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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Holy Crêpe!

Shrove Tuesday, perhaps better known as Fate Tuesday (Mardi Gras) or Pancake Tuesday, is nearly upon us. Established as the final feast before the famine of Lenten austerity, pancakes once represented all things indulgent, blending sinfully rich sugary, fatty ingredients in one shameless dish.

Beyond the iconic short stack, fluffy and soft, a wide world of diverse pancakes exist. Be it blini, latkes, injera, dosa, jeon, or bánh xèo, there’s a whole lot to flip over on this day, and everyday of the year for that matter.

Delicate, gossamer thin French crêpes follow the same basic blueprint as their thicker American brethren, but most notably take shape with a higher ratio of liquid to flour while omitting chemical leaveners. Even at their most basic, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a touch sugar, they will never disappoint. Flavors and fillings are truly unlimited, showing up in savory formats just as often as sweet, making the ideal vehicles for seasonal vegetables, soft cheese spreads, fresh fruits, and fudge sauce alike.

It all starts with one basic batter. Flying in the face of conventional crêpe construction, no eggs, butter, nor any debauched ingredients are necessary for the most exquisite, soft sheets of pancake goodness to emerge from your skillet. These righteous treats should stay on your menu all year long.

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A Dying Art

After the garish plastic skeletons of Halloween are cleared away, something far more haunting, yet entirely joyous remains in their wake. Sugar skulls, glittering sweet crystals dried into the shape of a human head, shine in the dark of night to honor the dearly departed on Día de los Muertos.

When the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, deceased loved ones can return and spend the day with their families, drawn to the calavera made in their likeness. Decorated with colored icing, the most basic are technically ghoulish sugar cubes, super-sized for a couple gallons of coffee, but not exactly something you’d want to consume. Most artists incorporate inedible media like feathers, glitter, sequins, foil, and fabric, treating them more like sculpture than food, since there’s no such thing as too colorful nor too flamboyant to match the most vivacious personalities.

Traditionally, the “glue” that binds these sweet offerings together is either egg white or meringue powder, but for a simple veganization, this is another job for aquafaba. Just because you don’t eat it, doesn’t mean you can’t make it cruelty-free, too.

Contrary to the name itself, Día de Muertos is a truly celebration of life. Why not make it a sweet occasion with these sugary monuments, recalling the spirits of those no longer with us?

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The Straight Dough(p)

It was only a matter of time. After releasing a glorious vegan version of their infamous cookie dough ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s has now unveiled the next level of dough indulgence upon the world. Joining the previously limited run of “just the chunks,” vegans will soon see a variation with their names on it appearing in grocery stores and scoop shops nationwide.

This is the real deal; the straight dough(p). Cylindrical extrusions exactly like you would see rolling down factory conveyor belts, destined for an unceremonious ice cream burial. Now, they’ve been freed of that typical, undistinguished fate for a glorious full feature. No longer the sidekick but the true hero, every nuance of their buttery, brown sugar sweetness can be properly appreciated. Never before have I tasted anything so closely matched to the flavors of homemade dough without reaching right into the bowl of my stand mixer.

Suddenly, I’m three years old again, standing on a chair to see over the tiled kitchen counter while my mom prepares cookies. Stretching to reach the very edge of the beater, I surreptitiously swipe tiny morsels of soft batter, one after another, letting the flavors explode across my palate and slowly dissipate before going in for another bit. Each stolen taste was just enough to flood my senses with the slightly grainy texture of undissolved sugar and flour, subtly balanced salted edge, and deeply satisfying richness. Stealthy, I was not, but my mom charitably humored my advances, pretending to be engaged with very complicated oven calibration every now and then while I made my moves.

Like the flashbulb of an antique camera, the memory fades off into black, and just like that, the bag is empty, too.

Ben & Jerry’s, take another bow. This is a completely faultless edible masterpiece by any standards. If you’ve ever craved raw cookie dough, this is what you’ve wanted all along.

Stella! Hey, Stella!

You’d think that with age, one develops a greater sense of independence. At least I did, but at approximately 10 months old, Luka began refusing to sleep in his own bed. It’s not like he was ever alone; a mere step away and within clear eye-shot, there isn’t space in my tiny apartment to place him out of reach. Nonetheless, that short distance is suddenly intolerable, a terrifying void into which his cries for help echo endlessly, pitifully, desperately. No matter how happily he’s climbed into that plush pineapple earlier this evening, it’s a different story the moment the lights go out.

Despite growing up with a dog through most of my childhood, I never let Isis sleep with me in bed. The sweet little ball of fur was liable to wake up in the middle of the night and either tear through irreplaceable stuffed animals or leave her mark in all new places, if you get my drift. For the sake of my sanity though, I started to relent, to do anything to stop Luka’s ear-splitting howls. Though we’ve mostly gotten along as harmonious bedfellows, it’s still a considerable challenge for me to slumber soundly through the night, as a lifelong solo sleeper. It’s not uncommon to wake up around 2 AM to discover Luka burrowing deep into my armpit, licking my bare feet, or rubbing his balls across my neck. Oh, the glamorous life of dog motherhood.

If we can both clock at least 6 hours of solid shut-eye before sunlight spills out from between the curtains at daybreak, I think that at least one of us has earned a serious breakfast treat.

Make that a replica Stella D’Oro breakfast treat, to be exact. A relic of old school Italian baking rarely found on grocery store shelves these days, such basic biscuits hearken back to simpler times, when just a subtle sweetness and a light crunch would do the trick. It had been many years since these crisp morsels passed my mind, but in conversations about cravings, a friend insisted that these were the only thing that she missed from her pre-vegan days. Clearly, this was a critical omission in great annals of eggless baking.

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Yield: About 2 Dozen Cookies

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 Cups Bread Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Extract

Eggless Wash:

  • 1 Tablespoon Aquafaba
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or pieces of parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the bread flour, sugar, potato starch, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separately, combine the water, oil, and all three flavored extracts. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing thoroughly to combine, forming a thick dough. You may need to use your hands or a stand mixer to completely incorporate all the flour.
  3. Pinch off golf ball-sized pieces of dough. Roll each between lightly moistened hands, forming them into snakes approximately 4 – 5 inches long. Twist into “S” shapes and place on your baking sheets.
  4. Prepare the eggless wash by simply combining the aquafaba and maple syrup in a small dish. Brush evenly over the tops of the cookies just before baking.
  5. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 110Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 103mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 2g

Cake of a Different Color

Sneaking vegetables into desserts has long been a practice of conniving parents, trying to feed their children a daily dose of greens by any means necessary. “Cauliflower cake” sounds like yet another attempt at disguising the trendy brassica as a sweet treat, smothered in chocolate or coated in sprinkles, perhaps, but it’s actually a delight for the dinner table.

Inspired by a recipe from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi, what this mad genius calls a cake could really qualify as a highly vegetative frittata. Heavy on cheese and savory fresh herbs, such a universally appealing combination could make even the pickiest eaters open up and ask for seconds. My interpretation of the concept is a radical departure from the original, however, utilizing a green pea-based batter to replace the eggs, continuing the color scheme with green cauliflower, and punching up the flavor with a more spring-y punch of dill.

The tantalizing taste of this unconventional entree is matched only by its versatility. Need a make-ahead breakfast? Prepare it the day before and you can have it on the table first thing in the morning. Casual lunch, or fancy brunch for a crowd? Serve slices with a leafy green salad and plenty of mimosas on the side. Romantic dinner for two? Bake single servings in ramekins to really impress your date. Leftovers are just as satisfying if eaten cold- If you have any, that is.

Yield: 8 - 10 Servings

Green Cauliflower Cake

Green Cauliflower Cake

Akin to a highly vegetative frittata, this vegan version is heavy on cheesy and herbal flavors. Green pea-based batter replaces the eggs, continuing the color scheme with green cauliflower, and punching up the flavor with a more spring-y punch of dill.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Active Time 1 hour
Additional Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 2 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Pound Green Cauliflower, Finely Chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Dill, Chopped
  • 1 3/4 Cup Green Pea Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak or Plain Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 (7-Ounce) Package Follow Your Heart Garden Herb Cheese or Any Mozzarella-Style Vegan Block Cheese, Finely Diced
  • 2 1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth
  • 1 Tablespoon Wholegrain Mustard
  • Fresh Parsley, Minced (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet and set over medium heat. Add in the onion and sauté until softened and aromatic. Add the garlic and cauliflower next, cooking until very lightly browned. Turn off the heat and let the vegetables cool for about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the dill, green pea flour, baking powder, kala namak, and black pepper, stirring well to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. Toss in the cubes of cheese, ensuring that they’re thoroughly coated in the dry mixture to make sure that they stay suspended in the cake, rather than just sink to the bottom. Add in the cooked vegetables next, tossing in the same fashion. Whisk together the broth, mustard, and remaining olive oil before pouring the liquid mixture into the bowl, stirring well to incorporate.
  4. Transfer to your prepared springform pan, smoothing out the top and tapping it lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving; it’s best enjoyed warm or at room temperature, rather than hot.
  5. Slice and garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 128Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 492mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 5g