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Sometimes you just want to spend the entire day in the kitchen and the entire night in the dining room eating and giggling with friends. It was time for a Winter Dins vegan victuals dinner party.
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For starters, “Deviled” Polenta Yukon Golds.
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Rye, Kale & Eggplant Dressing with toasted Pepitas
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Fennel, Apple & Herb Salad with toasted Pistachios and Horseradish
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Harissa & Maple-Roasted Root VegetablesDSC_0043

Spinach-stuffed Rolled Seitan SteaksDSC_0052

Winter’s delights on a plate.DSC_0066

My “White Elephant” gift and my vodka & pineappleIMG_3815

I whipped up adorable meringue mushrooms to garnish the Bûche de Noël.IMG_3786

The Bûche de Noël in the making.DSC_0024

And the finished dessert!DSC_0060

And a gluten free chocolate mousse for the intolerant Max.IMG_3818

Not that I need another reason to eat an all-vegan apple-themed dinner by an aspiring chef, but my birthday is here again. And a Monday night dinner with some dear, old friends is just what I needed to start celebrating. But it was Da’Ves Lee Malone, the sweet and delightfully timid chef of Sprouting Dreams, who was special lady of the evening. We were lucky enough to be part of her very first Pop-up dinner, hosted at Brooklyn’s V-Spot.  The 4-course meal was all about apples.

DSC_0043Course 1: Mini sweet peppers stuffed with soy sausage and diced Apples along with a carrot bacon-wrapped apple bite. Tender, delicious bites. A dance of sweet and savory on a pepper dance floor. I wanted at least 5 more of these bites.

DSC_0046Course 2: Apple Forest Salad, radicchio salad with thinly sliced apples, shiitake bacon dressed in a walnut vinaigrette. A chef’s weight can be measured in how they craft a salad. Da’Ves made a mean one, each bite had something wonderful to offer.

DSC_0050Course 3: Seared Seitan Steak with bourbon-poached apples and caramelized onions over a bourbon apple cider reduction along with roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts. This was my favorite course. Seitan basked in this umptious reduction, moistened yet sturdy. Poached apples and caramelized onions balanced texture and sweetness. Then roasted veggies became sponges to clean surface area of plate.

DSC_0052Course 4: Apple Fritters with caramel cream cheese and candied pecans. Apple infused each bite of these fritters. It was like a battered a deep-fried apple cake, I think? Cashew-based caramel cream cheese was extraordinary. Bravo, Chef Da’Ves!

After a particularly gluttonous summer so far, I needed to take it down a few notches with a grain-free cleanse–2 days of raw food and juice. I also wanted to take this opportunity to try out some products that I’ve had on my radar in the grocery store, as a new year of work calls for hearty and healthful sustenance.  Here is everything I ate today.PicMonkey Collage
My Raw Cleanse, Day 1 (left to right):

Raw Revolution Spirulina Dream bar

tsp. organic apple cider vinegar

blk. mineral water

Organic green seedless grapes

Organic Bartlett pear

Organic raw cocoa goji bar

Brad’s Raw Chips: Cheddar with organic kale and raw pepitas hummus

Health-Ade raw kombucha

Organic banana pie (see below)

BluePrint Beet, Apple, Carrot, Lemon, Ginger juice

Organic Mission figs

tsp. organic apple cider vinegar

DSC_0022With my high-speed blender revved up, I made a raw kale hummus and a banana dessert to appease my appetite. The crust of the organic banana pie: raw cashew, an organic raw cocoa goji bar, and organic coconut oil. The banana filling: 2 organic bananas (speckled), raw cashews and agave nectar (The agave nectar was the only non-raw ingredient I ate today.)

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I also made the raw kale and pepitas hummus. Day 1, in the bag. I feel great but am craving the pretzel sticks in the pantry a great deal.

I woke up to the sound of Green Frogs calling me out through the forest and to the Bay with their rubber band snaps. And other morning sounds-a cacophony of sorts. Morning is so loud. Luckily, there was deep, dark coffee to sip as I walked down the trail. I kinda wanted that coffee commercial first cup.DSC_0005

I met the Blue Hill Bay at low tide. So everything was covered in thick yellow seaweed, empty and spongey like the veins of a giant sea creature. DSC_0020

There were several siren perches that’d fit the bill for my hope of a coffee commercial first cup. But ecstatic gnats and flies all wished to enter my eyelids. What do they do that for?IMG_8868

I saw plenty of funghi. I don’t know anything about wild mushrooms, except that it excites me to see ’em!PicMonkey Collage.jpg

I took the trail back up the the Institute’s grounds, walking through the tremendous fields of wild flowers. DSC_0034

And they all smiled for pictures. It was a glorious way to start the day.IMG_8876

After a productive morning, we had a delicious vegan lunch. Now, I had half-expected uninspired offerings similar to the options available in town. But IHE practices what it preaches–by way of all-vegan. And because they know that this may be a participant’s first sampling of vegan food, they go all out–much to the enjoyment of long-term vegans like myself. IMG_8887For lunch–a lentil walnut apple loaf with a delicious sweet glaze on top, a heaping spoonful of mashed potatoes…

A stellar salad with a scrumptious orange shallot vinaigrette and delicious vanilla-glazed anise cookies. In a word: WowIMG_8888

Dinners are on our own. Declining the invite to the steel drum band playing in town, I headed, instead, to Acadia National Park. But only after a quick and perfunctory dinner at Gringo’s, a burrito joint off the downtown Bar Harbor waterfront tourist spot that can put tofu in the burritos and knows things like whether or not their beans have lard. Good enough for me!IMG_8904

I headed to the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, the highest point on the Atlantic coast, to watch the sun fade to the east in that pink trail that never photographs well. There were a ton of site-seers waiting for the big show. I love that.IMG_8909

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Goodnight, Maine. You’re beautiful.

I always giggle at myself for enjoying my weekend bagel the way I do. I really feel a sense of loss at its last bite. It’s simple perfection. An everything bagel, of course. Then toasted to activate all those seeds’ flavors. A layer of Earth Balance. And a layer of Bonne Maman preserves (today, Cherry). Every side of my tongue is happy. Especially when it finds the lone caraway seed, aaaah. The bagel, best done on Long Island, is to be savored. More so because I am heading west tomorrow. Where bagels suck.
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Spring is finally in the backyard–in the form of noisy, enthusiastic birds and a clan of happy-faced daffodils.IMG_7267

The gang’s all here. What’d we miss?DSC_0054

For lunch on this glorious spring day, we headed to Seasons 52 in Garden City, a higher end restaurant chain dedicated to seasonal cuisine. It has a weekly changing specials menu, hence the 52, and it has a separate vegan menu. IMG_7273

I had the Vegetarian Tasting: a quinoa-citrus salad with greens and cranberry bits, a soft taco piled with a variety of seasonal vegetables, two chunks of cedar-roasted tofu [cedar serving tray included], and another pile of blanched veggies. It was fresh and flavorful but lacked a bit of cohesion. I guess it was a tasting plate after all. DSC_0069

We also got sides of potato wedges and a Fiji apple slaw (below).
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Then we headed to the local TCBY chain to try their Silk chocolate almond soft serve! I was very psyched about this vegan option which, the friendly employee informed me, rotates. Vanilla had just been replaced with this chocolate almond… and coconut was up next. Kinda excited about that! IMG_7277

I soft served it up and added some of their fruit and nut toppings. They have a whole lot of toppings that are mostly un-vegan.
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It was real yummy. Creamy, not ice-y-ish, so you know there are some good and weird stabilizers. I was proud of my creation. Then I ate it all. And loosened my SwatchDSC_0073

Every now and again you need to use what you already have–make some movement in the refrigerator. My crisper drawer runneth over. It is not permanent storage. So for my week’s lunch, I’d use it all. DSC_0001It would be brunch for lunch. What better an idea to use leftover veggies and fruits. I started with a hash: diced potato (finished the bag!), diced turnip which I had been avoiding having never “worked with” before, diced leftover roasted carrot from my lunch last week, and the rest of the celery that I had with my Superbowl tempeh “wings.”

DSC_0007The hash was so good, as anything potato-related is. On the right, some marinated tempeh cubes. One day I will measure ingredients when I make my marinade; this one was so good. I hope it wasn’t because of the oozy squeeze of light corn syrup, which I needed for my Valentine sugar cookies, that I added, knowing that this item would be taking up pantry space for a while. I’d rather believe it was the final remnants of organic brown rice syrup I added. More turnover points for that jar!

DSC_0009I love tempeh. It wasn’t always that way. Now I prefer it to tofu. Further back, roasted turnip wedges. After some time in high temps, bathed in salt and olive oil, the turnip was roasted to a creamy state. They were dreamy.

DSC_0011Next up, the fruit. I had leftover pineapple The Electrician picked up for me when I was sick. Then there was the new container of organic berries that was on sale and I couldn’t pass up. I made a compote for the sweet part of my brunch lunch: pancakes!

DSC_0005Then I made the pancakes–flax pancakes with 1) the dried apple ring compote I baked up the Valentine tart with (see interesting history here), 2) the speckled banana ripening away, and 3) almond. 3 different versions of flapjacks that I’d mix and match.

DSC_0015It is going to be an easy week! Turnover points: 10!

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In one of those wonderful random gifts to the vegan world, Rutherford, New Jersey’s Rutherford Pancake House serves vegan breakfast options.
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They had me at “Vegan Challah” French Toast. I devoured the plate of moist halves of scrumptious French toast thinking, “Is this really vegan?” I get vegan paranoia sometimes… When I’m served an accompaniment of butter with a vegan dish and I’m charged the price of regular French Toast and not the $1 more vegan item, my mind goes reeling. But I’d know; my body would know. It’s vegan. DSC_0098

They also vegan pancakes, including weekend specials like vegan red velvet pancakes. They’ve got a tofu scramble and a couple of other Daiya-ed items. When a “regular” place like this has more than one vegan options, the vegan angels of mainstreaming get their wings. I need to make up a word for vegan-friendly omni eateries like this. They give me quite the thrill.IMG_6533

When one is in Rutherford, a stop at the all-vegan Sweet Avenue Bake Shop is in order. But of course!
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And with plans with friends later in the day, I knew I had an excuse to buy most of Friday’s specialty cupcakes, and a gluten-free cupcake for my gluten-intolerant buddy. Clockwise: their Sexy Sadie (red velvet with cream cheese frosting), S’mores, their Boston Cream (vanilla cake with bavarian cream filling), and the Caramel Brûlée. Packaged separately was the gluten-free Red Velvet.DSC_0113

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IMG_6539I also grabbed 3 cake poppers. The cake inside was real soft and dough like. That middle one was divine–it was the cookie dough cake popper.

DSC_0114My favorite though–the one topped with marshmallow cream: the S’mores–deep, dark chocolate cake with a top hat of marshmallow cream, a drizzle of ganache and a wedge of graham cracker.

I’m a little ashamed of heading to another cupcakery in New York City immediately after Sweet Avenue. I headed to Soho’s Georgetown Cupcake for their daily vegan option. Georgetown Cupcake was opened by ex-fashionistas in DC several years back (during what I call the Cupcake Boom) and they’ve had a lot of success… hence the storefront in SoHo.
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PicMonkey Collage2It was standing room only. The 4 tables were filled with folks long since finished eating now watching their phones together. They probably wouldn’t even have noticed if I sat with them. I ate my vegan Apple Cinnamon with cream cheese frosting watching the ridiculousness.

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Finally, a savory sandwich at Bombay Sandwich Co. Friends and I met at the newish counter spot for ex-Smorgasburg vendor. I had been meaning to check them out since then… but the prospect of the throngs of Williamsburg-ers was always a deterrent. This bright, quiet location in the Garment District is much better. I had the Pesto Perfect–smashed spaghetti squash with arugula, sliced tomato and their homemade Kale & Walnut Pesto on ciabatta. Very flavorful and with a great kick of heat.
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Ok, that’s all I ate today. I’m a total glutton. Dear blog, look what I do for you!

DSC_0001Gorgeous apples of all shapes and sizes. Speckled uniquely, with underbellies, striated skin–a plane of antioxidants and fiber. Fruit–how glorious.

DSC_0003My first bunch would be a batch of scratchmade apple sauce. Simple and easy–but perfect.

IMG_5466Applesauce, to the left, and sweetened yam to the right. Autumn favorites.

IMG_5469In the theme of autumn brown, I made tamarind-glazed tofu in the broiler. My chuck of tamarind dearly needs a turnover. I will deal with this come VV’s Pantry Turnover month (January).

IMG_5470Broiling is my new favorite cooking method for tofu.

IMG_5471Apple use number 2! Quick apple parfaits with coconut whip. Unfortunately the “whip” was more like a milkshake. It was still absolutely delicious. Lunch for the week is squared away. Now, gratuitous apple recipes commence!

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One of the many reasons I love living on the east coast is the trees. Come autumn, there’s an art show in the trees. Keep your cones and desert, west coast. I’ll take the Deciduous trees. Their visual, cyclical renewal feels better, hopeful, than your towering sameness and arid granules.IMG_5434Of course, getting beyond New York City is always battle. But the wounds heal immediately upon arrival at the Sloatsburg rest area. There’s a recharge there, like a video game; heart containers are full once again. From there, the New York Thruway is effortless. A joy, actually.

IMG_5454We were heading north to pick apples, as people of the Fall tend to do inexplicably (see here)–following a rainbow that broke a grey sky into pieces, the persistent blue sky calling the weather folks fools. Meanwhile I wondered, for the thousandth time, what the heck Tappan Zee was named after. (My assumption of it being Native American was correct–the Tappan were a sub-tribe of the Lenape & Zee is a Dutch word meaning a wide expanse of water.)

PicMonkey Collage.jpgAfter finding that there was really no such thing as a truly organic orchard here on the east coast (Ok, west coast, you win there!), we were heading to a low-spray orchard–Stone Ridge Orchard, right outside of New Paltz. We passed a dozen you-pick-em places en route to Stone Ridge, likely with robust harvests of plump apples… but with a tough, chemical filmed skin no doubt. Stone Ridge was what I wanted, natural-sized apples with imperfections, not franken-apples.

DSC_0166The orchard was all ours! Just a few other souls were wandering about the trees. We picked a half bushel– strolling the lined rows, feeling the porous, packed crunch of the over-ripe apples under our feet. Idyllic.

PicMonkey Collage2.jpgBrown braids, dirty jeans, and my boots in moist earth. October is the most wonderful time of the year.

IMG_5460And Stone Ridge’s farmstand even had a vegan cookie for me! With our bag of apples secured in the backseat, the trip back would be devoted to day dreams on apple recipes. I began plotting an apple take-over in the kitchen.

Dresden   Google Maps

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DSC_0002After brief appreciation (Griswald Grand Canyon style) of Kölner Dom, I moved on from Köln. With my days counting down quickly, I needed to do some cities flash pan speed. I boarded an early train north, foolishly thinking it’d be a quiet and secluded ride. Right smack in the middle of the holiday season, throngs of excited, vacationing Germans and their hefty suitcases litter the aisles of the train. I’ve yet to make a seat reservation on any of my train excursions but I see now that it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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Today’s destination is Bremen, whose roots date back to a settlement in 100 AD. How spectacular to be able to linger amongst such a deep-rooted history. Bremen has some appealing sights and some vegan options I can’t pass up. I knew as soon as I ventured out of the main station that this was my kind of city. PicMonkey Collage.jpgI tried, in vain, to find Veganbar, an all-vegan food truck, with no success. Now I realize that today they are stationed elsewhere. This is the price I pay for not knowing what day it is.

DSC_0016I left my suitcase in storage so I can explore the sites, many of which were far closer to the train station than my hostel. Bremen is pretty easy to navigate. I found all the places I wished to go, and discovered some new ones along the way. Take a look at yet another stunning German city.

DSC_0042On the way to the old quarter I saw Windmill am Wall.

DSC_0054Bremen is very proud of their mascots–a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster– or The Bremen Town Musicians, the title of a Brothers Grimm folktale about misfits finding a new home. The image is everywhere I look here in Bremen, along with intricately detailed historical buildings.

The gorgeous old quarter:
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DSC_0039I was really excited to check out Veganissimi, an all vegan shop with grocery items, sweets, and other vegan miscellany. I was in vegan heaven! They had so many items I have never seen… which makes sense since I am very far from home. The store owner, Tatjana, was amused by my excitement–and surprised that New York did not have its very own vegan-only store like Veganissimi. Yes, New York, you need to step it up!

DSC_0027Here is the queen of Veganissimi, Tatjana. She was very gracious. Besides giving me a recommendation for lunch, she invited me to an all-vegan brunch buffet, a monthly event that happens to be tomorrow. Though my plans are tight, I decided that I can not miss this brunch.

PicMonkey Collage2.jpgSome shots from the store: a slew of vegan cheeses, veggie brats of all shapes and sizes, animal liberation imagery all about, and just all around yumminess.

PicMonkey Collage3.jpgI have never seen white chocolate bars before–and they had a variety! I ordered an apple cupcake and a simple cheese sandwich that really hit the spot.

DSC_0038The cheese was really good–out of the fridge and cold–unlike some packaged cheeses that.

PicMonkey Collage4.jpgMy goody bag, literally: A white chocolate bar with crispies, chocolate-covered biscuit and vanilla creme things that look too much like Scooter Pies for me not to by, the Bonbarr–which was like a vegan Charleston Chew (!), Vego–a huge chocolate and hazelnut bar, and a strawberry creme chocolate bar. Yikes!! Oh, and a tofu monster bag.

DSC_0004After checking into my hostel and getting the nitty gritty on how to ride the street cars, I ventured out to a bustling Park Slope-ish strip of cafes and shops. Yes, it says “TOFU” on the building.

DSC_0005I hit Vengo for a late lunch/early dinner. This was the recommendation from Tatjana. I was thankful for the insider tip as this mostly vegan eatery was not on my radar. Inside, a friendly counter gal helped explain the many vegetable-based dishes, many Turkish-inspired, I could choose for my 8-sides plate. This was a fantastic and flavorful meal I devoured quickly… then proceeded to Vengo’s dessert. What an amazing day of vegan discoveries!

DSC_0007My glorious colorful plate of awesome vegan goodness: braised chickory, black bean and herb salad, delicious black-eyed peas, a potato salad, eggplant and sun-dried tomato, carrot hummus, and cous-cous-like pilaf on Romaine lettuce… and a pineapple and mint palate cleanser

DSC_0009After a meal like that, I couldn’t wait to try the dessert–a sweet coconut milk rice with layers of sweet thin apple, cooked to perfection, and sprinkled with coconut. Oh Bremen, you are a fantastic stop on my journey!

DSC_0011After my meal, I took a walk along the Weser river back to the old quarter, a recently renovated “Maritime Mile.” that adds to the city’s historical range. Bremen has a proud heritage as a member of the Hanseatic League, a group of trade guilds along the coast of Northern Europe started in the 13th century.

My trip here is Germany is peaking. I can’t believe all that I have seen thus far. A couple more days of this kind of existence and then I’ll be back to reality. Until then…