Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fiori Di Zucca - Nonna's Recipe, Vegan & Gluten-Free

The end of summer is always melancholy for me, as I relish in scorching sweaty days and dread even the slightest chill of early Fall. But, of course, there are many exciting things about saying goodbye to sweet summer nights and hello to autumn. Mostly, they involve food - pumpkin everything, apple pie, apple butter, cider donuts, roasted root veggies, and of course - the two  most important - figs and zucchini blossoms! My Nonno gave me a fig tree a few years ago, and this was the first year it hit maturity and beared actual edible figgies. It yielded about 30 figs, most of which were still on the small side but still flavorful and sweet.

This year I finally attempted making Nonna's delicious fried zucchini flowers (i fiori di zucca), which I haven't eaten in at least ten years seeing as they are dipped in egg yolk before being breaded. I was intimidated and unsure in previous years, but now I feel confident enough in my Sicilian cooking skills to tackle the old-school dishes like this.

Just a few weekends ago, Nonna and Nonno gave us a hefty bag of goodies from their garden - beans, eggplant, tomatoes, and of course - the zucchini flowers. These pretty orange, yellow, and green blossoms are large and can be be eaten in a variety of ways. You can stuff their cavernous innards with a breadcrumb/garlic/tofu mix, you can chop and include in a tofu frittata or scramble, and of course you can just simply bread them and fry em up.

We opted to keep it simple and do the bread-and-fry version.

Fill a shallow bowl (like a wide pasta or salad bowl) with gluten-free breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup organic chickpea flower.

Add dried basil, oregano, parsley, garlic powder, and onion powder to taste. I believe the more dried basil, the better the breading, but it's really up to you.

Add fresh ground sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Heat 1"-2" inch of organic vegetable oil in your skillet (cast iron works best) until you hear a sizzle when a speck of water is dropped on. Keep this on the low heat setting.

The flowers:
Wash the flowers thoroughly and remove any damaged parts or tough stem parts. The flowers are large and hearty, so they hold up well in the cooking process usually.

To make the breading stick, simply wet the flowers in a bowl of room temperature water.  Then coat extremely thoroughly in the breading, on both sides, and shove some into the inside of the flower. Alternately, you can use a light batter of almond milk & egg replacer, whipped together.

Fry lightly until golden brown, and be sure to flip with a slotted spoon so both sides fry. Drain on a plate lined with papertowels.

I couldn't believe how well the first attempt came out! The breading stuck perfectly (yay chickpea flower) and the herbs and salt and fried crispiness were beyond scrumptious. They tasted like childhood, home, and my Nonna's cooking. I felt so proud and am more than a bit sad I can only make these in the summer and autumn when the zucchini plants are blossoming.

These crispy little fritter-like treats are perfect with an apertivo before a larger meal, or as a filling side dish.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Things I did during the summer of 2013

I haven't written in here in a few weeks... This summer's end has been quite hectic, and another time of transition. I left my job at Planned Parenthood of NYC and ventured into the world of advertising. It's really different, but so far I am literally in love with what I'm doing. It feels incredible to be in a creative, innovative environment and to be truly respected and valued by my co-workers. This is the first job I've had in a long time/ever where I haven't been treated like a clueless idiot. I'm very much looking forward to where this all takes me.

This summer was also one of the summer-y-est summers I've had in a few years. Last year, we had just come back from our two and a half month trip abroad and were still adjusting/finding our path. Girl Scout Camp definitely had a profound impact on my life last summer, but outside of that I felt frustrated by the lack of beach/friend/summer hijinks due to money, life shit, etc. This year, we had a little bit more freedom to explore and enjoy our newly-settled NYC life. In the Spring we ventured to Washington DC and Salem/Boston, Mass. for quick-but-restorative adventures. We took full advantage of the awesome public pool across the street, went to Riis beach with friends and had a gay ol' time (pun intended), went to Rehoboth with dear friends, the Jersey Shore twice with other dear friends, Ithaca for a magical wedding, Philly, visits to Girl Scouts Camp, the Ren Faire, baseball games, pools in Westchester and NJ, and more. I felt truly, uncomplicatedly happy this summer. Something I haven't felt in..... years. Like maybe 7 years or more. 

This gives me hope and satisfaction that getting older (ahem, 30) and having a very responsible job/life isn't the end of the fun and uninhibited adventurous spirit I try to carry. I no longer feel a pang of bitterness thinking about the summer of 2003, which up until this point had been the best summer of my life. It was filled with punk roadtrips, doing the most amazing wacky stuff with a huge group of dear friends, and moving to Philly. Now, ten years later, my life in NYC is solidifying and it's shaped up to be something that does actually nourish my heart and makes me feel proud. 

Here's a little list of some of my summer highlights. I love lists, and I love summer. Feel free to share your own summer re-caps in the comments!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Aperitivo! A Vegan Summer's Eve Treat, NYC style

With our hearts full of longing for Italy (that's just a constant in my life), and a celebratory mood in the air (I start a new job next week!), Ketch and I decided to make an aperitivo a few evenings ago, before our 8:30pm dinner plans at Bareburger.

Traditionally an aperitivo is made up of cocktails, beer, prosecco, wine, etc. and light snacks ranging from olives, tiny panini, pizzette, focaccia, olives, chips, peanuts, tiny pearl onions & carrots, etc. It's meant to give you a little something to whet your appetite and hold you over for the standard 8/9pm Italian dinner. 

My cousin's restaurant, K2, in Rapallo (near Portofino, Italy) holds the unofficial title of Best Aperitivo in the whole Italian Riviera. K2's aperitivo consists of towers of delectable treats including pizzette (mini pizzas), focaccia, caponata (a veg-friendly Sicilian eggplant dish), substantial little tramezzini (sandwiches), flavorful Sicilian olives, and more. Also, it's endless. It's not like you just get 1 treat tower and Basta! (that's it). They are so generous with their constantly-refilled aperitivo towers that often Ketch and I wouldn't have any room left for dinner! 

Also, K2 makes a wide range of amazing cocktails, and they always left us with a warm happy buzz. My two favorites are Fragolino (fresh puréed strawberries, vodka, and prosecco) and Spritz. Spritz hails from Venice and is generally made with Aperol, soda, prosecco, plus a couple of splashes of grenadine. Its vibrant red/orange color is super pretty and its extra-tasty when garnished with orange slices. A bit sweet, refreshing, with a nicely contrasted bitter bite. 

Ketch crafted our Spritz cocktails last night and they were spot on. One sip and I was immediately transported back to our favorite table at K2, surrounded by the din of other restaurant-goers and my cousins yelling loudly while working hard to make sure everyone was fed, watered, and full of joy. Flashes of those stunningly clear blue waters crashing against the roots of the mountains, palm trees everywhere, and my wonderful family filled my head and heart.


I headed to our local Italian grocer in the Upper East Side, Agata e Valentina, for their Olives Conzata. They are my favorite olives, green and fresh and juicy, covered in flavorful herbs and delicious olive oil. A friend from Rome confirmed they are the best olives he's had outside of Italy. Ketch poured out some mini pretzels into one of our cute bowls, broke out the gluten free herbed flatbreads, and put out a pitcher of ice-cold water with slices of lemon and cucumber. I added organic dried figs that I'd just purchased from Eately, this awesome Italian market near the Flatiron, to our sweet little spread.

I then quickly chopped up a summer bruschetta - radish, cucumber (from Nonno's garden), cherry tomato, basil (from Nonno's garden), and organic fresh parsley. I drizzled it with our extra-virgin cold press olive oil, and topped it with fresh ground sea salt and black pepper - che deliziosa!

We also finished off our can of Paprika Pringles, recently brought to us by one of Ketch's coworkers who travelled to Italy. I know Paprika Pringles are chemical-ly and not Italian or natural in any shape way or form, but the Paprika flavor is only carried in Europe and they have been one of my favorite snacks since I visited ten years ago. I always bug friends and family who are going to Europe to bring me back a can, and I savor each crunchy salty paprika-y chip. 

Our little aperitivo pales in comparison to K2's veritable smorgasbord, but it still was a special treat. It made the fading memories from last year's European adventure feel bright and crisp. And of course, it did keep us perfectly full until our dinner later on that evening.



Monday, July 22, 2013

Finalmente! Vegan Italian Yummyness of John's & Salvo's

Finding food that is intentionally Vegan and Italian used to be like searching for a unicorn, or the Loch-Ness Monster, or some other most-likely-non-existent creature. I get it - vegans tend to go towards Thai, Indian, or other delicious cuisines that seem to more naturally lend themselves towards vegan-friendly fare.

As a vegan Italian-American, this always irked me. Sure, looking at the menu in a typical Italian-American restaurant or pizzeria, most things are smothered in cheese or meat. Or it seems the only options are sautéed broccoli rabe with garlic or pasta with garlic and oil (aglio e olio.) While I find these simple dishes to beyond tasty, I understand why they can be overlooked for more exciting-seeming cucumber-avocado sushi, chana masala, general tso's tofu, etc. 

Most vegans don't realize how vegan-friendly authentic Italian and even Italian-American food can be. John's on 12th and Salvo's on York Ave in the Upper East Side are fabulous examples of how to suss out the happens-to-be-vegan goodies of a standard Italian menu.

John's is especially magical because of its intentionally and specifically vegan menu. Located just next door to Angelica's Kitchen, a long-time NYC veg staple, the owners of John's decided to hire a vegan nutritionist after receiving heaps of spill-over customers having difficulty getting a table at always-packed Angelica's. 

John's has oodles of old school NYC charm and boasts a hundred-year history including a stint as a speakeasy during Prohibition. The tile mosaic floors, white linen covered tables, homemade paintings of Italy, and handsomely dressed servers will charm your skirt/pants off. In the back of the restaurant, John's proudly displays their "candle that's been burning since Prohibition." The "candle" is really a giant tower of drippy melting wax with a few wicks alight, providing a unique history and ambiance. 

Now to the meal. The vegan garlic bread at John's is classic, comforting, and soooo worth the next day tummy ache for us gluten-sensitive folks. Buttery (Earth Balance-y) garlicky toasty goodness, mmmmm! It's also affordable at $1.95 a person, and the serving is far from stingy. The bruschetta is a modern take on an Italian tradition, with the crispy toasted crostini being covered in smooth avocado then topped with fresh tomato, basil, garlic, and robust olive oil. At $9.95 it's not cheap, but it is seriously mouth-meltingly delicious. The avocado is subtle enough that it in no way overpowers the bursting flavors of fresh tomato and basil. 

During my most recent visits to John's, I've had the gluten-free pasta with Alfredo sauce and the eggplant parmigiana. The Alfredo sauce is made with coconut cream, which gives it that sweet flavor found in dairy versions of this beloved Italian-American dish. While overall quite tasty, I was disappointed the sauce was on the thin side. When I took my leftovers home, I doctored up the Alfredo sauce with a couple shakes of oregano and a handful of nutritional yeast and it seriously turned out amazing! The eggplant parm was classic and spot on - fresh, flavorful marinara sauce, breaded thin cutlets, and tons of Daiya, all melty and broiled-crispy on top. The entrees aren't cheap at $15-$19, but the portions are generous enough to share or bring some home for lunch.

The desserts at John's really shine. The cannoli are gluten free and the vegan options are traditional vanilla and chocolate. They've been so dreamy each time I've had them, full of all the right flavors and textures. Ketch's favorite dolce, or dessert, is the Panna Cotta, a traditional Sicilian custard. John's is made with coconut and drizzled with a fresh raspberry reduction. The texture is smooth and jell-o-like, just as it should be. Sweet, gluten-free, and rarely ever found made vegan, we finish our meal with the Panna Cotta every time we go to John's. The staff at John's are also extremely helpful, friendly, and most importantly - knowledgable about their vegan menu.

Panna Cotta, vegana!

All the way uptown on 78th and York, Salvo's is a traditional Italian-American pizzeria that just opened on the corner of our block. I'm pretty sure it's owned by some fellas actually from Italy, but they seem to always be hiding in the back or running in and out so its difficult to tell. I'm still trying to do a bit of reconnaissance work and potentially charm them with my Italian speaking skills so they'll make more intentionally vegan food. 

Salvo's has pizza by the slice, dinner entrees, homemade soups, wine & beer, and an espresso bar. They recently also started offering Arancine, the Sicilian rice balls I've featured in a previous post, but not vegan ones of course.

The staff at Salvo's are also super friendly  and happy to answer questions about their ingredients. Sadly, their lentil soup is made with chicken broth, which to me is strange because in Italy it would most likely be made with veggie broth. The best options at Salvo's are a cheese-less pie made to order, with spinach or broccoli on top. The garlic knots are also immensely satisfying and way affordable at $.50 each, but you do have to ask for ones without cheese sprinkled on them (or just dust it off depending on how intense you are about that stuff.) 

The meal Ketch and I are currently obsessed with, like we ate it three times in the past week obsessed, is the glutenfree spaghetti, Sicilian-style. They have other pasta options, but gfree is the way to go for me. I don't even know if I have the words to describe how delicious it is. It's just a basic freshly made tomato sauce with satisfyingly-cubed eggplant chunks, garlic, and fresh basil and parsley. The quality of the extra-virgin olive oil (and pretty much all the ingredients) is clearly very fresh, which enables you to really savor each different element. I know this pasta is legit because it takes exactly like the pasta with eggplant that my Sicilian restauranteur cousins make for me when I visit Italy. The portions are generous and definitely enough for two people. At $8.95 you really couldn't ask for a more delicious deal!

We've also recently had the gfree spaghetti with broccoli, fresh sliced garlic, and olive oil. While fresh and scrumptious, it's no Sicilian eggplant. The sautéed sides of broccoli rabe and spinach are another gem - garlicky, not too oily, and a nice side for a carb-heavy meal. 

Finding food that is both Italian and vegan, out in the world, and not have to rely on myself or friends/family to make it is something I've been yearning for since I first went vegan over ten years ago. It makes me feel whole... And deliciously full! 

Marry Me!! <3



Friday, July 12, 2013

Heart hangs heavy, and heals

July 10, 2013

Seven years ago today, I lost three members of my family - my cousins John (20 yrs old) & Kevin (15 years old), and my Uncle Tommy. I'm not going to go into the painful details of their deaths, but I will say that my uncle took the lives of my cousins and then his own. It is a sad, tragic story that's left everyone in my family with a heavy heart.

What I am trying to steer my thoughts towards on this day are the sweet memories I have of my childhood adventures with my cousin John. 

My parents are both the oldest in their families, and had me at rather young ages (my mom was 20 & my dad 25.) This means that I am the oldest cousin on both sides of the family by many years. I even have a little 5 year old cousin as of now. This all contributed to me being a weird, nerdy, sensitive, and lonely little kid. 

John was my only cousin relatively close in age at just over two years younger than me. We both had lazy eyes and subsequent eye patches and miniature glasses as tiny three year olds. We both were total gawky nerds - creative, smart, introverted, in love with comics and video games and Jurassic Park.

Some of my fondest memories of our adventures together are from a summer vacation spent at my aunt and uncle's beach house in Brigantine, where we'd go buckwild in the pool, hang out on the beach, and play Mortal Kombat when it rained. John taught me all the best moves for Mortal Kombat, and soon his characters were getting their butts whipped by my Liu Kang's relentless assault of flips and fireballs. 

We'd watch Jurassic Park over and over again, very much relating to the two kids who are the main characters. John really looked exactly like Tim, and even though I wasn't a blonde like Lex, I shared her fiery spirit and big-sister attitude. We'd then pore over our Dino-themed books and research the more realistic facts about when those huge unimaginable creatures ruled the Earth. 

Another cherished memory is when our whole family spent a weekend in Spring Lake, NJ to celebrate one of our younger uncle's wedding. We took over this usually quaint peaceful Victorian B&B and let loose as Frazzas do best. John and I were hopped up on bag after bag of Tropical Skittles, and he was always sweet enough to give me all of his watermelon-flavored ones, as he knew they were my favorite. (Looking back its very likely that I perhaps forcefully demanded he give me all his watermelon Skittles, and John being generous and knowing what's good for him, obliged without protest.) 

The night before the wedding, we all loaded into a rickety little school bus my uncle had rented to take everyone to the boardwalk. The bus was filled with all the cousins, plus my Dad, who has the ability to get kids riled up in a split second. We were dancing, screaming, singing, and clapping, and the melee caused the little bus to rock from side to side. John was always right by my side amidst all of our family's chaos and adventure. We had a blast that night, and the skeeball competition between the two of us was brutal. 

Sadly, when I was 14 and John was 12, [updated - edited] our families encountered some distance. I feel I have the right to my own feelings about this, but out of not wanting unnecessary further pain and drama, I will not expand any further on it.

I rarely saw John over the next four years, and it made me sad, of course, but I was busy being a teenager and getting into punk and anarchism and feminism and veganism etc. My dad managed to maintain a relationship with Kevin, John, and my uncle, going to basketball and baseball games together regularly. Finally, the drama subsided a bit, and I attended John's high school graduation BBQ with my dad and sister. I was shocked to see how my little gangly cousin had grown into like a real (almost) grown up guy. 

At that BBQ, John and I got the chance to catch up. Hanging out with John and his friends on the back patio ended up being easy and fun and not very awkward at all. Despite the years that had gone by, John and I were still super comfortable and joke-y with each other and clearly still shared many close bonds. We realized we were into a lot of the same things - comics/graphic novels, pop punk, Jimmy Eat World, pirates, history, and more. It was so exciting and meaningful that we both grew into proud glasses-wearing nerds independently of each other. We talked about how we should hang out sometime, just the two of us, but never managed to make it happen. I was occupied with my new life in Philly and John was just starting college in Northern NJ. That was one of the last times I saw John and Kevin.

On July 10th, 2006, I lost an uncle and two cousins. But I lost more than that. I lost my friend, my oldest friend really, and I lost the chance to grow into even-more-grown-up glasses-wearing proud nerds with him. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Figs, fennel, radishes, oh my! Recipes for a simple and scrumptious summer dinner!

Last night Ketch and I made the dreamiest summer dinner. We stopped at Agata & Valentina, this super-Italian grocery store just a few blocks from our apartment. It's got everything - the best olives I've had outside of Italy, tons of produce (including harder to find stuff like cactus pears and fennel), homemade pastas, soups, and salads, many of which are labeled vegan (vegan Portobello ravioli!!!), homemade Italian pastries, imported Italian candies, and more. It's like as if my little cobblestone street in Trastevere, Rome, lined with butchers, bakeries, cheese shops, and produce markets has been crammed into one store in the Upper East Side. The sale signs even say "promozione," adding to my ever-present heartsickness for Italy.

We scored cauliflower, fennel, fresh parsley, radishes, broccolini, cucumbers (as much organic as possible), extra virgin first press Sicilian olive oil, and vegan chocolate mousse. I had picked up figs earlier, and I knew we were about to have a killer dinner.

The color of these radishes is so vibrant and beautiful. I want lipstick and nail  polish in this color!!

Seared Cauliflower Steaks: Once home, Ketch sliced the cauliflower length wise to create two flat "steaks." He baked each steak at 375 degrees for 15 minutes and then seared each one in a cast iron pan on medium high heat for 5 minutes. You can bake longer if you like your cauliflower more soft and tender. I topped my cauliflower steak with fresh parsley, truffle oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Ketch made a quick wing-style sauce out of Frank's Red Hot and Earth Balance in a saucepan and drizzled it on his "steak."

Roasted Cauliflower florets: Then he chopped the rest of the cauliflower and put it in a baking dish with fresh parsley, olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and paprika. We threw in extra chopped radishes and baked at 375 degrees for 20 min or until tender.

Sautéed Broccolini: While the cauliflowers were baking/searing, Ketch then sautéed up some Broccolini. Broccolini is rather new to me and I LOVE it! It's less bitter than broccoli rabe but still super flavorful. It's like if Broccoli and Broccoli Rabe had a baby! We cut the ends off the stems (leaving them long but without the tough part at the bottom) and sautéed on medium heat with sliced garlic and oil. Also, we usually add in a 1/4-1/3 cup water after a few minutes to make sure it's not too crunchy. Only sauté for 5 minutes or so - the broccolini should remain bright green and a bit crisp - it's not as yummy if it's soggy and overcooked.

Broccolini party! 

While Ketch was making all that delicious magic happen, I was prepping the ingredients for my two simple refreshing salads. 

Cucumber Radish Salad: First, I sliced half of a large cucumber into thin slices. Then, I did the same to about 3  medium/large radishes. This amount was perfect for the two of us. If feeding 4 people, use the entire large cucumber and 6-7 radishes. I paid extra care and attention when I was slicing, as I wanted each piece to be similar in thickness and fully rounded on all sides. (I wanted some cute circles!) I alternated slices of each on a square plate, drizzled that full-flavor Sicilian olive oil,  and cracked salt and pepper lightly over it all. I added full sprigs of fresh parsley on the sides, and minced parsley on top. THAT'S IT! It was SO delicious - light, fresh, crunchy, juicy. The pepper-y bite of the radish is softened by the more neutral cucumber. I also would like to try this with Cilantro instead of the Italian Parsley next time.

Fig and Fennel Salad:
Figs are one of my top three favorite fruits (the other two being watermelon and cactus pears). I grew up eating figs right off the trees in my Nonna and Nonno's backyard (see my previous post about my always-exciting Sicilian family.) I waited and waited with anticipation all summer, checking on the figs in the trees to see if they had finally turned purple and ready for picking. As a little baby toddler Melanie, my Mom has told me that I'd come home from my Nonna's with a case of the poops from eating nothing but figs all day. (In case you didn't know, figs will definitely help keep things moving along your digestive tract!)

That being said, I usually just eat figs as is. I rarely have done anything culinary with them so this salad was especially exciting. I love fennel as well, and usually make a blood orange and fennel salad when blood oranges are in season. I enjoy fennel raw as part of an antipasto, as it is another veggie that's good for digestion. It's always on the Thanksgiving table at my Nonna and Nonno's house, along with olives, cheeses, and other standard antipasto fare. Our Italian Thanksgivings are a funny (and  filling) mix of Italian must-haves like antipasto, stuffed shells, etc. plus all the American classics. I know the licorice-y taste of fennel isn't for everyone, but it's another Italian staple I grew up loving.

I cut the top stalks off the fennel bulb, then the tough bottom butt part. Then I just continued cutting up the fennel bulb, rather like a large onion, to make curved slices about an inch or less long. It really depends on what shape you enjoy eating. For a salad, I like the fennel pieces to be a bit smaller. If I'm eating them raw, I like them more celery-stick sized. For one fennel bulb, I used about 6 medium/large brown turkey figs. I chopped the figs into chunks and tossed in a bowl with the fennel, the Sicilian olive oil, fresh parsley, and freshly ground sea salt and pepper. I also have used classic balsamic vinegar and blood-orange infused balsamic vinegar when making fennel salad in the past, but I wanted this one to be bright and simple. 

The Ambiance: I don't have the energy to set a stylish elegant table for dinner every night, especially if dinner is a thrown together mishmash of whatever beans and fading vegetables we happen to have around. But a special meal like this deserves intentionally special ambiance. I set the table with a pretty floral placemat flanked by 2 straw lemon-slice placemats. I  broke out the cloth napkins that match the floral placemat, and Ketch made up a pitcher of ice cold water with lemons and cucumbers floating about. Lemon cucumber water is ESSENTIAL for summer survival. Drinking it feels like drinking some kind of magical healing elixir a fairy or elf gave to you. The subtle flavors also help mask the sometimes funkiness of urban  tap water. I lit some candles, set out our forks and knives, and Ketch plated everything so prettily.

Dinner was dreamy, light, delicious, and full of different flavors. Nothing too heavy in this already sluggish humid heat. I wait all year for these simple summer dinners made up of a bunch of veggies and herbs, all lightly cooked or just tossed with olive oil. Mmmmmm......


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Avocado Everything! Sweet and savory avocado recipes.

Avocados are magical, we all know this. They are creamy and delicious and can be turned into everything from chocolate mousse, smoothies, and even a dairy-free alfredo-style sauce. They're definitely not local to NY, which fills me with earth-destroying guilt. But I live in a giant dirty city and participate in lots of things that are less than eco-friendly and there's only so much I can stress about. Here are some super easy recipes that are avocado-y and summer-y and scrumptious. 

Avocado Bean Salad
This light and simple salad is perfect for scorching summer nights when cooking a hot dinner is the last thing anyone wants to do. It works well as a side but can be served as a main atop a hearty scoop of fluffy basmati rice, farro, or quinoa.
  • 2 avocados, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups canned or fresh yellow corn kernels
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 ½ cup chopped celery
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Combine lime/lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic in a small bowl and whisk together to create a simple dressing. Combine all other ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add the dressing. Toss gently, but be careful not to smoosh or break up the avocado!

Avocado Citrus Summer Pie
Avocado pie may sound a little odd at first, but it’s actually a refreshing, cool, and creamy treat that will be sure to wow your guests or family! This pie works best with perfectly ripe avocados that have no brown spots, or have any small brown spots completely removed. I made this for my dad and my father-in-law last year for Father's Day and both of them loved it!

  • 4 medium to large avocados, pitted and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 containers of vegan “cream cheese” – I prefer Tofutti brand
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup agave or brown rice syrup
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk (coconut or almond work well!)
  • 4 tablespoons arrowroot
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and use vegan margarine or vegetable oil to grease a 9-inch pie pan made of glass or metal.

Puree the avocado with the lime juice and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy in texture. Then add in the lemon zest, vegan cream cheese, agave/rice syrup, and salt and blend at low speed to thoroughly mix all ingredients. In a medium saucepan on low heat, combine the non-dairy milk, granulated sugar, and arrowroot. Other starches may be used, such as tapioca and cornstarch – but arrowroot gives the best results. Heat to a boil and be sure all sugar has dissolved and all lumps of starch are completely broken up. The mixture should thicken once boiling. Pour thickened syrup-y mixture into the blender or food processor and be sure everything is completely blended together and creamy. Pour the filling into your pre-bought or home-made graham cracker crust and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Important Tip: Be sure to serve the pie within one day, as the top layer might turn brown (because of the avocado). Rest assured, this DOES NOT mean your avocado/avocado pie has gone bad or soured. It is simply a reaction that happens when avocados are exposed to the air for too long. Fresh squeezed lemon juice helps slow the browning process. If the top layer of your pie loses its bright and cheery green color, skim off the darker parts with the edge of a knife and sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice. Spruce up your pie with dollops of fluffy white frosting or lemon and lime wedges coated in granulated sugar!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

L'Arancine Vegane - A Sicilian Classic, vegan-style

Arancine (NOT ARANCINI) are a staple of Sicilian cuisine, originating from the Middle-Eastern rule of Sicily in the Middle Ages. Sicilian architecture, language, and cuisine bear many marks of this ancient Arab influence, which sets the tiny island apart from rest of Italy and further enriches its unique heritage. The word Arancine reflects that these cripsy rice balls resemble l'arance, or oranges.

Arancine are rather simple to make and can be filled with just about anything. The classic filling is a ragu, or meat sauce, with peas and onions. My favorite Sicilian pizzeria in Rome, Mondo Arancina, features a wide variety of arancine stuffed with everything from tomato and basil, to mushrooms, to béchamel, eggplant, and so on. After being prodded by a number of my vegan Roman friends, they even started to make a vegan variety filled with different minced veggies! Che buoooonnnaaa!!

During Hurricane Sandy, Ketch and I were stuck home with little else to do beside read, play games, and charge all of our electronics just in case the power went out. There was definitely nervousness and panic in the air as we heard more and more about places nearby being devastated and demolished. What does an Italian do in a time of crisis? Cook, of course!! Making these kept us busy for an afternoon and full for days to come. 


2 cups Arborio rice
2 cartons Organic Vegetable broth (or homemade if you're feeling really motivated)
3 table spoons extra virgin first press Olive Oil
Sea Salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 pinches of saffron threads (Trader Joe's carries less-expensive saffron threads in cute little jars!)
1/4 onion, minced (or more if you're really into onions)

In a sauce pot or high-walled cast-iron skillet, sautee the minced onion and olive oil for a few minutes on med-low heat, until onion is translucent. Add the arborio and stir constantly to ensure all grains are coated with oil. Continue to stir until grains become a bit translucent (2-5 minutes). Then add a bit of the broth, slowly, just enough to cover the grains. Add saffron threads. Continue to stir and lower the heat to a low low low simmer. Add the rest of the broth and stir occasionally to ensure the rice doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pot. The rice should be al dente and sticking together when done, usually after 10-20 minutes. If you're into vegan cheeses - feel free to add a handful of Daiya mozzarella, a few tablespoons of Toffutti cream cheese, Earth Balance butter, etc. 

Once the rice is done, cool in the fridge. To cool faster, spread it on a well oiled baking sheet. 

4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup peas 
1/2 cup carrots
Oregano to taste
Basil to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup faux meat crumbles or brown lentils (if using lentils, cook beforehand)
Optional : Daiya mozzarella OR 1/2 cup tomato sauce

It's kind of tough for me to figure out the proportions for everything, because I always just cook with my gut, or what I have available. I don't really use recipes or know exact quantities. So this could vary... Basically, you want to sautee enough of the filling ingredients to fill all the arancine your cooked arborio will make, on low-medium heat for at least 10 minutes. We originally used faux meat crumbles, but of course they are processed and not so natural. Now, we cook brown lentils beforehand and use those as a meat substitute. The tomato sauce is nice, and means the filling won't get dry. But I'm not always into having tomato as the overpowering flavor in everything I eat. 

Once sautéed, cool the filling for around 15 minutes. 

To assemble the arancine,get ready to use your (just washed) hands. Grab a blob of rice and press into your palm, leaving the edges curved up. Add a spoonful or two of the filling, then more rice to cover it. Roll in your hands to create a nice round shape. (In Palermo, where my Nonna is from, they make Arancine round. In Catania, where my Nonno is from, they make them round on the bottom but conical on top. I prefer the Palermitano version.) 

Once all your balls are assembled, set out a bowl of olive oil and a bowl of breadcrumbs (gluten free ones work well). Add a generous amount of sea salt to your bcrumbs, and get going with dipping each ball in oil (heehee) and then coating extremely thoroughly with the breadcrumbs. It's very important there's a solid layer of bcrumbs around each of the arancine.

Heat a skillet on medium heat filled with at least an inch of organic vegetable oil or peanut oil (canola oil is almost always GMO'ed, and GMOs are poison). You'll know the oil is hot enough (usually around 5 min) if you splash a droplet of water on the oil and it spits/sizzles/dances. 

Drop in 2-3 arancine at a time and fry until golden. Flip over to ensue both sides get crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and place on a platter lined with at least 2 layers of paper towels to drain excess oil. We also tried baking a few at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, but of course the fried ones were way more delicious and true to tradition. 

Keep frying and draining, and then enjoy while still warm! You can dip them in marinara sauce or just munch em as is. The crispy breaded shell gives way to creamy saffron rice and scrumptious savory filling.... Mmmm!! Buon apetito!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How my definitely-not-vegan Sicilian family taught me the most valuable lessons about food and life

My mom's parents were born in Sicily in the 30's and came to the US in the early 60's. They grew up in rural areas near Palermo and Catania, dealing with the terror and insanity of fascism during WWII, poverty, and trying to make a new life all the way in America. I am intensely grateful that they are both still here, making each other nuts in North Jersey as they've done for the past 50 years. Their home is like a mini-Sicily - a house that usually has at least 3 generations of the family living in it and a backyard that is trying to compress a vineyard, orchard, and farm all into one tiny bit of land that I'm sure is a gazillion times more polluted and less fertile than the rich Mediterranean earth of their homelands.

I have a super deep sense of pride in my Sicilian heritage. It's taught me so much about food, the earth, family, history, what I want to replicate and honor in my own life, and what I want to learn from and leave in my past. My Nonna has spent the majority of her 50 years in the US cooking, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and oh yea -- cooking (save for her first years working in garment factories in Newark). At one point she even owned a restaurant, but all that was when I was too young to remember. She's 84 and still gets up at 6am every day to cook, cook, and cook some more.

Her food tastes like the best food in the world to me. Even though her sauce is thin, it's the most delicious I've ever had. I know it's thin now because she's told me stories of her fatherless childhood filled with poverty and strife, and learning to make every meal stretch. Her cookies are a bit dry, but they are the most delectable to me. I remember summer mornings when she'd feed me and my sister breakfast, which consisted of huge bowls of sugary milky coffee with her cookies broken up in them. That was her idea of "cereal" and probably something that shouldn't be fed to small still-growing children at 8am. But still, totally delicious.

Despite having just turned 82, my Nonno is out in that garden every day, trying his hardest to make something green and beautiful out of that dirty Jersey earth. He's out there fattening his always-multiplying rabbits, who sadly live their whole lives crammed in wooden hutches only to someday be made into stew or have their flesh sold off to other old Italian men (my Nonno's got his very own black market of the tenderest rabbit you can find in North Jersey.) Or maybe you can find him on a ladder leaned up against one of his many fig trees, grabbing birds who dare to snatch his precious fruits and breaking their necks with his bare hands. His garage and shed have countless rabbit pelts and pheasants from his hunting adventures hanging in there, along with ancient tools, rust-covered bicycles from the 70's, tin cans wrapped in brands I'm sure haven't existed for decades filled with bent nails, and other weird old Italian man shit. He always jokes about making a fur coat out of his rabbit pelts, which would really solidify is kooky-old-man status. My Nonno spent many decades as a union carpenter and his handiwork can be found all around the house and yard. The roof he built to cover the cement patio is also home to grapevines - tiny green grapes that never were as big and sweet as I wanted them to be as a kid. He's also got peach trees, various kinds of beans growing up the chain link fence along the driveway, and over half of the tiny back yard is his garden, usually filled with squash, greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, watermelon, garlic (which he later braids by hand), onions, and all kinds of other goodies. He feeds his bunnies leftovers from the garden, and uses their poop as a fertilizer. At the end of a long day in the sun, sweating and working hard wearing nothing but shorts and sandals and threadbare dress socks, he usually showers with the garden hose and a bar of hotel soap that must be over 30 years old as I've never known my grandparents to stay in a hotel ever in my life. He's a funny little tanned man, small and sturdy and unbelievably strong even at 82 years old. Ketch pointed out that my Nonno is exactly like the stubborn resilient donkeys he grew up with, leading them around the rocky hills of his hometown, begrudgingly, instead of being a trumpet player like he really wanted.

It's sad that no one in my family is really interested in honoring these traditions. My Nonno still has to physically go to my mom or Aunt's houses to plant their tiny tomato and herb gardens, as they can't be bothered. My Nonna is now saying she's troppo vecchio, or too old, to make a year's worth of tomato sauce at the end of every summer. It's a process that takes bushels and bushels of tomatoes and numerous days in the sun cutting, salting, and stewing tomatoes in the giant industrial vat - all while fending off bees and other critters that want a piece of the delicious tomato-y action. In many ways, I get it. It's a lot of work and hell I'm too lazy to step up and do it. I want to go to the beach, play on my iPhone, go to shows, and other selfish crap.

It turns out that the vegan queer tattooed grandchild who - ::gasp!:: -moved away (only 2 hours to Philly and hell now I'm in NYC, just 15 miles away from them) - is pretty much the only one who worries about this. I'm the only grandkid to have learned Italian in school, after growing up knowing only bits of Sicilian dialect (mostly profanities and insults, of course). I'm the only grandkid that has been back to Italy numerous times over the years to visit our cousins. Even my mom and Aunts haven't gone back to Italy in over a decade, and just wait for cousins to visit us here. I'm the only one who decided to wear my Nonna's wedding dress, despite the fact that she has 4 daughters.

This isn't meant to shame or put-down my other family members. It makes sense. They are like any other Italian-Americans in North Jersey - they are proud of their heritage but are deeply invested in the comforts and ways of modern American life. That's what the older generations came here for - to work hard and make things better for their children and grandchildren.  That first generation born here continues to honor our legacies in some ways, replicating some of my Nonna's most-beloved dishes, but the truth is that when my grandparents leave this earth their traditions will too.

I actually think that my commitment to radical politics and activism helped me to connect deeper to my Sicilian heritage. Growing your own food at home, making your own furniture, speaking another language - these are all embraced by activists and radicals who seek to divest themselves of Western Capitalism. It just so happens that my grandparents do these things too, because they are immigrants. You have to want to do these things, make yourself learn these things, in our society. Over the past 12 years of adulthood, learning about where my family came from and the struggles they encountered has helped bolster my commitment to anti-capitalism, and helped ground me. They set a precedent, but it was for survival. I have the privilege to choose to partake in these things or not.

Years ago, my Nonno told my mom that he was disappointed in me for 3 reasons - 1. Being a vegetarian, 2. Being a Lesbian, and 3. Having tattoos. I was like, Hey! - He got it wrong - I'm VEGAN and QUEER, psssshh. It didn't really hurt my feelings because I know he's a critical grumpy man and my mom has taught me from day one not to internalize his bullshit. But now, it does make me really happy to see that he's proud of how much I've invested in honoring my heritage, and that it's become important to Ketch too. Him and my Nonna loved hearing about how we grew food in our backyard in Philly, have nurtured the tiny fig tree he gave me a few years ago, that we cook everything from scratch and make tons of Sicilian-inspired foods, that I visit our family in Italy, that I speak the language, and that Ketch has even begun to learn Italian. They flipped their shit when I wore my Nonna's dress to our wedding, when we danced to Ti Amo, and when we tell them about Italian movies or TV shows we've watched.

Even though my grandparents HATE that I'm vegan and STILL have something to say about it, every time, they know that I'm always going to honor and continue their legacy of respecting the earth, honoring the cycles of life, knowing the work that is needed to grow food and feed your family, and respect that all of this takes time and energy.

Living in NYC, in Manhattan, means that right now I can't grow food and making elaborate meals from scratch is a challenge. This is hard for me, but I know it's not forever. One day I hope to have a garden like theirs, with my fig tree that they gave me tall and strong amongst other new trees. That's a long ways off for me right now, and until then I'll do my best to use what I've learned from them and continue to honor their legacies.

I am hoping to one day do a project on Sicilian history and culinary traditions. Luckily, I have a cousin who is also obsessed with this and owns his own restaurant in Italy, where many of my other cousins work as well. He is also super-not-vegan, but we basically share the same viewpoints about the ethics of growing food, cooking food, and respecting the earth. I need to make sense of this all someday, but finding the resources and outlet for this will take some time for sure.

My Nonna and Nonno, last month. May 2013.

More pictures of their garden coming soon!!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pop! Fizz! Clink! Delightful Summer Cocktail Recipes

I'm not a big drinker, but if there are drinks I do like they probably contain something bubbly, gin, or some kind of fruit. Summer Cocktails are perfect for me because they usually focus on fresh fruits, organic herbs, and lighter alcohols that are kinder to my tastebuds and sensitive stomach.

Last summer Ketch and I went a little Bellini-crazy with his mom. We had a total blast smashing up a variety of different fruits and pouring Prosecco over them, which eventually led to unstoppable giddy giggle fits and dancing to "Call Me Maybe" on repeat.

A Bellini is the light and bubbly creation of a 1940s Venetian bartender. Its popularity is understandable – a fresh, simple, cool drink that's perfect for a summer's eve aperitivo. Close your eyes, take a sip, and imagine you're relaxing at an outdoor cafe in Italy, enjoying a refreshing Bellini after a long day of sight-seeing in the warm sun.
  • 2 very ripe peaches
  • 1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons water (if needed)
  • 1 bottle chilled Prosecco
  • Peach slices for garnish
  1. Peach puree: Clean, peel, and pit two very ripe, almost over-ripe peaches. Slice into quarters and puree in blender or food processor. If needed, add 1 to 2 Tablespoons of cold water to make mixture more puree-like. For extra sweetness, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar.
  2. Scoop 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons of the peach puree into the bottom of a champagne flute. Pour the chilled Prosecco over the puree until the glass is just about full. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach.
  3. Get creative by adding 1 teaspoon fresh ginger into the blender when making the peach puree. It gives it an invigorating zing! Other tasty variations include: raspberry, watermelon, or mango.
For a non-alcoholic version, try a Baby Bellini. Using the same recipe as a above, substitute chilled Sparkling Apple Cider as a kid-friendly and tee-totaller/SXE-friendly bubbly.
Another fun idea for a backyard brunch or porch potluck is a Bellini Bar. Display a variety of fresh fruit purees in small pitchers or medium-sized bowls, with spoons for serving. Have ice-filled buckets ready with bottles of Prosecco and Sparkling Apple Cider. Your guests can mix and match their own flavors and basically just have a smashed fruit smorgasbord of fun.
Summery Gin Tea
While there are many brands of top-notch gins out there, Bluecoat Gin stands out in a crowd. It's distilled in Philadelphia, making it local to Philly and NYC, especially compared to imports such as Tanquery and Beefeater. Also, it's distilled using organic juniper berries, organic citrus, and other organic herbs. It's truly a handcrafted delight, with distinct flavors that awaken and refresh your taste buds without overpowering. The lovely botanicals of Bluecoat, combined with the red Rooibos tea, cool fresh mint, and the bite of the ginger liqueur create a unique and exhilarating libation.
  • 2 oz. Bluecoat Gin
  • Home-brewed mint red Rooibos tea
  • 1.5 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
Home-brewed Rooibos Mint Tea:
Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat. Put 8-10 red Rooibos tea bags and 1 bunch of fresh mint in a pitcher and add the just-boiled water. Steep for 10-15 minutes and remove tea bags. Cool in refrigerator, add ice cubes.
To mix Summery Gin Tea:
Pour Bluecoat Gin, home-brewed mint rooibos tea, and ginger liqueur in a shaker over ice. Add a dash of simple syrup if more sweetness is desired. Shake vigorously. Strain and pour into a cocktail glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
For a non-alcoholic version, brew the iced Rooibos mint tea as described above. Pour into a glass with ice, garnish with fresh mint, and enjoy! The jewel-tone ruby red color of the Rooibos tea makes this visually beautiful as well as super tasty.
Boardwalk Shandy
Growing up, the best part of the summer was when we'd head down the shore for our big family vacation. Each year, Wildwood was my second home for a week of summer magic. It was always a glorious whirlwind of games, rides, wacky antics with my cousins that definitely tested our parents nerves, beach adventures with my glamorous romper-wearing grandma, and of course all the delicious beachy treats. Some of my favorite (pre-vegan) Wildwood boardwalk delicacies were funnel cakes, dippin' dots, gi-normous slices of gooey cheesey pizza, and of course - ORANGEADE. I would go NUTS for Orangeade. Like in a way that my family could not understand. To me, it was the nectar of the gods and I drank as much as I could (which led to many trips down to the ocean to pee) because I knew I was guzzling it down on borrowed time. Come the end of that week, I'd be back in North Jersey, a land devoid of that citrusy sweet Orangeade.
I'm not a big beer person, but this recipe brings back all those feelings of boardwalk magic. Give Orangeade a decidedly adult twist by adding it to a white beer such as Blue Moon. A light and cheery combo, a Boardwalk Shandy is perfect f as a rejuvenating treat after a day of sand, surf, and sun.
  • Juice of 6-8 large oranges
  • Juice of 3 large lemons
  • 2 cups sparkling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar or simple syrup to taste
  • Blue Moon beer (pour to taste)
  1. Pour fresh-squeezed citrus juices into a large pitcher over crushed ice cubes. Add 1/2 cup sugar, stir to dissolve. Sugar amount may be adjusted according to sweetness desired. Top it off with the fizzy sparkling water.
  2. Shandy-ize by pouring orangeade into tall, ice-filled glasses, about halfway. Then slowly pour in the Blue Moon beer. Of course, the ratio can be adjusted depending on taste and preference. Garnish with a slice of fresh orange.
This Shandy is good for parties because the Orangeade can be served separate from the Beer to ensure non-drinkers get to partake in it's deliciousness as well!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Vegan on the Go: Little Baby's Ice Cream in Philadelphia, PA

This past weekend I headed down to Philly, a city I called home for 9 years and just recently said "so long!" to about a year ago. Philly is home in so many ways and I'm still wrestling with waves of conflicting feelings I get every time I visit. It feels deeply healing and nourishing to see long-time friends and be in a place that I know better than any other. It's inspiring and a little sad to see new stuff popping everywhere, because with each change comes a mix of happiness for the city and bitterness that I'm missing out. And then there are those reminders of why I chose to leave Philly that manage to pop up during every visit.

Mostly, I enjoy going back and having things be so comfortable and seeing the awesome changes that have occurred since I left. One very exciting and delicious change is that Little Baby's Ice Cream seems to be rapidly taking over Philadelphia, and now even has an embassy in West Philly just minutes from my old home. Little Baby's is a gem that Philly should hold dear to their hearts and be intensely proud of, especially in the face of food snobs from NYC and other cosmopolitan super-hyped cities. Little Baby's sources most ingredients from other local businesses, has a playful aesthetic that I can't accurately describe with any words already existing in the English language, features dairy and non-dairy flavors that challenge and delight your tastebuds (think balsamic banana, spicy mustard, and earl grey sriracha), and is run by some super sweet dudes. Check out their site for more info on their ingredients, their hand-made small-batch process, and calendar of where their TRICYCLES (mobile treats!) will be in the upcoming weeks.

While I am elated to be in NYC, I do miss the food in Philly. Little Baby's highlights the exact problem I'm having with the fact that there is nowhere (that I know of) in Manhattan to go get a cone of vegan ice cream, a vegan milkshake, or other icy sweet non-dairy treats. Lula's Apothecary and Stogo have both shut their doors recently, leaving an ice-cream-cone-shaped hole in the hearts of many NYC vegans. Klein's is still out there, but it's allllllll the way in Brooklyn.

Little Baby's filled that void in my life this weekend, and it couldn't have been more delicious. The West Philly Embassy boasts an adorable parklet, Cedar Parklet, with cheery orange and green tables and pretty plants for some extra-lovely outdoor ambiance. Indoors, sparkling vintage-style red vinyl bench seats line the walls. Triangles, geometric shapes, and stripes cover the walls while pastel-colored shapes hang overhead, giving the place a Pee-Wee+The Max (from Saved by the Bell) vibe.

On Saturday, I practically inhaled a Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough milkshake made with coconut milk. It was a dream come true - rich chocolate, smooth coconut, and yummy globs of sugary chocolate cookie dough. Not oversweet, not too heavy, and definitely a chocolatey vegan delight.

On Sunday before heading back to NYC, I sipped a cool creamy Banana Chip milkshake made with almond milk (soy is also available). It immediately evoked fond memories of the banana gelato I had on my very first trip to Sicily at age 13, but with a hint of the coconut base and tasty crunchy bits of banana chips and dark chocolate as a bonus. It was the perfect consistency - not too icy and watery, and not too thick like some non-dairy ice creams. Also, the banana flavor was real true banana, not that gross fake Runts banana taste that makes your mouth feel fuzzy. Ketch enjoyed the same on a crunchy cone and gobbled his up in a matter of minutes. Other flavors included Coconut Chai and Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, and any ice cream could be smushed between 2 locally made vegan cookies (also in an array of wacky flavors).

Thank you, Little Baby's, for being my vegan ice cream oasis when it's needed most. I guess I'll just have to keep planning more trips to Philly this summer....

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bare Burger - Vegan Dreams DO Come True!

Our neighborhood in the Upper East Side (East of Lexington Ave, 70's-80's) is teeming with bistros, pubs, taquerias, pizza parlors, and countless more eateries with cuisines from all around the world. It's pretty awesome to have so many options nearby and finding the time and money to try them out has been an exciting adventure.

Most recently we went to Bare Burger, (a NY-based franchise) burger joint on 1st Ave. We were super stoked to see numerous veggie options. Most of the items on the menu are made with organic ingredients and explicitly state the meat is "humanely raised" blahblahblah. The vibe is overall pretty cute - candy-colored chairs, outdoor seating, charming-but-not-too-kitchy décor, etc.

The whole experience is pretty fun - you pick your protein, your bun (or lettuce wrap), your toppings (which range from the classic lettuce and tomato to avocado and roasted red peppers), your cheese, and your sauce. They carry Daiya vegan cheddar cheese and even feature a vegan carrot cake for dessert. Other veg-friendly options include satisfying-seeming salads, fried classic sides (zucchini sticks, onion-rings), and 3 different veggie burgers - Quiona and Veggie, Black Bean, and Portobello. Everything on the menu is labeled so you can easily spot what's vegan, gluten-free, etc.

Oh, I forgot to mention that THEY ALSO HAVE THE QUINOA VEGGIE BURGERS IN SLIDER FORM. I'm not kidding. IT'S A VEGAN CHRISTMAS MIRACLE! I have been waiting for this for pretty much the past ten years, and I'm over the moon. Obsessed, actually.

I ordered the sliders despite knowing the gluten buns would hurt my IBS-tastic tummy. I figured living the vegan slider dream was worth bloating and yucky poops later on. The sliders came out on an adorable little metal platter, piled high with gooey melted Daiya, chopped sautéed onions, slices of garlic dill pickle, all held together with very aesthetically-pleasing metal skewers. The fresh cut fries were abundant despite being a "small" order and very tasty - crisp, salty, not too oily. I gobbled up my three sliders and I honestly haven't been able to stop thinking about them since. I keep thinking of excuses to go back and eat them for like every meal of every day.

UPDATE: I was misinformed on my first visit to Bareburger. The slider brioche buns are NOT vegan. However, they do have vegan buns available. Be sure to talk to your server about the buns if this is a concern for you.

Our whole meal of 2 root beers, a small order of fries, veggie sliders, and a black bean burger was just over $30 with tip. No over-the-top NYC prices here! If you're vegan and your friends and family are not, this is definitely the perfect place to make everyone happy. If you're vegan and love fun and happiness and magic, you should definitely go eat the sliders as soon as humanly possible.

Fort Tyron Park, near the Cloisters. We went there on Sunday before Bare Burger.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On the Loose

I turn 30 years old in less than 3 hours. I feel pretty good about it. Aging sucks for sure, but I am grateful for what I've experienced thus far, what I've survived, what I've learned and grown from, and what's still ahead. There are things I wish were more... developed/advanced in my life, but I'm doing okay. I'm also formulating my next big plans and getting ready to manifest some more awesome life shit.

Last year I worked at a Girl Scouts summer camp in Putnam County, New York (just past Westchester) as the Business Manager. Although my job was mostly administrative, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful, memorable experiences of my life. It was inspiring and wholly empowering even though I occupied that space as a 29 year old staff person rather than a child camper. It taught me so much, and healed and sustained me in ways that totally surprised me. It came at the exact perfect time in my life, where all these different factors had to line up exactly the way they did (for months, actually) in order for me to be there. Camp begins just a few weeks from now, and I'm already feeling pangs of sadness knowing I won't be there this year. Sure, I'll visit for a day or a weekend, but that's definitely not that same as being immersed in that world for the majority of the summer.

This camp was extra special because Ketch (my wonderful partner) went there as a kid - a gawky socially-awkward not-very-popular kid - and said it was the first time in his life that he had friends and felt so appreciated and empowered. Camp is such an encouraging, nourishing haven for kids that don't quite fit into the mainstream. It's this truly magical space where sillyness and play and overall weirdness are valued. It is essentially a microcosm for what childhood should be. It's a super-condensed soul-searing experience where the whole purpose is to embrace freedom, break past insecurity and doubt, value friendship, learn social accountability, honor nature, build community, and exhibit a strong girlhood that exists in so few places these days. It is not a perfect space, as nowhere really is. Not everything turns out so ideally. However, what I saw throughout my summer at camp is one of the few things I've seen that gives me real hope for the future.

Though my partner being a trans fella, he is a lifetime Girl Scout. All the women from Girl Scout council, including the CEO, were overjoyed and even giddy when I told them about how he went to camp as a kid, completed his Gold Award, and is so proud of his history as a Girl Scout while also being open about his identity as a gender-nonconforming FTM person. It was awesome and made me feel so proud - proud of my partner, proud of being part of an org that's as progressive as Girl Scouts, and proud that I got to be a queer voice in that space.

At camp I saw little girls get dirty, lose so many inhibitions, and push the boundaries of what they thought was the only way things could be. One of my favorite stories is from the last day of a 2 week-session, when I saw a little girl in the dining hall playing with other kids from her unit. One by one their parents came and scooped them up, despite all the tears and desperate hugs, and whisked them away to their normal worlds of too much technology and soul-crushing authority. This little girl was definitely under 10 years old and I don't remember interacting with her at all during her time at camp. However, she had green flowers and vines drawn in marker all over her arms and green scribbles in her completely-hairless armpits. This kid had had her friend draw "tattoos" and armpit hair on her, and they were giggling and loudly admiring their handiwork. I couldn't believe it, and as my heart swelled I turned on my heel and high-tailed it out of there before any angry parents could blame me for their kid's social transgressions. I still have a nugget of hope in my heart that that kid will one day be a tattooed feminist, raging against the still-fucking-here patriarchy with a youthful vigor I no longer possess.

Closing Campfires were always the most emotional, magical, deeply moving parts of the summer. As each 1 or 2 week session ended and the kids had to say "see you next summer," these campfires were reflective, solemn, and always ended in tears. It was a time for the kids, counselors, and adults to acknowledge and honor the uniqueness of the experience and how lucky we all are to have been a part of it. The songs sung at campfire are old, long, somber, and incredibly beautiful. Some are well-known general campfire songs, some have passed down through the decades of Girl Scout tradition. All the voices blending together, some tiny and squeaky, faltering, or off-key, was unforgettable. I often close my eyes and try my hardest to remember, to hear the ringing of every sad sweet song's final notes as the sun set over the lake. It was truly something rare and special to behold: the sunset's blazing pinks and purples, the all-encompassing glow of the camp fire, the shimmering reflections and delicate ripples of the water, and everyone huddled together as the night chill set in.

My favorite camp song is "On the Loose," and here's a video of campers from 2008 singing it. It encapsulates the feeling of freedom and ignites my deeply embedded belief in anarchism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbEwC00hNyI

On the loose to climb a mountain, On the loose where I am free,
On the loose to live my life the way I think my life should be.
For I only have a moment, and a whole world yet to see.
I'll be looking for tomorrow on the loose.

Have you ever seen the sunrise turn the sky completely red?
Have you slept beneath the moon and stars, a pine bough for your bed?
Have you sat and talked with friends, though a word was never said?
Then you're just like me and you've been on the loose.
- Chorus

There's a trail that I'll be hiking just to see where it might go,
Many places yet to visit, many people yet to know.
But in following my dreams, I will live and I will grow,
In a world that's waiting out there on the loose.
- Chorus

So in search of love and laughter, I am traveling across this land.
Never sure of where I'm going, for I haven't any plans.
Anytime when you are ready, come and join me take my ha
nd. And together we'll share life out on the loose.
- Chorus

As I sit and watch the sunset and the daylight slowly fades,
I am thinking of tomorrow, and the friendships I have made.
I will treasure them for always, and I hope that you will too.
And forever we'll share life out on the loose.
- Chorus