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MoFo #21: A very vegan bday, part 1

21 Oct

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The main reason I love my birthday is because it is a great excuse to do fun stuff! Mr. Chickpea and I have a birthday tradition of gifting each other cool experiences or taking each other out to fancy restaurants. OK, usually I make him a fancy homemade meal and he takes me out for a cool dinner. Best of both worlds!

This year we had kind of a birthday…er, month. Mr. Chickpea’s b-day is in August but I planned a dual birthday weekend for us starting with his present, a day of white water rafting on the American River, followed by my present, a night at Farm Sanctuary’s country cabin and a tour of the farm.

So I didn’t get pics of the rafting, but it was suuuper fun and at the end the guides BBQ’d burgers for us and even made me my own little veggie burger. Yay! We had a lot of time left in the day before we needed to get to Farm Sanctuary, so we took a detour to the apple farms east of Sacramento to eat some sweeties and guzzle cider.

We started off at one of my favorite places, Boa Vista Orchards, which has the biggest selection of apples, pears, other produce, and apple treats.

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Unfortunately for vegans, all of Boa’s baked goods contain butter! I drowned my sorrows in cider.

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And free samples
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Lots of free samples…
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And I ate leftover vegan deep dish (is it too gross to show half eaten pizza?? I forgot to take a pic until I was half way through!) And more cider. WHAT? DON’T JUDGE MY LOVE OF CIDER!

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Finally we found a farm stand that used only Crisco in their baked treats. So yaaaaay no dairy, but boooo trans fats!! I got a sugar-free apple something or other. It was pretty dang good, even though I was half dying with a gallon of juice in my belly.

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Later that afternoon, we drove north a few hours to Orland and made it to Farm Sanctuary right at sunset. It was so quiet and peaceful on the farm. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and the views were brilliant!

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The country cabin was totally adorable. It was a little bit away from the animals and right next to the “People Barn”. I felt at home right away!

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The cabin is decorated with photos of the animals at the farm and is filled with lots of animal rights books, brochures, and board games.

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There was even a little basket of bath goodies to try!
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I knew we would have a kitchenette, so I loaded up at Trader Joe’s. Look at that spread! And I love love loved the little sign in the kitchen! It says, “Please refrain from eating animal products here.” Yeah!

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We had planned to make veggie wraps for dinner, but decided instead to check out a local restaurant, Farwood Bar & Grill, that was supposed to have a vegan menu. Yay for supporting vegan options at omni restaurants!

We were brought some bread and butter the waiter was super cool — he brought me my own little dish of oil and vinegar for the bread!

We also ordered some avocado fries that were absolutely delicious, and I ordered the vegan Thai salad (which was huge — yessss!) for my main course. Everything was really delicious and the restaurant staff were really cool towards vegans. Their vegan menu was basically a few options from the regular menu with meat/dairy removed or, in the case of the avocado fries, with a vegan dipping sauce instead of the non-vegan aioli. It just goes to show how easy it can be for restaurants to be veg-friendly with minimal effort and I bet they get a ton of folks visiting the sanctuary who want to support their efforts (that’s why we went!).

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The next morning we had a breakfast feast in the cabin — cinnamon raisin bagels with tofutti cream cheese, bananas, dried mango, cashews, and of course, more cider! Then we got ready for our farm tour. The animals deserve their own post, so check that out in part 2 tomorrow!

MoFo #19: Chard-guacamole Quesadillas & Applejack Toddies

20 Oct

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You guys, I am so incredibly pleased with myself tonight. I mean, I just followed a recipe, but DAMN. If it were possible to marry a food, I would marry the heck out of these puppies.

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Tonight’s appetizer comes from The Inspired Vegan (see, I told you it would pop up again!). I’ve made these before and thought they were delicious but do you ever have those nights where a certain food really hits the spot like nothing else? That was me tonight. These are like the perfect healthy vegan quesadilla — rich, spicy guacamole and sweet & tangy chard smooshed inside a nutty whole wheat tortilla. Wowzers.

You start off by blanching a bunch of finely chopped chard. And then this….
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….becomes this. In addition to just draining the chard, I hand squeezed a lot of the liquid out because it helps in the saut√©ing step that comes next. I don’t think I’ll ever not be amazed by how much greens cook down!

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After the chard has cooled, you saute it with some garlic, currants (I used chopped raisins), and orange juice. I’ve made this greens recipe a lot just as a side dish, too. It’s a nice light way to cook up collards or chard.

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The mix goes into a tortilla along with some spicy guacamole and you pan fry them together for a few minutes so the tortilla gets nice and crispy. Then fold it in half, and you’re good to go!

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So these are great by themselves but I strongly recommend a little cashew crema on the side (my recipe comes from Viva Vegan). The rich and tangy cream is a great complement!

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That drink you see on the right is the second half of tonight’s post and is another Bryant Terry creation, this time from Vegan Soul Kitchen. It’s pretty much the perfect fall cocktail, drawing its flavor from cinnamon and apple brandy. The cinnamon stick is steeped in boiling water for a minutes, then you add apple jack, agave nectar, a little lemon juice, and some apple juice (I used cider!). I’m usually not a big fan of warm cocktails because the evaporating alcohol always burns my nose, but this was so tasty I’m willing to overlook that! I bought applejack specifically for this recipe but had decided to try it on its own first to get a good idea of the flavor. Blech — I am definitely not a brandy girl! It was way too strong and I couldn’t really appreciate the apple undertones. Mixed with juice and a cinnamon infusion, it was just right!

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Alright, that’s it for me tonight! I’m off to get my daily dose of snuggles from this guy! ūüôā

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MoFo #17: Apple cider syrup

23 Oct

Whaaaa? ¬†That’s what I said when I first heard of apple cider jelly, which is what I was intending¬†to make. ¬†It sounded amazeballs. ¬†What I ended up with was apple cider syrup, delicious in its own right – sweet and tart with undertones of caramel, it’s the essence of a glass of apple cider condensed down to a teaspoon. ¬†I haven’t tried it in too many things yet but so far it’s been a champ on toast, in oatmeal, and warmed up on top of vanilla ice cream….OMG delicious. ¬†If you sprinkle it with a little granola you have what I’m calling an apple crisp sundae.

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How did I end up with syrup and not jelly? ¬†Well, we had heard on the radio that you could basically just cook cider down to jelly, taking advantage of the pectin that’s naturally in the juice. ¬†So we bought a gallon, poured it into a large pot with a cinnamon stick, and simmered away. ¬†The recipe we followed said to cook the cider down for 3 hours and it would start to gel. ¬†WRONG! ¬†In fact it started to caramelize once the volume had gone down enough. ¬†I freaked out and removed the pot from the heat, poured the contents in a mason jar, and let it sit overnight. ¬†I was saddened to see the next morning that the liquid never firmed up, but at least it was still pretty tasty. ¬†I decided to look on the bright side and declare this a new culinary feat! ¬†Apple cider syrup!

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I did a little research into the matter and discovered a few things about making apple cider jelly:

1) Almost every recipes calls for additional pectin.  Apparently others have had the same issues getting it to gel up!

2) If you don’t¬†add pectin and rely on what’s in the juice, you really need to use the freshest cider available because pectin loses potency over time. ¬†This means you need freshly bottled cider that’s been¬†refrigerated¬†and is¬†preferably unpasteurized. ¬†¬†Not the dust covered, unrefrigerated, pasteurized stuff we bought!

3) If you don’t¬†use added pectin, you need to reduce the cider down really quickly because heat also degrades pectin. ¬†So the recipe we followed that calls for 3 hours of simmering is dead wrong! ¬†Ideally you want everything to concentrate down in 30 min, which means high heat. ¬†I don’t really know how you’re supposed to condense a gallon of cider down to a pint in 30 min without burning everything, but there you go. ¬†Maybe divide it into a few pots to increase surface area?

/science lesson!

If you want to try this out yourself, just grab a gallon of decent quality cider from the store and start simmerin’! ¬†In my research I found some people say there is a difference between apple cider and apple juice (cider apples are picked earlier so they are more tart), but there is really no true difference these days. ¬†These days cider refers more to the homemade stuff that sits around longer and tends to ferment a bit. What’s called cider in the stores is glorified juice or may have some spice in it. ¬†So buy whichever you want but I would suggest testing them first and buying a juice that is not super sweet. ¬†I think unfiltered has more apple essence, too. ¬†Pour it in a pot with some spices (I used a cinnamon stick and 4 whole cloves), reduce it down for 2 hours, remove the spices, and simmer/reduce for another 45 min or so. ¬†Check on it often at the end stages so the sugar doesn’t end up¬†caramelizing! ¬†I ended up with about 3/4 quart of syrup from 1 gallon of cider. ¬†Here it is in the pot after about 2.5 hrs:

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We’re still going to try to make some jelly…I think it will make great Christmas gifts! ¬†In the meantime, we’re enjoying our syrup.