Wordless Wednesday: Gourd Have Mercy

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Chicago, IL 60611

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Spooky Season

I don’t want to scare you, but those voices in your head, the haunting whispers, are all true: Halloween is right around the corner. It’s downright terrifying to consider how quickly the year is flying by, but it would be far more nightmarish to miss out on Spooky Season, and all the devilish treats it brings.

Commercial candies can be pretty frightening though, between artificial colors, unpronounceable preservatives, and the hidden horrors in labor and production. The instant gratification of trick-or-treat freebies does still tempt, but I happen to have a few tricks up my sleeve, too.

Years ago, I released Wicked Treats, a mini ebook with a half-dozen of my favorite homemade candies, sure to delight the most discerning guys and ghouls. Long off the market, this monstrous collection had been locked away, mummified in my digital vault. The photo quality is perhaps suitably unsettling but the sweet spells are still capable of culinary magic.

Unchaining this Frankenstein once again, you can now download Wicked Treats completely free of charge. In addition to being vegan, these recipes are completely gluten-free, with options to make your candies soy-free, too.

What are you waiting for? The witching hour is almost upon us. Get a kettle on the fire and start brewing up something sweet!

Mangan Tayon! Let’s Eat!

Do you ever eat with your hands? I’m not talking about little snacks like popcorn or crackers. I’m talking about full meals, hearty stews with rice and noodles, scooped up by outstretched fingers reaching across the dinner table. It flies in the face of traditional western etiquette, flagrantly breaking unspoken rules against this literal power grab while in the presence of others. Yet, far from the supposed faux pas I’d been raised to view it as since birth, this is simply the expectation at any of the meals presented by Free for Real Kitchen. No forks, no spoons, no knives, no chopsticks. Hell, no napkins, unless you get into a truly desperate mess.

Crafting a family-style Filipino Ilocano feast featuring vegan versions of traditionally meat-heavy fare, it’s a feat of modern cookery that such bold flavors could even exist in plant-based form. Dinardaraan, also known as “chocolate meat,” would be made with offal and pig’s blood anywhere else, but comes to life here with tofu, preserved turnips, shiitake mushrooms, and fermented black beans instead. Agar-based salted eggs posing as Itlog na Maalat could make anyone do a double take, based on both the uncanny appearance and sulfuric salinity. Jackfruit makes an appearance of course, not as a meat alternative but paired with banana blossoms in the Adobong Langka at Puso ng Saging, a naturally vegan preparation that dazzled with the unassuming combination of tamari, garlic, vinegar, bay leaf, and coconut milk.

More beguiling than the food, however, is the experience of sharing such a feast in such a visceral way with your neighbors. Strangers awkwardly shift around at first, pawing timidly at whatever mysterious mound lays closest, afraid to fully engage. With a few bites comes greater confidence, whetting the appetite for more. Conversations grow louder and deeper, hands fly farther and faster, and the whole room moves and sways in a different kind of dinner dance before long. Dropping formalities to boldly share space allows in a world of new flavor, along with an experience unlike any other.

Kamayan, eating with your hands, fills your heart perhaps even more so than your stomach. No matter how stuffed you end up after heartily partaking in over a dozen delicacies and dessert, warm memories of this communal event still last much longer.