the cool kids

i've been drinking beer for a long time...could it be 12 years now? i am starting to feel like i have this better understanding - a fluency really - about what to order based on my moods, the weather, the occasion, and so on.

standing in front of a case stocked to the teeth with hundreds of fantastic bottles no longer gives me that weird choice anxiety. even the bearded beer dude coming over to chat feels less intimidating now that i can accept that he's not showing off - he just gets true smiles from sharing all his nerdy, sudsy wisdom.

it's no brewmaster geeky secret, though, that as temperatures rise lighter, crispier, often wheat-y beers come into vogue. a glass of berliner weisse or super cold pale ale in blue skied july is divine, melting the edges of even the most gnarly humidity induced angst. much like music selection and lighting schemes, the right beer at the right time can really pull everything together.

but where to go when the mercury reaches sadistic new heights and that coriander flecked white beer might as well be a coffee porter? when the only food that can rouse the least bit of your appetite is raw fruit? when the only energy you can expend is staggering towards a cold shower like a sweaty zombie?

now pull yourself together, man! it's Shandy Time. so round up some fresh fruits, cold beers, and a fistful of fresh herbs and get on this road to recovery. shandies are all the rage in philadelphia this summer, popping up at menus high brow and low. of course i've sampled a few of these offerings, and while the good ones are indeed quite good (the jolly rancher inspired watermelon shandy at morgan's pier and the lemonhead scented one at pub & kitchen are two of the more memorable), but they're often too cloying for my taste. sweetness alone does not equal refreshment for me, quite the contrary, so i thought through a way to find more balance in this juicy beer cocktail (oh, could there be any three words more lovely together??), and this is where i ended up.

instead of starting with an already-fruited beer, i cracked a lovable, affordable, and fuss free standard: sly fox royal weisse. allagash white or walt wit would do just fine, too. since some distinct flavors are going in the mix, a beer of too high quality or rarity might be overwrought. keep it simple, as this cold one may be a matter of survival.

Watermelon Rosemary Shandies
~ makes 4
~takes 5 or 10 minutes, depending on how quick/slow you're moving

a 6 pack of sly fox royal weisse (you'll only need 3 for this recipe, but you'll want a second round, trust me)
about 4 cups of watermelon, seeds optional
2 lemons
3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves stripped off the stems
2 tablespoons rice syrup (another sweetener is fine...just keep the ratio low so you don't make the simple syrup too sweet)

- bring about a 1/4 cup of water to a boil and add the rice syrup or other sweetener. stir til dissolved and take off the heat. add the rosemary and let it steep while it cools. you want to ideally get a lot of herbal flavor, so the longer the better.

- roughly chop the watermelon and puree in a food processor or blender. whiz the hell out of it. strain the juice through a mesh sieve. if you don't mind a texture-y drink, leaving the pulp in could be good, too.

- roll the lemons under your palm to get their juices flowing. cut each in half.

- fill 4 pint glasses with ice. pour the beer about 2/3 of the way up, then squeeze half a lemon in each glass. a seed or two might fall in but that's ok. top off each glass with a healthy slug of watermelon juice, then stir in teaspoon or two of the rosemary syrup. taste and adjust with little splashes of beer, juice or syrup til those suckers are right where you want them. if there's a little beer left over in one of the three cans you opened, well that's just a little bonus for you being such an awesome friend to share these drinks with your pals in their time of need.

- if, at the end of all this there is leftover watermelon juice, rejoice! a wee splash added to even the most sub-par light beer brings it to a sick new level of deliciousness.

viva variations: the lemons can be replaced with limes, or any other sour citrus (seville oranges at brunch time?), and of course the secondary fruit can be swapped to suite your tastes. watermelons are such a snap to puree and strain, though, and blend with the beer so happily, that i cannot recommend them enough. and the herbs really brings it all home, adding some bass to the constant high note that all the sweet and sourness brings. a shandy in your hand and an episode of Frozen Planet cued up, and hey look! you're making it through the heat in one piece.



growing pains

i've been ruminating on this post for a week now, trying to articulate why my activity on this blog has diminished so much over the past year. it does take energy and intention to write with frequency, but i love writing. especially about food, adventures, and feelings. and i've certainly had no lack of of all three of those things lately. it's hard to know how much to share in a public-ish forum like this, you know? blogs and profiles and tumblrs and twitter feeds and all of these virtual forums allow us to landscape and edit our lives and personalities as much as we please. we can be a brutal and gruesome about our flaws, or present only the most charming, shiny moments. i will just say here that there have been lots of changes afoot in my life, some tough and tricky and some really good. all of them have made it easy to feel scattered, unfocused, and at times deeply uncertain.

as i get older, it has become clearer: even the most positive transitions carry with them that awkward sense of moving-through-it-ness, like that feeling in dreams when you're trying to run or swim and your body feels heavy and awful and won't obey your commands.

about a month ago, ryan and i bought a house in west philadelphia (yes, the kitchen rules). the day after we moved in, these lillies rocketed out of the front yard, reckless floral fireworks. they stood proud on their green legs for a few days and then slowly began to bow under their own grand weight, submitting to the humid force of gravity.

this is jacket - we adopted her in october and i do believe it's one of the best decisions we've ever made. i love this little dog more than is probably acceptable. she's missing a bunch of teeth, and purrs deep, guttural sighs of satisfaction when your hands hit the sweet spots. the perfection of her companionship surprises me constantly, and has inspired in me a whole new kind of care taking and nurturing...just further proving the infinite capacity of the heart.

i think Vegan Royale is nearing its natural end. cooking, drinking, eating, researching and learning are still very much at the core of my passions. but i'm not vegan anymore and haven't been for a long time. lately, i've even been grappling with conflicted feelings about my vegetarian diet, and what kinds of choices i'm going to make in the future. i will certainly continue writing and sharing, perhaps just in a new venue. perhaps with a bit more structure and a refreshed focus that more accurately reflect the foodie things i'm excited about these days. so while this isn't the last post ever, i'm getting ever closer to closing this chapter to make way for a new endeavor. and it feels kind of scary and risky and weird - as most real, good things usually do.



such a tease

on a chilly, dreary saturday morning - made all the more painful after the unfair teaser of utopian spring weather in the past few weeks - i just want to hide under a big blanket and tuck into an f. scott fitzgerald novel. yes, there are little chores to do around the house (figure out where i put my microphone, throw away an old batch of cupcakes, maybebutprobablynot clean the bathroom), but sometimes you have to ignore all that sensible stuff and temporarily lose yourself in a fictional world.

this is the prime occasion for a cup of tea, no? we'll save the coffee for later, when the am flips to pm and it's really time to jump start the day. coffee is for get-up-and-go, and tea is for get-up-walk-the-dog-and-go-back-to-bed. i am by no means a tea fanatic, or even really an enthusiast. i have a few boxes of herbals, a 100 count box of tetley (that i've been chipping away at for literally 3 years), and some other odds and tea-ends haphazardly crammed onto a shelf in a kitchen cabinet. what i'm usually after is not nuance or delicacy, but a bitter, hearty elixir to sand down the rough edges of my mood. my current go-to is a loose lavender earl grey tea from clairmont farms, a lavender centric farm in santa barbara county, california. oh man, i bet that place smells AMAZING.

i'm almost certain that my mom gave me this tea after a trip to the west coast with her husband. but how many years ago was that? how many moves has this sturdy jar survived? can tea go bad? this stuff, both floral and bold, seems to be holding up just fine, despite the fact that i didn't have a loose tea filter for a long time and the tea just sat neglected on the shelf, patiently collecting dust. i don't even know where the tea infuser pictured above came from - it just sort of entered my life in that mysterious, subtle way that small objects have a habit of doing. i say a little thank you to it every time i pour steaming water over the fragrant leaves, and the lavender essence wafts into the air.

did you guys know that there is a whole, mind bending-ly huge tea culture out there? when i was in my early 20's, i went to my first proper tea house in nyc, right near washington square park. clear as a bell, i remember the feeling of something akin to humiliation as the barista handed me their tea menu in a freaking binder, packed to the gills with a hundred odd pages. i suffer from acute over-choice overwhelmedness, and in a flushed daze chose some sort of berry-kiwi tea that i actually really disliked. so i don't go into high end tea shops looking for new sensations; in fact, i really try to spend as little money as possible on tea. i'm more than content to keep scooping out one spoonful at a time of tea leaves from and old jar with a faded label. for me, tea's true beauty isn't in the top note or bouquet, but in the soothing properties that start to kick in somewhere between the mug and the body.



ribollita salad

real talk (does anyone say that anymore?): i love kale. i will refrain from going on and on with all the reasons i adore it so, and just state finally that it is my favorite green vegetable on this planet. everything you need to know about why kale is king veg are clearly illustrated here. its emerald frills are welcome in every savory dish i can imagine, but i think i like it best in a pure state: sauteed with garlic and lemon, or better yet - raw in a salad. yes, raw! when its inside-scrubbing powers are at their most potent.

to paraphrase my friend allison,
"even being in the same room as kale makes you healthier"

last thursday sister lauren and our pal annabell came over for dinner. before they arrived i started prepping a salad whose concept had occurred to me earlier while i was browsing this awesome food blog. one of the featured recipes on that site was for ribollita, a hearty and simple tuscan peasant soup. i ate ribollita constantly awhile back, when i worked for an italian cafe that makes consistently top notch stuff, including killer soups. you probably already know that white beans and kale are best friend ingredients, but they meld extra well together against the tomato broth-y backdrop in ribollita. i scanned the Food52 recipe and excitedly realized that all the necessary elements were already waiting in the fridge at home! but thursday was one of those spring preview days: warm and cheery and decidedly not a soup day. and then a little idea bubbled up from my cooking-brain, and there it was: ribollita salad!

the ingredients await their fate

note- when i make this salad again i will do one of a few things to improve it:
1. make the salad a full 24 hours in advance to let the marinating powers really take over.
2. seek out younger, more tender kale. 2 bunches of farmer's market lacinato kale in the summer will be just the ticket.
3. toss the kale with still-hot vegetable broth to wilt it ever so slightly (this is reflected in the recipe below).
as it was, the kale in this salad was still very raw by the time it was served, and kind of intense in texture. for true kale-o-philes such as ourselves it wasn't a big deal, but for the uninitiated, it might be a less pleasant chewing experience.

but otherwise, the end product was indeed a cold and crunchy version of the soup, just as i'd envisioned. this also made a monster batch, but was perfect for lunch for the next few days, as the dressing dutifully worked its magic on the tougher bits.

Ribollita Salad
~takes about 30 minutes, plus marinating time~
~serves 4-6, or lunch for days~

1 large bunch of kale, cut off the rib and torn or cut into bite sized pieces/ribbons
2 tomatoes
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 15 ounce can of white beans, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons vegetable broth, warmed
1 tablespoon tomato paste, tomato juice, or the watery tomato stuff from canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried italian seasoning to taste
1/2 cup homemade breadcrumbs (do not use pre-made here! too sandy, blech)
parmesan reggiano (optional)

- put the prepped kale in a large salad bowl.

heat up the veg broth, either in the microwave or on the stove top. while it's still hot, whisk in the garlic, tomato paste, vinegar, and lemon juice. add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking to emulsify best you can. season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano/basil/marjoram. taste to adjust. if the dressing has cooled by this point, re-heat gently til medium warm.

- toss the kale with the dressing, making sure all the leaves are coated. cover with a lid or towel and set to the side. you want this to marinate for at least 30 minutes before eating. if you're making something else for lunch or dinner as well, now is a good time to start working on that.

- chop up the rest of the vegetables for the salad. if you want to get fancy and shred the carrots, or soak the shallots in cold water for a few minutes to tame their bite, go for it.

- prep the breadcrumbs. if you're making your own from a heel of stale baguette (bravo!), rub the bread with the cut edge of a garlic clove, then blast apart in the food processor. toast gently in the toaster oven or in a pan, til golden and fragrant.

- taste the marinated kale. add a splash more vinegar, or more s&p, or another secret weapon (caper juice? dry vermouth?) if you desire a bolder flavor. otherwise, toss in the rest of the vegetables and the beans. before serving, dump the breadcrumbs on top. for the dairy eaters, some shaved parm is called for here.

a craft beer in a frosty can is rarely out of order with dinner, and the citrusy crispness of the avery white rascal was a fine companion beverage to the kale salad, the roasted brussels with tempeh bacon (team Lauren), and red rice and root vegetables (team Annabell) that made up the vegan feast that we three sat down to. you know, if i'd been cooking and eating alone (as happens a bit more often now), i probably would have called the salad dinner and left it at that. but working in the kitchen alongside two other creative, confident, considerate cooks meant that while i was making my dish, other delicious things were simultaneously just happening. annabell even did the dishes! and for dessert, we watched pop videos on youtube...



comforts, confessions

it recently occurred to me that it's been quite some time since i was vegan. my first brush with dairy after nearly 3 years of cheat-free, rather blissful veganism, transpired in the warm, swank dining room of the wondrous Zahav, when I impulsively forked a tiny bite of soft sheep's milk cheese into my mouth. i told myself that it was kind of a special occasion, and didn't feel too guilty or weird.

that was back in 2009, when we still lived in our big, bustling house in west philly. for the next few months, random encounters with animal products followed, though i stuck firmly to the diet i'd chosen on a day-to-day basis. the times when i relented were sometimes wonderful (a dollop of fresh whipped cream on a 4th of july blueberry cobbler will remain in my memory for the rest of my life), and sometimes awkward and regret-filled (day-old mozzarella panini hurriedly consumed in the cramped office of the cafe where i worked at the time). it wasn't until sister Lauren started working the cheese counter at diBruno Brothers that i realized that i was ready to re-enter a state of mind where the occasional egg or wedge of cheese should not make my heart feel like shit. it didn't mean that i didn't care about animals, or the environment, or my own health. as an emerging adult, i felt i could hold onto my beliefs while re-exploring a significant culinary genre that i'd been keeping the lid on. and for the most part, i'm proud to say, i haven't gone totally nuts with the dairy, and still have a big, fuzzy place in my heart for completely vegan snacks and meals.

but, when the world feels harsh, or bed calls from the moment you leave it, or you spend the afternoon at work fighting off loneliness or some unnamed, mild despair, there can be true comfort in the products of animals. last week, i had just that sort of day, and found myself walking through the city twilight and right into the doors of diBruno brothers, the mothership of my acquaintance with fine, fine cheeses. there, my sweet friend and smiling cheese monger Rich sold me a small piece of an italian cheese he'd brined in beer and aged in-house. on my way to the counter, i couldn't help but scoop up a few olives from their sturdy barrel, and a slim baguette from its low basket. an idea was forming in my head, and i was already breathing a bit easier. i listened to a podcast from the Moth on the walk back to my house, letting the anxiety of the day go, knowing that these newly acquired snacks, little soul bandages of comfort, were jostling around in my bag.

home in the kitchen, i made quick work of plating the cheese, olives and slices of bread. a glass of malbec in a juice glass set up on the dining room table, and i sat down in complete silence to this unfussy cheese plate for one.

i ate slowly, with the true pleasure of knowing that this was all mine. cheese plates are often social affairs: your party hunched over the table with rounded knives drawn, comparing little bits of this or that, goat or cow, cracker or bread, lavender honey or fruited compote. but this was altogether different. this was a solo moment - in fact, a rather grown up moment, as i saw it- where i had been feeling down and knew myself well enough to seek out this simple remedy. the cheese was sweet, soft, rich, and just a little dank; not too challenging but not boring in the least. tallegio-esque, but with a different edge of intensity. as i quietly consumed it, i just started to feel really good. and though the me of four years ago would probably take offense to this statement, i felt it strong in that moment: dairy is a comfort. whether due to some biological reasons i know not of, or the more obvious connection to our first meals as humans and the physical bond to our mothers, it soothes in ways that sometimes friendly words or acts of kindness cannot.

sometimes i think this blog needs a new name (man, but i don't want to give up our logo! i love that thing!). lauren and i have bandied about a few ideas, but nothing seems quite right. i'm sure the answer is out there somewhere, but until we stumble across it thanks for putting up with the unarguable contradiction of a "vegan" blog whose authors swoon over water buffalo cheese...



the chills

a new year, an emerging winter with those telltale harsh blue skies and cruel winds. a year whose number is hard to imagine - 2012 - a clean symmetry to the numeral, a mystery to its contents. just shy of two weeks into this year, and the one we left behind already feels sealed. isn't it strange how our brains allow us to imagine time acting that way? january is a month that follows the last, but it doesn't feel as such - it's not just another chapter, but a new book completely. even the december whirlwind, so socially (and gastronomically) consuming, looks like a vague shadow now, even as our christmas tree still stands, green and proud, in the living room.

a very old ornament that belonged to my great grandmother, Nana Kane

one of the first meals of the year was prepared by dear Ryan: a massive pot of chili that fed us, like some modern miracle, for days and days and days. Ryan is a super good cook, but it didn't always used to be that way. but even back in his early 20's, when a sixer of pbr and a cheese hoagie counted as dinner, chili was one of those things that he somehow just intuitively knew how to make. how charming is it when men have a few solid, no-fail, feed-the-masses dishes in their repertoire? my dad's included pancakes, BLTs, and scrambled eggs. i still love eating eggs for dinner.

anyway, chili is one of those special foods that has a million interpretations, variations, an openness to each cook's trademark. chili is more a concept than an actual dish, one that can change with the seasons or the contents of the pantry. and, best of all, it never turns out quite the same but (barring scorched vegetables or horrendously ill proportioned seasoning), always turns out delicious.

a wide array of seeds and spices, plus beer and chocolate (!) are Ryan's secret flavor weapons in chili

on the day this batch of chili was made, january 2nd, we let it sit for hours on the stove. we even left the house to run errands, the giant simmering mass doing its thing over a low flame (leaving the house with even the smallest flame going makes me nervous, but i manage). when we came back, the spicy stew-y, tomato-y smells had occupied every room. hints of cinnamon in the bedroom, smoked paprika molecules haloing the TV. the rich fragrance of all the ingredients melding seemed to warm the house by a few degrees, and made the process of recovery from the new years extravaganza just a bit easier. and as the weak sun began to set, the chili was finally deemed ready, and we ate bowls of it on the couch, wrapped up in blankets. it was good to feel safe and fed, taking a moment of stillness before rocket launching into this year that lies ahead.

Ryan's Avocado Crema
(super good on chili, spread on a sandwich, or scooped onto a cracker)
~makes about 3/4 cup~
~takes 5 minutes~

1 ripe avocado
1/2 cup of sour cream
juice squeezed from half a fresh lime
dash of frank's (or other hot sauce) to taste
salt & pepper to taste
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro, chopped up

-in a medium sized bowl, mash the avocado with a fork.

- scrape the avo mash into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. add all the other ingredients and pulse to combine. you might need to scrape the bowl down once to make sure everything is mixed in.

- you can also skip the food processor and just mix everything up by hand. this a pretty unscientific process, but yields creamy, tangy, beautiful green crema that is the perfect foil for the deep flavors of the chili.



beer soup for chilled bones

it feels like a very, very long time ago when i last posted, lamenting but also celebrating the finale of a really rad summer. when i wrote that (eep! over 2 months ago - sorry for the extended radio silence) autumn was just edging up against us, but now we're just full on in it: the late november cold rains and windy days. a mild day here and there helps to keep the spirits up, but soon we will have to accept the dawn of winter, which creeps a little closer with each day.

the only real respite from the hunched-shoulder, soggy boot trudge is a cheery yellow kitchen, with warm counter tops and sharp knives. dairy, dark beer, and vintage bowie are small but important accessories of comfort to usher in the premature evening without complaint. one recent particularly harsh weeknight, i decided to go all out and make a decadent recipe i'd been eying for awhile. this goldenrod soup - haughtier than pub grub but maintaining some working class charm - is a pretty quick dinner and you might already have all the ingredients nestled in your fridge. to our true vegan readers: i'm sorry, my more disciplined brethren, but this recipe is not for you.

a gently sauteed mirepoix creates a base for the vegetable broth, milk (heavy cream if you want to get real cray), and a medium bodied english beer. a literal heap of sharp cheddar cheese melts into something spectacular. the first bite of the finished product, silky and rich, is like a hug from the universe. hyperbole? make it yourself one night, as sharp rain pelts your window panes, and see if you don't agree.

Brawler Bisque extremely loosely adapted from a Gourmet recipe
~ takes about 40 minutes

1/4 stick of unsalted butter
1 medium white or yellow onion
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup flour (all purpose, or any other kind to make it GF)
2 cups milk
2 cups vegetable stock (homemade is best)
1 12 oz bottle of english style ale (go local)
1 teaspoon mustard
4-8 ounces of shredded cheddar, totally depending on how cheese-ified you want the soup to be, plus the odds and ends of any forgotten cheeses in the drawer, also shredded
salt & pepper

- melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. dice up the onion, carrot, and celery and cook them in butter until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

- add the bay leaf, garlic, salt and pepper. stir everything around in the butter for another minute or two. add the flour to the veg mix and try to coat everything in it. let it cook a bit more until the flour gets a bit golden. this is like making a little roux-on-the-fly.

- add the milk, veg stock, mustard and beer. simmer the pot, whisking from time to time. let the whole thing cook gently until the vegetables are softened and cooked all the way through. if you're using some carrots that have seen better days (like i did), they can be tough and might take a few extra minutes.

- turn off the heat and fish out the bay leaf. whizz up the beer-y soup with an immersion blender. if you need to use a regular blender, carefully transfer the soup in small batches, and may god have mercy on your soul.

- once the vegetables are well pulverized, turn the burner back on to a low flame. stirring all the while, add the shredded cheese one handful at a time. when all the cheese is melted, season with salt and pepper to taste.

pour yourself a glass of malty, strong beer to accompany your beer soup. i went with great lakes' edmund fitzgerald porter, a fine brew that fortifies the soul. the label on the bottle features a great ship battling a raging storm, not unlike us east coast kids battening down the hatches for the long winter ahead. i think if we can cook our way through it, we'll be just fine.