Yes, this is about a salad

The makings of a damn fine salad.

The makings of a damn fine salad.

Folks, I’m happy to report that I’m alive and well. Not only because I survived going vegan for a month but also because I managed to not overdose on mountains of bacon and cheese on February 1st, my first day back to non-vegan eating. (Maybe I’m finally getting a hang of this whole self-control thing. Doubtful, though.)

Even though I’m back to the dairy wonderland that is my life, I’ll be keeping a few of the things I picked up during my brief stint as a vegan. Tofu cream cheese for, example, and veggie breakfast sausages are sticking around, as is hopefully the Spicy Sabzi from trendy salad chain, Sweetgreen.

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The Spicy Sabzi, mmm mmm mmm!

I know what you’re thinking. A salad? Really? Yes, really. The Spicy Sabzi, a colorful, delicious and actually filling beauty of baby spinach and kale with spicy quinoa, spicy broccoli, carrots, raw beets, basil, sprouts and roasted tofu, is no freakin’ joke. Dressed with a carrot chili vinaigrette and a squeeze of one of my favorites ever, sriracha sauce, this salad is something I’d gladly eat again and again. It’s chunky, spicy, zesty and full of great tasting and great-for-you ingredients. What’s not to love?

My one concern was that because Sweetgreen’s only New York location was in a part of town that I don’t typically find myself in often I probably wouldn’t be eating there that much, but then I read  that another Sweetgreen is on its way to Brooklyn, not far from me, so it looks like there are definitely more Spicy Sabzis in my future. Vegan or not, I’m looking forward to that.

No bacon, eggs or cheese here but it’s OK

With the exception of New Year’s Day, when I woke up with an outrageous, crippling hangover and wanted nothing more than to eat all of the bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches in New York City, being a vegan hasn’t been that bad.

I’m on day twelve of my month long challenge  and not once in those twelve days have I cheated, fantasized about dairy (that much), or directed malicious thoughts toward people eating non-vegan things. (Although, confession time: having to order vegetarian meatloaf at a chicken-and-waffles joint sucked… especially when my friend’s fried chicken smelled like God himself.)
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Just as great tasting as it is looking, I swear

One of the good things about living in New York though, and more specifically Brooklyn, is that being vegan doesn’t have to suck. I mean, it’s not ideal (life without bacon cheeseburgers just can’t be ideal), but it’s not the worst thing ever, either. A couple mornings ago, for example, I found myself at Brooklyn Standard, my favorite Greenpoint deli, looking for a big breakfast to hunker down in bed with while binge watching Downton Abbey. (It was my day off and the weather was rating pretty high on the shitty winter weather scale, so yea, those were my plans.)
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What a beaut.

And that’s when I saw it: the Cali Bagel with the magic v word in parenthesis: tofu cream cheese, tempeh sausage, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, and basil. Slap all that on an everything bagel and you’re looking at a pretty happy fake vegan.

First of all, let me say this: I was ready to hate tofu cream cheese. As a serious lover of real cream cheese, I didn’t think I had it in me to love an imposter, but I did. I loved how creamy and smooth it was, and how it just melted and oozed all over my toasted bagel. The tempeh sausage, while not as delicious as the real deal, was good and had a nice, sausagey consistency and flavor. The cherry tomatoes were juicy and bright and the jalapeños added a perfect hint of tangy spiciness.

Being a vegan for another 20 or so days shouldn’t be too hard if I have this bad boy just down the block.

Pasta perfection

 


Spaghetti alla vigliacca

 

Everything happens for a reason. However, I did not purposely leave the dress I was supposed to wear to the wedding hanging in the closet at my boyfriend’s house so that we would have a reason to go back to Florence and then have lunch while we were there. Really. I didn’t. It just worked out that way.

So there we were, driving back toward Florence from Lucca. Yes, we needed to time everything so that we could be back in time to get ready for the wedding but there were other pressing matters at hand.

“So, uh, where should we eat lunch?”

Deciding that we would rather avoid the nightmare that is driving and parking in the center of Florence, we instead opted for a place just outside of the center, i.e. where I’d be sure to be the only American around.

We had been to Caffe Dogali before, usually on lazy weekend afternoons when we’d wake up late with growling stomachs. It’s a small osteria and bar near the stadium, part tobacco shop and sandwich counter inside with a small dining room in the back and a little square of outdoor seating in the front.

Though lots of people around us (namely awkward looking Italian teens with identical shoes and bad hair) were eating delicious looking panini made with giant pieces of gold-colored focaccia, we both wanted pasta. Continue reading

Some sparkle with my sugar

Mini cupcakes from Kingdom Cake

I swear it’s not that I go looking for cupcakes. The cupcakes find me

Well no, I guess that’s not entirely true. I’ve definitely gone in search of cupcakes on many a lunch break or a Friday after work or on any other number of random occasions. BUT several times it’s happened that I’m not even thinking about them or about food at all (yes, it happens that I sometimes think about other things), when all of a sudden I bump into some new place that I just have to stop at and check out.  Because as the old adage goes, don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today, right? (Ok, so maybe that’s not what it was referring to but I’m applying it here anyway.) Continue reading

Arrivederci

My boyfriend is leaving. Back to Italy he goes and with him the home-cooked meals he whipped up in our miniature kitchen.

Mushroom risotto... mmm mmm mmm

While I wholeheartedly love eating, the chances that I’ll put the time and effort into making mushroom risotto, home made pesto or spaghetti alla carbonara for one… well, they’re slim to none.

Enjoying it while it lasts and bracing for the onslaught of Lean Cuisines in my near future…

Forget chicken soup for the soul…

For about three days last week the weather was beautiful: cool, crisp and sunny with bright blue skies and all the signs that spring was finally here.

And then it got cold again. So even though it’s technically spring, since the weather is rainy and chilly, I thought it was a good time to squeeze in one more meal I associate with winter and crappy weather: pappa al pomodoro. A traditional Tuscan dish based on the idea of not letting any food go to waste, pappa al pomodoro is a chunky tomato and bread soup. Thick and  pleasantly filling (without being too heavy), it’s the perfect thing to eat on nasty days when you just want to feel cozy and warm.

Flaneur had never actually made it before but when I looked up a few recipes they all seemed easy enough.

First things first, we gathered the ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, stale loaf of bread (In Italy this would’ve been the traditional unsalted, Tuscan table bread. We tried to get something close, and then let it get hard as a rock.), vegetable broth, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The ingredients

Next, we poured some olive oil into a pot, threw a few garlic cloves in (whole, not diced) and let them simmer and brown a little. Once they started to look golden,  we threw in the tomatoes (diced into fat chunks), basil and a good amount of pepper (for a little kick) and let it all stew for about 10 minutes.

Tossing everything together

After everything seemed to mix together into a soupy consistency, we poured in the vegetable broth and let it come to a boil, then let it cook for  another five minutes.

Simmering in the pot

Next we threw in the chopped stale bread and let it cook for another five or ten minutes. Our bread was really hard on the outside but still a bit soft and spongy on the inside, so it soaked up a lot of the liquid, but a bit of water thrown in got it back to a good consistency.

Adding the bread

Finally, we added a little bit of salt, poured it into bowls and garnished with fresh basil and there you have it: a delicious, heart-and-belly warming meal to hold you over till better weather!

Eat up!

UPDATE: After much discussion with my in-house Italian, I wanted to clarify that pappa al pomodoro is not specifically a “winter” dish. Italians eat this any time of year and one thing I read even said it was a quintessential summer food. This is strictly my opinion, but I can’t imagine eating something like this in say August, when it’s 95 degrees outside and you don’t have air conditioning (which none of the Italian apartments I lived in had). Flaneur says you can eat it cold but I think part of what makes this dish great is  eating it hot, and having that fuzzy feeling of being warmed from the inside out.

Lessons in pesto

The goods

The best thing about having an Italian boyfriend is that his standards for Italian food are ridiculously high. He would rather eat a sock than dinner at the Olive Garden, never buys pasta sauce in a jar, splurges on “good” olive oil, and like me, he thinks that alfredo sauce is weird and gross. Tonight for example, he wanted to make pesto. Great, I thought, I love pesto! So off he went to the supermarket down the street but instead of coming back with a small jar of the oily green stuff most people would’ve bought, he came back with a wedge of Parmiggiano-Reggiano (aka Parmesan), a fat head of garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and olive oil (Italian of course).

Apart from grating the cheese and documenting this whole process with my camera, I didn’t really do much. I observed and was greatful. That was about it. Flaneur on the other hand, got to business. He finely diced a couple cloves of raw garlic and added them to the bowl of grated Parmesan I had finished.

Mixing ingredients

Next, between tossing several of them in his mouth and marveling at how good they were (even though they were from Spain), he chopped up the pine nuts and also added those to the cheese and garlic mix.

Chopping pine nuts

Up next were the basil leaves, which he plucked off their long stems and minced with the sharpest knife my small kitchen had to offer. Once the basil was chopped into small enough pieces it went in with the cheese, garlic and pine nuts.

Chopping basil

After getting a generous pour of olive oil (and then a couple more for good measure), he stirred everything around until it was a thick, even green mixture with an aroma so rich and powerful it filled the whole apartment. (It’s now hours since we ate and my room still smells of garlic and basil in a wonderful pesto-scented Yankee candle kind of way.)

Stirring it all up

Finally, he cooked the pasta, De Cecco fusilli (his favorite brand and the only one he eats at home in Italy). After draining it he threw it back in the pot, mixed in the pesto and served it. We sprinkled on some more fresh-grated Parmesan and sat down to enjoy our delicious pasta with authentic homemade pesto. Mmmm mmm!

Buon appetito!