Anna Lappé). While he talked he showed us how to prepare Citrus Swiss Chard with Raisin Redux.

Many of us had tried the tasty dish prior to his talk. Hanifa Washington and Jonah Fertig of Local Sprouts Co-Operative Catering cooked up a delicious vegan dinner using Bryant Terry's recipes and food from nearby farms. It was a bargain at $10 a plate.

The Johnny Blaze Cakes with Rhubarb Hot Pepper Jam (made from rhubarb picked on Munjoy Hill) were a big hit, and everything had great flavor and color. Bryant Terry gave an entertaining talk, where he not only cooked but delivered part of KRS-One's rap "Beef." It was a fun and filling evening.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fake ketchup and how to avoid it

I was craving the Good Egg's tasty tempeh hash the other morning, and I knew I'd want to enjoy it with a dollop of ketchup. But I also knew Heniz - standard issue ketchup for most restaurants in Portland - contains high fructose corn syrup.

More chemical than edible, high fructose corn syrup has been linked to diabetes and obesity and shown to contain mercury. I try my best to avoid it. Still I'm realistic about my love of restaurants, and how it means I don't always know if (or when) I'm eating fake foods.

But it's hard to ignore the high fructose corn syrup when it's staring at your from a label. So I now bring my own. I use this Stonewall Kitchen jam jar, fill it with organic ketchup and tuck it inside my purse. Once the food arrives, I savor the ketchup's tangy sweet touch and relish my avoidance of at least one fake food pitfall.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whole grain goodness

One of the wonderful things about my job is how it offers me the chance to constantly speak with interesting and inspiring people. Recently, I wrote a story about the healing properties of macrobiotic eating and I was able to interview two experts, Connie Arnold and Meg Wolff (who writes the Becoming Whole blog). Both filled me in on what this food philosophy is all about and explained that while fish can be eaten on occasion (and no food is truly off-limits), macrobiotics is very similar to a whole foods vegan diet. And the cornerstone of a macrobiotic meal is the cooked whole grain.

I've long been a fan of whole grains, but after speaking with Meg and Connie I've made an extra effort to make sure these tasty morsels show up on our plates. I've officially switched from steel cut oats to whole oat groats for breakfast and having been cooking up more whole grains for dinner. In the photo above, you can see the three types of rice I like to keep on hand. They are long grained brown rice, wild rice and short grained brown rice. Long grain brown rice is ideal for stir frying (particularly when the cooked rice has been allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator) and adding to soups. In contrast, short grained brown rice is perfect for making things such as veggie burgers and desserts, which benefit from this rice's sticky qualities. I like wild rice in salads, stuffings and pilafs, like this one below.

To simplify pilaf making, I cook 3/4 cup long grain brown rice and 1/4 cup wild rice in 2 cups of water. Before boiling, I add turmeric, garlic powder, onion flakes, salt and pepper. Once it's steamed, the rice has a nice golden hue and a built-in flavor profile.

Rice is by far the most common whole grain on American dinner plates, but there are a world of other grains to try. Here are four jars plucked from my pantry: quinoa, millet, rye and amaranth. All can offer a hearty, nutty component to soups, salads and stir fries. Quinoa and amaranth pack a protein punch, and the tiny grains add an interesting texture to both hot and cold dishes. I particularly like them in citrusy salads.

Millet is another great grain to have on hand. It has a very mild flavor and a pleasing texture. Here I paired it with a quick vegetable and tempeh stir fry for a simple, easy rice alternative. The taste was delicious, and I'm happy knowing these wholesome superfoods are quickly becoming the stars of my kitchen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Vote for vegan foodie blog in Best of Portland poll

It is such an honor to have Commune Tested, City Approved nominated as Portland's Best Food Blog by the Portland Phoenix. As you can see, the competition is super stiff, so I need all the help I can get. Voting goes through April 3, which means there's still time to vote vegan!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vegetarian reviewed in Portland, ME (and beyond)

The fermented black bean and tofu noodle bowl at the A1 Diner.

Two years ago when I agreed to join a pool of writers contributing restaurant reviews to The Maine Switch magazine, I knew I had a unique task. Like the other writers, I'd need to tease out story after story in the ordinary act of eating a meal and convey these tales to a mainstream audience. But unlike my fellow scribes dining in service of Switch, I'd be eating (and writing) from the vegetarian part of the plate.

A take-out Greek pizza without cheese from Bonobo.

Since then I've written about a number of local restaurants where a vegan can get a decent meal and an omnivore has plenty of options. I (almost) never forget to sample from the bar.

During these past two years, plant-based foods and meals have continued to blossom here in Portland. In 2007, The Green Elephant opened, giving the city it's first upscale, all-vegetarian dinner spot. That same year a pair of former restaurant owners began making the vegan Blue Mango Veggie burgers (which show up on many of the pub menus around town) and Sarah Conroy started the Maine Vegan Meet-Up group. Last year the owner of The Kitchen closed up shop in order to produce his popular Papou's Kitchen falafels for local stores and restaurants.

From soup shops to white tablecloth establishments, more and more vegan items are showing up on Portland menus. At Thai and Pan-Asian eateries, I've noticed many menus listing vegan white sauce as an alternative to garlic sauce. And this July 18 the city's 5th annual Vegetarian Food Festival takes place at the East End Community School.

It's definitely been an exciting time to contribute a vegetarian voice to the lively food discourse that takes place in Portland. Along the way I've hooked readers up with date night ideas, disturbed others with my fondness for cheese-free pizza (see above), learned how to properly appreciate martinis (in moderation) and developed a deep attachment to the Castelvetrano olives served at Novare Res Bier Bar.

Here are those gorgeous olives from Novare.

A garden salad and hummus plate at White Heart.

So in honor of Switch's two-year anniversary, I give you a round-up of my vegetarian restaurant reviews. I hope to write many more.

Novare Res Bier Cafe, Portland, February 4, 2009
¡Burrito!, Westbrook, December 22, 2008
Hot Suppa!
, Portland, November 12, 2008
Portland Pie Company, Portland, September 30, 2008
Emilitsa, Portland, September 2, 2008
Flatbread Company, Portland, August 5, 2008
A1 Diner, Gardiner, June 17, 2008
Mesa Verde, Portland, April 23, 2008
David's, Portland, March 26, 2008
Katahdin, Portland, February 27, 2008
Pom's Thai Taste, Portland, January 30, 2008
Silly's, Portland, January 9, 2008
Bintliff's, Portland, December 20, 2007
Blue Spoon, Portland, October 2, 2007
Caiola's, Portland, September 11, 2007
Bonobo, Portland, August 14, 2007
Cockeyed Gull, Peaks Island, July 24, 2007
The Good Egg Cafe, Portland, July 3, 2007
The White Heart, Portland, June 12, 2007
Artemisia, Portland, May 22, 2007

Friday, January 23, 2009

Veggin' out on the slopes

When fluffy powder falls softly in the morning, Bethel, Maine bustles with activity. Everyone wants to hit the slopes. A quintessential New England village, Bethel nestles up against the eight peaks of the Sunday River ski resort. So skiers are everywhere at this time of year.

During a recent visit, Adam and I stayed at our favorite Sudbury Inn, which houses both a popular watering hole and a restaurant. Guests get breakfast included with their stay, and the restaurant is open to the public in the morning as well. I was psyched that the kitchen stocked some soy milk for me and I ordered a bowl of cereal each morning.

Whenever we're in Bethel, we practically live at DiCocoa's, pictured above. Located near the Sudbury Inn on Main Street, this all-vegetarian market and bakery is always hopping. We usually stop in for the fantastic sandwiches and amazing coffee (they brew Matt's Organic Wood Roasted). You can pick up a few grocery items here too.

Once on the mountain, Adam and I made multiple stops at the ski-in, ski-out Pejamajo Cafe. Located right next to Barker Lodge, it serves up sweet and savory crepes and the most amazing vegan chili. Eating the steaming bowl while sitting in the warm sun was a wonderful treat.

Off the mountain, the best place to stock up on beer, wine and groceries is the Good Food Store. You also can get delicious sandwiches, soups and salads here, plus catering should you be planning an apres ski gathering. We were lucky enough to score an invitation to a home-cooked vegan dinner at our friends' off-the-grid mountain house. The perfectly cooked vegetable & tofu curry included fresh stinging nettle from the Good Food Store and flavorful basmati rice. It was an absolutely divine way to cap off a delightful trip.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday leftovers

This winter holiday offered up many blessings, and one of my favorites is a new recipe which complements the traditional flavors of the season. I've wanted to create a dish using Maine-grown pumpkin seeds since this summer and have been mulling over possible concoctions in my head for a number of weeks. With time off from work and a Winter Solstice desire to hunker down in my kitchen, I finally started playing with the pumpkin seeds. The result? Pumpkin Seed Croquettes.

I baked a batch for Christmas Eve dinner at my house and and another for Christmas day dinner at my in-laws. And today, I reheated a leftover croquette, piled it onto pan toasted Standard Baking Company bread, dressed it with mushroom gravy and slathered on homemade cranberry sauce. It was Christmas dinner on a sandwich. It was delicious.

By using a ton of fresh sage and liberal amounts of celery seed and garlic, the taste becomes reminiscent of stuffing and mashed potatoes. The batter and uncooked croquettes will be a funny shade of green, but, as you can see from these pics, a little basting and time in the oven turn the croquettes a nutty brown hue. Serve them with cranberry sauce and gravy, and you'll please any palate.

Pumpkin Seed Croquettes

3 cups cooked organic small grained brown rice
2 cups salted organic pumpkin seeds
3 Tbsp. organic extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves organic garlic
1 Tbsp. organic soy sauce
1 tsp. organic toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water
3 cups organic carrots, grated
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp. dried organic celery seed
1 tsp. dried organic basil

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Add pumpkin seeds to food processor and pulse a few times. Then add olive oil, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix until it has a creamy texture. Add pumpkin seed mixture to bowl with brown rice, carrots and seasonings. Mix until well blended. Saute onion until caramelized and add to pumpkin seed mixture.

Oil a baking pan. Take roughly a cup full of the mixture into your hands and form a ball. Then roll it into an oblong croquette. Press the croquettes onto the oiled baking pan. Once the pan is full, whisk the baste ingredients together and brush it over each croquette. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. Baste the croquettes after 20 minutes. Serve with mushroom gravy and cranberry sauce. Makes 20.

Mushroom Gravy

1 medium organic onion, diced
3 Tbsp. organic extra virgin olive oil
2 cups organic shiitake mushrooms, diced
1/4 cup organic soy sauce
1 cup organic hemp milk
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. fresh organic sage, chopped
1 tsp. organic garlic powder
1 tsp. organic onion powder
1 tsp. organic dried thyme
1 tsp. organic dried basil
1/4 cup organic rye flour

Saute onions until they begin to brown. Then add mushrooms and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add soy sauce, hemp milk and water. Stir. Add seasonings and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Slowly add flour until the gravy is thick and doesn't easily run off a spoon. Serve warm.

Tangy Cranberry Sauce

6 cups fresh, Maine organic cranberries
2 cups organic Maine maple syrup
1 tsp. Maine sea salt
4 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Combine cranberries, maple syrup and sea salt in a sauce pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the mixture for a minute or so, then reduce the heat to low. Allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring on occasion. Continue cooking until the cranberries skins have all burst. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Serve hot or cold.