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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Don’t Mess with Texas Chili

After 31 years on this earth, I have come to find that all my life, my entire idea of what chili should be is entirely wrong. Not flawed, not slightly askew, like a garbled translation leaning too heavily on artificial intelligence, but terminally, entirely wrong.

True Texans would laugh my chili straight out of the saloon. Defined primarily by what it omits, Texas-style chili would NEVER employ beans of any sort, NO vegetables (what is this, a salad?!) which excludes tomatoes as well. Not even a dab of tomato paste would make the cut.

Rather, this is a celebration of meat. Seasoned with the entire contents of a reasonably stocked spice rack, chilies in many forms are what tint this stew a fiery red. The ferocious, flavorful burn is not for the meek.

I’m not about to mess with Texas, but in this modern era, “meat” is no longer synonymous with beef. That’s why I’m thrilled to dive right into this time-honored tradition with a plant-based version that’s every bit as hearty, bold, and amazingly hot.

No cowboy in their right mind would ever turn down such a feast. Keeping things simple allows for greater flexibility in garnishes, whether you want to dress it up or down, or eat it plain. Pick and mix to your own tastes, but some of my favorite toppings include:

When it comes to creating a sound foundation, there’s no end to your options there, too. No need to keep in in a bowl when you could ladle it over:

Hungry yet? I sure hope so, because chili is best made in big batches. This one makes enough for a small family, but is prime material for freezer fodder, since I’m only a single lady myself. Portion out single servings in secure zip top bags and store flat in the freezer until ready to eat. All you need to do is drop it into a saucepan, add a splash of water, and cook over medium-low heat for an instant homemade meal.

Even if you’re an ardent vegetable lover like me, make some room on your dinner table for an exceptionally, unapologetically meaty entree every now and then. This one will satisfy any savory cravings.

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A Pumpkin In Every Pot

Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, you recently carved a delightfully ghastly jack-o’-lantern face out of pie crust. I know, it’s quite a reach, but humor me for a moment, will you? Imagine, with those features missing from an otherwise perfectly good, full sheet of pastry, the possibilities for further baking witchcraft.

Pumpkin is still at play here, but under a more savory guise, you see. Humble pot pie pulls on an autumnal cloak in this phantasmic fall affair. Beneath that buttery, golden brown exterior lies a rich stew of tender orange squash, bolstered by an infusion of pumpkin puree throughout. A touch of umami tomato paste and warming spices sets it apart from the standard child’s play.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Such a wildly abstract thought could easily be written off as a dream… Vanishing almost as quickly as the dish itself.

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Budget Crunching and Munching

No longer a fringe movement seen as extreme, veganism has reached mainstream acceptance, if not full understanding. Misconceptions still plague the movement, like the lingering, misplaced concern about getting enough protein, iron, or whatever the trending nutrient is of the moment. Topping the list of these persistent fallacies is that it’s expensive to eat plant-based. Taking a glance at the fancy prepared meals, processed meat alternatives, and gourmet dairy-free cheeses, it’s easy to understand the concern, but it really misses the bigger picture; no healthy, happy herbivore really eats like that.

Busting myths while boosting your bottom line, Vegan on a Budget: 125 Healthy, Wallet-Friendly, Plant-Based Recipes by Nava Atlas goes well beyond the predictable PB + J sandwiches or bland rice and beans. In fact, Ms. Atlas doesn’t just stick to plain recipes, offering indispensable advice for maximizing your grocery dollars via couponing, bulk buying, scratch-made staples, and more.

Speaking from experience, Nava knows her way around the kitchen AND supermarket. I’ve had the great fortune of working with her regularly for the better part of my career, though she got started in the cookbook industry before I could even reach the stove. Author of well over a dozen published works, prolific artist, and loving mother, her diverse passions coalesce into an invaluable resource for anyone seeking a more affordable, flavorful way to eat vegan.

Secretly thrifty, overtly delicious, everything from breakfast to dessert tastes downright luxurious. We’re talking Yellow Curry Rice Noodles better than takeout, for pennies on the dollar. By employing common pantry staples and simple fresh vegetables, this dish comes together faster than you can dial in an order; a huge savings when you consider that time is money, too.

Don’t overlook the humble sandwich, which is much more than a bread-based gut bomb in Nava’s capable hands. Portobello & Seitan Cheesesteak Sandwiches bring an authentic tasty of Philly to the table, no matter where you live. Seven simple ingredients are all it takes to make this meaty, umami meal come to life. Hearty slabs of seitan join forces with tender mushroom slices and crisp bell peppers, smothered by gooey melted cheese in a satisfying handheld package.

One of my personal favorites has been the Barbeque Tempeh Salad, lavished with creamy ranch dressing, ideally. The protein itself is so well-seasoned and flavorful though, it hardly even needs additional embellishment. I made the mistake of only preparing a half-batch when I first photographed the recipe for Ms. Atlas, which I immediately remedied with a double the next day. This is a recipe you’ll want to eat on repeat, too, which is why I’m thrilled to share it after the jump.

Before you run off to the kitchen, tempeh at hand, I have an even more tempting offer for you! To save you the already low price of this cookbook, which will pay for itself after a single meal, I’m thrilled to give away a brand new copy to one lucky reader! To enter, hit the comment section below and tell me about your favorite budget-friendly foods. What are the staples you go to again and again, that have withstood the test of time? Don’t forget to go back and register that in the giveaway widget, along with additional opportunities to win.

The whole concept of Vegan on a Budget is a solid victory across the board; your wallet, stomach, and taste buds will all be glad you cracked open a copy.

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