seattle IS supersonic

i just got back from basically the farthest place i could go in the entire country (continentally speaking, of course), seattle, washington. aside from eating my way through seattle, portland and olympia, i drank some beers and made some friends and had some fun adventures.

pinball wizards, rowboat trios, epic unplanned walks, sammiches every day, test rose gardens, gum wall, coolest library ever, best biscuits ever, mushroom hunting, doughnut testing, coney island themed bar, lighthouse slumber party, TOTALLY VEGAN GROCERY STORE, this sounds like the makings of a good vacation, no?

day one: gum wall, pike place market, seattle public library, water activities center

after taking the bus to the central district, my friend and i meandered through some pretty adorable city streets, back alleys and li'l parks. wandering our way up a hilly lane on the way to pike place market, we passed a sign for a ghost tour of seattle urging customers to "meet in front of the gum wall". "what's the gum wall?", i asked, and mere seconds later my question was answered, as if it wasn't obvious enough by the name. oh gum wall, in all your disgusting minty glory.

literally a wall with a shitload of gum on it

disgusted or contemplating licking it? you decide

we then met up with my friend justin, from delaware, who was on the tail end of his own seattle trip and we miraculously had a one day overlap. we both wanted to see the public library, which we had heard was pretty kickass. yeah, so the philadelphia free library is (and continues to be, thank god) pretty epic, but seattle public library, damn son! the library opened on 2004 and in it's first year attracted over 8,000 visitors a day. this behemoth boasts 9,994 pieces of exterior glass, enough steel to make 20 statues of liberties and 18,400 cubic yards of concrete (enough to cover 5 1/2 football fields, 1 foot deep). Beg pardon the "fun facts" i pulled from the website, but they really are rather remarkable. especially when you see the structure and realize all the materials it takes to make something of this magnitude. oh, also, there were 11 floors, apparently it can hold up to 1.45 million books!!!!!

more escalators should be neon

wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of center city, we hopped a bus to the WAC, the water activities center on university of washington campus. what this translates to is $8 an hour boat and canoe rentals. we rented a rowboat, donned our life jackets, and plastic oars in hand, embarked on an aquatic adventure. the first fifteen minutes consisted of paddling in circles, laughing, getting a bit annoyed, and finally getting it together. ironically, we spent most of our time zig zagging under tall highway overpasses, an epic and beautiful juxtaposition but not exactly nature-y. but then we saw a beaver’s dam and a blue heron! not too shabby for three city mice.

we were in none of these boats

lake goo, radioactive or magical?

going in circles, but playing it cool

as you surely know by now, i'm pretty verbose so we'll leave off here with just the end of day one. stay tuned for days 2 - 9! just kidding, i'll try to condense the rest. maybe.



the other booch...er, boch

i just love squash. besides eating them raw, what can't you do with them? boil 'em, mash 'em, put 'em in a stew. the famed butternut, widely loved for its mellow, inoffensive flavor has sat proudly at the top of my list for quite some time. acorn squash, spaghetti squash, summer squash, pattypan squash, pumpkin -- they're all great in their own right, especially when prepared well, with plenty of salt, fat, and a touch of sweetness (maple syrup always shines here).

the other day, lauren brought a few small kabocha squashes back from her farm stand. i've heard nothing but good things about kabocha (from very, very trustworthy sources, no less). in fact, i once heard a local farmer scoff at the mention of acorn squash, replying, "i only eat kabocha squash." i figure you can't really argue with a farmer when it comes to matters of produce. you grow - you know.

so i was really excited about these kabocha (kabochi?), cute as can be:

i wanted to make a soup, and decided to go commando in the kitchen: no recipe! i made up one of my own that turned out really quite well, and i'm happy to share it here.

The Mighty Boch - dairy, soy and wheat free - holla!!

the ingredients, in order of use:

2 small to medium kabocha squashes, peeled and cut into rough quarters or sixths
2 carrots, peeled or scrubbed well, and cut in half lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin -- something with some body)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
big pinch of coarse sea salt
black pepper to taste
1/3 cup walnuts
2 cups water or diluted vegetable broth, plus more to thin soup if needed
black truffle oil (optional)

- preheat the oven to 425 F.

- bring some water to a boil, then pour on top of the walnuts. you want these to soak for as long as possible. if you're using a buillon cube to make veg broth, the boiling water can be used to get that started, too. set that all aside.

- pour the olive oil into a shallow dish. mix in the paprika, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper.

- brush the spicy olive oil mixture onto the squash, carrots and onion. place these all on a lightly oiled or silpat-ed baking sheet.

- roast the hell out of 'em! 30 - 45 minutes depending on how well you actually let the oven preheat. the veggies should be really, really tender, easily pierced with a fork, almost falling apart.

- drain the walnuts.

- once slightly cooled, add the roasted squash and veggies to a saucepan and add the water or broth and dump in the softened walnuts. bring everything to a boil, then bring it down to a simmer. let it simmer for 10 minutes.

- turn the heat off and let the mix cool down some.

- either working in batches in a food processor, or using your immersion blender, blast the whole mix into a silky golden soup. you may need to add some water to thin it out.

- really take your time with this step, to get the soup really smooth. the walnuts can add some grit, but you can work through this with patience, unrelenting blending. the walnuts also add a lovely richness and protein, so put in the extra elbow grease.

- finish with a tiny swirl of truffle oil, if you wish. believe the hype: this really takes it to the next level. also, salt and pepper to taste.

- voila! kabocha soup's on.



solo dinner//what to do with leftover spaghetts

you may notice that sissy lauren has been awfully quiet during the past 2 weeks. her silence is solely due to the fact that she's been in seattle (with side trips to portland and maybe olympia) for the past 10 days. basically just livin' it up in vegan paradise, and i'm sure there will be a full report during the next week of the veritable rainbow of treats that she consumed while westerly. she comes back tonight, which i am so ready for! it's great to borrow from her closet at will and everything, but i've really missed her.

i on the other hand, have been holding it down in philly, slowly cooking and eating my way through the thoroughly decimated contents of our fridge and cupboards. we still haven't done a big grocery store shop, so what produce there is is about half a day away from rottens-ville, and all of the jars of staples are about 1/5 full. it's a a shoddy state of affairs.

but i won't let a solo dinner be a thing to mourn. i admit, i did consider skipping the kitchen and trying a south philly tofu hoagie (there are so many places to get them around here!). but i have been eating many - too many - sandwiches lately, plus i don't really feel like leaving the house.

so with well-honed scavenger skills, i rolled up invisible sleeves and commenced the dig through the fridge. with an excellent queen album as my soundtrack (so triumphant! and did you know that shit when triple platinum?!) i put together a humble, but totally delicious, solo dinner.

green salad with nectarine, carrots & scallions with a sweet mustard dressing

leftover pasta with tomatoes & basil in garlic and olive oil

one of my favorite things to do with leftover pasta is to simmer a ludicrous amount of garlic in olive oil over very low heat, and then toss the noodles in this oil (still over the low flame), and let it cook for a few minutes. then throw in salt & pepper, tomatoes (cherry, if possible) and fresh basil and toss til it all heats through. it literally takes 8 minutes, but has a deep flavor that insinuates a slower process. like i said before, this is a humble method, but sometimes you don't need - or want to - be fancy or complex when cooking for yourself.

so while a glass of slightly dry red wine would've complimented the plate nicely, i opted for a very cold, and very unpretentious bottle of budweiser instead. it was a nice little dinner, but alright, i'll admit it: i will be happier tomorrow when i'm once again cooking for 2.



soup of the summer

food trends are funny. like, why every so often - and all at the same time - do a bunch of magazines and websites start yapping about red sea salt, dulce de leche, or some piece of the pig everyone forgot about? does a grand gourmand from on high decree, "this will be the spring of garlic scapes," or "the summer of chervil?" more and more, it's as if the modern gourmet culture mimics the fickle nature of the fashion industry. and even though i know the fashion industry is a heap of tripe, meant to keep wealthy people spending, i kind of love it. same goes, probably without saying, for the food industry.

so earlier this summer, as i thumbed through glossies, passing by countless "five things to do with fresh tomatoes" articles (crazy right? like: slice, salt, pepper, eat, done.) and food porn centerfolds of sticky, juicy, BBQ, i noticed a trend emerging. white gazpacho - a chilled soup made with soggy bread, almonds, green grapes and cucumbers - was everywhere, from the new york times to vegetarian times to even oprah, matron to the masses. word has it, when oprah announces a trend or endorses a product, it truly has blown up. so it seems for white gazpacho, a slightly unsettling dish at first thought. i mean, to many diners, cold soup is already a bit of a hard sell, and usually what does sell it is vibrant, beautiful color and velvety texture. white gazpacho flaunts neither of these qualities, and furthermore, must live up to the superstar name of Gazpacho that it bears. i kind of just rolled my eyes and decided to let it past.

however, imagine my surprise when i stumbled across yet another white gazpacho recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, hot knives. if you haven't perused its virtual pages yet, i strongly suggest you put an hour aside and immerse yourself in this blog. the LA authors, evan and alex, have an easy, witty writing style, vegetarian diets, super creative ideas, and beer & music pairings for all of their recipes (cheese & music pairings for the beers they sample and review). what's not to love?

so now more intrigued than ever, i decided to bite the bullet. lauren and i had just been given a big ass bag of almonds from our mom (almonds feature heavily in this gazpacho and man, are they expensive), i bought some green grapes which i'd ordinarily never do, fired up the food processor and gave the soup of the summer a whirl.

no need to copy the whole recipe here, and let's give credit where it's due:
Grape Chowder on Hot Knives

i may have skimped a bit on the cucumber, and certainly did not let it chill for as long as suggested, but overall the outcome was good. while slightly gritty in texture and confusing in taste, it was not unpleasant either. in fact, it was a rich-but-still-refreshing little number that made a sophisticated starter for the tacos that followed. you know, i may even make it again next summer, after all the hype has died down, and the fanatical foodies are on to the next thing.

white gazpacho - the food equivalent of gladiator sandals?

tacos! lately i cannot get enough mexican food

the tacos that followed were standard, but awesome. i'm glad the soup wasn't the only dish, as it was not hearty enough to count as dinner. the tacos filling was simply fried spicy tofu, black beans, homemade salsa, avocado and cilantro. two slightly fancy details were a splash of tequila in the salsa, and the addition of day old coffee to the black beans as they simmered. who knows, maybe "caffeinated beans," will be 2010's next hot thing.



sweet tart

tarts. savory pies. assorted vegetables layered in a butter-y crust. whatever you want to call them, dinner pastries are a thing i've always wanted to tackle. the stuff of food magazine cover shots, with a hint of french mystique, the process of making a vegan veg tart struck me as more than a bit intimidating. how do you manipulate all the ingredients to gel, just so, in said crust? what do you use in place of cheese to give it a little extra flavor and texture? well, quickly enough i found out: it's not so hard!

i used a recipe for a crust from the vegan brunch cookbook. it's mostly flour and fat (in this case, margarine), with a bit of salt. the most annoying part is adding the margarine in tiny pieces. i did it with my fingers which soon became super greasy, maybe it was good for my skin though, i dunno. then you have to mash the margarine into the flour with a fork (what is a pastry knife?). this process, plus the insane amount of fat, is what gives the crust its flaky goodness. once the dough achieves an even, sandy texture, a few teaspoons of ice cold water get mixed in until a dough forms. the dough gets rolled into a ball, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.

the next part was the trickiest - the filling. we had plenty of fresh vegetables, but i thought the pie needed a little something else. just veggies seem too boring, like if that's all there is, why not just make some biscuits and a stir fry and call it a day? we didn't have tofu or any other soy products to incorporate, so with lauren's input, i made a bootleg but ultimately awesome pesto-y filling. in the food processor we combined about 2/3 cup almonds (soaked 'em for a bit in boiling water to soften them up), tons of fresh basil, a handful of mixed olives, capers and artichoke hearts, and pulsed it all with a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper. maybe i splashed a little red wine in there too, i forget? either way we just adjusted everything til it had a nice, robust flavor and a thick consistency. we didn't even need to add olive oil since the olives and marinated artichokes thickened it up nicely.

after the crust had chilled for about an hour, i rolled it out and poked a few holes in the bottom with a fork. the shell was then pre-baked at 375 for 10 minutes, while i cleaned, chopped and gently sauteed all the veggies for the filling: zucchini, peppers, and mushrooms. there were caramelized onions too, but i'd had those going since before i started the pie crust.

once the crust was partially cooked through, i pulled it out and let it cool for a sec. then i spread the filling on the bottom, layered the vegetables in a pretty pattern, and layered on some fresh tomatoes, kind of the dinner pie version of cherries on top!

baked the whole thing for another 20 minutes, then let it rest for 15 more. it maybe could've stayed in the oven for a bit longer but i was too hungry and impatient at that point to care. because all the vegetables were pre-cooked it just needed to heat through and the crust needed to brown. but then it was done, and delicious! here's a nice little cross section:

tart success!



chillllll, kid.

sometimes a girl just needs to chillllll. and i'm not talking on the couch with a beer watching the phillies game chill, i'm talking mind-body-spirit style. that might sound a bit new agey and you know what, it kind of is. and i'm totally ok with that, and i hope you are too. i've been frequenting tuesday morning yin yoga at wake up yoga in west philly for about a year now. i never knew that sitting still could be so awesome. allow me to elaborate.

wake up's website describes yin yoga like this:
practice holding floor postures for 5-minute intervals, appropriately stretching the ligmaents and tendons to create core-flexibility. intended for students who want to move slowly, sink deeply, cultivate equanimity and feel deeply restored; to be uniquely challenged.
bottom line, this is the lazy girl's yoga (you just sit there!), but it also has a killer payoff. at an hour and a half, we do about 8-10 poses and hold them anywhere from 3-5 minutes. when is the last time i sat still, completely and totally still, for that long? (sleeping doesn't count!) and not only does sitting still relax the body, it also relaxes the mind! say goodbye to all that bullshit that built up the last few days and enjoy a squeaky clean brain. plus the teacher reads little poems and excerpts on a certain subject to keep you focused. she rules!

plus yin yoga stretches the ligaments and tendons that hold muscle-to-muscle and muscle-to-joint, resulting in an instant feeling of lightness and long term ease of motion and mobility. one could say that yin yoga has saved my life, throughout stressful school times, work uncertainties and even most recently the west-to-south philly move. i'm eager to start visiting the new south philly location for thursday night yin and get a healthy dosing of 2x a week yoga.

as if that wasn't chill enough, i rode my new bike (she rides like a dream, in case you were wondering) down to the biopond on penn campus. if you've never been there, GO THERE IMMEDIATELY. it's the cutest ever! picnic, date, read a book, stare at the turtles and contemplate life, whatever! the weather today was perfect for the latter two options and this is what it looked like while i tackled life's tough decisions: what should i eat for lunch?

this tree is really good for sittin' under, no, like better than most

even cell phone's need a break from the daily grind

i told you there were turtles! do you see the teeny tiny one?

there he go!

whew. i'm pretty tuckered out from all that relaxing. think i'll take a nap before i do some of that phillies game on the couch type chillin...