Monday, September 10, 2012

Cooking Vegetables in Olive Oil

This Summer I cooked a lot of my home grown vegetables in olive oil.  I would pick a few thin, unpeeled Asian eggplants and slice them diagonally about one fourth inch thick and then saute them in a frying pan over low heat in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  I turned them with a fork until lightly browned.  They were then salted and peppered and removed to a dish.  Next I cut yellow squash - Zephyr is my favorite - and slowly cooked them the same way.  They can be eaten hot, or refrigerated and therefore cold, or at  room temperature.  Candy should taste this good!

This Summer I grew some okra.  I tried breading them with cornmeal and frying them, but the crust kept falling off, so I next tried frying the whole pods just like the squash and eggplant, turning them over low heat until a little brown.  So much better!  They can be dipped in salsa, if you like.

Finally, there's greenbeans.  I have never liked them much, but one must make the best of what grows easiest in the garden.  Some years ago one of our workers gave us her Lebanese grandmother's recipe for greenbeans and it is in our cookbook, Vol. I on p.266.  That recipe calls for gently frying a sliced onion in olive oil until lightly caramelized, and then adding the cut up beans together with a pinch of cinnamon and a half teaspoon each of allspice and nutmeg.  Cover the pan and stew until the bean are tender and 'buttery'.  Then at the end add salt and pepper and diced tomatoes.  If you add the tomatoes with the beans, they will not soften as well.  This is so good that I decided to try other seasonings - such as tarragon and dill (both added at the end of cooking).  The important thing is NO water.  Cook these babies in oil alone.  They will be more delicious than you can imagine!

This technique is ideal for vegetables produced in a small home garden.  It is a typically middle eastern technique.  Tamari may be substituted for the salt, and sesame seeds may be added.

Simple.  Perfect. Great snack food. Best with the vegetables grown right there at home!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vegan Dinners

As promised in my last blog, this one is about how to think about main courses for dinner.

So what does a vegan do for dinner besides buy a soy product that mimics meat,  like Tofurky, Boca burgers, or Tofu Pups?

Our perspective has been to look to the past, to explore what our ancestors ate when they had no meat, couldn't afford it, or didn't choose it.  It seems that all over the world humans nourished themselves with some combination of grains and pulses (meaning beans or lentils).  Sometimes in the same dish, once thought essential for good nutrition but now no longer deemed necessary. They can be eaten separately, if need be.

Whether in Latin America where combinations of pinto beans, black beans or many other varieties of beans (see Steve Sando's Rancho Gordo's remarkable collection) accompany corn tortillas or rice........or in the Mid East where chick peas, Greek gigande beans, and  fava beans are served with bulgar or pita bread, or India where the pulses: lentils and beans in amazing variety are cooked into gravies called dahls,  and served with Basmati rice or wheat chapatis or naan. The combinations are endless.

In Asia and Indonesia it seems that the soy bean is used as cheese (tofu) or milk or constructed in age old ways to resemble meat, to satisfy Buddhists.  We are not sorry to use soy in its marvelous diversity.  However we have many other options to entice us as well.

It is hard to understand why the pulse/grain combination is so satisfying.  The recipe that follows, for Syrian Mjeddrah (lentils and rice) is but one example of dishes that feel remarkably like comfort food.  This one, now on the menu at Bloodroot, doesn't look fancy, but tastes better as you eat it, and even better the next day.  The Bible contemptuously calls it "a mess of potage", the one for which Essau sold his birthright.  When you taste it,  you may understand why he craved it so much.  It is rich and soothing.  Try it and see.  Very easy to make, it requires one pot and one frying pan.  What you must do is stir a lot of onions in a lot of olive for 15-20 minutes.  This is essential for the rich, sweet taste.  I have had many versions of this dish with inadequate oil and onions, and it is not worth eating.  We serve it every Summer at Bloodroot, with green beans and tomatoes, an olive-walnut condiment, and pita bread.

We do have many variations on the grain-pulse combination: Brazilian feijoada (black beans over rice) and Haitian Mais Moulin Avec Pois, a very spicy corn polenta with red beans.  One of our favorite soups is Mulligatawny, a red lentil puree to which we add rice.

Middle Eastern pilafs are wonderful meals in themselves.  Any vegetable on the side makes it complete.  We have been exploring Persian pilafs made best with a crusty bottom, such as potato slices, Turkish pilafs with chick peas, pistachios, and apricots.  There is Plov from Uzbekistan cooked with chick peas and a whole head of garlic.  Bibimbap is Korean "garnished rice" made delicious with sauteed vegetables and spicy with kim chee.

We have not even scratched the surface, but let's talk about easy.  Try Mjeddrah (see below), the mulligatawny, and a simple and delicious Mexican recipe for pinto beans, to eat with corn tortillas.

If you have our cookbooks, you may know that in the beginning of Volume I, the vegetarian book, we list a cooking class.  At the end is a selection of easy ethnic recipes for dinner, such as a simple Indian dinner, a Thai coconut milk dish with vegetables, and Ratatouille Nicoise--a French late summer vegetable mix to eat over brown rice.  These are all vegan, and are in the vegetarian book partly because of lack of room in the vegan book, but more importantly because we want folks to realize how delicious and easy vegan cooking can be.  A slow process of seduction, we hope!

It is important to note that easy does not mean without care.  Just as you wouldn't buy inferior or spoilt meats and expect them to taste good, you will have to hunt out the stores that sell dried beans often enough so that they will cook to softness.  The packages on the shelves for years wont be good.  You must soak them overnight.  Cooking them in a clay pot will make them heavenly.  You need to take time to rub skins off of chick peas after soaking to get best texture, and you must saute vegetables in these recipes long enough for them to caramelize a little.  After all, we want these dishes to taste wonderful.  Remember:beans or chick peas from a can never will.

More to come next time--perhaps about different kinds of rice, maybe about ice creams!  So many riches.....

Mid East Lentils and Rice

1.  In a pot simmer 2 cups of french lentils in 3 1/2 cups of water for fifteen minutes.

2. Add 1 cup of long grain rice and 1 cup of water and stir.  Simmer for another fifteen minutes.

3. Meanwhile, thinly slice 2 large spanish onions and turn into a large frying pan,  Saute the onions in 1 full cup of good olive for about fifteen minutes, stirring frequently.  Once they turn golden and begin to caramelize, add them to the lentils together with  1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

4. Continue cooking the mixture for another fifteen minutes, or until the mix tastes done.  Correct seasoning.  It is likely to need more salt.  Serves four to six.  Refrigerate leftovers, and reheat gently.

Pinto Bean Chili

1. Soak 3 cups pinto beans overnight in water to cover with 2 teaspoons salt.  Next day cook, preferably in an olla de barro (clay pot), until tender, adding water as needed.

2. Pull off stems and shake seeds out of 3 dried guajillo chilies.  Peel 3 cloves garlic.  Cover with water in a small pot and boil 1 minute.  Drain.

3. Make a broth using 1 tablespoon Seitenbacher vegetarian broth powder in 2 cups hot water and add one half cup of this to a blender.  Use a mortar and pestle to crush one half teaspoon cumin seeds and 4 whole peppercorns.  Add to blender with chilies and garlic.  (We sell the Seitenbacher at Bloodroot.  It may be omitted from the recipe and plain water used.  But no substitutions for the chilies will give the same results.)  Puree.  Add 3/4 cup more broth liquid and 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder and blend.

4. Heat 3 tablespoons coconut oil in a skillet.  Add beans with their remaining liquid and mash roughly.  Add chili sauce and salt if necessary.  Cook until beans are thick enough to "plop" off the spoon.  Serve with warm tortillas.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Vegan, Taking It Slow!

Lately we have had a lot of newcomers to Bloodroot asking for vegan food.  We are very pleased with this new trend!  Whether for environmental/political reasons or for health - we have always tried to minimize our dependency on animal products.  After 35 years, I think we have become quite proficient in finding the best vegan dishes in ethnic cuisines.  We are able to recognize which recipes would not be hurt by switching butter to grape seed or olive oil, and which could exchange coconut milk for cow's milk or cream, and still expect the flavor to be familiar and delicious. But we also have folks who come in and say that they once tried to be vegan, but found it too hard to do.

So this blog is about how to make it easy.  First, you don't have to decide to be entirely vegan all the time, right away.  You first have to build a repertoire of things to eat. Don't just go buy vegan junk food.  Don't figure you will simply switch tofu for meat.  Neither of these strategies will be any good nutritionally and will surely disappoint your taste buds.  You will need a pantry with appropriate foods.  I am often shocked by how much coconut milk and coconut oil I use, forgetting that there were always pounds of butter in the freezer and not only milk, but heavy cream and half & half always in the refrigerator, before I tried to make most of our food vegan.

I've discovered that there are two kinds of coconut oil.  I don't use the ones labeled "natural" or virgin.  They smell too much like hair pomade or suntan lotion.  We use Omega organic coconut oil.  It is a clear odorless liquid in Summer, and of a white cold cream consistency in Winter.  It is always kept at room temperature.  (We sell containers of it at Bloodroot)  We make pie crust and scones and cookies of it, and sometimes we saute with it.

How about beginning to try vegan by making a cake?  A really delicious cake!  Below are two recipes for cake.  Our chocolate "devastation" cake has been on our menu for years.  We have made whole cakes for birthdays and weddings.  It is a favorite, and it can be whipped up in 5 minutes, once you have really good cocoa and chocolate (we use Valrhona) and sourdough starter.  The latter is available from us (free), especially on Sundays, when we use it to make sourdough pancakes. Or there is a recipe for how to make your own on p.418 of our cookbook, The Best Of Bloodroot  Vol. II or on p.342 of The Best Of Bloodroot Vol.I.

The orange hazelnut cake is made much like a traditional cake.  It tastes wonderful.  You don't have to tell anyone that either cake is vegan.  These cakes will make your reputation as a baker!  Next time we will get to a few main dishes, and later, ice creams.

Sourdough Chocolate "Devastation"  Cake

A very easy and delicious vegan cake. You will need good quality unsweetened cocoa to make it.

1. Lightly oil two 9˝ cake pans. Preheat oven to 325°F.

2. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl: ¾ cup unsweetened good quality cocoa powder*, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups unbleached white flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, ¾ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons instant grain coffee**, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Stir together with a dry whisk.

3. Combine wet ingredients in another bowl: 1 cup thick sourdough starter, 2¼ cups water, 2 tablespoons vinegar, ¾ cup grapeseed oil, and 1½ teaspoons vanilla. Stir well with a whisk.

4. Combine wet and dry mixtures with as few strokes as possible. Some lumps are not a problem. Turn into pans immediately and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove and cool on racks.

*Such as Vahlrona
**Your favorite kind will do

Chocolate Frosting

This frosting sets up firm and protects the cake from becoming dry. Because of this, this cake will stay fresh about five days in the refrigerator if covered with plastic wrap. From Mary Préjean.

Note: when making the above 2-layer devastation cake, double this frosting recipe.

1. Chop good quality semi-sweet chocolate* to measure 1 cup. Combine with 1 teaspoon vanilla, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, ¼ cup grapeseed oil, and 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder*. Place over lowest heat or melt in double boiler (a pan of simmering water with a heatproof bowl set over it).
Don’t stir until chocolate is entirely melted. Alternatively, the pot of frosting mixture may be put in a warm place, such as on top of the stove, while the cake bakes.

Once the chocolate melts, stir gently with a spoon until mixture thickens slightly. Frosting will be soft but will thicken as you stir it.

2. When cakes and frosting are cool, spread frosting over cake.

Makes enough for one 9" cake
*Such as Vahlrona

Orange Hazelnut Cake

1. Lightly toast 1 cup hazelnuts at 300°F. Rub skins off with a towel. Oil two 9˝ cake pans and line with waxed paper rounds. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. Turn nuts into a processor and pulverize together with 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder,
1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons potato starch. Turn out into a bowl. Add 3½ cups all-purpose flour and stir together with a dry whisk. Set aside.

3. In mixer, use flat beater to cream 2/3 cup firm coconut oil (chill if necessary) with scant 1 cup sugar. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier and 1 teaspoon orange oil (or 1 tablespoon orange zest). Add 1/3 cup flax seed eggs* (see The Best of Bloodroot Volume Two Vegan Recipes glossary) and 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract.

4. Measure 2 cups orange juice and ½ cup water. Alternately add dry ingredients and liquid to mixer, beginning and ending with flour mix. Don’t overbeat. Turn into prepared pans and bake until tops are evenly brown. Cool cakes on racks five minutes; turn out onto racks and let cool entirely before frosting.

*Flax seed “eggs”: Soak ¼ cup flax seeds in ¾ cup hot tap water in a blender for 15 minutes. Turn machine on and blend until quite thick and most seeds are crushed. It will look like grey caviar. Store these “eggs” covered in the refrigerator. They will keep 2 to 3 weeks. Use a rounded tablespoon to replace 1 egg in cornbreads or cakes.


 Coconut oil must be firm, so refrigerate 2 cups of it if this cake is being made in the summer. Turn firm coconut oil into mixer, and using the flat beater, beat well.  Sift 2 cups of confectioners sugar into mixer and beat well for at least 3 minutes.  Add a few drops of orange oil and a splash of vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Finally add 2 tablespoons of the thick top from a can of coconut milk and beat again.  This makes a lovely frosting.

makes enough for one 9" cake

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Marriage and Rhubarb

This blog is about marriage...not the human kind....I am in favor of interacial, intereligious, homosexual, and even heterosexual marriage for those that want it...(not for me, though.  I did it once, and that's enough.)

It's food marriage that I want to talk about.  Oftentimes vegetables and fruits that grow in the same region taste good together, but sometime fruits and veggies that grow in different climates do just fine with our locals.  And so we enjoy mangos, oranges and bananas here in CT while we wait for local strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apples, each in its own season.

It is rhubarb that I think does much better as a spinster.  I love rhubarb.  The stalks come up so early, April and May, and the flavor of this "fruit" (It is really a vegetable), when properly sweetened is tart and refreshing, the very essence of Spring!  But why team it with strawberries from California?  This is such a common mismatch!  It would seem that everyone believes that rhubarb requires strawberries to be palatable!  Do they not know how to prepare it?  Just slicing and cooking in a little juice with sugar makes a delicious compote...

I recently figured out that macerating rhubarb and then roasting it makes for an excellant sauce or compote.  The recipe will follow.  But first I want to talk about strawberries.  Their fragrance, flavor and texture are subtle, delicately delicious.  In June, when they are local here, I want to glut on them with biscuits, sundaes, pies!  Strawberries are lovely in season; otherwise they taste like damp cotton.  Rhubarb is intense and assertive...Why ruin it with trucked-in flavorless strawberries?  And once the strawberries come in, if they are good local ones, why add rhubarb, the plants of which now need to replenish stalks for another year.

I do think rhubarb can have flings with other dessert flavors.  It is terrific on coconut pie (See p. 225 in Vol.I of The Best of Bloodroot cookbook) , or the recipe for Rhubarb Almond Cake flavored with orange juice and rind, in our 2011 calendar.

It is just that strawberries don't enhance rhubarb and rhubarb does nothing for strawberries!  This is what divorce is for....

                                          Roasted Rhubarb Sauce

1)  Slice 1 pound rhubarb.  Turn into a shallow stainless steel or pyrex pan.  Add 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, dash salt and half of a split vanilla bean.  (If you save vanilla beans that you have scraped seeds from in your sugar bin, as I do, you can add these decorticated beans to the rhubarb instead of the whole split bean),  Stir.  Let sit 30 minutes.
2) Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Roast rhubarb, stirring occasionally until edges turn crimson, about 20 minutes.

This makes a delicious  sauce to top rice pudding or to eat as is.  Season with a little cardamom if you like.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why Bloodroot is Vegan/Vegetarian

A recent issue of a feminist magazine we carry in our bookstore had a brief review of a book called The Vegetarian Myth, which criticized vegetarianism as environmentally unsound and unhealthy for women.  We were offended by the enthusiasm of the review, and returned copies to the publisher, Sinister Wisdom.  They were understanding and graciously requested us to respond and to discuss our beliefs. 
                            Here is what was published in Sinister Wisdom, Issue #85.

Why Bloodroot is Vegan/Vegetarian

I.  How we came to start a vegetarian restaurant 35 years ago, and why our menu is increasingly vegan.

In 1977, several friends and I started Bloodroot.  Why?  Because my change from housewife and mother to lesbian feminist meant that I needed to lead a life outside patriarchal morality away from husband and societal expectations.   I wanted a community with shared values (not all, but most), and I wanted to think and put into practice what was feminism for me.  This has been my 35-year work in progress shared by Noel Furie, and others who have been with us at Bloodroot.

So my "coming out" was not about a sexual choice, though it included that; it was not about getting married to a woman instead of a man and going on to lead a couple's life similar to that of heterosexuals.

It meant trying to lead a life that was better.  Better for people and creatures and the earth itself as well as for myself. *  We hoped for community.  And while of course there have been changes, mostly this choice, these choices have made that possible.

But how could we, Noel and I, keep doing this for 35 years?  We can because it is so deeply satisfying to us.  We like the people who come to be fed by us, very much.  We still like cooking very much.  We can't imagine a different life.  Perhaps it is because it evolved slowly, and perhaps it is because we never chose deprivation.  We never went "cold turkey" (except on meat, fish, and poultry!).  Gradually our menu became more vegan, since we admire the animal rights activists who come to us and we want very much to please them.  I want the food they eat here to be delicious and diverse.  We love the idea of eating what is in our gardens or at the farmers' market this minute, totally glutting on strawberries in June and apples in September.

But we are also thrilled to explore traditional people's comfort foods, and so will search out imported Haitian or Jamaican or Mexican or Greek or Korean ingredients to make the dishes of which our workers and friends have shared recipes.  The result is that we can look forward to each season's menus with many more options than those whose plates center on meat.

Our customers don't have to be vegetarians, and many are not.  But where can they get homemade bread like ours, or soups as satisfying?  We want to seduce them with delicious vegan food, and to encourage them to eat less or no meat.

II. The Vegetarian Myth

We can't help but be disgusted when someone like Michael Pollan who writes so well about the harm caused by industrial agriculture, then writes of hunting and slaughtering a wild (female) pig and how it was the best meal of his life.  (The Omnivore's Dilemma).  We're disappointed when someone like Barbara Kingsolver convinces her 10 year old daughter to not name her "pet" chickens so that she won't mind them being killed to sell so that the daughter can then buy a pony (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral) As you can imagine, we had no interest in reading Lierre Keith's " Vegetarian Myth" – but since I was asked to write about why we didn't want to carry Sinister Wisdom copies with a plug for her book in our bookstore, it became necessary to read it, and what an unpleasant couple of days it was!  Full of half-truths and outright lies, I would have had to spend too much of my precious days picking it apart sentence by sentence.  Luckily some folks have done a more than adequate job on the internet. **

But in general, Keith makes these claims:  First, that the advent of agriculture has gradually destroyed the earth's ecosystems and creatures.  Of course, Jim Mason's An Unnatural Order *** (1993, Simon and Schuster) discussed just this, and further that the rise of agriculture and religion made dominion over women, children, animals, slaves acceptable and right. He contends that animal husbandry in particular created patriarchal rule with these forms of oppression. His book expresses the paradigm of what we, as feminists believe in. So of course he came to a very different conclusion from Keith's.

Keith repeatedly speaks of her own ignorance and arrogance when she was a vegan.  Now that she is enlightened, the rest of us vegetarians and vegans must be ignorant and arrogant, since we have not learned from her pantheon of deniers of the benefits of vegetarianism.  She seems to blame vegetarianism for the huge monocultures of grain and soy (raised to fatten animals), and makes little or no distinction between this "agriculture" and small farms growing broccoli and carrots.

III.  Political Ups and Downs

Secondly, Keith blames her bad health on her 20-year vegan diet.  It would seem that every movement wanting to change things for the better contains individuals who at first are the truest believers and who become angry at any slippage. Then they suddenly become the backlash and despise all that they once believed.  The impossibility of perfectionism can be very disappointing.

We don't know whether Keith was a junk food vegan or not.  There are certainly lots of them, just as there are lots of junk food carnivores, and we know junk food can make us sick.  We also know that there are lots of folks (most often women) who feel virtuous about deprivation: fasting – omitting fats from their diets – omitting all carbohydrates.  Whatever.  It would seem that extreme mortification turns into extreme rejection.  Well, we don't do that.  We love food.  We don't want any deprivation.  We want our food to be sensuous and diverse and delicious.  We just don't want it to be made from members of our family . . . and that goes all the way down (down?) to fish.

IV.  Antidote

Anyway, as an antidote to Keith's book, I reread Jonathan Foer's Eating Animals.  It was healing.

Then I spoke to Jim Mason.  He talked about relative justice.  We can't do everything we might wish to do to make the world a better place. Maybe it is a hybrid car instead of a Hummer.  Maybe it is supporting a local farmer by joining a CSA.  Maybe it's eating meat once a week instead of three times a day.  Maybe it's not buying bottled water or not using plastic bags. Something.  None of us can do it all, but for our own sakes and health, we should try to do something.  As Jim says, “Justice is what equals least harm.”  And we need to consider which gurus we listen to.  If your need to eat meat is so great that you will take any justification, there are plenty of carnistic gurus out there.

I also talked to Lagusta Yearwood, who has been vegan for 18 years, and Stephanie Zinowski, vegan for at least that.  Lagusta and Stephanie used to work here.  Lagusta makes and sells fabulous vegan chocolates and Stephanie runs Wesleyan University's Vegan Cafe.  Their vegan friends are healthier than their carnivore counterparts.**** I am 77 years old and I seem to be physically in better shape than meat-eating peers my age.  Many customers come into our restaurant assuming we are a health place.  I know our food is healthy, but we are not interested in the latest health fads.  We are animal rights vegetarians and our intention and pleasure is to prepare and eat delicious diverse meals that change every season, and to share them with our friends.

We really are lucky!
                                    Selma Miriam
                                    Noel Furie

*  Jonathan Safran Foer (Eating Animals) became a vegetarian when he became a father.  It
    seemed critical to him that fatherhood required him leading a moral life.

      Lierre Keith's Elaborate, Self-Congratulatory Excuse for Abandoning Veganism

***Re-released in 2005 by Lantern Books, NYC.  Mason is also the author, with Peter Singer,
      of Animal Factories

****As Colin Campbell's' China Study documents thoroughly.  The statistics in his book were
       collected in the 1980's and the diet and disease information therein not relevant to China
       today, but to a China where large groups of people ate very little or no meat.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Vacation Trip to Istanbul

I am an admirer of Steve Sando who grows organic heirloom beans in California, so when he praised a book on Turkish cooking, Turquoise, written by a friend of his, Greg Malouf, I ordered a copy.

This is a coffee table sized book with pretty pictures of food and men. Boys and men. Apparently there are no women in Turkey except for two wrapped in black and huddled in a street doorway. I didn’t like this pretentious book and I barely looked at the mostly meat recipes.

NYT 10/2/11
Then there was a travel article in the New York Times and it showed pictures of people, including women, eating and having a great time. In fact the food descriptions were tempting, and we did need vacation plans. Then a customer came into the restaurant and I admired her scarf. She said she had gotten it in Istanbul. She reminded me that we had run into each other in Oaxaca, Mexico, a favorite city for both of us. Perhaps we had the same tastes! She urged us to go to Istanbul.

With some hesitation I talked to our friend Krystyna, a most intrepid researcher, and asked her to look into the possibility of an Istanbul visit. Besides getting the usual guidebooks, she joined Airbnb, to find us an inexpensive place to stay. She also found us an American ex-pat “foodie”, Kathy Hamilton, who could take us to restaurants and the fabled Spice Market. And another American ex-pat fabric designer, Catherine Bayar, who knew weavers, dyers, and felters. Krystyna even worked at learning a little Turkish, a very different language from anything we knew. Best of all, she has a friend from Istanbul whose family wanted us to come to dinner during our stay.

We went in February; off-season for tourists, and it was very cold and very hilly. But even on the first day, (before we met with either guide) as we wandered around, we found: 

- People were exceptionally helpful, often taking us where we wanted to go whether they spoke English or not.

- The City is startlingly clean. The cobblestone streets all have drainage ditches lined in stone, and not even a cigarette butt is present. 

- There are cats everywhere, and they are as friendly as the people! Obviously because the people feed them and they expect the best from humans.

On later days we reflected that we never saw an obese person. Of course there is a great amount of walking (as well as a very good transportation system).

Most amazing of all, I never saw any sign of public sexual aggression- no eyeing women up and down-no nasty noises or comments….how come?

And we always felt safe walking the several blocks home from where taxis dropped us off, though it was dark and men were about.


I started with a list of 27 restaurants that we might try and actually got to 15. They say you can’t get a bad meal in Istanbul, and we didn’t! We did have favorites though….

Ciya Sofrasi, on the Asian side of the Bosporus (Kadakoy), cooked amazing vegetables like purslane and borage, mallow and dock.

Asitane (Edirnakapi), tries to reproduce Ottoman Empire dishes such as almond soup, dried eggplant with pomegranate molasses and saffron rice pudding.

Van Kahralti Evi
Van Kahralti Evi (Beyoglu), serves breakfast (all day) of cheese and olives and dips like muhammara (roasted red peppers), sour cherry preserves, honey with walnuts, and beautiful breads with water buffalo butter and clotted cream (kaymak). Most everything is shipped in daily from the Kurdish city of Van, near the Iranian border.

And Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi (Fatih), where wonderful breads emerged from the oven all night. Hatay is a Turkish province near Syria and the cuisine reflected that. The fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and the sweet olives served as dessert were both memorable, as was the waiter’s and the owner’s generosity and warmth.

Also good was Anatolia (Sultanahmet), where we went the first night, and tasted Raki, along with amazing olives and cheeses, and learned about Turkish politics from the viewpoint of the Kurdish owner/waiter.

We also enjoyed Cooking Alaturka, Develi, and Datli Maya, where one climbed the stairs to the 2nd floor, walked through the kitchen and then a few more steps up to the small dining room overlooking a pocket park. There was a little place in the Spice Market where we drank superb Turkish coffee and ate locum, Turkish delight, and many varieties of baklava. And Bizem Ev in Konkapi, for delicious spinach boreks.

Because we so liked the kaymak at Van, we proceeded to visit three kaymak makers for breakfast. Besiktas Kaymakci has been serving kaymak for over a hundred years. The current owner, Pando Bey is 87 years old. We ate his famous kaymak, a rich thick but delicate cream with honey, eggs, fresh bread and black tea.

We went twice to Ciya Sofrasi, and the second time they gave me a small booklet of commentaries about the chef-owner, Musa Dagdiveren. This quote from him leaped off the page when I saw it: 

“I travel all over the country to cook with people in their homes and also study old books to find new leads. I get very excited when I discover new poor people’s dishes, because I believe only poor people can create great food. If a man has money, he can buy anything, but a person who has nothing must create beauty from within.”

Dinner with Fatma's Family
Yes! Exactly what I believe.

A highlight of our trip was our visit with Krystyna’s friend Fatma Nalbant’s family. They made a beautiful spread of dishes – the finest thin-rolled grape leaves I’ve tasted, borek, and kisir (a bulgur salad) made with a little tomato paste, red pepper, and shredded cilantro and diced pickle. When I admired it, Azzize, Fatma’s sister immediately repaired to the kitchen to show me how to do it.

We did see Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque and the ancient Christian Chora Church. We also traveled to a suburb to see the new Sakirin Mosque, designed by Zeynep Fadilhoglu, a woman. It is quite beautiful. 

Sakirin Mosque
We went to a hamam, a Turkish bath. At last I was warm! It was a wonderful experience. We went to one in our neighborhood rather than an expensive tourist version and it was both comforting and energizing.

When Catherine Bayar arrived on our 2nd to last day in Istanbul, she took us to a small weaving studio where they wove plain weave linen, cotton and silk for elegant classic scarves and shirts.

Musa's rug. Now in my kitchen.
Another of Musa's rugs.
Then on to Musa Kazim Basaram, expert natural dyer and designer/weaver of modern kilim rugs.  He and I connected, intensely discussing natural dye techniques. He wants to reproduce my mermaid quilt design in a kilim and I am delighted. He later sent us a container of his delicious grape leaves, which we were grateful to have for supper, since we were too exhausted to go out.

Catherine next took us to Ikonium Studio, where American expat Theresa May O’Brien is partnered with Mehmet Girgic, who makes museum quality felt art. She had antique camel saddlebags and newish large kilim rugs. Before I went there I had Turkish liras left over, but afterwards, I needed my debit card to help pay for the gorgeous, woman-made Nuzumla kilim now in my living room. 

Nuzumla Kilim
The apartment we stayed in is called Helen Suites. It is in a quiet, old neighborhood, a few blocks away from the train, which takes you into the center. The area is called Kumkapi, and is considered conservative. Women in headscarves were always walking the narrow streets, but we saw no women in burkas or chadors in our neighborhood. Our space was comfortable, warm in this very cold weather, and very inexpensive. We were glad not to be in a tourist hotel.

The worst part of the trip was coming home to Kennedy Airport. Understaffed, dirty. We stood in line for an hour and a half, and were yelled at by officials who didn’t possess the wherewithal to care for so many of us with only three customs and immigration staff to check baggage and passports for hundreds. Hateful, after the comforts of passing through Istanbul Airport.

Finally, at home, I looked at my cookbooks. There are a few okay recipes in Turquoise, but much better versions in Silvena Rowe’s Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. I had acquired Ghillie Basan’s Classic Turkish Cooking in Istanbul and Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook once home. I’m so glad that the Istanbul we saw (and in these cookbooks) isn’t the one in Malouf’s Turquoise! I was able to adapt recipes for sweet potato borek, leek borek and apricot pistachio pilaf from Purple Citrus, making them vegan, and the kesir, muhamarra, and cemen dip from what I learned in Istanbul, and so we served an Istanbul dinner for a few weeks upon our return home. As predicted by many of our customers, we loved the city, its people, and the food.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Once Upon a Time....

Once upon a time, a very long time ago – actually over 35 years ago – I had a dream, an idea of opening a woman’s center, a bookstore and restaurant combination.  It was not common at that time. 
Two friends in our local NOW chapter, Priscilla Feral (who later became head of Friends of Animals) and Jim Mason, co-author with Peter Singer of Animal Factories, urged me to make the food served in the restaurant vegetarian. 
So we did…not out of a heart-felt commitment, but being convinced intellectually that it was right.  And so we started Bloodroot.  But as we went on, that initial commitment became the core of our beliefs.
Jim went on to work on his book, An Unnatural Order.  He did an enormous amount of research on pre-agricultural humans, and how agriculture and animal husbandry changed human character and health.  And how together with the monotheistic religions, a ladder of privilege was established (in contrast to animism and female fertility religions).
The result was layers of contempt for those below god and man: meaning women, people who were different (in color), animals and the earth itself. In Jim’s book, we gradually come to understand that stewardship, the shepherd caring for his flock is a euphemism for the right to construct and shape other creatures and humans to the particular forms and beliefs of a dominant culture. These beliefs went on to enable sexual engineering, slavery and genocide.  Jim met with us periodically as he was writing his book, and what was most impressive was that he always listened, as few men do.
There have been many books since An Unnatural Order was published- books about the environment and animal rights, but no book I know of has such depth and breadth, and is at the same time feminist in its perspective, and in its condemnation of a dominionist mind set.
So we were upset a few months ago, when we got copies of a journal, “Sinister Wisdom”, that we have carried at Bloodroot since its inception. This particular issue had a paragraph raving about a book (The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith) sharply critical of vegetarianism based on health and environmental issues.  It was so upsetting that we returned copies of the journal to the publisher.  They followed up with a request that we comment on the review and on the book.  They were so appreciative of us that of course I had to do it.  Then came the bad part!  I had to read that book.  It took several miserable days to get through the lies and half-truths and I was left depressed.  It’s hard to argue against intentional stupidity and arrogance.  Fortunately other folks did a good job with on-line critiques and I was able to simply write about why Bloodroot is vegetarian (mostly vegan now).  And why these 35 years have been so fulfilling for Noel and me.
But I did need healing from those several nasty days with The Vegetarian Myth.    First, I re-read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I felt much better afterwards.  Then I returned to my copy of An Unnatural Order and was amazed at the quality of the research and the intelligence of the prose. At the end of the book, after discussing present day acceptance of the torture of the bullfight, rodeo, and animal use in the laboratory, Jim brings up the slaughterhouse vs. vegetarianism.  And it is typical of him to be gentle in his plea for change. Here I quote from a paragraph near the end of the book:
….”for many, if not most people are simply not inclined toward soul-searching and changing their habits. Age, sub-culture, and other circumstances tend to install a certain inflexibility in many people and it is probably best not to bother them.  But for others who genuinely want to help reconstruct our worldview, our sense of ourselves, and our human spirit, nothing can be off limits for re-examination and soul-searching”
Finally I re-read Anne Cameron’s Daughters of Copperwoman to remind myself of a spirituality/religion that means something to me.
So here is a reading list:  Eating AnimalsAn Unnatural Order, and Daughters of Copperwoman
And finally, once Sinister Wisdom publishes the article: “Why Bloodroot is Vegan/Vegetarian”, I will reproduce it for this blog.  Stay tuned!