Birthday Campaign Goes Live

photograph of baby elephant with prosthetic
Mosha, the inspiration for the Elephant Parade — Click for a short video

I am so excited – my Birthday for Giving campaign for The Asian Elephant Foundation just went live! You can read more about it in the previous post. While the campaign won’t dominate my blog, I will give periodic updates as it continues.

If you love animals or have enjoyed any of my previous posts, please consider donating $5 (roughly the price of a peppermint mocha) to a wonderful cause. What’s more, donations pledged on Tuesday December 3 will be matched at 5% by Indiegogo as part of #GivingTuesday. Thank you for reading this, and please pass it along!

smiling cupcake image
Click to be taken to the campaign

Birthday for Giving


People always ask, “What do you want for your birthday?” or “How are you going to celebrate?” Since my birthday is November 30, I have been thinking about this quite a lot. I knew there wasn’t really anything I wanted, and after years of bar crawling and all-night dancing (on occasions not limited to my or anyone else’s birthday) I really wasn’t interested in painting the town. What I do want is something that makes a genuine contribution. I’m not a billionaire, so I won’t be able to build a hospital or arts center, but we can all do something to help leave the world in better, fairer, and more beautiful condition than when we first arrived. Right?

It turns out that Tuesday December 3–the Tuesday following my birthday–is #GivingTuesday! What is Giving Tuesday? From their website: “#GivingTuesday is a movement to create a national day of giving to kick off the giving season added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.” Learning about #GivingTuesday and their partnership opportunities with Indiegogo inspired me to turn my birthday into an occasion to do something positive. I figured if all my friends, family, and fitness participants contributed $5 to a cause instead of buying me a cappuccino, a fancy cocktail (which would be more like $10 anyway), or even a card, I could collect around $500!

photo of baby elephant

Choosing the cause was easy. I love elephants, and because of the recent surge in poaching, their plight had been all over the news. Choosing the organization, however, proved rather difficult. There are countless, wonderful foundations dedicated to elephants–everything from the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which houses retired zoo and circus elephants to Soraida Sawala’s amazing Elephant Hospital in Thailand, which adopts orphaned baby elephants and has provided prosthetic limbs to animals injured by landmines.

One of my key considerations was convenience. I couldn’t choose a charity that didn’t accept U.S. dollars or required a complicated bank transfer to a foreign bank. I’ve done that myself once before to pay for a yoga retreat in Veracruz–and while the process made me feel like James Bond, it’s a bit complicated, complicated enough to deter potential donors. I ultimately decided on The Asian Elephant Foundation. TAEF not only supports Soraida’s work, they also work in tandem with the Elephant Parade, which is an international open-air art exhibit that brings awareness to the Asian elephant and raises funds for all of TAEF’s projects. I was lucky enough to visit the first U.S. Elephant Parade in Dana Point, CA this past October.

photo of me at the U.S. Elephant Parade
Floppy and me at the Elephant Parade!

Since we had visited the Elephant Parade as a sort of early birthday celebration for me, it seemed only right to use my real birthday to give back to the organization that made the parade possible. I am so excited to share with you my first (and hopefully annual) Birthday for Giving. The Birthday for Giving campaign is live and will last for approximately 30 days. Click on the image to see it.

photo of cupcake
Click on the image, please!

More information, more yoga, and more recipes forthcoming!

Stone Soup 2: Red Lentil Soup Plus More Roasted Vegetables

photo of red lentil soup
Mmm, soup

Sunday was bitingly cold. Although we had enjoyed an unseasonably mild fall, yesterday brought a rude reminder of winter’s imminent arrival. I took stock of what we had lying around the kitchen and thought about what I could make with those ingredients (to avoid having to bike to the nearest grocery store and freezing my face and hands).

Photo of soup ingredients
Hmm, what can I make with this?

A quick survey revealed the makings of Turkish red lentil soup. The prospect of dipping into mercimek çorbası made me particularly happy because a dear friend has been on my mind a lot lately. She has been living in Istanbul for the past few years, but the lentils in my cupboard reminded me of how her eyes lit up when we discovered an authentic bowl from a local restaurant when she was back in Philly.

chopped carrots, celery, scallions, and garlic
mirepoix, improvised

For basic guidelines, I used a recipe from the Whole Foods website: Whole Foods Market Turkish Red Lentil Soup. Here is my improvised list of ingredients–Janielle, I hope you approve:

  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp marash pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cube no-salt vegetable broth (makes 2 cups)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • salt to taste

I heated the olive oil over medium heat in my favorite Le Creuset dutch oven. Once the oil started to shimmer I threw in the cumin, paprika, and marash pepper. After a few stirs (the spices become fragrant almost immediately) I added the “mirepoix” (vegetables). I stirred that a bit, dropped the heat to low, and covered the pot. After the vegetables softened (really only a few minutes), I added the remaining ingredients except the tomato paste and salt. Le Creuset recommends not cooking on high heat, since cast iron is such an excellent conductor. I cranked the heat to medium high, put on the lid, and let the soup come to a boil. As soon as the soup started to boil I stirred in the tomato paste, dropped the heat to low, and let it simmer for about 20 min.

At this point I turned off the heat because my boyfriend and I were due to meet a friend at a local watering hole. The great thing about soup is that you can just let it sit–it’s only going to get better as the flavors develop.

Fast forward a few hours (and glasses of wine), and I’m back home and somewhat peckish despite snacking on roasted broccolini, gravlax, and spiced peanuts (Philadelphia boasts some truly wonderful gastropubs). I spy a third of a head of cauliflower, a small bagful of brussel sprouts, and–daring me to make something of them–a bag of bright red radishes leftover from an old farm share.

Thirty minutes later I am nibbling on mixed roasted vegetables and looking forward to easy dinners over the next few days:

  • brussel sprouts–quartered, tossed with sliced shallots, about a tablespoon each of sesame oil and soy sauce, then lightly glazed with about a teaspoon of honey
  • cauliflower–cut into florets, tossed with quartered kalamata olives, a tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkling of marash pepper, and sea salt
  • radishes–quartered, tossed with a teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of thyme and sea salt

photo of roasted vegetables

Coming soon: a recent hip sequence that had participants sighing, and how I am turning my birthday into an opportunity for giving. Meanwhile, safe travels and happy holidays to all!

Shut Up and Quiche Me

photo of tofu quiche
Yes! It’s Tofu!

You know how you go through those phases when you just don’t feel like cooking? Well lately I’ve been feeling much the opposite. For quite some time, I’ve been planning to try my hand at tofu quiche. I love making quiches, so in previous autumns, Sundays have found the house smelling of quiche, roasted potatoes, and homemade soup. Because I had never tried my hand at quiche-baking sans egg, I immediately turned to the goddess of all things vegan: Angela Liddon and her gorgeous blog: Oh She Glows. Sure enough, Angela had a recipe for a Sun-Dried Tomato, Mushroom, and Spinach Tofu Quiche.

For the crust, I went simple and bought a frozen pie crust at my local grocery store. Although many people prebake their crusts blind before filling, I have found that this often results in a burnt crust. I went with Angela’s basic recipe, but I used whatever I had on hand.

  1. Take a pie crust out of the freezer and preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a non-stick skillet sprayed very lightly with cooling oil (I have been using coconut oil), saute an entire bag of baby spinach with 1 thinly sliced garlic clove, as soon as the spinach wilts, place it in a bowl
  3. Cut 14 oz organic firm or extra firm tofu into large cubes and mix in a food processor with 2 tbls nutritional yeast and 2 tbls non-dairy milk (I used cashew milk) until creamy
  4. Pour the custard into the bowl containing the wilted spinach and mix, stirring in about a handful of sliced sun-dried tomatoes
  5. Add salt and black pepper to taste – at this point, I decided to throw in some pitted kalamata olives, quartered
  6. Pour the custard into the pie pan, garnish, and place in oven
  7. The quiche should be set and browning after about 35 minutes
Quiche with Thyme and Black Pepper Roasted Potatoes
Quiche with Thyme and Black Pepper Roasted Potatoes

Admittedly, I thought the quiche left something to be desired. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. In particular, I felt that the nutritional yeast overpowered the other elements. In the future, I am going to cut the yeast by at least half and try adding a bit of dijon mustard, miso, and tahini to the custard.

FYI: for the traditional version, an old friend from Paris taught me the easiest quiche base ever: 1 cup sour cream (low- or non-fat work just as well), 4 eggs, and 4-5 oz shredded cheese, plus milk to thin (if needed) and salt to taste. For the cheese I recommend using 2 parts something mild and creamy like a basic swiss or fontina and 1 part something with real flavor like gruyère or campo de montalban. Start the quiche at 425 degrees, after 20-25 minutes, drop the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 20 more minutes or until the custard is puffy and set.

More Veggie Love!

Last week I posted my minute-by-minute, post-gym shower and dinner timetable. That resulted in a deeply satisfying Sunday dinner of roasted autumn vegetables with quinoa. Today I thought I’d show how I used the remaining vegetables from that week’s share.

The share contents: cabbage, sweet potatoes, kale, arugula, carrots, turnips, and apples. I seem to recall eating the entire bag of arugula before my boyfriend even noticed we had it. We enjoyed the apples immensely–plain or (one of my favorite snacks) in slices with smears of almond butter, a drizzle of raw honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

photo of farm share
Large box from a local CSA (we get a half share)

We tore through everything I cooked Sunday night in two days. After a night (or was it two?) of noodle-bowling it, I decided it was high time to get to work on the rest of the share. The lingering scent of cumin in my clothes reminded me of the Caribbean food stands that appear in my neighborhood during Odunde Festival. Duly inspired, I set my sights on curry and cabbage.  Not one to shy away from heat, chili-spiced sweet potato wedges struck me as the perfect complement. I rounded out that meal with more quinoa, a generous dollop of guacamole (Trader Joe’s), and some amazing “I can’t believe it’s not seafood” vegan crabcakes that my local Whole Foods sells for $1.99 a piece.

photo of the finished plate
An explosion of colors and flavors!

Curry Sauteed Cabbage:

  • half a large head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1-2 carrots, shredded or matchsticked
  • 1-2 scallions, sliced thin diagonally
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • optional – 1/4-1/2 tsp worchestershire sauce

Spray a non-stick skillet cooking spray (I like coconut oil) or pour in about a tablespoon of olive oil on it and heat over medium heat. Toss in the cumin seeds and stir until they turn fragrant. Add the vegetables to the skillet and begin stir-frying. One everything looks integrated, sprinkle with curry powder and worcestershire sauce, and stir again. Cover the skillet and drop the heat to low. After a few minutes, stir and taste. At this point, if you prefer more tender vegetables, you can cover again; if you like crisper vegetables, season to taste with salt and serve.

Full Flavor Fall in Forty Minutes

Because I have such a busy schedule, all too often I end up grabbing a quick bite on the go in lieu of cooking. Lately I’ve been obsessed with AGNO Grill’s black rice bowl with grilled veggies, topped with roasted cauliflower, carrots, and pickled beets–all smothered with lemon tahini and a touch of harissa. AGNO Grill is one of my favorite restaurants–partly because its menu is organized around a brilliant made-to-order concept, partly because everything they make is both delicious and healthy. First you choose a base (such as a salad or gluten-free wrap), then a protein (falafel, baked tuna, etc.), 3 toppings (like broccolini salad or kalamata olives), and 2 sauces. The enthusiastic folks behind the counter put everything together, and within minutes you’re sighing and planning your next visit (click on the image for a link to their full menu if you don’t believe me):

Front of restaurant, with lemonade stand
Fresh basil lemonade!

While I love the convenience of grabbing a meal on the go, I’ve also been dreaming about copying AGNO’s basic concept at home by using vegetables from our CSA shares. Although I can’t reproduce all their sauce options, emulating their mix-and-match menu on a Sunday could set us up for days worth of delicious options.

This week’s share included 1/2 a head of green cabbage, sweet potatoes, kale, a small bag of arugula, carrots, a turnip, and four beautiful apples. I also had a butternut squash from the last share, a shallot or two, plus some scallions and cilantro (which I keep on hand for noodle bowls).

I envisioned a warm salad plate with crispy chewy kale chips, cumin scented carrots, and cubes of roasted butternut squash all on a bed of quinoa. So late this afternoon I began peeling and dicing.

cut vegetables
Prepped and Ready

For the carrots, I turned to Mark Bittman’s Roasted Carrots with Cumin. I went basic with the kale and only used olive oil and sea salt. I perked up the quinoa by adding a minced scallion to the pot while it was steaming (you could also stir it in at the end for a little more bite). And, to match the depth of the carrots, I livened up the squash with shallots and balsamic vinegar (1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed, tossed with 1 sliced shallot and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar).

The vegetables after cooking
Oven Roasted Goodness

Unfortunately, every web page I consulted recommended different temperatures for each vegetable. As usual, I decided to ignore what I found online and wing it. Because winging it demands keeping a close watch, I kept my eye on the clock:

  • 7:48–the squash goes in a baking dish and into a 350 degree oven
  • Toss the carrots with olive oil and cumin, sprinkled on a bit of salt, place them on a metal pizza plate, and wash prep dishes
  • 7:53–put the carrots in the oven and crank the heat to 400 degrees
  • Decide to take a quick shower (I had just gotten back from the gym)
  • 8:06–clock back into the kitchen with clean but wet hair–time to give the veggies a quick stir and start the kale
  • Rub about a tablespoon of olive oil on the kale, sprinkle with salt, and spread it out on a cookie sheet
  • Rinse the quinoa and get it simmering (low heat) on the stove
  • 8:15–drop the oven temperature back to 350, removed the carrots, move the squash to the broiler, and put the kale in the oven
  • Clean up the remaining prep dishes and dry my hair
  • 8:25–turn everything off, garnish the squash with some parsley while the quinoa finishes steaming, and start plating
  • Dinner ready around 8:30–hopefully, I did AGNO proud

The complete dinner plate