Embracing the Mushroom


There was a time that I wouldn’t touch mushrooms. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even pick them off of a pizza; I would just reject the whole slice. If mushrooms had come in contact with my food, that food was no longer edible for me. A friend in college once served me mushroom flavored Top Ramen and tried to pass it off as a different flavor by dousing it with condiments. I took one bite and called her a dirty liar.

I was not allergic to mushrooms, and to my knowledge, I had no traumatic mushroom-related experience in my childhood. I just did not like them. If you replaced “green eggs and ham” with “mushrooms” in the classic Dr. Seuss tale, you would have an accurate depiction of my relationship with edible fungi for the first twenty-five years of my life.

“I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere!”


People just could not believe that I did not eat mushrooms once I became a vegetarian. I have to admit it was pretty difficult. It’s hard enough to find a meatless meal in some places, and harder still to find one with no mushrooms. I had an issue with the texture. I know, I know. . . how I ate tofu but not mushrooms is a mystery to me too. I also had an issue with the idea of eating fungi in general. Large mushrooms scared me. Portobellos? Way too big. Scary. Nothing good can come from eating a fungus that large, am I right?


But then, everything changed during the season that I worked at the GrowRVA South of the James farmers’ market. I volunteered at the Chef Demonstration tent with Chef Samuel Baker* from May through November of 2012. You can see my posts about that gig here on Vegology in the Market Chef section. I discuss a foraged mushroom called Chicken of the Woods in a late September post. This pricey little gem changed my mind about mushrooms. Sauteed in a pan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, the bright orange and creamy white Chicken of the Woods mushroom tastes just like chicken, no lie. It was incredible, and I was hooked.

“I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am.”


After consuming the gateway drug that is Chicken of the Woods, I started trying other mushrooms too. My next favorite find was the Maitake mushroom (“hen of the woods,” coincidentally) and that one is still a favorite in my kitchen. I gradually worked my way up to the mighty portobello, and fell in love when I had the perfectly prepared marinated and grilled portobello burger last summer. Now I’m unstoppable and I have made a full recovery from my fear of mushrooms.

One of my favorite recent finds was Tosca Reno’s Pesto-Stuffed Portobello Pizzas, pictured above in this post. This dish is fantastic. I served it on Christmas Eve with a wilted kale salad, and my house guests didn’t even miss the meat from the meal.

Another favorite is Terry Walters’ Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout from the Clean Food cookbook, available for purchase here. Sorry I don’t have an Internet version of the recipe, but maybe Google it?

And, just one more, which is a little out of season but can totally be made on an indoor grill if it’s chilly outside. My favorite recipe for Portobello Mushroom Burgers. It’s all about the marinade!

I guess the moral (morel?) of the story is this: try new things. You might surprise yourself. And if you’re still looking for a New Years Resolution, that might be a good one to try out.

*Chef Samuel Baker is now working at The Betty on Davis in Richmond, VA and you can follow the progress of his food adventures on his Facebook page.

What the Heck is a Chayote Squash, and What to Drink for Cinco de Mayo?


These weird little squashes have been staring at me from a bin in the produce section of my grocery store for far too long. I have passed by the bright green chayote squash dozens of times, wondering how to cook them and what they taste like. I finally picked up three of these weird little gourds last week, and I stumped the cashier when I went to check out.

“Excuse me, what is this?”

“Chayote. C-H-A-Y-O-T-E.”

“I don’t see the code for that, are they pears?”

“No, they’re labeled ‘chayote squash’ on the bin. Maybe they’re under ‘squash’?”

asks coworker in next lane: “Do you know the code for these?”

coworker: “No, they look like pears. Charge her for pears.”

Pears were $3.99 per pound that week, and I have no idea how much the chayote were priced per pound. I guess chayote is not a fast-mover at the Carytown Kroger. In the cashiers’ defense, the chayote does look a bit like a pear that is trying to eat itself.


The chayote originates from Mexico, where the fruit, leaves, blossoms, and roots of the plant are eaten. The squash has a very thin green skin attached to the green-to-white flesh. The skins and seeds are edible, although I found that many recipes call for the skins and seeds to be removed. The flesh is very crisp, and the raw squash has the texture of a potato and a very mild flavor like a broccoli stalk. The chayote can be eaten raw, but it is often cooked and seasoned, or eaten in a sauce with other more flavorful ingredients.


I found a great vegetarian recipe for Chayotes Rellenos from world-renowned chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, of The Border Grill in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Santa Monica. I had never tried one of their recipes before, so it was an evening of firsts.


The chayote was very easy to work with. I left the skins on, but boiling caused them to peel off. The texture and flavor of the cooked chayote was similar to summer squash. I loved that this recipe incorporated epazote, and the crunch from the almonds added an unexpected and pleasant texture to the filling, which probably would have been pretty mushy otherwise, due to the cooked squash and mushrooms.


I topped the cooked stuffed squash with some fresh pea shoots, which were an impulse purchase from Relay Foods. I normally would have tossed some cilantro on there, but I was out (rare occurrence!). One thing that recipes for stuffed squash or eggplant NEVER tell you is what to do with the extra filling. Am I the only one who always has extra filling after stuffing my vegetables?

I put the extra filling in a glass baking dish, topped it with cheese, and baked it at the same time and temperature indicated in the recipe. It worked out great.


If you’re feeling inspired by Cinco de Mayo and you want to try out a Mexican dish besides tacos or nachos, I suggest that you give chayotes a try. Although they do not pack a ton of flavor on their own, they are very versatile and do soak up the flavors around them. Next I would like to try them in a really spicy curry, topped with chopped fresh mango, and I do not intend to wait for another holiday to do it.

What to Eat on Cinco de Mayo

If you are feeling less ingredient-adventurous but you do still want something Mexican-inspired on your table this week, check out my recipe roundup from last week.

What to Drink with Mexican Cuisine

If you want to branch out from the standard Corona, Sol, or Tecate that are very popular this time of year, head to your local craft beer store. Kyle and I collaborated on this list of brews drink with Latin American food.

For an authentic Mexican beer that is a cut above the rest, seek out Negra Modelo or Bohemia.

For a local Virginia alternative to the Mexican light lager, try Blue Mountain Brewery Lager or Legend Brewing Co Pilsner.

If you like hoppy beers, try Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai or Smuttynose Finestkind IPA.

If you intend to sit on a porch and sip beer for a few hours, pick up Sierra Nevada Summerfest or Lagunitas Daytime.

And if you just want a beer that looks great in a Cinco de Mayo party spread and is refreshing on a warm evening out on the back deck, pick up Breckenridge Brewery Agave Wheat. When you choose a beer that is infused with an iconic Mexican ingredient and labeled with a skeleton wearing a sombrero, you get an A+ for sticking to a theme!


Mung Bean Pasta


I have been trying to use my cookbooks more often. My effort has paid off with a lot of new knowledge about ingredients and some great go-to recipes that I never knew I always had, sitting right there on the bookcase in my kitchen. One thing that I was surprised to learn was how healthy mung beans are for you. Featured in my new favorite recipe for Pad Thai from Terry Walters’ Clean Food cookbook, mung bean sprouts are surprisingly nutritious. So when I saw Mung Bean Fettuccine in the grocery store, I had to give it a try.


The package boasts an extremely high protein and fiber content as well as a high iron content, and states that the pasta is a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I am not gluten-free. In fact I think gluten is one of my favorite foods, however I am always looking for tasty protein sources so I had to check it out. Mung beans, which are low in cholesterol and high in soluble dietary fibers, can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Until recently, mung beans had only entered our household to fill Kyle’s iron palm training bag for Wing Chun (Kung Fu), so it was a pretty big deal to start tossing mung bean sprouts in salads and stir-fry dishes. Experimenting with the fresh, crunchy sprouts was fun, but those beady green beans were a little scary, so it took us awhile to take the next step. Opening this bag of wavy green noodles was intimidating, but we were willing to give it a go in the name of science.


After cooking and rinsing the noodles, I tasted them plain, and they weren’t too bad. I have to be honest though, they do taste a little… grassy? Because they are naturally chewier than regular pasta, it was pretty easy to get them al dente. However, I thought they really needed some flavor (besides “health food” flavor), so I mixed them with sauteed asparagus and baby bok choy, a soy dressing, and toasted sesame seeds. A drizzle of chili sauce made the meal complete.


I thought this salad would work well either hot or cold, but I definitely preferred it hot. The noodles were so chewy after being chilled that I had a hard time getting through half of a serving before feeling full. I guess that could be a good thing? It felt weird to me, so I reheated them with a few minutes in the microwave and a generous portion of sambal. Kyle enjoyed the dish both hot and cold, so I guess you will have to decide for yourself!

The flavor combination was very fresh and springy, and versatile enough to work with any type of grain, so I recommend that you try it out even if you substitute a different kind of pasta or rice for the mung bean fettuccine. We are now firmly in the spring season, so break out that bright green asparagus and your favorite set of chopsticks and chow down!

Sesame Mung Bean Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables



  • 7 oz. dry mung bean fettuccine
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided (2+1)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or similar)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and set aside.
  2. Chop asparagus into 1-inch pieces and roughly chop baby bok choy, discarding the ends. Thinly slice the green onions.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add bok choy and asparagus and saute until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.
  4. To the vegetables, add garlic and saute for another minute.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the liquid aminos (or soy sauce), brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and chili sauce.
  6. Add pasta and sauce to the pan with the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until heated throughout. Add toasted sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Holy Fractal, Batman! Broccoli Romanesco!


Those of you who follow me on Twitter got a sneak preview this weekend of the latest weird vegetable to cross the threshold of my kitchen. Kyle couldn’t resist picking up this amazing broccoli Romanesco from Walnut Hill Farm Produce at the farmers’ market on Saturday. This fascinating vegetable features a Fibonacci number of spiraled cones on each floret, and its texture approximates a natural fractal. It looks like cauliflower, is technically considered broccoli, and tastes somewhere in between the two. In a good way, promise.


Since this variety originated in Italy, I knew I wanted to do a pasta dish. When I did a little research online and tasted the vegetable raw, I discovered that it did not need a lot of seasoning in order to shine, so I opted for a very simple dinner.


How crazy does this thing look?! I broke down this huge head of broccoli into florets, then steamed it for 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, I cooked some farfalle (bow tie pasta) in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drained it and reserved the cooking water in a separate bowl.


When the broccoli was steamed, I added a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic and olive oil. After cooking over medium heat for a few minutes, I added a big bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the pot, along with the juice of one lemon, freshly ground black pepper, a few dashes of Italian herb and spice blend, and a cup of reserved pasta water. After a few minutes, I added the farfalle to the pot, gave it a thorough stir, then added a few teaspoons of capers and salt and pepper to taste. If you don’t want to ruin a good thing, then I recommend that you do nothing else at all to this dish. Except for maybe a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.


Just enjoy heaping bowls of the steaming hot pasta and you’re all set. Bonus points for a roaring fire, a warm fuzzy blanket, or an oversize glass of wine.


Dysphania ambrosioides

Epazote is an herb that I had never heard of until six months ago, when I received a jar of it for Christmas. Kyle expertly chose a wonderful gift for me last year, and he presented me with Penzeys Spices “Taste of Mexico” box on Christmas Eve.

This gift was perfect for a few reasons.

  1. Obviously I enjoy cooking and writing about it.
  2. For a few years I visited Mexico every January, and I miss those trips so much. Kyle brought a little piece of Mexico to me this year.
  3. I love to try new things, and this box was full of them.

We cook our own version of Mexican food a lot in this house, and I have really enjoyed trying out the new spices and herbs in this set. The most intriguing one to me was epazote because I had never heard of it before. Upon researching the herb, I discovered that after at least five annual trips to Mexico, I have probably eaten it dozens of times. It is most commonly cooked in black beans, which I eat a ton of when I am south of the border.

I have delayed writing this post for awhile because I wasn’t really sure how to handle this subject delicately. I sometimes fail at subtlety and instead approach sensitive topics like a literary wrecking ball. I have finally determined that the best way to say it is simply and boldly.

The most commonly reported benefit of epazote in the diet is the prevention of flatulence.

There, I said it. But there are other more intriguing properties too. The most interesting tidbit I found on epazote is that, in large quantities, it is poisonous to humans. In small quantities, it relieves abdominal discomfort. What I did not find was a specific quantity at which you go from relief of abdominal pain to calling the poison control hotline. It looks so non-threatening to the naked eye, however we were playing with fire when we pulled out the epazote.

Do not worry; this story does not end at the hospital. Kyle and I have both survived several dinners with epazote-seasoned black beans since cracking open this jar. I think the dried epazote smells like bay leaves, but it tastes totally different. The taste is really difficult to describe, as it is not like any other herb I have tasted. It is kind of sweet and earthy, with this one zesty note that I can’t put my finger on (similar to anise and tarragon). I am sure I did not do epazote any justice in that poor description. All I know is that taco night in our house is even better since epazote came into our lives.

A few more facts for you ingredient geeks like me:

  • epazote is derived from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, like avocado, chocolate, chile, and coyote
  • it contains a carminative agent, meaning it reduces gas
  • it has been added to pet food because it is said to expel intestinal worms in our furry friends
  • some people have found it helpful in the treatment of asthma, malaria, and other diseases (however you should check with your MD first before incorporating this or any diet change into your treatment plan)
  • epazote can be used in beans, soups, chili, tacos, quesadillas and salads (and more!)

We did not conduct an experiment in our house to test the carminative properties of this common Mexican herb. Mainly because I come from a bit of a science background, I felt that I would quickly be in over my head if I tried to design and perform any type of scientific experiment measuring diet and flatulence. I have a feeling we would develop a new hypothesis that epazote either promotes or hinders the optimization of upstairs living space, as one of us would certainly get a lot of use out of the guest bedroom during that study.

So I have to ask: has anyone else tried epazote? What did you think?

Epazote can be purchased from specialty herb and spice shops, and from most Latin markets or grocery stores.

Radish Salsa

I mentioned before that Kyle has been on a radish kick lately. I don’t know what got into him, but he has been all about the radishes for the last few weeks. He never used to touch them, until about a year ago when I threw some diced radishes on top of Cuban black beans and rice. Then he was hooked. Ever since he saw them at the farmers’ market 4 weeks ago, he has asked for them every week. I am running out of ideas for preparation, which can only mean one thing in my house. Desperation breeds creativity in the vegology kitchen. Having tossed them in salads and sandwiches for the last few weeks, I am ready to move on to something more challenging.

Not only do these root vegetables add color to the plate, but they also pack a good dose of nutrition for your body. Radishes are considered by many to be a superfood due to their high concentration of nutrients relative to calories. Radishes contain Vitamin C, zinc, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, and anthocyanins. They contain nutrients that help rebuild tissues and blood vessels, they have cancer-fighting properties and they can help decrease inflammation. Radishes are a natural diuretic, which can aid in fighting certain infections. They also have a good amount of fiber, which can improve digestion. Who could deny a loved one his radishes, after finding out how great they are for his health?

While brainstorming this weekend, I thought about our first positive experience with radishes. Diced and served fresh over spicy black beans and tender rice, radishes were a refreshing component of the meal. When paired with tender, sweet baby greens, radishes offer a pleasantly bitter complement to a salad that would otherwise be lacking a much needed edge. However, when paired with soft and spicy beans, the crisp radish seems milder in flavor, and it adds a refreshing crunch to the dish. Having recently had great success with black bean tacos and mango salsa, I decided to give the spring radish a new stage on which to shine. A corn tortilla, topped with spicy black beans and fresh mango with tiny flecks of minced jalapeño thrown in for good measure.

The mango isn’t local, but who could resist these tender juicy mangoes that are currently in season in Chiapas, Mexico? Perhaps a locavore purist could, but when I saw this new-to-me variety in the grocery store, I had to give it a try. The Champagne mango is very tender, deliciously fleshy, and super sweet. It’s basically my spirit animal, if spirit animals could actually be fruits. I read that these Mexican mangoes are more closely related to Indian mangoes than the more popular Tommy Atkins mango. I bet these would be a good weapon to have in your arsenal if you planned on tackling a mango chutney.

We added a little cheese to our tacos, but you could leave it out to make them vegan. We enjoyed these on a warm night on our back porch. The sounds of kids playing and dogs barking in the distance mingled with the natural chorus of wildlife in the woods right behind our house. The sun went down as we laughed and talked and wiped mango juice from our chins, as diced radish and cucumbers and tender black beans tumbled out of their soft taco shells and littered our plates. We had the awe-inspiring experience of watching a baby blue jay learn how to fly as we dined. We saw many crash landings and a few promising vertical flutters, before its parents swooped in at dusk and (I assume) vowed to try again tomorrow. We experienced the best of spring in one night during that meal, and I was really thankful that Kyle had convinced me (again) to pick up some radishes at the market. What is this season for, if not for trying new things?

Radish Salsa


  • 1 cup diced radish
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced cucumber
  • 2 large scallions (or 3-4 small), thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (less if you can’t take the heat)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Stir to mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Store covered in refrigerator and serve cold.
  3. Serve with chips, on black bean tacos, or on a salad or sandwich.

Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash

I recently discovered sunchokes in the produce section of Ellwood Thompson’s on Manager’s Special, which meant they were half off. I have wanted to experiment with sunchokes for awhile, but they are a little expensive to risk screwing up. But at 50% the normal price, you would have bought them too, right?

Their name sounds like artichokes, they look like ginger, but they taste like potatoes. Except they taste better than potatoes, nutty and a little sweet, like Yukon Golds with personality. Not sweet like sweet potatoes, just a little sweet. This may sound a little confusing, but try to stay with me. It gets better but only after it gets a little worse.

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, are native to North America, not Jerusalem. Also confusing, I know. They are related to the sunflower plant, and the edible part of the sunchoke is the knobby little tuber that grows below the flowering plant. So that clears up the name a little. But why the misleading alias “Jerusalem Artichoke?”. I suppose aliases, by nature, are misleading. . . but that is neither here nor there. There are a few different theories out there, but this one is my favorite. In Spanish, the word for sunflower is girasol. In Italian, girasole. See where this is going yet? Presumably, Italian settlers in North American called the plant “girasole,” a name which, like a lot of words with confusing etymologies, was butchered over time and ended up “Jerusalem.”

Who knows how? Not me. I was more interested in the taste anyhow.

I found a lot of recipes for sunchokes in soups and purees online, and several people recommended that you simply roast the sunchokes. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare any new vegetable, as roasting has never failed me in the past. However I had a new cast iron skillet that I was obsessed with so I wanted desperately to saute them. In others’ recipes they were paired with cauliflower a lot, for some unknown reason, so I decided to go with it. And that is how I came up with spicy cauliflower tacos with sunchoke hash.

Did you hear me?

A new vegan taco “meat”!

And nutty, earthy, spicy-sweet sunchoke hash!

The tacos worked. So much that I will probably pay full price for the sunchokes next time. And so much that I want to share the recipe with you. If you don’t eat meat (or even if you do), I think you should have this cauliflower taco “meat” in your repertoire.

I simply diced the sunchokes and threw them in the skillet with some oil and diced peppers and onions over medium heat. I stirred occasionally and the skillet did the rest. Then into tortillas they go, with cauliflower taco “meat,” shredded cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. For vegan tacos, use vegan cheese and tofutti sour cream, or top with tomato salsa and mashed avocado with lime.

Spicy Vegan Cauliflower Taco “Meat”


  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 pinches ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Break the cauliflower into pieces and either grate into a large bowl or crumble with your fingers for a more rustic feel. Break or grate into small crumbles.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Add cauliflower crumbles to skillet and, while stirring constantly, saute until golden brown.
  4. Add chili powder to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook for one minute then add remaining spices and tomato paste. Stir to combine, turn heat to low-medium and cover. Cook for a few more minutes, until cauliflower is tender and heated throughout.

Fun With My Cast Iron Skillet

It has been on my Christmas and birthday lists for a few years now, and I have to believe that the only reason I hadn’t received it until Christmas 2011 is that it is so difficult to wrap. I think the only reason I never picked one up for myself is that it is so difficult to. . . well. . . pick up. This thing is heavy.

My first cast iron skillet.

Perhaps the only reason that I finally received one last year was that my dear family had realized that a steady diet of kitchen experiments had packed more flab onto my upper arms than muscle. Maybe now I can tone my arms AND cook a delicious meal, all at once. Maybe now that my wedding dress is hanging in the corner, and the only area of my body that can’t be corseted, bustled, pulleyed, pushed or levered into an optical illusion of perfection is my arms. . . perhaps that’s the reason I decided to start using the cast iron skillet on the regular.

. . . Oh how I long for midsummer weather right now. Maybe after spending two beautiful (and chilly) weekends in the wide open spaces of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, I was feeling a little country.

Or a little campy.

Or I was a little tired, from scoping out outdoor wedding venues all day long for two Saturdays in a row.

Maybe I just wanted to whip up some comfort food for me and my honey, and what better way to do it than with my brand new cast iron pan? Whatever the reason, I got to seasoning my skillet on Sunday morning, and I decided I was going to put this beast of a cooking vessel to good use.

While the skillet hung out in the oven, I did my research so I would know what I was dealing with. Known for its durability and heat-retention properties, cast iron cookware has been a kitchen essential for centuries. A cast iron pot can be used over an open flame, on the stovetop and in the oven. I assume is works on the grill, although that is another domain I have not yet conquered. Cast iron skillets are great for certain dishes because they distribute heat evenly and retain it well.

The first step to using cast iron cookware is seasoning, which builds a natural non-stick coating on the pan. My cast iron skillet came pre-seasoned, but the instructions suggested that I season it again before use to ensure the best results. I found a lot of different methods on the web for seasoning the skillet, so I kind of combined them into the method that I used. First, I wiped down the skillet to remove any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on it while it lived in my cupboard for the last month. Then I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. Next, I poured in the pan enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom to about a quarter of an inch. Using a folded paper towel, I coated the interior sides of the skillet with oil from the bottom of the pan. I placed the skillet in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, then I turned down the heat to 200 degrees F and baked for an additional 45 minutes. Finally, I used two potholders to carefully remove the skillet from the oven and onto a trivet, where I let the skillet cool completely before use.

It worked great!

The first dish I tried was a frittata. I have wanted to make a frittata for years but I never had a pan that was stovetop and oven safe. Isn’t that sad? So I was all over this Tyler Florence recipe for a basic frittata. I omitted the ham and added about one cup of halved grape tomatoes, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the pan to wilt before adding the egg mixture. And of course I sprinkled cheese on top because I won’t have eggs any other way.

I loved taking the pan from stovetop to oven and then out again to see the beautiful result. Here are the before and after shots:

The frittata is done when it has puffed up in the pan and it is golden brown on the edges. Isn’t that just lovely? I served the frittata with a little side salad and I felt fancy like the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Except I wasn’t hosting a ladies’ brunch at my palatial home in the Hamptons. I was watching Game of Thrones with Kyle in our cozy little home in Woodland Heights. But I felt fancy, I tell you!

The only downside is that if you thought this skillet was heavy before, you will seriously struggle to wrestle it out of the oven when it’s all full of egg and veggie goodness.

It’s like a garden party, on my plate, in January.

This was so much fun, I think I’ll take the skillet for a spin again tomorrow night. Next up: cornbread. But don’t worry, I have found a whole list of healthy cast iron skillet recipes so I won’t only cook (creamy, cheesy, buttery) comfort food all the time. I’ll quit at cornbread and then move on to a nice low fat, seasonal vegetable dish, with extra iron skillet bicep curls.

But first. . . cornbread.


VegologyBlog.com Domain Warming Party

Welcome to vegologyblog.com, the new home of veg:ology!

That’s right, we’ve moved to our new domain and we’re loving life in our new digs. We are still hosted by wordpress, so your old links and bookmarks should redirect you to the new site. However, I suggest that you update your bookmarks anyway to give the new domain the love it deserves.

We’re still unpacking the boxes, figuring out where the furniture goes, and making some cosmetic updates so you may see more exciting changes over the next month. But since we’re here and I’m happy to have you readers as guests, I thought I’d throw together a little domain warming party with all my favorite recipes from vegologyblog.com.

But first, a tour!

Have you checked out the Travel Page?

This is where you will find links to posts about my food-related adventures. This page is fun when you feel like you need an escape and helpful when you’re actually planning one. I hope I’m lucky enough to continue filling up this page with delightful places and delicious food.

Make sure you also scroll down the sidebar on the right side of the page to check out all the fun things there too. The Catch Up section provides you with easy links to my most recent posts. The Subscribe button allows you to sign up to be notified every time I post something new. The Twitter box shows you my latest tweets in case you don’t follow me on twitter, which you definitely should.

You can find older posts by typing a search term into the Search box, clicking on a relevant tag in the Tag Cloud (Click-Click), or browsing the archives through the Past Posts box. Finally, don’t miss the Random Thought box. I couldn’t resist adding a text widget with whatever thought comes to mind when I feel like updating that little box.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our tour. Feel free to visit the Contact or About pages at your leisure. Now let’s eat!

Here are some of my favorite cozy homemade recipes from the past, to celebrate our future at vegologyblog.com.

Butternut Squash with Spinach and Feta

Veggie Pot Pie

Pumpkin Chili

Persimmon Cookies with Cranberries and Walnuts

Thanks for reading and welcome to vegology’s new home. I’m excited to share all that I have planned over the next few months!

XOXO, Lauren

P.S. It is totally acceptable to leave recipes and send baked goods to express your enthusiasm over vegologyblog.com. Really, totally acceptable and encouraged. 😉


Extreme Juicing Challenge

If you have noticed that the posts over the last week have been a little sparse, you may feel that I have some explaining to do. The reason I haven’t been writing is that I haven’t been cooking or eating food. It’s not you, it’s me. I haven’t been bringing much to the table lately besides this:

A few weeks ago, I went to a screening of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film about a man who drastically improves his health by consuming only fresh fruit and vegetable juice for 60 days straight. At the conclusion of the screening, my friend and I participated in a Q&A with Joe Cross, the man behind the movie. After hearing about the health transformations that people have made while inspired by Joe’s film, we decided to give it a try. We considered doing a ten day “Reboot” but eventually committed to doing just seven days of nothing but juice.

This is the part of the story where I feel obligated to tell you that a juice fast is not for everyone and you should consult a physician before embarking on a any diet plan. I also should mention that I did a lot of research before choosing the plan that was right for me, and although I may refer to this as a diet, weight loss was not the goal of the fast. I did this for three reasons:

  • To cleanse my body of toxins and give the digestive system a rest so that my body would have energy to heal itself naturally
  • To become more attuned to my body’s nutrient needs and to explore my relationship with food
  • To experience the changes and feelings that other juice fasters had described in online articles and in person, because I was fascinated by some of the typical side effects of an all juice diet

My friend and coworker Liz committed to doing the fast with me and I was looking forward to having support at work for the inevitable times when I would feel like giving up. As we talked to more people about what we were planning to do, we found another coworker who had completed a 3-week juice fast a few years ago and who was interested in joining us. After that, two more women decided to join us with a modified juice diet, in which they included healthy foods and smoothies. In this recap, I will cover the diet that Liz and I followed.

Phase 1: Before the Juice

I knew that my greatest challenge would be giving up caffeine, specifically coffee. Ever since I started working as a barista in a neighborhood coffee shop in my hometown , I have had a love affair with coffee. In fact, before the juice, I had not gone a day without coffee in about ten years. In some states, coffee and I would be just one joint tax return away from common law marriage. One week before the juice fast, I weaned myself off of caffeine by stepping down my coffee consumption and then substituting green tea followed by substituting herbal (naturally decaffeinated) teas. I was still on the green tea at the beginning of the fast, but I was off it for the second half of the diet.

The Join the Reboot website recommends that you slowly transition yourself to a plant based diet during the week before the fast. I do not eat a lot of fruit, so I started incorporating more fruit into my diet the week before. As a vegetarian cook, I typically make sure that my plate is half full of vegetables, so I did not need to make many diet changes during the transition.

On the night before the fast, I got together with Liz to shop, cook and juice. Check out how much produce we bought for three days worth of juice for two people! We spent about $100 on the first trip ($17 per person per day) and bought as much organic produce as we could. It costs less to do this with conventional produce. If you want to do some organic and some conventional, use the EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen as your guide.

The last supper was artichoke spinach lasagna with feta and a glass (or two) of sangiovese. The juicing was a ton of fun and for the apple-carrot-ginger juice, I used fresh ginger for the first time ever. I know, that is ridiculous. I just always used the jar because I didn’t know it made that much of a difference. Now I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the jar again.

Phase 2: During the Juice

Days 1-3

The first three days were the hardest. I started out really excited and motivated, but soon I desperately missed chewing and I started having food cravings.I had lunch on the first day with two coworkers who were doing the plan with me. We were all expecting to have some digestive issues the first few days based on what we had heard. I planned to be near a bathroom for the first three days, but the only thing that I felt was going straight through me was water. No emergencies, no discomfort, no digestive cleanse. I had expected to, as a coworker put it,  “hit the big flush button” on that first weekend. No such luck. My relationship with the porcelain throne was as normal as ever.

The transition to waking up in the morning and having nothing but juice was a little difficult for me. I am used to starting my day with a protein, a carb, and some coffee. The juice just seemed incomplete to me. I realized by the second or third day though that it was all I really needed in the morning.

On the second day, Liz and I headed to the farmers’ market and the smells of all the foods we couldn’t have were so overwhelming. I almost couldn’t handle it! We must have looked like some crazy sweets junkies as we drooled over the mulled apple cider with brown sugar, palms sweating, eyes twitching, jonesing for some added sugar. We tore ourselves away from the cider, the doughnuts, the bagels and the Bombolini pasta and focused on the produce. We picked up some local organic veggies at the market and then we made more juice on the third day.

rough morning

By the third day I was easily fatigued and I was experiencing mental fogginess. I woke up congested in the mornings and my skin was less than perfect. Allegedly these are common signs of toxins leaving the body. I also lost 8 pounds in the first three days. A portion of that was a loss of water weight due to the fact that my body was no longer retaining water to aid in the digestion of insoluble fiber (which was left behind in the pulp and was no longer a part of my diet). By the end of this phase, I could easily differentiate between food cravings and hunger and this was a big revelation for me. I started to feel more in control of my health when I was able to make that distinction without difficulty.

We also killed my juicer on the third day due to prolonged use and possibly the presence of water/juice in the motor. It sounded a little funny, then it smelled like burning, then it started smoking. It was ugly. Check out the crime scene photo from my juicer’s violent death:

We had ordered a new Breville though that was due to arrive on day 4 so we were not without a juicer for long.

Days 4-5

Days 4 and 5 were when it really started to turn around for me.I felt like quitting altogether on day 4 and it was really good that I was surrounded by people who were doing the diet with me. I kept trying to visualize plants capturing the sun’s energy and converting it to nutrients that my body could use to heal and re-energize. It helped a little. I was still making lists of all the foods I wanted to eat when the diet was over. Surprisingly, most of them were healthy whole foods. Baked sweet potato, spinach salad, a ripe banana.

My energy improved and my head was clearer by day 5. I started to get creative with the juice combinations and did fancy little things to make juicing feel more special. I created recipes for “mojito juice” and my own version of mean green juice. I got some adorable color-changing straws at Target. I poured my juice into fun glassware, and I tried adding coconut water and sparking water to my juices. I truly started to have fun with it by the end of day 5.

I think my favorite cashier at Whole Foods in Short Pump started to catch on to what Liz and I were doing. What else could we possibly be doing with all this produce?

One of the biggest challenges I had while on the fast was baking a coworker’s birthday cake on day 5. I have mentioned before that in my office, we have a homemade cake for every person’s birthday and last week it was my turn again. Hello carrot cake! I didn’t even taste the batter or the frosting. If you’re ever in the mood for torture, try frosting a two layer cake and then washing your hands instead of licking your fingers. It is tough!

During this phase of the fast, I felt like I finished climbing the hill and started to breezily slide down the other side. My body adapted to the diet and started to crave juice. My hair was really shiny and my skin started to look better. Although (gross-out alert), it appeared that all of the toxins in my body were trying to escape through one facial pore. Ugh.

I also realized how little food I need to get through my day. I hoped that this would translate to better portion control down the road. On day 5 I felt the energy that I had heard other juice fasters describe. I was sick of beets and a little tired of carrots so I started to experiment with new fruits and vegetables. I made a mental note to try and eat a greater variety of foods in the future.

Days 6-7

I felt completely awesome on days 6 and 7. I had energy and I was alert all day. Most of all, I was amazed at how much energy I could have from eating right, with no coffee at all. I learned that when you don’t have the crutch of caffeine to lean on, you are forced to eat good-for-you foods and get a full night’s sleep in order to have energy. As much as I missed eating some foods, I was much better at resisting temptation during these days. Kyle’s dinners didn’t bother me at all.

His and Her Veggies?

I supplemented the homemade juice diet with juices from our local grocery store Ellwood Thompsons. I even made fewer servings ahead of time just so I could try out new combinations at the ET juice bar. So imagine my disappointment when I walked in on the morning of day 7 and discovered that Ellwood Thompsons’ juicer was broken. I had not made enough juice for the day because I was counting on ET to fill in the holes. So I made the decision to break the fast at dinner that night with a whole lot of vegetables and a wee bit of tofu.

My First Real Meal in Seven Days!

What I really missed the most on these last few days was cooking. Cooking at night in my kitchen is such a stress reliever for me, and I love to do it as much as possible. It engages my mind and body in a creative way and I missed having that outlet while on the fast. So I decided on a simple salad for my reintroduction to solid food, but I also cooked a Thai-inspired sweet potato, tempeh and kale stew for Kyle on the last night. I did not taste a drop of that stew on the first night but the experience of cooking it was ultimately very satisfying.

On these last few days, I felt radiant. I was lighter on my feet and more energetic and passionate about everything. My senses sharpened (allegedly a symptom of starvation) and I could smell and taste every little thing. This continued through my first solid food meal, which happened to taste a little too salty. The flavors of everything were so intense and I really enjoyed tasting every component of the plate. My family and friends told me I appeared to be in a better mood than usual and I absolutely was. I felt a renewed commitment to health by the end of the experience.

Phase 3: After the Juice

I eased back into a solid food diet, starting first with raw or steamed vegetables and fruits and a small amount of nuts and legumes. Then I gradually added soy protein, then cheese, then wheat. I did start drinking coffee again, but not every day. I love coffee too much to give it up forever. I have been eating solid food for four days now and everything is going very well. I am eating mainly vegetables and fruits at the moment, plus a bit of whole grains and plant-based proteins here and there.I have had three fresh juices since completing the fast. I can’t quit you, green juice!

As I reflect on the juice fast, I am very happy that I did it. I believe that I accomplished what I set out to do. I learned a lot about my relationship with food and proved to myself that I have the self-control to make better diet choices every day. I got to experience the energy and heightened senses that always fascinated me when I heard about other juice fasters’ experiences.

I think I detoxified a bit, but to be honest I don’t think I got much out of the cleanse portion of the fast. Because I had no “big flush” and I felt pretty good throughout the whole fast, I don’t think I had many toxins to release. Vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, act as little scrub brushes in your digestive system, cleaning everything out as they pass through your system. Many fruits, vegetables and herbs have detoxifying effects on your liver. Regular cardiovascular exercise keeps your lungs and heart healthy. Because I eat a vegetarian diet with at least 50% consisting of fruits and vegetables, and I live a somewhat active lifestyle, I think that I am naturally cleansing, healing and detoxifying my body all of the time.

However I won’t ignore the notion that the juice could have been healing my body in ways I will never know. All of those nutrients couldn’t have hurt! I don’t know if I will do a “reboot” again, but I do know that juice will continue to be a part of my diet moving forward. I plan to work on portion control and building healthy plates at every meal (not just dinner). I also plan to stop eating when I am no longer hungry, which will be a big challenge for me (especially at dinner). But after successfully completing a seven day juice fast, I have the optimistic mentality that no challenge is too large for me when it comes to my health and wellness.

Cheers to that!