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A warm and simple, welcome.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Simple Foods


I love kale.  And I think you've heard me say that until I became plant-strong, I thought that kale was the garnish for the ever-present diet platter from your favorite diner.  It was always tossed aside.  Never eaten.

And, you've heard me talk about my maternal grandparents, Mary and Luigi Montaruli.  They made lots of simple, peasant food.  And today, the meals that they would serve us, are now considered trendy.  Bread Stew with Fava Beans.  Potatoes in the Oven.  Peas and Pasta.  I could go on.  I think that part of Mario Batali's arsenal of delicious food comes from my grandparents.

Last night, I had a head of kale, and wasn't sure what I was going to do with it.  Most times, when I get home from the produce mart, I strip my kale, and store it in a muslin bag.  This way, it is always at the ready.

I like kale best when it is finely chopped,  It becomes very delicate, and responds better to oil-free saute.  After it is stripped, I roll the leaves into a ball, and cut each "kale-ball into thin slivers.  Last night, I sauteed it in stock made from the "kale stems," then added red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, low-sodium tamari.  Throw in some drained garbanzo beans, and garnish with shredded carrots.  A little squeeze of fresh lime will do the trick.

Eating plant-strong doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming, or difficult.  As I was eating dinner last night, I thought about my grandmother's delicious food.  She worked (she was a bow-maker at a hat factory in NYC), had five children, ran a restaurant, and had no microwave.  And she made beautiful and delicious food everyday.

While there are other forms of kale available...frozen, chopped and bagged, and kale chips, I am sticking with old-school kale and doing my own prep work.

Kale is the new black.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Plant-Based at the Museum

Salad Bar Plate from the Museum's Cafeteria

Philadelphia is a rather amazing city.  There's always something to do.  And with such great museums in the offering, you can never tire of something to do.  On the first Sunday of each month, you can head to the majestic Philadelphia Museum of Art for a fun day of beautiful art with free admission.  And, if you are a people watcher like I am, well, it is almost like a double-header.

Today, though, I forgot to eat lunch, simply forgot.  And while we were touring the exhibits, hunger called, so we took a turn into the cafeteria.  My hopes weren't too high, and I wasn't sure what to expect. But, wow, much like looking at a work of Thomas Eakins, I was in awe of the salad bar.  Jicama. Spring Mix. Palm Hearts.  And listen to this, KALE!  The kale had some kind of dressing on it, so I asked the attendant if it was possible to get some "plain kale."  With some garbanzo beans sprinkled on top, this beet-centric salad made my day.

There was a time in vegan history when a visit to a salad bar had lackluster selections and it was only filled with tomatoes and  iceberg lettuce.  For every vegan/plant-based eater I know, I think you have all made a differnce in the expansion of healthy choices for those of us who choose to not have mayonnaise laiden salads and cold-cuts.  It was so refreshing to see such healthy and green choices for my lunch.

After I finished my bountiful salad, I made it a point to go and talk to the chef (this was a real, upscale cafeteria, because the chefs were wearing real chef hats) . I thanked him for his delicious, clean, and neatly maintained salad bar.  It was well marked, ingredients list ever-present.  It was a fun and easy outing for this plant-strong eater.

From airports, train stations, and museums, it is getting easier to be a whole foods vegan.  My day was great and it was made simpler by the cafeteria staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Funny to think that Rocky Balboa ran up those steps with ease.  I doubt Rocky Balboa was ever plant-strong, but isn't it grand to think that such healthy choices abound, just steps from his own path of victory.

Yo, pass me the kale.  And after that, get back on the museum path for a fun afternoon of learning about American made glass.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting Ready for the Holidays with Mighty Muffins...

The Holiday Mighty Muffin
(Almighty Muffin)

My two sisters, Mary Lou and Mary Ann (yes, really) are amazing bakers.  I think it is something that they got from our Mom, Marie, who was an incredible baker, herself.  I have never been interested in baking, and even at best, it has never been my thing.

As a plant-strong vegan, baking is the most remote thing on my radar.  But, I do have to get into the mood and act as though I am embracing the holidays.  When I listen to my friends talk about Christmas prep, I hear a forgein language.  The talk about things like spritz, and roll, and reindeer food.  Just not for me.  But, I do make one fun thing that has been a staple for a few years.  And, guess what? People actually like them!  They have become my newest gift for friends (you either get my Holiday Mighty Muffins or a handmade pair of earrings, if I really like you, you get both!).

Invest in a few silicone muffin pans. I have them in shapes of flowers, snowflakes and trees.  The finished product looks beautiful.  In my family of origin, we always made cookie trays adorned with fruit and candy.  My version of a cookie tray isn't quite as fancy as Grandma Montaruli's, but I do my plant-strong best.

You can find the recipe for the Mighty Muffin at www.Engine2diet.com. Take that recipe and make it your own!  Add dried fruit, grain sweetned vegan chocolate chips...the world is your muffin. 

Christmas doesn't have to be a time of the year for a food freakout...freakout in the sense of either eating too much, OR in that of "What am I going to do to stay plant-strong?"  Make some muffins, and you will be fine.  Get some pretty tins, and you will have some beautiful gifts!

Wishing you a Plant-Strong Christmas and every good Plant-Strong Wish for a Healthy 2013.

As we say in Philly, "Yo, Yo, Yo..."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Still Eating Plants

The New Delivery Ladies from Candle 79 West

Guess which one is the Silver Haired Vegan?  The brunette, my friend Deb, is also a vegan...I hang out with lots of vegans.  We are not boring.

Hello and happy December.  So, so busy.  Eating plants.  Working out at a new gym.  Making sugar-free jam. And trying to find balance, just like everyone else.

You can find me regularly over at the Engine 2 Diet, where I have been blogging in a column called "Saving Time with Char."  It's my approach to fast, delicious plant-strong food that doesn't keep you in the kitchen for hours at a time.  On Engine 2 Extra, I get to work with "members" who are on this journey to eat plant-based, and embrace a healthier lifestyle.  And sometimes, one of my blog entries becomes the "featured" blog of the day.

The primary cornerstones of being plant-strong involve the following:

-No salt, sugar, oil

-No dairy, eggs, meat, fish

-No white flour, rice

If you want to find out more information, visit:  www.Engine2Diet.com

You can also find out lots about Engine 2 Extra.  Both worth your time and energy.

I'll see you again.  Don't worry, I am not hidden in a vat of cookie dough.

Love.  Love.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Low Down on LoMein

Delicious Whole Wheat LoMein

So, I really like Chinese food.  But, nowadays, if I do eat Chinese out, it is limited to a bowl of steamed vegetables and brown rice.  Most Chinese restaurants seem to use lots of oil, not just for frying, but as an additive to any dish.

I've got a really easy solution for you that will make you think, "Why didn't I think of that?" because this is so good.  If I was Carla on "The Chew," I'd say "slap your mama good."

These are the ingredients that you will need:

Roland's Whole Wheat LoMein Noodles (available at conventional store, international section)
Low Sodium Tamari
PB2 Peanut Butter Powder (available at Whole Foods Market)
Garlic Powder
Frozen Broccoli
One Cup of Grated Carrots

Are you ready for the easiest thing in the world to make?

1.  Boil water.  Add one "bunch" of LoMein, and at the same time, add about two cups of frozen broccoli.  Let them cook together  until the LoMein are done.

2.  Drain well.  Add Tamari to taste, along with the garlic powder.  Add two tablespoons of the peanut butter powder,  Mix well.

3.  Put on a serving dish, garnish with grated carrots.  Good to go.  Serves three.

Bonus Info...

-No added fat.

-The Peanut Butter Powder has 85% less fat than if you were to use peanut butter.

-Is creamy and delicious.

Even if your family scowls at being a low-fat vegan, this will tickle their palates.

It's a reasonably priced dish to make, is perfect for leftovers (if you have any).  You can also use any kind of vegetable...artichoke hearts are great.  But, I am in love with broccoli, so what can I say?

This also takes about five minutes to make, so even if you are rushed for time, there is no reason to call the Lucky Panda for steamed veggies.

Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Keeping Cool in the Summer

From Tuscany. 
And those Italians (my people) are so smart...
Clear bottle is for spring water.
Green bottle  is sparkling water (San Pellagrino)

It's easy to say that it has been awfully hot and humid here in Philadelphia.  And, in the back of my mind, all I can hear is my sainted mother saying, "Drink some water if you want to cool off."  I grew up in a generation where, if you wanted water, you got a glass, turned on the faucet, and drank some water.  Easy.  Done.

But today, you are easily assaulted at the grocery store with a plethora of beverages that are generally primary colored, artificially sweetened, or riddled with sugar.  What to drink is still the question.  And the answer still remains, water.  For some strange reason, though, I cannot drink it from the tap.  And even though I've purchased all sorts of filters and devices, I feel as though it is okay to indulge with bottled water. I know, I know, it isn't good for my carbon footprint, but I do recycle.  I buy clothing from the thrift shop.  And I make a lot of soup which tells you that I really recycle.  It balances out, right?

Two things that I love.  One is Italian natural spring water. Acqua Panna is my preferred favorite.  Chilled in a glass bottle, what could be better.  And not to worry, because I will fill an empty bottle with tap water, place it on ice, and use it as "back up" to the sacred Acqua Panna.

And the other thing I love, love, love? Sun tea.  I still have a stash of Paromi tea from my Whole Foods Market days, and will soon venture to loose teas (more cost effective).  I make 6-8 jars of sun tea per week.  Different flavors, so I am not bored with a half-gallon of one monotonous flavor.  And making it in jars makes it very portable.  I also think that my coolness factor goes up, because let's face it, how good does drinking tea from a recycled glass jar look?

This goes back to my Mother, who was always right.  Drink the water.  Simple as that, just drink the water.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Atsa Nice Pizza Pie...

Whole Wheat Salad Pizza
Garnished with Oil-free Sundried Tomatoes

When I was a little girl, my family and I lived atop my grandparents' Italian restaurant. It was called Luigi's...which was my grandfather's name. At the height of his career, he was about the age that I am now. He was an amazing chef, and most well-known for his pizza.

I'd like to think that when other four year olds were mingling in nursery school, my sandbox was Luigi's. I learned to set a banquet table when I was a pre-schooler's age. And, I used to love and watch Grandpa make his pizzas.

So much of who I am stems from those early years at Luigi's Restaurant...my love of food and people, and my ability to cook without cookbooks.  I invent things all the time, and never make the same thing the same way twice, ever.  Luigi's was my grandfather's restaurant.  And, we lived on the second floor.

Luigi's was my sandbox, so to speak.  When other pre-schoolers were hanging with Miss Francis from Ding-Dong School, I was using Luigi's as my play area.  It's where I learned to set a banquet table, run orders, fold napkins, and greet guests.  It's also where I loved to watch my Grandfather make pizza, lots of it, too!

As a low-fat vegan, you can never go wrong with pizza.  A few years ago on a trip to Rome, I was impressed with the thin and bubbly crust used in their pizza presentation.  As I read more about pizza, you can go to Naples and find that they make a "pie" as my Grandfather used to call them, and simply put a marinara sauce on top, then bake it.  When it comes out of the oven...you throw a salad on top...and presto, you have a nice "pizza pie."

In my plant-strong, low-fat vegan world here's what you can do to create a healthy pizza.  I make a whole wheat dough (I fiddle with it, so don't ask for a recipe), and somehow, it comes out nicely.  Sprinke a generous amount of your favorite low-fat tomato sauce...and cook it on a pizza stone.  I usually throw some corn meal on the bottom of the dough...adds authenticity to the crust.  You can also use Ezekiel tortillas, they make an awesome pizza base!

When the pizza comes out of the oven, I throw a big tossed salad on top, and without adding oil, enjoy a magnificient creation of delicious-ness.  You won't miss any cheese, meat, or anything, because this is just plain delicious, clean eating.

I do not use Daiya cheeses...they are laiden with oil.  I may as well drink a cup of oil instead of using the Daiya.  You don't need the "fake" cheese. 

Nothing fake here, only delicious pizza that makes me think of Luigi Montaruli, who was a real stand-up guy.