Flowers of Evil

What pairing could be more perfect for Valentine's Day than poetry and flowers? Of course, the flowers here are all from my favorite garden in Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens. My husband and I traveled to the lush conservatory on a remarkably lovely and bleak February day to enjoy the "soft humidity of plants." Naturally, I brought along my brand new translation of Fleurs du Mal.

The moody Symbolisme francais hardly embodies the stereotype of love poetry-- but then who cares? I like moody poetry, especially in translation, and the smell of petrichor on a rainy day. I'd rather read Baudelaire in a downpour than Rupi Kaur in the sunshine.

Transcendentalists may rapture to the beauties of nature, and I with them, but Baudelaire lives in a world apart-- the lush velvet and rich golds of civilization. For me, the beauty lies in the contrast between the two. "The spear is as beautiful in the throwing as the shield in the act of blocking it" or whatever. One deepens my appreciation of the other.

I first encountered Baudelaire as a translation assignment in my senior year of high school. I was preparing to take a subject test in French, so my instructor assigned me Baudelaire for practice.

Baudelaire’s poetry illustrates the infinite nuance of the French language; it challenges translators to retain all the grandiose ennui implied by the poet. As someone who has wrestled with the language, I recommend the Edna St. Vincent Millay and George Dillion translation. Not only are the translations top notch, but Millay's preface is intelligent and humorous.

Whether you find flowers evil or lovely, I hope you all enjoy your Valentine's Day. Love all things the way you want to love them, in spite of the saccharine holiday vibes.

I Capture the Castle

(the essentially nostalgic "ham" sandwich)
Although rarely simple, growing up defines our perspectives in ways we unravel for the rest of our lives. But sometimes, some strange compulsion causes us to nostalgically look back on the angst of our teenage selves-- or is it just me? Even though I would never wish myself a teenager again, I find myself revisiting old diaries, movies, and books and enjoying them all over again now.

Somehow, however, I missed Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle as a teenager (too busy with The Bell Jar and the like, I suppose. Still, I truly enjoyed reading about the awakening of intellect, possibility, and love that completely alters the young Cassandra and the ways in which destiny shapes the lives of those within her small sphere. Even without the main and subplots, all of the dialogs on art and the nature of it’s creation, the meaning of life and love, and the necessarily complicated interactions with family enriched the book as much as the descriptions of the English countryside.  

(suggested pairing)
While reading I Capture the Castle inspired me to bring out the Bach I’d been neglecting on the piano, there was also a great deal of focus on ham. I admit, I despaired of a vegan version of the simple ham sandwich, but as the narrator Cassandra would agree, the heart wants what the heart wants. Although a number of excellent seitan ham recipes exist, I rarely make the time for seitan.

Therefore, here is my suggestion (recipe?) for a simple, grocery-store vegan ham sandwich:

Field Roast Smoked Tomato Deli Slices
Daiya Swiss Style Slices
Whole Grain Mustard
French or Homemade Rye Bread
Dill Pickles (or relish, if you prefer)

1. Layer ingredients.
2. Devour (with relish).

Pasta Panache

How many actresses can claim the life Audrey Hepburn led? In addition to surviving German occupation and working with the resistance, she was a ballerina and a humanitarian. Her biography demonstrates the power of persistence as well as the benefit of an education rich in literature and art.

Colette, one of my favorite French novelists, cast her as the leading lady in a stage adaptation of her novel Gigi, bringing her to the notice of William Wyler. Considering her family's ties to royalty, she certainly provided the élan necessary for a princess in disguise!

Audrey Hepburn & Colette

Her graceful posture and mellifluous voice clearly lent themselves to the illumination of the silver screen, but her perception and philanthropy represent the most refreshing aspect of Audrey Hepburn's personality, evidenced in full in her biography. Learning how she rose to fame and what she chose to do with it once she found it is well worth the read.

After finishing the book, Aaron and I watched Charade (my favorite Hepburn film) and devoured a massive bowl of her favorite dish: pasta! A huge fan of the exceedingly simple pasta pomodoro, I thought I would stir up a batch. Somehow, this pasta turned out a bit fancier than I normally prefer, but equally as delicious and certainly more satisfying!

2 veggie sausages
3 tomatoes + 1 c cherry tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
1 onion, diced
1/4 c EVOO
1 c pesto
1 pckg angel hair pasta

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut out stem of each tomato and stuff with garlic clove, dress with olive oil and baked for 35-40 minutes until soft and slightly charred.
2. While the tomatoes are cooking, use a swirl of EVOO to sautée the remaining garlic with the onions until translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the sausage and brown for an additional 2 minutes.

3. Cook the pasta according to package directions, adding a bit of salt and some EVOO to help the noodles slide apart.
4. Once the tomatoes have finished roasting, blend them and the pesto together in the food processor.
5. Combine pasta, sausage, and sauce all in a big bowl and serve family-style!

Of course, if you have any pasta sauce on hand, simply skip ahead and use that! The taste of freshly cooked pasta and simple marinara with fresh basil is beyond divine-- it's iconic!

The Birth of Venus

I just started The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant and I'm already in love. Drenched in the same illumination as the gilded period it describes, the novel follows the life of a young girl living in Botticelli's Florence.

The famous painting, featuring the goddess Venus emerging from a shell in all her naked glory, serves more as a symbol than a plot device. In the painting as in the novel, Florence is set as a jewel emerging from the sea-- thus the shell. Obviously, this inspired a craving for shells of my own! While not strictly related to the painting or the book, stuffed shells are a crowd favorite.

The following recipe is adapted from two different recipes. One, Angela Liddon's (Oh She Glows!) stuffed shells and another recipe my dad's girlfriend gave me for an herb cashew cream I always use in my Italian-inspired dishes-- or at least, when I'm not just eating it straight out of the jar:

1 c cashews, soaked for at least an hour
4 TBS nutritional yeast
2 TBS tahini
2 lemons
4 bunches (about 2 c) fresh basil
3 cups fresh spinach
4 cloves of garlic
1 16 oz container of tofu
1 jar of marinara or tomato sauce
1 box jumbo shells
1 package Daiya provolone-style deli cheese slices
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the shells in water and olive oil for about 8 minutes according to the directions. Drain and set aside for filling. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Drain the soaked cashews, reserving about 2 TBS of the water and blend in a food processor with the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper, 1 bunch of the fresh basil (about 1/2 c), 2 cloves of garlic, and the tahini. (Optional: add 1-2 TBS more water for a creamier texture.)
3. Crumble the tofu with your hands until it resembles ricotta. Add 2 cloves of diced garlic, the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper, and 2 bunches of chopped basil. Tear up the spinach into quarter sized pieces and add along with the cashew cream mixture.
4. Spread a quarter cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking pan and begin assembling shells. Use a large spoon to stuff each shell with just enough ricotta mixture to fill the shell entirely.
5. Slice the deli slices in half and lay across each shell. Cover the cheese completely with marinara sauce. (This stops the cheese from hardening in the oven and helps it melt so it's nice and gooey!)
6. Cook the stuffed shells for 35-40 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Remove and garnish with remaining basil and nutritional yeast.

My friends and I really enjoyed these and I hope you do too! May we all emerge beautifully transformed by these mythological shells.

Lost in Austen

For someone who nearly specialized in 19th century literature, I'm a little embarrassed to say how little Jane Austen I read before last year, but what I lost in time I made up for in enthusiasm!

It all started when I picked up Northanger Abbey at the recommendation of Rebecca of "A Clothes Horse" and loved it so much I read Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, one after another over the course of two weeks.

Mansfield Park was particularly fascinating since I read Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice a few years ago when the movie version (Belle) came out. Some speculation in an article I read about a connection between the two stories sparked my curiosity and stuck with me.

Naturally, all this Austen has me baking scones and rye bread, drinking tea much more than usual--which is really saying something!-- and contemplating ideas for a vegan version of clotted cream. I haven't quite perfected the scones and clotted cream, but I've definitely discovered my favorite rye bread recipe, with a few tweaks. Here's the version I like to use, adapted from the Yorkshire Rye recipe in Edwardian Cooking, the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook:

2 packets instant yeast
2 cups warm water
2 tsp salt
2 TBS caraway seeds
3 cups dark rye flour
3+ cups whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine yeast and water. Allow yeast to become slightly foamy before adding in the salt, rye flour, and caraway seeds.

If using a stand mixer, attach dough hook and begin to add whole wheat or pastry flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides. (You may need to use a spatula to push the flour into the rest of the dough.) Once the dough has reached an elastic consistency, cover and proof in a warm area for at least 20 minutes.

Drop dough onto a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet or preheated baking stone and bake for 35 minutes. Fill an ovenproof dish with water and place on the rack below the bread for an especially crisp crust. After 35 minutes, remove the bread to cool, slice, and store in an airtight container.

Blooming in Winter

I just finished reading Estèe Lalonde’s book Bloom. In addition to tips on how to add a chic patina to any lifestyle, tussle with mental wellness, and find a comfortable capsule wardrobe, Lalonde finishes the book by sharing some of her favorite recipes— always a welcome addendum! I was deeply gratified to see some of them were already vegan, but the chicken noodle soup that features prominently was (obviously, perhaps) not.

Reading about how she and her partner share this meal and how cozy and loved it makes her feel reminded me of when Aaron and I first started dating in college. I would always make him this super spicy ramen whenever it was cold out and we wanted to spend a night in, which was often. I realized I hadn't made this soup since we went vegan, so I thought I would try it out!

Here is my veganized version:

1 medium onion
3-5 cloves garlic
2 TBS Fresh ginger
2 TBS Turmeric
2 TBS Paprika
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

1/4 cup Nutrional Yeast
2 Bay leaves
3-4 medium Carrots
1 cup Spinach
1 package Ramen or soba noodles
1 cup Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP)

Stuff an onion with about 4-5 cloves of garlic and coat the whole bundle in olive oil, black pepper, and coarse salt. Roast this baby in the oven for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be a little soft when you take it out.

Either pulse the onion with the garlic and ginger in a food processor or dice them very fine. Mix with 2 tablespoons each of turmeric and paprika (I use smoked for a more earthy flavor).*

Simmer 2 TBS of stock on the stove with 3 cups of water. Once boiling, add all but a quarter cup of the stock to the TVP and let stand until rehydrated. Mix in Sriracha or cayenne to taste.

Add an additional 2 cups of water to the saucepan, mix in 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast and the bay leaves, and lower to a simmer for 15-30 minutes-- the longer, the better! Add thinly sliced carrots and noodles and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.

To serve, place a small handful of spinach in the bottom of the bowl and ladle the hot broth over the top. Then, add in the spicy TVP and sprinkle the fresh parsley or cilantro over each bowl just before serving. If I had one, I would normally garnish with a lime as well!

Let me know how it turns out and whether or not you have any suggestions! Once I finish my soup, I’m off to cull my wardrobe (à la Lalonde) and start my next read.

*You can freeze this mixture into ice cube trays and pull them out as needed for any dish that needs a boost. I treat it the way some cooks treat chicken stock, adding it to stir fries, soups, risotto, etc. whenever impulse strikes.

Resolutions for the New Year

Every year brings a score of expectations and resolutions. Honestly, resolutions have always struck me as inauthentic, but the new year does provide a change of perspective impossible to ignore.

Last year brought so many new people and experiences into my life, it completely transformed how I think about myself and the people around me.

This year I plan to focus on the things that bring joy to my life. I plan to forgive. I plan to focus on helping others and learning how to improve the version of myself as I am now, without judgement. When I ask myself what’s most important, I don’t want to make a resolution. I want more than that.

This year I’m not going to make comparisons or get hung up on past mistakes. This year I’m going to do what makes me happy and remain grateful for the good friends and fortune the new year brings.

Looking ahead to the new year, I want to make sure the right things are in focus. Not health and wealth or resolutions I’m going to break in a week, but personal growth for the long-term.

Well-Read Vegan. * BLOG DESIGN BY Labinastudio.