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.

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.