I’m here to put all your worries to rest–no, I have not been eaten by a bear; yes, I did kill the black widow in the living room so, no, it didn’t kill me; yes, the cabin is still wonderful!

It’s been a mad dash of a few weeks–moving, my new job (details to come), my good friend from Atlanta visiting, etc. but hopefully my life will get back into some routine of sorts–including the blog. Mozzetoff, the darling dog I attempted to adopt is still up for adoption (sigh) and I was desperately hoping he’d have found a home by now, but my fingers are still crossed for him. As for the cats, they’ve settled in with their moth-catching and window-gazing so I think I made the right decision not to keep the dog. My kitchen is still a mess–I need another wall of cabinets to put stuff in so I’m trying to figure out what to do with my excess pantry–so no pictures/updates on that, but the rest of the cabin is slowly but surely coming together. So soon, I promise, there will be more updates.

But what to do when it’s 97 degrees outside and you’ve a fridge full of food and no desire to turn on the stove? Use a crockpot of course! N. found me this **amazing** woody one to match the log walls and, thankfully, it works just as good as it looks. So in the morning before I went to work I chopped up a bunch of veggies, seasoned some broth, plugged the thing in, and let it go until I came back from work to a pot full of delicious soup. It’s a simple recipe, one that relies heavily on fresh, local produce, but feel free to riff on any of it–it’s more a baseline than a set-in-stone recipe. But let me tell you, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, better than fresh fresh fresh local corn.

Summer Chowder

3 c tomato broth/water
1 c water
4 tsp veggie bouillon
2 tsp aleppo pepper
salt, pepper to taste
1 onion, diced
4 small potatoes, diced
2 ears of corn, kerneled
8 tbsp Earth Balance in 1 tbsp chunks
1.5 c soy milk
2 c diced tomatoes

In a crockpot, combine the tomato juice/water, veggie bouillon, aleppo pepper, onion, potatoes, and corn. Stir. Leave on low for 8 hours.

After 8 hours, add the Earth Balance and soy milk and turn the heat to high. Stir periodically, cooking for 1 hour, until the potatoes are tender.

Top with diced tomatoes.

Serves 6

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Well, I did it–I finally moved all the way in to the cabin! I’ll be honest, though, this past week has been extremely trying, but more than anything I feel like (once again) I’ve learned a lot about myself and learned how better to deal with pressure and stress and sore feet.  Oh, the sore feet (where’s my foot massage?)  The insane thing is the timeline: I only got the privilege of living in my last house for ten months–August 15-June 15–because my landlady, Beth, was a Neiman Fellow at Harvard for the year. Somehow, even though I knew that I would soon be packing everything up again, I managed to settle in fairly thoroughly–I mean how I could I not since it was my dream home: porch, antique furniture, salvaged doors and all? And then, knowing that I would be moving soon, I managed to put it all off until the week I needed to be out. It’s been a whirlwind, needless to say, and given that, beyond two wonderful friends helping out with a couple truckloads of furniture, I did it all by myself with my tiny, ancient Honda Civic. I feel like superwoman–superwoman who wants to take a very very very long nap.

But I’ve kept you waiting.  Without further ado, meet the cabin! I haven’t come up with a name for it yet, I want to feel the place out, see what it’s quirks are, but hopefully I’ll come up with something soon. I haven’t taken a picture of the kitchen either (I’ll give you a tour for the next post), but the layout is simple: kitchen, bathroom, main room, and lofted sleeping space. There’s also a boarded in porch that I’m using as my study. Oh, and a cellar! Goodness I’m going to put that cellar to use this winter. And it’s so peaceful. My old neighborhood was quiet–extremely residential and small-town-America-ish–but this goes beyond. I hear crickets and the hum of my refrigerator. That’s it. This, friends, is a piece of heaven.

And for two nights I shared the cabin with a dog named Mozzetoff. Yes, the super redneck spelling of Mazel Tov–appropriate given that I live in Appalachia. Also appropriate since my life has been nothing but good luck these past few weeks. However, Mozzetoff and the cats did not get along and while I’m sure it would have calmed down, I also realized that I wasn’t going to be able to spend as much time home with him as I hoped. And leaving the dog inside (he refused to stay outside on his tie out) for 7 or 8 hours just seemed like an awful thing. He was perfect and relaxed (around humans, at least) and the best darn dog. I was sad to give him back to the shelter. I might reassess the situation in a few weeks, but, as my friend pointed out, you don’t need a dog, you need a shotgun.

Cabin life, needless to say, is unparalleled thus far, and I can’t wait to spend a good deal more time in it. Yes, I might not have my dream stove and oven, but my little electric one will do just fine. And my spring water? Can I gush (yes, pun intended) about it enough? So delicious. Oh, and the first bird I spotted was a scarlet tanager! And there are turkeys calling behind me in the woods and woodpeckers hammering all around and the clearest view of the stars for miles (well, maybe not, since the stars are clear everywhere here). Beside the point. They’re “my” stars and I love them all the more because of that.

Life is still crazy hectic so I haven’t had much time to cook, but yesterday I decided to take a little time and make some pancakes–some gluten-free cherry coconut pancakes, to be exact. Last week a friend took me out to some super laden cherry trees on one of his family’s properties and we picked at least half a gallon of the red berries. He gifted them to me to make something with them, but with the move my plans were thwarted a bit. Don’t worry, I still have something else up my sleeve. So with the gift of the cherries and the gift of a few hours to cook a leisurely breakfast while listening to Loretta Lynn on the turntable, I whipped up an experiment in gluten-free pancakeness. And they turned out pretty good–light, fluffy, slightly sweet with the coconut and tart with the cherries. The perfect start to the perfect relationship with a home.

Gluten-Free Cherry Coconut Pancakes

1/2 c sorghum flour
1/2 c rice flour
1/4 c oat flour
1 tsp xanthum gum
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 can coconut milk
1/4-3/4 c water (depends on how thick you want the batter)
1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
3/4 c pitted cherries, halved

Warm a skillet over medium-low heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, xanthum gum, salt, and baking powder.

Add the oil and coconut milk and whisk until a batter forms. Add as much water as necessary to get the desired consistency.

Stir in the coconut flakes and cherries until well distributed.

Spray or brush a tiny bit of oil in the skillet to coat it and then spoon 1/4 c amounts of batter into the skillet. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until browning on the bottom and bubbly on top, and then flip and cook for another 5-7 minutes until browned and done. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Makes approximately 16 pancakes.

Posts are going to be a bit scarce over the next week or so (and then depending on how long it takes to get internet at my new place). Yes! My new place! As sad (and trust me, I’m sad) to leave my beautiful house, I have to because my landlords are moving back into town from their year at Harvard. For some reason they want their house back (I can’t imagine why, I mean, the place isn’t perfect or anything), so I’ve been on the hunt for a new perfect situation. I’d been planning for a month or two now on moving in with friends to their house, but just this past weekend the opportunity arose to move to a cabin. Yes, a cabin. A cabin! A 150-year-old cabin in the woods, part-way up the mountain (but not too far out of town). A cabin with electricity (thank heavens) with spring water and a wood burning stove. A wood burning stove! (Do you know how long I’ve wanted to live somewhere with a wood burning stove??) Oh, and the kitchen is relatively huge. Pictures to come, but first I need to get the key, clean the place up, and move all of my stuff in by the 15th (which is oh-too-soon). So, dear readers, this blog will morph into vegan mountain living or something. Oh, and I’m going to get a dog. Too much excitement all at once!

Also exciting? The Lebanese Festival this past weekend! Ok, actually the festival was tiny and not all that exciting, but I was able to score the best falafel I’ve had in ages & an overpriced bottle of Lebanese pilsner, Almaza (which was surprisingly good–had no idea there was a Lebanese beer).  Both were perfect for the hot, muggy day.  Roanoke needs international festivals more often!

In other news, I’ve been gnoshing on these preserves lately (spread on Reinhart’s French baguettes, of course). I seriously can’t get enough of the stuff. Made out of fresh, local strawberries, turbinado sugar, and orange blossom water, the recipe is oh-so-simple and oh-so-good. It’s the perfect spread for afternoon tea or a snack with your morning coffee, and, given that a quart of strawberries produced just over a pint, it’s the perfect recipe for anyone who wants just enough for themselves (yes, I’m being greedy with this one). Early summer has never tasted so good.

Strawberry Orange Blossom Preserves

1 quart fresh strawberries, quartered
2 c sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp orange blossom water

In a medium-large pot (I used my cast iron dutch oven) over low heat, cook the sugar and lemon juice until a syrup forms (about 10 minutes).

Add the strawberries and orange blossom water and increase the heat to medium high. Bring the strawberries to a boil, the lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cook until the preserves begin to gel, 45 minutes-1 hour (mine took about an hour).

Use immediately or follow proper canning guidelines.

Well, I didn’t end up in Richmond this weekend, so no yummy Ethiopian outings or fancy beer runs happened, but I did manage to fill up my weekend quite completely with Roanoke’s Festival in the Park (no, no country music listening occurred on my part), hiking up Mill Mountain (my favorite “urban” hike here), cheering on my friends in Mountains of Misery, drinking delicious margaritas in the rain on the patio of Cabo’s in Blacksburg, and watching The Brothers Bloom (new favorite movie–as my friend said, “It’s terminally cute”) at a friend’s cook-out/movie night on Monday. Whew.

At the beginning of the weekend, though, was my weekly farmers market run and while I didn’t go too crazy buying up new ingredients, my finds of the week were a quart of fresh, local strawberries (totally worth the $6), a pint of shitake mushrooms, and a small bunch of these wild, twisty, giant chive looking things called “garlic scapes.” Now the strawberries and mushrooms I could take care of, but garlic scapes top the list of “nope never had ’em, have no idea what to do with them.”

The internet, thankfully, exists and informed me that garlic scapes are merely the plant part that grows out of the garlic, the leaves, if you will. Pretty benign, no? But what to do with them? Again, the internet conquers all and informed me that Dorie posted a recipe last summer for garlic scape pesto–delicious!

So I made my own vegan version with what I had on hand and let me tell you, dear readers, garlic scape pesto is to die for. I mean, don’t make it on a first or fifth date, unless both of you are eating copious amounts because wow, it’s potently garlic, but scapes give the pesto a spicy bite with the garlic and an earthy undertone. Without any basil it does seem like a wannabe pesto, but if this is what wannabes are, I wanna eat it. Toss it with pasta and veggies (I simply sauteed onions, sliced carrots, shitakes, and kale and tossed them with the pesto with whole wheat spaghetti), serve it as a spread on fresh baguette–do whatever with it you would normally do with pesto. It’s a great early summer substitute for the basil harvest we’ll be getting soon!

Garlic Scape Pesto

adapted from Dorie Greenspan

10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers
1/3 c cashews
approx. 1/2 c olive oil
Sea salt

Put the scapes, capers, cashews, and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if needed to thin the texture. Season with salt.

Makes approx. 1 cup.

It’s almost the weekend and a long weekend at that–anyone else excited? Tonight I’m going to see Clarence Carter perform at an outdoor venue (who knew Roanoke could get a cool soul musician???), then tomorrow is a half day of work, and then I’m off to Richmond for a bit. Vegan food on the horizon! I’m thinking I’ll have to talk my uncle and his wife into getting Ethiopian–it’s been far too long since I had some injeera. Anyone else have exciting plans?

Part of getting ready for Clarence Carter was preparing a bit of concert food. Since they don’t allow coolers in (I hate that policy–I have no desire to buy an overpriced Bud Light) I decided not to go whole hog (err…tofu) with the picnic idea, but rather to just bring a little snack. And last weekend when I picked up the sweet red cherries at the farmers market I knew almost immediately what I wanted to do with them. Make cherry empanadas of course! So tonight I’m taking some empanadas to the concert. A little bourgeois, maybe, but whatever.

Now you know me, I can’t just make a simple version of anything (unless it’s intentionally simple). Thus the gluten-free buckwheat cherry chocolate empanada was born. Maybe this empanada isn’t exactly authentic, maybe it’s more like a handpie–I don’t know. All I know is that they’re out of this world, with hardly any sugar added. Who would want to mask the tart sweetness of the cherries? The buckwheat gluten-free pastry gives the empanada a savory side which, I think, pairs well with the tart-sweet-smooth chocolatelyness of the filling. And instead of making a typical cherry pie-like filling, I went with the apple pie filling route: just cherries, chocolate, a dash of sugar & lemon juice, voila. They get two thumbs up from my non-gluten-free, non-vegan testers, so I guess that’s a win. So go make some fruit empanadas this weekend with whatever is fresh in your area! You won’t regret it!

Buckwheat Cherry Chocolate Empanadas

For the pastry:
3/4 c buckwheat flour
1/2 c chickpea flour
1/4 c rice flour
1/4 c sorghum flour
1 tsp xanthum gum
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2/3 c Earth Balance/butter substitute
1/4-1/2 c ice water

For the filling:
1 1/2 c sweet red cherries
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp rice flour

In a large bowl, combine the gluten-free flours, salt, sugar, and xanthum gum.

Using a pastry cutter, cut in the Earth Balance in tablespoon size chunks until it is mealy with no chunks of Earth Balance left.

Add the ice water a little at a time, using a spoon to evenly distribute it until a large clump/ball forms. You only want the pastry wet enough to press into a ball–no wetter.

Wrap in saran wrap and let chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, pit the cherries and cut them in half. I used this trick to pit them from the Kitchn and it worked great! Chop the chocolate.

In a small bowl, combine the chocolate and cherry halves with the sugar, lemon juice, and rice flour. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two baking sheets with oil.

Take the pastry out of the fridge. Using only a small chunk at a time (a small fist-sized chunk), roll out the dough between parchment/wax paper or saran wrap (I used the latter and it worked fine). You want the dough to be approximately 1/4 inch thick, no thinner.

Using something approximately 4″ in diameter (I had a giant coffee cup that worked), cut a circle from the dough.

Place on the baking sheet where you’re going to bake it (the dough can be hard to work with, you don’t want to use it much) and place 1-2 tbsp of the cherry mixture on one half of the circle. Fold over in half and pinch the edges closed. Repeat until there is no more dough/cherries.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown at the edges. Let cool for 15 minutes before eating.

Makes 15 empanadas.

Last Saturday I had the immense pleasure of going to the Grandin market for the first time since the last weekend of October–and let me tell you, it was good to be back!  After catching up with farmers and producers I hadn’t seen in months, I finally settled on buying a bunch of new herbs & vegetables to plant in the garden (lemon balm, sage, tons of basil, spaghetti squash, etc.) along with some lettuce and fresh sweet cherries.  One of my favorite scores, though, was finding the chicken of the woods mushrooms again!  Oh, how I’ve missed these strange, chickeny fungi.

The last couple of times I had them I simply braised or seared them, but this time I decided to go out on a limb–a highly sacrilegious limb, or so it felt. You see, the mushrooms are always my most expensive purchase–$5 for about two servings (although I stretch it out)–and while that’s all relative, the thought of deep frying such expensive delicacies seemed wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the evening chatting with the man who holds the title of the largest morel found in Iowa. This guy hunts up morels so often that he deep fries them. I gave him hell for that–I mean, why on earth would anyone deep fry a morel?! It’s just wrong! I’ve only had the chance to eat them twice in my life and this man deep fries them?? Well…I deep fried my chicken of the woods and holy mother of mary they were awesome. The batter was just like the fried chicken I grew up eating at church picnics (cheesy but true) and the mushroom still, I honestly swear, tastes like and has the texture of chicken. It’s uncanny. Sacrilegious or no, these fungi are wicked good.

Southern Fried Chicken of the Woods

2 large chicken of the woods mushrooms
1/4 c En-Er-G Egg Replacer
1/2 c water
3 tbs siracha/hot sauce
1 c self-rising flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Thoroughly wash and clean the mushrooms and cut into desired size.

Whisk together the egg replacer and the water in a bowl until foamy and thick. Add the siracha/hot sauce.

In a pie pan or 8×8 baking dish, mix together the self-rising flour, salt, and pepper.

Warm at least 3 inches of vegetable in a pot (I used my circa 1973 Fry Daddy) until a drop of water crackles and pops when flicked into the oil.

Dredge the mushrooms in the egg replacer mixture and then in the flour, thoroughly coating each piece.

Fry two or three mushroom pieces at a time, being sure not to crowd because that will lower the temperature of the oil.

Once golden brown, place on paper towels to drain excess oil.

Serves 2

This past week has been crazy, a lot of sleep to catch up on, ankles to rest, etc. after my time in Mobile. Turns out I injured my ankle pretty badly while making the wedding cake/rehearsal dinner/reception. Not sure what I did to it, don’t remember twisting it or anything, but I’m not able to run or go on my usual longer bike rides. I feel a little pent up, not going to lie. But I am swimming regularly, since it’s the one thing that hurts slightly less than everything else, and I’m still riding my bike around town for transportation (hope my mom doesn’t read this, she’s urging me to stay off it, which I probably should…but I just can’t…ahhhh conundrums!). Injuries aside, I swear (for the last time) I’m back on schedule here.

Looking back at my pictures, though, I can’t help but smile quite a bit when I remember pelicans and sailboats and dancing around to Nola-style jazz at the reception. Making the wedding cake? Not so fond memories, but, with my mother’s help, it turned out alright. And doesn’t my mother look beautiful? She & Todd were the very picture of pure joy (as cheesy as that probably sounds, it’s true)–they give me so much hope for real love and community in life. I was so blessed to be able to share the journey with them!

But back to life in the ‘noke, though. This week has been a blur of wrapping up my 1st year of grad school–mostly meetings, I finished all my projects last week while in Alabama–and continuing to work as much as possible before the public school system’s year ends and I’m jobless until August. Given that I never know what day I’ll work and where I’ll be working, I like to keep lunchroom-friendly leftovers on hand, and given that I still had about 2 lbs of corn tortillas leftover from the enchiladas and a package of tempeh sitting in my fridge and homemade chili powder on hand, I figured I might as well put them to list.

While tempeh tacos might not be too utterly original or interesting, I think that the simplicity of the tacos is what makes them shine. I simply marinated the tempeh, sauteed it in some olive oil, and served it on the fresh tortillas with local, organic salad greens, diced tomatoes, and my version of my favorite Mexican diner’s hot sauce. They just go to show that you make excellent entrees with relatively few ingredients. I also served the tacos with some fried potatoes, but I’m saving that recipe for a rainy day.

Edit:: An Apple A Day is hosting a TofuXPress giveaway–go check it out!

GF Tempeh Tacos & Super Hot Salsa

for the Taco-Style Tempeh:

1 package gluten-free tempeh
1/3 c + 2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp dark chili powder

Cut the tempeh into thirds, then cut each third in half width-wise to make nine equal-sized thin rectangles.

In an 8×8 baking dish, mix the 1/3 c olive oil and Bragg’s together. Dredge the tempeh in the mixture and then place in the baking dish. Sprinkle the minced garlic and chili powder on one side of the tempeh.

Let marinate for 4-6 hours, flipping over after two hours.

After the tempeh is marinated, warm 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saute the tempeh on both sides until lightly brown and crispy. Set aside to cool.

For the Super Hot Sauce:

3 medium slicer tomatoes
1 onion
2 jalepenos
1-3 chiles de arbol
water

In a blender, puree the tomatoes, onion, japenos, and chiles de arbol. Add a little water if needed to puree. (Note: chiles de arbol are super hot–beware! I use 3, but I have a stomach of steel and adore ridiculously hot peppers. For the general public, 1 chile de arbol is more than enough.)

for the Tacos:

1 recipe Taco-Style Tempeh
1 recipe Super Hot Sauce
1 tomato, diced
1 c mixed salad greens
24 fresh corn tortillas

Warm the corn tortillas in the oven or microwave.

Slice the each rectangle of tempeh into 4 smaller rectangles.

Use two tortillas per taco (double layer them) and place a small handful of greens in the tortilla, then layer three or four pieces of tempeh on top of the greens and sprinkle diced tomatoes on top.

Serve with the hot sauce (drizzle inside the taco or dip the taco in the hot sauce).

Serves 4.