Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksliving 2011

This year for Thanksgiving I've apparently made a controversial choice by choosing to skip the meal and the festivities to fast, be mindful, and reflect instead. While the idea was not initially mine, and I will admit, I was reticent at first (Mostly because of skipping the pie baking), I feel really confident in the decision to spend the day, and the surrounding days, being present in a different way. Over the last couple of years I've managed to squelch my previous frustrations with the holiday by making it my own-- a Celebration of Life and Love and Graciousness, with pie. But, after the "Arab Spring" and being in the midst of the "American Fall," this year seems like an appropriate time to reevaluate the mythology around Thanksgiving that allowed me to ensconce it in my own language, "re-message" it, and celebrate it for my own reasons. This isn't to say that I'll never make another Thanksgiving meal, just that the history of this day and this country has me thinking that we could all use a little clarity in place of a food coma whether we chose to celebrate the day in the traditional way or not.

Instead of the big meal, T and I are planning to fast for 7- 10 days starting Sunday. We'll be drinking about 20 ounces of juice everyday, so it's not a total fast, just some abstinence from the preoccupation with food that frequently dominates my mind. Instead, I hope the clear air space will offer up a little time to think about my motivations as a writer, in the arts, as a human being. While T is thinking of this as a "boycott" of Thanksgiving, I'm thinking of it as an opportunity to give thanks in a new way, and also as an opportunity to"boycott" Black Friday by not consuming anything on that day except the contents of our minds and hearts and the beautiful atmosphere of this incredible city that we live in. I feel like the last week of November is a week in which we, as a country, glut ourselves with food, with shopping, with excessive ingestion in general, and it is this insatiable craving for excess that acts like a parasite, gnawing at our collective ability to move our country forward, to envision a better way of living, to really live our lives. So, what better time to try something else?

When I made the shift from "excusitarian" to vegan (Thanks for the vocab Colleen Patrick-Goudreau! Actually thanks for a lot CPG, you inspire me!) it was part of a decision to live a more intentional life-- To live everyday with an intention, with compassion, with openness, with an optimistic vision of the future, and with the courage to speak my truth and listen to others who may or may not agree with me with an always open heart. It was also a decision to critically evaluate my own complacent participation in the academic world, American capitalism and democracy, consumption of goods and services, interpersonal relationships...everything. And these evaluations have led me to do a little restructuring, face my addictions, recognize my hypocrisies, and do my best to do my best everyday to buy less, want less, and think more. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Delicata Squash and Kale Enchiladas with Poblano Cream Sauce

Being back in California means that I am eating massive amounts of Mexican food, what with all of the vegan-friendly taco stands and restaurants, there is a real glut of cumin-flavored rice and beans and chips and salsa in my belly. But, as vegan-friendly as many Mexican places are, they still have mixed kitchens, and as this year progresses, I become less and less comfortable eating in restaurants with mixed kitchens for a variety of reasons. So, I'm trying to make more of my own delicious Mexican treats at home...More on that in a minute.

There are so many exclusively vegan/vegetarian restaurants here that I would prefer to spend my minimal discretionary income in businesses that support and spread compassionate living and eating in this beautiful city with year-round maximal produce. Also, having worked (and continuing to work) in the restaurant business, I see and have seen first hand that even the BEST restaurants sometimes slip non-vegan things into vegan food, or don't wipe knives between meat and veggies, or any number of other little things. And whether or not we get the tell-tale belly aches, we never really know how vegan our food is when we don't make it ourselves. And, as much as I love restaurants, I'm starting to feel like I'd rather know exactly where my food comes from, that it is indeed all organic, and verifiably animal part and excretion free.* So, I've resolved to only eat in vegan/vegetarian restaurants unless I'm eating out with someone, who for various reasons can't/won't eat vegan meals, or travelling in places where it's not possible to find vegan/vegetarian restaurants. So, I'll be eating my way through Los Angeles' many vegan/vegetarian restaurants when the boyfriend and I have the money and the hankering for a date night, and skipping the non-veg establishments. (Except my favorite and well vetted Mexican treats. I'm not ready to totally abandon them yet!)

But, I'd like to minimize the number of times that I eat chips fried in the same oil as pork, vegan beans cooked in proximity to non-vegan ones, eat sauces that I am told are vegan, but may well have had a drizzle of chicken broth added that day. I know I am starting to sound a little paranoid, maybe like I'm moving into psychotic purism, but is it really so bad if I'm learning to become a Mexican cooking genius?! And, I haven't forgotten that going to restaurants and asking about the veganness of food, getting excited when there are options, and showing businesses that there is a demand for vegan food so that there will be more of it, more readily available, and in a whole range of flavors, textures, ingredients, price brackets, etc. I just feel like, at this point in my life, my money is better spent elsewhere.

So, with that said, let me share my newest experiment turned brilliant success! I am still without a camera, so I apologize for the lack of pictures. It was too dark to make do with my iPhone! And, with this recipe in particular, the spice ratios are approximate as I've started just using a baby spoon to spice my recipes. It holds about 1 tsp, so that's what I've used as a base to guide this recipe, but use your gut to get this spiced to your liking.

Delicata Squash and Kale Enchiladas with Poblano Cream Sauce

For the sauce
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pepitas

3 large poblano peppers
3 medium anaheim chiles
1 serrano chile

3 large cloves garlic

1 large teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice (I subbed this in because we were out of nutmeg)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 T shoyu
1/2 dark beer
1 cup chopped cilantro

3 T olive oil
2 cups filtered water
1 salt-free vegan bouillon cube (I like the Rapunzel brand.)

Soak the cashews and walnuts for at least 6 hours.

Roast all of the chiles over the open flame on your stove and place them in a paper bag to cool. When they are cool, rub the skins off and pull the seeds out. Be careful, you may want to wear gloves for this step to avoid burning hands. Chop the chiles, but keep them separated by type.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small cast iron pot and sauté the garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the chopped poblanos and cover with 2 cups of water and add the bouillon cube. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. While the broth is simmering, toast the pepitas, cumin seeds, and other spices in a cast iron pan.

Place the spices and pepitas into your food processor and chop for one minute. Drain the soaked nuts and add them to your food processor. Ladle off most of the broth from the poblanos and purée the nuts in the now fragrant broth. Once the nut mixture is smooth add in the cilantro, poblanos, anaheims, and serrano along with any broth that may remain in the pot. Pulse the food processor until the sauce is as smooth as you can get it. Transfer the sauce back into the cast iron pot and simmer on low to combine the flavor elements. Stir in the shoyu and beer until well mixed. Taste the sauce and adjust the sauces as necessary.

For the enchiladas

2 small delicata squash, skin on, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 onion sliced in thin half moons
1 pound lacinato kale shredded

1 package of ezekiel tortillas (I used the big ones and one package filled a large lasagna dish.)

(for the squash)
1- 2 t ancho chile powder

1/2- 1 t coriander
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t smoked paprika
1- 2 T agave nectar
1 T shoyu

(for the kale)
juice from one lime
1 T shoyu
1 t cumin

1/2 cup raw pepitas

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the squash in the spice mixture above and roast it for 20 minutes, or until soft. Meanwhile, heat 2 T olive oil in large cast iron skillet, turn the heat down to low and sauté the onions until soft, add the cumin to the skillet and toss the onions once before adding the kale, lime, and shoyu. Wilt the kale only briefly to avoid over cooking. It just needs to be soft enough to fit into the enchiladas.

Leave the oven on and prepare a large casserole dish by spooning a layer of the poblano sauce into the bottom. Using tongs, put 1/6 of the kale and 1/6 of the squash in your tortilla, roll it up and place it seam side down in the prepared dish. Repeat until you've used all the filling and tortillas and then top the enchiladas with the rest of the sauce. Squeeze the other lime over the top of the enchiladas.

Bake the enchiladas at 400 for 15- 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and a little crisp around the edges. Toast the pepitas and sprinkle them on the enchiladas before serving.  Let the enchiladas cool for 5 minutes before serving.

These are super rich, so a light salad is as good an accompaniment as black beans and rice.

* I currently work in a café that will remain un-named that claims it's food is organic when it is not, I pour the not-organic juice into containers marked organic and sell it for crazy, marked up, organic-gourmet prices... It gives me the sads, but not as much as the fact that they serve a "vegan" sandwich on bread that contains milk and eggs. And, while I have spoken to my boss about it, I need my job, so what more can I do...? Keep looking for my next opportunity!