Raise a Toast

No one bats an eye at $4 toast anymore. Once the greatest offense to pragmatic diners, such an expense seems downright affordable, especially in a city where you’d easily pay twice as much just for street parking three blocks away. Fancy toast has become the new normal, not an affront to sensibility, but a dish to celebrate for its simplicity. Proper toast celebrates each ingredient, starting with the best and brings out its full character. Thick sliced bread, crisped to a burnished golden brown all over, piled high with impeccably fresh fruits or vegetables, flavors are layered and carefully built, often with even more care than the standard American breakfast plate.

Toast toppings are as diverse as the people making them, which is both good and bad news for the avid eater. Order something as unassuming as toast, such a ubiquitous offering, and for all the sweet and savory surprises that could arrive at your table, you’d never get bored. So many choices could just as easily overwhelm, however, paralyzing the indecisive at their most vulnerable, food-deprived moment- At least that’s the case for me. Worse is when I’m making toast at home, given the full range of ingredients tucked away in the pantry and fridge, with no energy to figure out the best combinations.

For anyone else who feels that same struggle, let’s simplify the already uncomplicated concept. Focusing on a nut butter base to narrow the scope and make this more managable, I’ve come up with scores of effortless pairings based on what lurks in my pantry most of the time. Needless to say, this is just the beginning of an endless tale. One could, and many already have, written cookbooks on the subject, so I present to you here just the tried-and-true favorites, the best of the best, that keep my bread crisp and my stomach content.

  • The Elvis: Peanut butter with banana slices and coconut bacon.
  • Birthday Cake: Cashew butter mixed with a drop of vanilla extract, topped with turbinado sugar and sprinkles.
  • Cookie Dough: Cashew butter mixed with a tiny bit of oat flour, a drop of vanilla extract, topped with chocolate chips and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Super Seed: Sunflower seed butter topped with toasted pepitas, hulled hemp seeds, chia seeds, and a very light drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Coarse sea salt optional.
  • Chocolate-Covered Cherries: Almond butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with pitted fresh cherries or cherry preserves, drizzled with chocolate syrup.
  • Nutella: Hazelnut butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with toasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Tropical Breeze: Macadamia nut butter topped with thinly sliced pineapple, a light sprinkle of ground ginger, and toasted coconut flakes.
  • Thai Almond: Almond butter topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, a drizzle of sriracha and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Banana Pudding: Cashew butter with half a banana mashed into it, topped with the remaining banana, sliced, and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • Massaman Curry: Peanut butter with madras curry powder mixed in, topped with roasted sweet potato and toasted peanuts.
  • The Cereal Bowl: Almond butter topped with granola and a drizzle of vanilla yogurt.
  • Pecan Pie: Pecan butter topped with toasted pecans, a light sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Salted Caramel: Cashew butter mixed with dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt, topped with turbinado sugar and coarse sea salt.
  • Mocha Latte: Almond butter with instant coffee powder and cocoa mixed in, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • Ants Off a Log: Peanut butter topped with thinly sliced celery and raisins.
  • Sonoma Harvest: Hazelnut butter topped with sliced grapes, arugula, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, and toasted sliced almonds.
  • Apple Pie: Cashew butter topped with brown sugar, thinly sliced sweet apples, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Cheesecake: Cashew butter swirled with vegan cream cheese, topped with sliced strawberries and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • The Pregnant Lady: Peanut butter topped with sliced bread and butter pickles, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • S’mores: Cashew butter topped with chocolate chips, crushed graham cracker crumbs, and toasted vegan marshmallows.

Some are obvious, some are a bit more avant-garde, but all are thoroughly delicious. What are your favorite ways to raise a toast?

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Healthy Morning Habits

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always,the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

When no two days are the same, a consistent, reliable morning routine keeps chaos at bay, no matter what insanity lurks ahead. Will it be 10 hours straight, on my feet in front of the stove? Is there a cache of a thousand photos to sort through and edit? Does a photo shoot on location call for a mad dash all around town for that perfect background? One of the great joys and pains of freelance life is the predictably unpredictable workflow.

Essential for a complete approach to well-being, the few constants in my own rituals appear unrelated at a glance, but all add up to a full spectrum of self-care practices crucial for success in any endeavor. Many years of trial and error have shaped my personal approach, and this everyday habit has been made possible by iHerb. Their encouragement to share a few of my favorite things was a true windfall, since it’s the only online shop that carries everything I need to make it happen, with over 30,000 products that can be shipped to over 160 countries, and representatives that offer support in 10 languages.

Everyday, be it a weekend, weekday, or holiday, starts at 6AM sharp with the wail of my alarm clock. The thing is, I never set a timer; it’s the insistent yipping from Luka that shakes me from the deepest of slumbers. We both bolt out of bed and head straight outside for a brief jaunt around the block, still bleary-eyed and clad in pajamas. A man on a mission, he heads back inside without delay, anticipating breakfast with a beastly appetite. Only after he’s fed and satisfied can I address other matters.

Skin care is incredibly important, but also very uncomplicated for me. It just takes a vigorous scour with Acure Organics Facial Scrub and a schmear of Shikai Hand & Body Lotion to wash away the nightly grime and instantly rehydrate. A tall glass of cool tap water is soon to follow or else I’ll start croaking like a frog before noon.

One of the biggest dilemmas I faced when first going vegan was sorting through all the supplements and misinformation that came with them, painstakingly sorting through the options to determine what was important to add, what genuinely worked, and what was affordable. Nature’s Way Multivitamin checks all of those boxes, handily beating the competition with a single daily dose that includes everything I might lack from food sources, like B12, iron, and vitamin D. One tablet down and I’m ready for breakfast.

Coffee comes first, but it isn’t my end-all, be-all hot beverage anymore. Caffeine is no longer the benign energizer it used to be in my youth, preventing me from indulging beyond a single cup if I want to keep the walls from vibrating all day. Teeccino, an herbal alternative made from chicory, fills the remaining gaps, creating a brew that’s richer and more satisfying than the typical tea bag. The Dandelion Caramel Nut is my current jam, and I further sweeten the deal with a drop of KAL Pure Stevia Extract, since I’m liable to eat my weight in sugar through recipe testing later in the day.

Oatmeal has been the single, solitary breakfast option on my menu through most of my 20’s, but slowly, that commitment has started to sway. Especially as the weather warms, I find myself craving cooler staples, switching to a high-protein bowl of yogurt or tofu cottage cheese, Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed + Flax Granola, and fresh fruit. More important than the actual food itself though, is the act of eating it with Luka at my side or in my lap, slowly mulling over emails, readying myself for a new day. In fact, my mom captured a candid shot of exactly this ritual while I visited for all of two days.

Once Luka realizes I’m done eating and haven’t yet started doting on him again, he can get a bit punchy- literally. To fend off his loving attacks, I’ll throw him a Dr. Harvey’s Sweet Potate’r Chew which will keep him happily occupied for a good long while. They’re just dried sweet potatoes, nothing added, nothing removed (except water), and they really do hold up impressively well through some very aggressive teething. The pieces can be a bit big for my guy so I tend to cut them in half with kitchen shears, getting twice as much value from the same package.

Inevitably, I fall down some information rabbit hole, catching up on social media or fake news, giving myself a dangerously narrow window of time to get out the door before missing my regular BART train out to the city. With little time for regular meals and no set schedule to count on, I truly am powered by snacks; I’ll quickly toss a Sunwarrior Sol Protein Bar into my bag, knowing that I’ll need it later. All three flavors are fantastic, the single servings travel well, and always keep hunger at bay during critical times, so it’s one of my top picks. Aside from the manufacturer’s website, iHerb is the only place I can reliably purchase them, which always keeps me coming back for more.

Stepping outside of my orderly, comforting morning routine, I have no idea what sort of craziness may await me, but at least I’ll know that I’m fully fueled and equipped to tackle it, head-on.

How do you typically start your morning? If you’d like iHerb to give you a little boost, new customers will automatically get 5% off their first order, plus an additional $5 off of $40 or more by clicking here!

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Spring Things

Cherry blossoms. Butterflies. Misted, dewy mornings. Song bird serenades.

These are the things that spring is made of.

Fava beans. Asparagus. Rhubarb. Soft green herbs. Morel mushrooms.

These are the things that spring tastes like.

The promise of these things are what make winter worth enduring, no matter how brutal or seemingly interminable those frigid, forbidding days of darkness become. Slowly but surely, that veil of frost will be lifted to reveal to reveal tender green shoots emerging from quickly thawing earth, revitalized after such fitful slumber.

At long last, all signs point to spring here on the west coast, although that’s not quite the case nationwide. It’s hard to imagine blizzard conditions elsewhere while strapping on sandals to greet the day.

Should these early days of April fall short of expectations, don’t despair. One particular taste of spring is still easily accessible even if your local farmers market remains barren. Fresh peas are an exquisite treat, verdant and shockingly sweet straight out of the pod, but frozen are no terrible sacrifice in a pinch. Roughly mashed into a chunky spread with bright mint and lemon accents, the simple combination is enough to make any residual memories of winter melt away, even if the snow refuses to follow suit.

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is actually a limited-edition menu item on offer at Nourish Cafe right now. In case you can’t hustle in before the season comes to a close, it’s an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Spring Pea Toast

Minted Pea Pistou:

1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, Lightly Packed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Lightly Packed
3 Tablespoons Garlic Oil
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Pound (3 Cups) Fresh, Blanched or Frozen, Thawed Green Peas
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

For Assembly:

4 Thick Slices Toast
1 Cup Vegan Ricotta
1/2 Cup Fresh Peas
Pea Shoots or Sprouts (Optional)
Edible Flowers (Optional)

Place the mint, spinach, garlic oil, and lemon juice in your food processor and blend until the leaves are all broken down and the mixture is fairly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed to make sure everything gets incorporated. Add in the peas, salt, and pepper, and pulse until spreadable but still slightly coarse.

The pea pistou can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

To assemble the toast, layer on a thick schmear of vegan ricotta on each slice of bread, followed by the pea pistou and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots, and edible flowers if desired. Savor a taste of spring, no matter the weather outside!

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

Last-Minute Love Notes

It’s never too late to say I love you, especially when you can whip up an edible valentine that will make anyone swoon. That’s the beauty of Real Food, Really Fast. Designed to solve everyday mealtime dilemmas, it’s also a treasure trove of almost instant recipes, capable of creating last-minute romantic meals for two. If your love knows no bounds, there are plenty of sweet treats suitable for sharing with all of your crushes, too. For something truly special though, my thoughts drift to a surprise breakfast in bed.

Even without any advanced planning, you can rise to the occasion with a wake-up call sure to exceed your beau’s wildest dreams.

Photo by Robin Means of Vegan Dollhouse

As written in the book, the Hash Brown Waffles are already pretty special; combining the irresistibly crispy form of a waffle with the savory comfort of shredded potatoes, the quick cooking time was just a side benefit to this unconventional approach. Robin Means of Vegan Dollhouse turned this delicious flirtation into a burning hot passion by making hers in a heart shaped waffle iron, which struck me as an ideal presentation for today. She even went through the extra effort of grating fresh potatoes, boldly adding an extra minute of prep work- Now that’s true love, folks. Check her blog for that easy adaptation, or for all you procrastinators still figuring out your game plan, continue on for the original quick-fix formula.

Hash Brown Waffles

From Real Food, Really Fast by Hannah Kaminsky

Little more than piles of shredded potatoes, what separates superlative hash browns from the merely adequate hash browns all comes down to texture. Shatteringly crisp on the outside yet tender, even borderline creamy on the inside, it’s a fine balance that’s difficult to strike. Using a waffle iron instead of a standard frying pan maximizes the surface contact for a far more satisfying crunchy crust, while the enclosure allows the spuds to essentially steam from within, ensuring perfectly tender bites through and through.

1 Pound Frozen Shredded Potatoes*, Thawed
1 1/2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Before doing anything else, begin preheating your waffle iron. All models work differently so yours may take more or less time to reach a suitable temperature.
Squeeze any excess water out of the shredded potatoes if necessary before tossing them into a large bowl. Mix in the melted vegan butter or oil, salt, and pepper, stirring thoroughly to incorporate. Make sure that the shreds are all evenly coated before proceeding.

Lightly grease the waffle maker. Distribute the potato mixture equally between four waffle squares, covering the surface as evenly as possible while packing it in firmly. Close the lid and make sure that it locks to ensure full contact with the hash browns. Cook on medium-high for 5 – 8 minutes, until golden brown all over. Serve right away, while still hot and crisp!

Makes 4 Waffles

*You can also find ready-to-cook shredded potatoes in the refrigerated sections of some grocery stores, alongside prepared and packaged side dishes

Printable Recipe

Ask the Magic Eight Ball

Did you have one of these all-knowing oracles when you were a kid? An insightful and sage advisor with a clear vision of the future, the magic eight ball was indispensable for an indecisive child like myself. Such helpful words of wisdom it dispensed on command! So many problems solved in an instant!

Okay, in truth, my magic eight ball was not the greatest resource in trying times. Maybe it was still in training as a psychic, or had some commitment issues, but I could never seem to get a straight answer out of that thing. Even if I asked it something simple, like, “should I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?” it would respond with something dismissive. “ask again later,” or “cannot predict now” were the top two results, no matter how lovingly or aggressively that silly plastic ball was shaken. I doubt it even had a single word of positive reinforcement to offer from its narrow rolodex of comments.

Many years later, I’ve come to find that I was seeking inspiration from the wrong eight ball entirely. Eight ball zucchini, while lacking in fortune telling skills, are unmatched in their culinary consolation. No matter how many zucchini have infiltrated your kitchen at this late stage of the summer harvest, these compact spheres can instantly renew your enthusiasm for the green squash.

Begging to be stuffed with delights both sweet and savory, there’s no limit to their potential, unlike the answers offered by an old-school magic eight ball.

Imagine, if you would, the ultimate breakfast and brunch entree. An eggless custard that falls somewhere between a soft scramble and a tender omelette, bursting with fresh vegetables and simple, comforting savory flavors. The essence of summer resounds in every bite. Who could stay hung up on murky future fates when you’ve got one of these lucky little orbs on your plate? Ask of them only questions of utmost importance, like when will the meal be served, and I promise you’ll never walk away disappointed.

Eggless Omelette Eight Ball Zucchini

4 – 5 Medium-Sized Eight Ball Zucchini
1/2 Cup Garbanzo Bean Flour
2 Tablespoons Fresh Dill or Basil, Minced
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)
1/8 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/3 Cup Chopped Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Diced Red Onion
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and set out a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the stems off the zucchinis about 1/2 an inch from the top and set aside. Using a pointed teaspoon, grapefruit spoon, or melon baller, hollow out the insides of the squash, leaving about a 1/4-inch thick wall on the sides and bottom. Roughly chop the innards and set aside. Brush lightly with olive oil, inside and out, and place the squash shells on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until fork-tender but still firm.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by whisking together the garbanzo bean flour, fresh herbs, arrowroot, garlic powder, black salt, pepper, and turmeric. Make sure that all the dry ingredients are well combined before adding in the leftover zucchini pieces, sun-dried tomatoes, and onion, tossing to coat. Pour the vegetable stock, oil, and vinegar in all at once, and whisk until smooth (aside from the vegetable additions, of course.)

After par-baking, fill the zucchini up to the top with the eggless omelette mixture. Place the zucchini tops on the baking sheet next to them, lightly brush with oil, and return the whole thing to the oven.

Bake until the filling is softly set; about 30 – 35 minutes. Serve right away while piping hot, or let cool to enjoy at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 5 Stuffed Eight Ball Zucchinis; 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe

Simmer Down Now

Sweet dreams beget savory cravings. Balancing out long days of baking that spill over into visions of sweets well into my waking hours, the first thing on my mind in the morning is anything but another sugary meal. Spice, zest, acidity; anything to wake up my taste buds without another saccharine treat. Syrup-drenched pancakes still beckon, as does that comforting crunch of frosted cold cereal flakes, but an innate yearning for bolder seasoning pushes me further into the pantry for alternative options.

Bleary-eyed and barely conscious, finding any shortcut for satisfying that gnawing hunger is a merciful windfall. I’m certainly not above lazily throwing a slice of bread under the broiler and calling it a day, but when it takes only a few minutes longer to whip up a truly satisfying, savory meal, why not make something a bit more special? Perusing the usual pantry options after one particularly brutal wake up call, finding a packet of taco simmer sauce was like uncovering the holy grail right in your own backyard.

Recently released by Simply Organic, their ingenious Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce promises warm notes of chili peppers, tangy tomato, rich cumin, and savory oregano, and it doesn’t disappoint. Claiming that it’s best with beef and positioned merely as a taco night aid struck me as rather shortsighted, though. Maybe it was the sleep-deprived delirium that inspired my unconventional #OrganicMoments, but all I could think about was a fresh, spicy take on French Toast.

Thickly sliced country bread takes a dip in a rich bath of coconut milk, infused with this delicately nuanced blend, coming together almost instantly. A crisp sear on the outside locks in a rich, savory custard interior, a perfectly proportional contrast to delight the taste buds. No sugar need apply for this bold new breakfast option. Best of all, such a unique palate of flavors means that it needn’t be confined to the AM hours; ideal for brunch or dinner as well, the concept easily transcends traditional mealtime boundaries.

Toppings are hardly necessary when you start with such a brilliant base, but it’s impossible to resist a few generous slices of luscious avocado, at the very least. Pepitas add a hearty crunch, and the brightness of simple pico de gallo perfects the meal for me, but the sky is truly the limit. Dream up your own #OrganicMoments with a wide range of savory finishes, such as vegan cheese or sour cream, sliced tomatoes, grilled corn, shredded cabbage, or black beans. On the other hand, simply going au naturel and digging right in wouldn’t disappoint.

This post was made possible thanks to sponsorship by Simply Organic.

Savory Tex-Mex French Toast

3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Packet Simply Organic Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
4 – 6 (1-Inch Thick) Slices Hearty Country Bread

To Serve:

Sliced Avocado
Pico de Gallo
Toasted Pepitas

In a large, shallow dish, whisk together the coconut milk, simmer sauce, arrowroot, and nutritional yeast. Once smooth, dip the first two slices of bread into the mixture, allowing the pieces to soak for about a minute before flipping them over to the opposite side. You want to saturate the slices without having them disintegrate into the liquid.

Meanwhile, begin heating a large skillet over medium heat. Use nonstick or lightly grease any other material. Once hot, gently place the saturated bread onto the sizzling surface, and let cook, undisturbed, for 3 – 4 minutes. Peek to check on the underside; if it’s nicely golden-brown, go ahead and give it a flip. Cook for another 3 – 4 minutes on the opposite side.

Transfer to a serving plate and top with as many of the suggested garnishes as desired. Repeat with the remaining bread, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe