It took me a while to realize it, but Houston’s claim to fame is not its hot summer. It may be infamous for its stifling, humid summers, but that’s not when the most fun occur. For people, nor plants.
I love it when readers help me learn the ropes of my new town. It took me a while to wrap my head around it, but it is just too hot for most vegetables to grow. Coming from Ontario, summer equals fresh vegetables. Right now, we are between seasons in Texas. I will quit lamenting the lack of flavourful tomatoes (for now), the local vegetables will be coming in the fall and spring. Despite being between seasons, vegetables can still be grown, though. Recently I visited an urban farm and loved it so much, I wanted to share the experience with you.
The Last Organic Outpost is an urban, community farm. We weren’t sure what to expect, as this farm is close to where we live. Truly a hidden gem, they encourage the community to become involved in creating their own farming experience and ultimately to sell enough to become self-driven.
It is completely volunteer-run, except for one farmer they employ. They minimize costs by recycling unwanted goods. Donated hot tubs will be turned into planters. Cars have been turned into vermicomposters, bee havens, etc.
Of course, they also grow vegetables. Despite being between seasons, they were growing greens (collards, dinosaur kale, spinach — all grown year-round), herbs, sweet peppers, eggplant, winter squash as well as figs and papayas. The somewhat chaotic plants reminded me of my small garden in Toronto.
At first I thought it was just a big plant with pretty flowers, but they also had different kinds of okra. Small, long and purple varieties. I had never tried just picked okra and it was refreshingly crisp.
Talk about freshly picked, they had produce for sale as well as special sampler bags which is what we purchased (it included kale, spinach, eggplant and butternut squash). Because it is volunteer-driven, their hours are variable but keep an eye on their facebook page if you want to become more involved.
Have no fear, there is still a delicious recipe attached to this post. When in the South, why not try their local specialties, too? Although traditional beans and greens in the South usually use collards, black eyed peas and ham/bacon, this one was a nice twist. I honesty wasn’t expecting much, but was blown away by the flavour. A quality liquid smoke definitely brings this dish to the next level. Have you ever looked at the ingredient lists of the liquid smokes at the store? I thought we could omit it from our Houston pantry, but caved. Once we started looking, though, there were a lot of additives to most liquid smoke “seasonings”. The one we settled on just has water, hickory smoke, mesquite smoke as its ingredients and I really like it. It also won this taste test.
Anyways, this is a simple skillet saute with carrots, (pinto) beans and (kale) greens. I used a melange of spices for my vegetable stock substitute and I think it worked really well with the liquid smoke. Easy, peasy.. and delicious.
I am looking forward to coming back to The Last Organic Outpost once the growing season resumes.
When I chat with friends from home, I field many similar questions. Have you finished unpacking? YES!!!! How am I finding the heat and humidity? Not that bad… Is Houston friendly for cyclists? My route to work is actually pretty devoid of cars, so I can’t complain. How is the food… and the veggie selection? One of my friend was interested in how I triaged the stocking of my fridge and pantry. What did I buy first? What were my perishable and non-perishable necessities?
Since we were without a kitchen for almost a week when we arrived, I continued with my travel-friendly eats: overnight oats with chia seeds and protein powder for breakfast, hummus with carrots and crackers for lunch and snack, and easy eats for dinner once I made my first grocery run. We hit up the closest grocers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Fiesta Mart) to scope out our new neighbourhood and begin our pantry. See below for what I commonly keep in my kitchen.
After the Zesty Lemon Cilantro Chickpea Salad, this was the next salad I made. This salad is almost too simple. Only four ingredients, or five if you include salt or pepper. Chickpeas, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and leafy greens. Definitely more than the sum of its parts. The lemon juice is tart and the nutritional yeast tames it into a creamy dressing. Marinade the chickpeas and use the extra sauce to toss with your favourite leafy greens. This is also a good travel-friendly meal if you stash nutritional yeast in your bag, of course, along with a knife to cut the lemon. Don’t we all travel this way? HAHA!
Without further ado, this is my culled pantry list:
Produce: apples, bananas (for Rob), carrots, lemons/limes, green onion, onions, garlic, ginger (cilantro is a common staple, depending on my menu)
Bonus: tofu and tempeh.
Leafy greens if salads are on the menu
canned beans (chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans)
dried beans (chickpeas, black beans, lentils (red, green))
Oats (rolled oats and steel cut oats)
Brown short-grain rice
Apple cider vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil, for salads
Coconut oil, for cooking
Toasted sesame oil
Nut butter (peanut butter is Rob’s favourite)
Bragg’s liquid aminos or low-sodium tamari
Mustard (preferably Dijon)
Sweet chili sauce (for Rob)
Sriracha (for Rob)
Dried fruit (dates, raisins, coconut, cranberries)
Canned tomatoes (I usually only get whole tomatoes and less commonly crushed)
Agave or maple syrup
Tea/tisanes (coffee for Rob)
Baking soda (also for cleaning)
Herbs and spices (at least):
Cinnamon (sticks and ground)
Cardamom pods (green)
Aleppo chili flakes
Thyme (I don’t use this that often)
Basil (I don’t use this that often)
+ all the ingredients for my veg stock powder (parsley, dill, garlic granules, onion granules, etc)
I have had a much larger pantry in the past but I am trying to keep things limited to what I will consume in a year. What are things that I have missed that you cannot live without?
Comfort means different things to different people. A warm hug, a friendly email, a cheery phone call.. or wallowing with an ice cream sundae and warm apple pie. I try not to do the emotional eating thing but sometimes a big salad just won’t cut it. But can chocolate really overcome the worst blues? No.
I know some of you think I am nuts… some holier-than-thou soul who can shun the desserts and treats. Well, let me assure you that I am not immune. Trust me, there are enough vegan desserts that can keep me entertained and gluttonous. But sometimes, you just need something more.
A great way not to get suckered into buying treats is not to shop at standard grocers. This also means it can be more difficult for me to indulge if I want.
After writing the first part of my exam, I planned to do grocery shopping. It all made sense: I had neglected all foodly things earlier that week and it was time to restock. My exam also happened to be close to my favourite ethnic grocer. Score! I had no list, no recipes, no agenda – time was spent on studying pathology, not recipes. However, after that exam, all I wanted was comfort. I wanted to wallow in some chocolate.
My favourite grocer is filled with all sorts of fun, cheap produce: grapefruits, many different kinds of mangoes, baby bok choy, Asian mushrooms, cheap fresh herbs. I wanted to splurge. I wanted something decadent. Chocolate, anything remotely vegan and dessert-like. Um, yeah, no. Nothing here at all. The nuts didn’t appeal to me… and my splurge? Two pounds of baby arugula for $4. Two pounds doesn’t seem like a lot but it was two big clamshells worth of arugula. Was it a splurge? Yes, because I did not think I could eat that much arugula and I thought to myself: I should not be buying this. But it was no decadent splurge.
So, on my way home, I stopped by my favourite resto in Toronto, Belmonte Raw. In spite of improving their hours, because they are on the other side of town, I have not been in a long time. So this was my treat. I had no appetite, but I was salivating just wondering what their specials would be for the day. I needed some comfort. I ended up ordering a comforting smoothie and a raw burrito. I have raved about their raw burrito before, but this one left me flat. This version was only half of a burrito with a side salad. The smoothie was also lacklustre. I wanted more!! I decided that my taste buds could not be comforted at this point. They were beyond repair. My appetite could not be perked up and trying her sinful chocolate thimbles would likely not help the cause.
So I moseyed home. With my 2 pounds of arugula. But no interest in cooking or eating (let alone photographing and blogging). A good night’s sleep and an empty fridge partially motivated me to try something more than oatmeal in the following days. Cooking, instead of studying, seemed like a better idea to me, too. Dal bhat or creamy broccoli dal would have been a delicious comfort meal but now I had that arugula to eat.
I quickly realized that if I wanted to eat through the arugula, it would have to be cooked. Thus lemony arugula nests were born. This actually turned out much better than I anticipated. Considering nothing seemed to taste good to me, and I really liked this, that says a lot! It was also fun because it was a very simple recipe.
I used JL’s recipe as a guide. She simmered Italian-spiced tomatoes with olives and beans. I simmered tomatoes and white beans and added in a bunch of herbs that seemed Italian: marjoram, fennel seed and lemon pepper. It worked! The tomatoes were light and fresh with flavour, and I only simmered it for 10 minutes as I tended to the arugula. For the arugula, I misread the directions and lightly steamed it with some broth and garlic, and then doused it in lemon juice. Contrasting the two components was good. Lots of greens. Lots of beans. And I really don’t think the photos do it justice because I think it was even prettier in person… and surprisingly enough, leftovers were good, too.
What is your comfort food? Surprised mine includes beans? Shocked chocolate couldn’t suffice? I think having a delicious bowl of good food definitely helps…
Amongst my closer friends and family, I am the only vegan. Quite a few of my friends are vegetarian, but my closest vegan buddy is in Vancouver. That’s across one big country. One of my co-workers is a former vegan, choosing to eat fish as an omega supplement mostly. I have yet to know anyone who has tried raw cuisine without my influence. Most of my friends are adventurist eaters, so I can share my kitchen successes and failures. While I eat vegan mainly for health and environmental reasons, sometimes I wonder about connecting with other like-minded souls.
A few months ago, I travelled with Rob to meet some of his friends from Burning Man. While mostly everyone was vegetarian, it was exciting to meet someone else who also dabbled in raw cuisine. She encouraged me to try banana chips in the dehydrator and told me about one of her raw successes: King Oyster Calamari from Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis. Sarma’s restaurant, Pure Food and Wine in NYC, is my favourite raw resto to date, so I was eager to try the dish when I got home. King oyster mushrooms were on sale, too, to boot. I didn’t have the cookbook, but a quick google search led me to Emily’s site which had the recipe.
The recipe was simple: marinate king oyster mushrooms, bread them with spiced ground flaxseeds (works as both the breading and egg-substitute!) and then dehydrate. My new-found friend also gave me a few other tips.
While the recipe says to dehydrate for 2-3 hours, she suggested dehydrating up to 5 hours for them to become really crispy. She also warned me that the whole recipe made a ton of food, so I halved it. (I also quartered the cocktail sauce below, since I ended up thinning it and had an overabundance of sauce leftover). I tinkered with the recipe since I don’t have an Italian spice blend, and instead added whatever looked like an Italian spice from my spice drawer: basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sage, parsley. I threw in some dried onion and garlic granules as well as lemon pepper seasoning instead of the black pepper. Even though I used chili powder, too, I dipped my finger in and thought something was missing. I added black salt. Now we were set. (Note to self: next time I may try this with nutritional yeast and smoked paprika, since I liked that with my Asiago-crusted baked zucchini sticks). I had a bit of leftover crumbs, so you could probably increase the number of mushrooms with this mixture – or pack it in more than I did.
Now, if you don’t have a dehydrator, do not fear. You can still make vegan calamari! I made these both ways: raw in the dehydrator for 3 hours and a separate batch for 10 minutes in the oven. I don’t care too much about the raw philosophy of not cooking over 115F, but I love the inventive recipes… so to hurry things up, I stuck some in the oven, too. Both were
good great. They honestly tasted like calamari. No hidden mushrooms here (Rob thinks he could taste mushrooms but only because he knew they were in there). Between the two versions, though, I preferred the raw dehydrated ones. They were more crispy and the breading stayed on (some of it stuck to my silpat in my oven version). The oven-baked version had more of a slippery calamari feel to it, though. In any case (or in both cases), Rob said he liked them better than regular calamari since it has a cleaner taste. I also preferred this version instead of the typical deep-fried options you find at restos. Bright and fresh, healthy food, what’s not to like?
Speaking of connecting with other like-minded souls, I was wondering if I have any readers in the GTA that would like get connected? I was really sad I missed Sarah’s potluck in the park, especially since it looked like it was a lot of fun!
If you had to pick one, which would it be: garlic or chocolate. Which one could you give up? Which one would you keep?
I know, tough choices. So different. Apples versus oranges (although I would pick apples).
If I wasn’t biking this weekend, what was I doing?
I was in Woodstock for Rob’s sister’s bachelorette and bridal shower.
Her gonna-be-groom does not eat beets nor cabbage (Rob’s loving Polish family has still accepted him). And in this predicament, garlic versus chocolate, he would pick to keep garlic, hands down.
I had to deliberate a bit, but I would choose the same. Garlic is more versatile and I eat savoury more often than sweet. For practical purposes, garlic for the win. Rob, on the other hand, would choose to pick chocolate. My sweetie definitely has a sweet tooth.
Now, how did we end up talking about this? I am way past the time when I would think of such thought-provoking questions for dates… (HA!)
Well, Rob and I took advantage of the barbecue and barbecue weather to grill up my favourite grilled portobello mushrooms which are marinated with balsamic vinegar, oregano, thyme and yes, garlic. Delicious grilled garlic.
However, I also went for a garlic double whammy with this Lemon Asparagus Quinoa Toss. I should rename it Grilled Asparagus Lemon-Garlic Quinoa Toss, because as most of Tess‘ great recipes, this one features raw garlic. I made this recipe last year when I had local asparagus. Now that Ontario asparagus is just starting to arrive, I broke it out again. I changed her recipe, a tad, this time, by roasting the asparagus on the barbecue, as well as decreasing the raw garlic (gasp!) and oil, but increasing the fresh lemon juice and adding lemon pepper. Meyer lemons subdue the lemon flavour, so for a nice match for the bold garlic, consider using the regular lemons.
While Rob and I didn’t go biking, we did a short 10-km walk/hike around the periphery of Woodstock instead. In true backpacker style, I wore my hiking gear (hiking boots, jacket and my new (and first) sports bra- it needs to get broken in, too!) and loaded my new (and first) backpack with 15lbs of stuff. So far the verdict has been all positive! Sadly, our cheapo trip to Colombia will be more expensive with all the stuff we’re buying in its preparation- why are sleeping bag liners so expensive? Look at this uber cute and practical collapsible bowl set I bought, though. I tested them out, too, this weekend and no leaky oatmeal!
I know you’ve heard me lament about resto food.
When I first moved to Toronto, one of my favourite restaurants was Fresh. A vegetarian restaurant serving nice salads and wraps. I have since found their dishes hit or miss and usually a miss unless it is the grilled veggie and pesto burrito. Please do not try their soba noodles! A soggy mess that disgraces Japan. However, their sweet potato fries with the miso gravy never disappointed and have rightfully been voted the top sweet potato fries in Toronto.
For the BBQ, I made a variety of seasonings for the sweet potato fries. I tried a batch with garlic, lemon pepper and smoked paprika, adapted from a recipe from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth, a batch with a Moroccan spice blend including cinnamon and cumin (somehow my spices went too toasty for my liking [aka burnt], so I didn’t serve them), as well as a one with simple salt and pepper. Other then the Moroccan batch, both turned out great. I really liked the roasted bits of garlic with the sweet potato fries.
At Fresh, the sweet potato fries are lightly spiced with sea salt, basil, tarragon and rosemary, but the winner was the miso gravy. Creamy and salty, it is a perfect match for the sweet fries.
Thankfully, the folks at Fresh are happy to share their (not-so) secret recipe, with it appearing both in their cookbook and online in the Toronto Star. It took me a while to crack out the recipe, but I am delighted I finally did! My guests discovered the miso gravy also worked well with the grilled chicken, pork tenderloin as well as the salad. What wouldn’t taste delicious with a miso gravy?
I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday weekends, be it celebrating July 1 or July 4.
I was telling my Mom about my low-key Canada Day plans….
Well, first we went grocery shopping…
WHAT?!, she exclaimed. All the grocery stores are closed here.
True, the big chain grocery stores were closed on Friday, but that didn’t stop Sunny’s (or Bestwin or even T&T) from being open. Sunny’s, my current favourite grocery store, is located in Flemingdon Park, the Toronto neighbourhood with the highest percentage of immigrants (67% of its residents, with 23% recent immigrants). Sunny’s advertises over 10 languages its staff can speak, and it truly offers a multicultural grocery experience. Due to its local clientele, the prices are great and the produce is fresh. And it was open on Canada Day. Hourray for me!
BBQs are in full swing now at our place, even though we are still living out of boxes. Rob has chosen to take full advantage of the barbecue, grilling up various kinds of meats for guests, whereas I typically reign in the salad department. I have revisited some of my old favourites, and of course, tried out a few new ones that will be shared shortly, including this lovely warm leek and white bean salad.
White beans are combined with caramelized leeks and smothered in a light mustard sauce. I was mostly inspired by the recipe from Waitrose since I adapted it quite a bit. I increased the amount of leeks, used dill instead of parsley, added in lemon pepper and simplified their mustard dressing. I like how creamy dressing can get with mustard alone!
You can bring your bean salad to the next level by cooking up your own beans with complementary flavours. Here, I opted to cook my own flageolet beans in vegetable broth and rosemary for additional flavour. Cook up more beans than you need, freeze the extra with the stock and you can whip up another tasty white bean salad in a heart beat. Tinned beans would work too, if you haven’t yet converted to cooking your own beans (I had a hard time locating dried flageolet beans in Toronto, let alone canned flageolets, though!).
While you could use any white bean (cannellini/white kidney, Great Northern, or even something smaller like navy or black eyed pea, etc), after delving into my heirloom bean collection, I have realized wonderful novelty beans can be! The first bean I tried was the green flageolet. I found it locally at Rube’s Rice in the St Lawrence Market, so thankfully I can easily replenish my pantry (instead of outsourcing my supply from the US!). Flageolets are smaller white beans, but deliciously smooth and creamy. They are commonly used in the French cassoulet, but here, they make this salad shine. I look forward to trying other ways of using these delicious beans over the summer.