BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Viva Vida Vegan!


Photo by Liz Crowe

Talk about a whirlwind trip. With so much good food, inspiring information, and of course, lovely people, all crammed into the space of a long weekend, it was stimulation overload for an introvert like myself. It may take me twice as long to fully recover, easing back into the normal routine, but that disruption was more than worth making time for, to say the least.

Until I can gather my thoughts on Portland at large and the amazing eateries I managed to visit, I wanted to share some details from my workshop on food styling. Thank you so much to everyone who made it into the room! I’m sad to have suggested a cap on attendance, having heard so many people were turned away, but that’s one mistake I won’t make again. In case you missed out or managed to sneak in but couldn’t get a handout, here’s the list of the tools that go into my kit. Print at will and use it well!

It was a bit crazed, compressing so much information into just 45 minutes, although I did go over a bit (Sorry, Isa!) which is why I’m very grateful that Liz managed to get a nice shot of my fully styled Pad Thai. To recap, a few of the tips that went into converting that mountain of noodles from sad leftovers into the above blog-worthy plate are as follows…

  • Put dots of sauce on the plate (or pour a bit into a small, separate dipping bowl for a less fancy presentation) if you’d like it to really stand out from the dish. Apply this with an eyedropper for better control.
  • Deconstruct your dish and pick out the key elements. I really homed in on the baked tofu cubes here, since that seemed like the most interesting ingredient in the mixture. As you build the plate, strategically weave them back in so that they’re front and center, without looking as if you specifically placed them there.
  • Dab soy sauce onto foods with a paintbrush (never used on paint) for a darker golden-brown hue.
  • Toss noodles with oil so that they glisten and pick up eye-catching highlights.
  • Add color- Reach for bold, contrasting colors to brighten up a drab dish. Fresh herbs and vegetables are always a good route to go down. (I used scallions, purple cabbage, and microgreens in this case.) Make sure it makes sense, too! Don’t just add ingredients for the sake of design, if they have discordant flavors with your dish.
  • To make a citrus zest spiral, pare away a long, thin strip of zest from any citrus and trim the sides so that they’re even. Wrap the strip around a plastic straw in a spiral, securing the top and bottom each with a straight pin. Let it sit in the freezer for at least 15 minutes and then use it quickly! It will uncoil as it thaws. Since I didn’t have a freezer handy here, I simply went with a little lime twist on the side. For that, cut a thin round out of the widest part of the lime (or any citrus) and then cut a slit at the bottom, between two segments, stopping at the center. Twist the cut edges in opposite directions and set it on the plate.
  • Remember, food styling is about controlled chaos. When adding cashew halves on top, I let them fall where they may to keep it looking realistic. Make a plate look too perfect and it won’t have the same appetite appeal.
  • Add the most perishable ingredients last. That meant the microgreens here, which I did add one by one for equal distribution.
  • On that note, be patient! Build each plate carefully and deliberately.

Thank you to everyone who saw it happen in person! I couldn’t have hoped for a more gracious, engaged audience. It was your feedback that has encouraged me to seek out future demo opportunities in the future, so you certainly haven’t seen the last of me yet.


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Back to Reality, and Tomato Soup

After a long weekend at Vida Vegan, with nothing but the best catering options and free-flowing coconut milk beverage all day long, supportive and smiling faces everywhere you look, and let’s not forget the communal nooch bowl, the transition back into the real world would have been challenging in the best of circumstances. That was a given for everyone who participated in this shared dream of a blogger meetup. What I wasn’t prepared for was the rough landing back at home, and I don’t mean on the airplane. Pitch black, shockingly frigid for a late August day, a vacant house with no electricity sat waiting where I remember leaving my welcoming, loving home. A shell of what it should have been, fallen trees had cut the mainline; the patient had long bled out and died on the spot. We could only pick up the pieces now.

All the reports indicated that Irene was largely over-hyped, there was little serious damage, and so why should I have expected anything else? No one was hurt, no windows broken, and only minor flooding to be found, but the real devastation remained silently waiting in the kitchen- more precisely, the fridge.

Working up my courage, and with one deep breath, I yanked open the fridge door as fast as possible, like tearing off a stubbornly adhered bandage. Puddles of water accumulated on the floor in seconds, and immediately a rancid odor polluted the air. Spoiled. Rotted. Beyond saving. Anything perishable, had clearly passed on long ago.

Notable exceptions were found, after sifting through the wreckage. Glorious heirloom tomatoes stuffed hastily in the fruit bin remained blemish-free, and a few heartier veg also miraculously survived. With a few solid pantry staples and a trusty gas stove, my mission was clear: electricity or no, there was soup to be made.

Generous spices amped up this ordinary offering, lending a warmth that higher temperatures couldn’t deliver alone. Ordinary, unremarkable, but so incredibly comforting when the very ground itself seems to be shifting underfoot. Moroccan seasonings were the inspiration, but only in a very loose interpretation did they emerge in the final dish. Measurements for those spices are approximate, so taste frequently as the soup bubbles along.

Such a small effort served us all well; I had a big bowlful right then and there, and later on in the day, my mom dished it up as a sauce over pasta.

Thankfully, the power did finally go on yesterday afternoon, and normalcy is slowly returning to the everyday routine. I’m still mourning the loss of no less than eight homemade ice creams, but if that’s the worst of it, I’d say we got off pretty easy on this natural disaster.

Spicy Tomato and Chickpea Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Stalk Celery, Finely Diced
3 Large Tomatoes, About 3 Cups Diced
1 1/2 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock
1 2.8-Ounce Tube Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce or Tamari
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas, Drained
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crumbled
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Basil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Standard soup procedure here: Heat the oil in a medium-sized stock pot, and add in the onions and garlic first. Saute for about 5 minutes, until softened and translucent, and add in the chopped celery and tomatoes. Cook for 5 more minutes before adding in the water or stock. Stir in the tomato paste, soy sauce, chickpeas, and all of the spices and herbs until thoroughly combined. Allow the mixture to simmer away, melding the flavors and concentrating the tomato-y goodness, for 45 – 60 minutes. It’s perfectly edible once merely heated through, but given enough time to mature, the flavor improves noticeably. Finish with enough salt and pepper to satisfy your own personal preference.

Serves 2 – 4

Printable Recipe

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