Hanami at Home

Nothing on earth compares to cherry blossom season in Japan. Falling like snow, the sky is filled with a flurry of petals, drifting gently to coat the ground like a blanket. Perfuming the air with their delicate, unmistakable aroma, this floral profusion touches all the senses. Anyone lucky enough to experience the full bloom even once will never forget that stunning, singular beauty; I know I won’t. It’s hard to imagine enjoying that natural phenomenon every year, like clockwork, come spring.

Old memories come flooding back at the mere mention of hanami, haunting my dreams, spilling over into my waking fantasies. In the blink of an eye, I’m 14 again, roaming the streets of Tokyo, watching as sakura trees sway in the wind, shaking loose torrents of white and pink flowers. They paint the city in pastel sheets, soft and feathery. Ladies carry parasols to shield themselves not from the sun, but from the barrage of ambient pollen.

With travel still strongly discouraged, the Land of the Rising Sun has never felt so far away. One day, I’ll return. One day… But that day is not today. Instead, I’m living inside these powerful flashbacks, creating my own hanami at home. There are no cherry blossom trees in Texas that I can find, so I’m looking elsewhere for inspiration. Naturally, the search begins, and ends, in the kitchen.

To be perfectly honest, this dish began as a wild attempt to use up extra pretzels in the pantry, and nothing more. Pretzel pasta is a pretty unorthodox concept to begin with, so it could have easily ended there. As I began rolling out the dough, however, those pangs of nostalgia gripped me out of the blue, guiding me to the sakura-shaped vegetable cutters. No mere pile of salted noodles, these dainty pink macaroni really did blossom in the bowl.

For anyone less affected by sakura fever, feel free to skip right over the coloring and shape the dough any which way you please. The darkly alkaline flavor of the pretzels is irresistible when paired with a mustard or cheese sauce, as one might enjoy with the original snacks.

This year, I’ll stick with live streams of various parks and stations around Japan, broadcasting the blossoms 24/7, while enjoying this unconventional edible tribute at home.

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Hungry for Higher Education

Life has undergone some drastic changes for most of us in the past year. Facing pressure on all sides from rising expenses and a plummeting employment rate, the job market feels especially volatile, especially if you’re the sort of person who wants to do what they’re genuinely passionate about. The good news is that jobs in the food industry are more important than ever, and with so many people changing careers now, this is a great time to invest in further education.

Is that even possible to get a degree as an avowed vegan, you may ask? Plant-based diets are far from a passing trend, and mainstream institutions are finally waking up to the signs, revamping decades-old programs to accommodate. Brand new schools are cropping up at the same time to offer a fresh perspective on the field, too. Whereas in the past, you might have been forced to sacrificed ethics until graduation day, there are now 100% vegan culinary institutions and programs that uphold those high standards.

Compiled and provided by Culinaryschools.org, the list of options continues to grow:

Living Light Culinary Institute

Living Light is an internationally known raw organic vegan chef cooking school. Located in Fort Bragg, California, it was founded in 1997 by master chef Cherie Soria who is considered the mother of gourmet raw food cuisine. Living Light offers workshops and comprehensive chef and instructor training designed for both the serious chef and the ordinary individual interested in healthier meal choices. Their certifications include Gourmet Chef, Associate Chef. and Raw Culinary Arts Professional. Workshops in knife skills, recipes and nutrition facilitate the training. Internet classes are available using videos and online instruction.

Vegan Culinary Academy

Located in beautiful Napa Valley, California, Vegan Culinary Academy was founded in 2007 by Certified Executive Chef Sharon Christensen. Though they do not offer a certification program, all chef instructors are credentialed and certified in the state of California. Their classes are customized and personalized to include plant-based diet instruction, food sculpting, and food business management. They guide students through intensives and traineeship programs.

The School of Natural Cookery

The School of Natural Cookery has a unique curriculum where students learn to cook without using recipes. Their non-traditional professional culinary program caters to the intuitiveness of the individual chef/artist. Joanne Saltzman, who founded “The Language of Cooking” bases the school’s cuisine on original foods to include grains, beans and vegetables. The School of Natural Cookery first opened its professional curriculum in 1991 and it has flourished since. Located in Boulder, Colorado, this school offers both a diploma and certificate program as well as teacher training.

Vegetarian Society Cookery School

Part of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, Vegetarian Society Cookery School is a prestigious venue for vegetarian and whole food cooking education. Founded in 1982 by Sarah Brown & formerly known as the Cordon Vert School, its diploma is well-received around the world. The highly regarded and intensive diploma program is only open to professional chefs but their courses are available to anyone who wants to excel in whole food cuisine. The school is headquartered in Cheshire, England in an old Victorian mansion. Chefs can find a helpful eLearning section online to learn the basics of vegetarian cooking and catering and to assess their own knowledge of the art.

Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts

Located in Manhattan, New York, the Natural Gourmet Institute enjoys first class facilities. Founded by Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D. in 1977, the school emphasizes the relationship of food to its effects on health. Their hands-on approach to the natural diet and cooking techniques provides the student with an overall knowledge of both theoretical and practical information. The Chef’s Training Program includes an intensive internship often leading to employment offers.

The Natural Epicurean

The Natural Epicurean bases its philosophy on macrobiotics, which they describe as a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle choice. The academy was founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Ann Foster and is located in Austin, Texas. They offer an intense 800 hour training course and include cooking for healing, cutting techniques and home remedies. Natural whole foods cooking is combined with eclectic course offerings. Internships are available.

Natural Kitchen Cooking School

The Natural Kitchen believes in making the world a happier and healthier place one kitchen at a time. Based in New Jersey, the school was founded in 2005 by Christine Waltermyer who continues to have a large television presence as a natural and raw foods chef. The Natural Chef Training Program offers hands-on innovative cooking techniques. They often have guest chefs and include food history, food politics and personal healing in the curriculum.

Are you thinking about going back to school? Whether you’re vegan for ethical, environmental, or health reasons, you have a wealth of options to make your dreams of a culinary career come true!

 

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Culinaryschools.org. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Whiskey Business

The Irish weren’t the first to turn malted barley into whiskey over 3,000 years ago, but they certainly propelled the distilled mash into the art form we know today. Baileys in particular is eponymous with the cream-spiked brew, ranking as one of the most recognizable, top-selling liqueurs worldwide. The brand itself has been around for less than 50 years, but you’d be hard pressed to find any bar without an open bottle handy.

That kind of success goes well beyond the “luck of the Irish.” Adapting deftly to the rise of dairy-free drinkers, Baileys Almande continues to make waves among the imbibers in the know. A subtly nutty almond milk base complements the notes of sweet vanilla, with a bracing whisky bite. You don’t need to be well-versed in mixology to appreciate that kind of indulgent blend.

Baileys isn’t the only option for luscious liqueur, though. Making your own at home is both effortless and economical. Taking a page from the original spirited tipple, my DIY approach incorporates a touch of cocoa and coffee for a gentle mocha kiss. Flawlessly smooth and creamy, a straight shot envelopes the palate like liquefied ice cream, with an extra kick.

Serve it thoroughly chilled, on the rocks, for an instant after dinner treat, or use it as the catalyst for bolder culinary experiments. From brownies to cheesecakes, French toast to hot chocolate, it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient in its own right.

Forget beer and seltzer; this is the real gateway drug to adult beverages.

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Calculating the Perfect Pie

Be it custard or fruit, mousse or chiffon, a pie is only as good as its crust. Drawing as much passion as it does ire, the art of crafting the perfect pastry is a contentious subject among bakers and eaters alike. Everyone has an opinion about this essential dessert foundation, ranging from the most minimalist approaches inspired by the sage advice of grandmothers the world over, to high-end culinary graduate specifications that require a firm grasp of the scientific intricacies of baking to appreciate. There’s more than one way to go about the circumference of the dough, but there is one important rule that must be obeyed: Never let the hype go to your head.

When you find a solid formula, stick with it. There will always be new suggestions to explore, such as the substitution of vodka instead of water, or coconut oil as the primary fat, but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Since Pi Day, March 14th (3.14) is right around the corner, now has never been a better time to strengthen your pie making prowess. That all begins with the crust.

What follows is the crust that’s seen me through the stickiest of fillings, the most temperamental of ovens, and the hottest of summers. This “Old Reliable” is a baker’s best friend, capable of standing and delivering anything loaded into it. The ingredients are nothing noteworthy; it’s all a matter of how they’re combined for the magic to happen. Keep everything, including bowls and utensils, as cold as possible so as not to melt the fat. Though a point of contention, I do adhere firmly to the belief that an all-“butter” crust is best. You may lose a little bit of flakiness, but the added flavor and crisp texture is worth that small sacrifice. For a lighter texture, feel free to sub out half of the butter for pure vegetable shortening, and proceed as written otherwise. Do not be tempted to play around with coconut oil or any liquid oils in this one, as the structure simply isn’t built for that kind of tinkering.

Even when I’m planning to make a single-crusted pie, I always use the double-crust proportions, to make the most of my time. The extra disk of dough can be frozen for up to 6 months with no harm, as long as it’s thawed gradually in the fridge before use. That way, you’re always prepared to whip up a pie at a moment’s notice.

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Wordless Wednesday: Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Vegetable Nigiri; Hi Fi Mycology Mushroom, Aderezo, Lemon Zest. Zucchini Ahimi, Shiso, Rebel Cheese, Aderezo. Spaghetti Squash, Salsa Macha, Rebel Cheese, Scallion.

Veggiepillar Maki; Fried Miso Eggplant, Sesame, Pickled Cucumber & Carrot, Topped with Avocado and Serrano, Yuzu Miso Sauce, Sesame.

Fuyu Crudo; Rainbow Cauliflower, Beet Aguachile, Avocado, Roasted Beet, Salsa Macha, Sesame.

Spinach & Tofu Dumplings; Cashew Cheese, Candied Cashew, Cilantro, Red Curry Oil.

Lucky Robot
1303 S Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704