Savory Spinach Pastry, aka Spanakopita (vegan!)

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Before the invention of cameras and capital letters, when this blog was just a wee little lass and, like with all youngsters, we had no time or inclination to write a proper post or all the background story, I posted this recipe. If you don’t mind, I’d like to make it right. Tell the story. Tweak the recipe. Give you some eye-candy.



The first time I made these was the afternoon of January 1, 2009. My dear friend Liz was visiting from Boston. My then-husband and I were both friends with her from back in our Berklee days. We spent that New Years Eve down on Venice Beach, bundled in sleeping bags on the sand, and sipping what was meant to be lentil soup until the calendar flipped. (I had made the soup that afternoon and didn’t realize until about ten sips in that it was split pea. Does this happen to anyone else??). I could have stayed on the beach all night, welcoming in the new year, watching the waves and the sky, but after a few hours shivering in the chill, others in our group voted to head back to warmer land, so we did. 



It was a quiet way to close out 2008. Looking back now, it feels like it was another lifetime. Liz has since moved to Spain. She and I now send text messages to each other using some newfangled app called Viber, and I’ve been putting together a care package to send for her birthday. (Don’t tell.) That spring I began my yoga teacher training, delving into deep self-examination and writing in my journal ahellavalot. So strange to remember those days. It feels now like I’ve been teaching yoga forever, and I look forward to it every time. My then-husband is now my ex. He and I split up by May that same year. He’s since left California and moved back to be closer to his family amid familiar mid-Atlantic stomping grounds.



But on New Years Day 2009, the three of us didn’t know any of that would be coming around the bend. We were just friends from music school, hanging around Los Angeles, trading stories from school, and enjoying each other’s company. That afternoon I put this vegan Spanakopita together — actually, I didn’t even know what to call it until later that night — and headed out to Topanga for a New Years Day potluck with some musicians I’d recently met.



It was a lovely way to kick off the new year. We spent the night singing with a roomful of just-barely-met friends and strangers. I remember that evening as the night I first met Jeff, a man who has since become a truly dear friend. He and I sang some harmonies together that evening which have gone down in both our minds as some of the most lovely harmonies we ever heard. During the teary last months of my failing marriage, Jeff was a lifeline. He was supportive and encouraging, and I can’t count how many lunch hours I spent talking to either him or to Liz, trying to sort through the confusion.



Now, all these years later, and along with my Bad*ss Bassman, Jeff and I are in two bands together, still singing and playing music together. Two years ago he opened up his house for a big birthday party I threw for Bassman. And a few weeks ago, after he mentioned that he was getting a new couch, we moved his old one into our living room to replace our old one. That first night of 2009 we met over music, but we became true friends over this spanakopita.



It’s hard to believe been only just over four-and-a-half years since we met. Even though I know he’ll never cook anything from scratch, Jeff, this recipe is dedicated to you. 

 



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SAVORY SPINACH PIE, a/k/a Spanakopita (vegan!)



 (makes 6 large triangles)

Ingredients

1 package phyllo dough, defrosted (I get Fillo Factory whole wheat from Whole Foods)

2 cups mushrooms (I like baby shiitake)

1 cup onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 pound of spinach (or a mix of spinach, arugula, or other greens)

1 17-oz package of tofu, drained (firm or extra firm)

1 8-oz container vegan cream cheese (I like Follow Your Heart)

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for sauteeing



optional:
2 Tablespoons fennel, poppy, sesame seed mix



Directions


Drain tofu and set aside. Cover a sheet tray with parchment and set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 350.



If the mushrooms are large, roughly chop to dime-size (I leave baby shiitake whole). Saute onions and mushrooms in two tablespoons of oil in a medium pan till soft. Add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes.



In a food processor, blend the tofu till it is uniformly soft. Transfer tofu to a large mixing bowl. Add onion mixture, cream cheese, thyme, and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. 



Now it’s time to make the phyllo triangles. This stuff dries out quickly, so while you’re working with one sheet, cover the others with a damp towel.



Each triangle uses three sheets. Working on a flat surface, lightly brush one sheet with olive oil. Lay the next sheet over it and brush with oil. Lay the third on top.  Scoop out one-sixth of the filling. Mound it into the phyllo towards one corner. Fold the dough over length-wise so the filling is covered. Here’s a handy video that I found, (although here you will just *fold* the dough in half rather than cut as she does in the video). Place the triangle on the sheet tray.



Repeat until all the phyllo and all the filling is used up.



Brush the tops of the triangles with olive oil. Sprinkle seeds on top. 



Bake at 350 until triangles are puffed and starting to brown, approximately 30 minutes.



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Enjoy! 



xoxo, A


Everyday Stone Fruit Crisp (vegan and gluten-free)

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It took me nearly three and a half decades to know, but I am a gal who was made for Sundays.



The simple beauty of a Sunday never quite made itself known to me in my early years. During my childhood, it was a day for Hebrew School, which felt like just another day at school, the day half gone before it had even started. In my college years, Sunday was a day to eat too much at the cafeteria brunch, and then push through the food coma to cram for the next week’s tests. In my twenties, Sunday was a day to get stuff done. Between the grocery shopping and the rehearsals, Sunday was a day to squeeze in whatever Saturday couldn’t hold. In those days, Sunday was a day of mourning as I steeled myself for Monday’s slushy commute. I lived my Sundays like I lived the rest of my life — in a rush, too scheduled, too tired.



But four years ago things changed.



I was newly single. After months of considering what type of life I wanted, I decided that whatever else it held, I wanted a life built on joy, celebration, and exploration. Not joy as an accidental byproduct of other things, but joy as a central vision.



I found a sunny one-bedroom apartment three miles from the yoga studio where I was taking a nine-month teacher-training course. The apartment had gleaming wooden floors and a tiny shelf in the hallway that was perfect for a vase of seasonal flowers which I replenished weekly. I set up my living room furniture precisely with the intent to invite friends over. I baked banana bread and reread The Mists of Avalon for no reason at all except for the enjoyment of it. On Sunday mornings I hopped on my bike to take the scenic route to the yoga studio. Everywhere I rode, I reveled in my new life of joy, celebration, and exploration.



It was in that spirit that I met Bad*ss Bassman at a party on July 4th. A week later he sent me a note:



Was that you I saw biking down Riverside?



By the week after Labor Day, our Sundays had joined forces.



We bicycled together through autumn, down at the Venice Beach boardwalk once or twice, but mostly around our side of town. We watched our smiling reflections whiz by in the shop windows. On some Sundays I made impromptu gas station pies with frozen fruit I dug out of his freezer. There were the Sunday evening picnics of wine and spaghetti on his living room floor. We knew the day we met that we’d struck gold, and from our first joint Sunday it’s been a day for joy, celebration, and exploration together. 



Yesterday, the valley side of Los Angeles was draped in a particularly gorgeous light. The July sun was glorious, and the air was cool. We both taught yoga classes in the morning, and then I went for a swim lesson down at the local aquatic center (my newest hobby). After a yummy lunch of lentil soup, and a little nap to restore some of our Sunday energy, we pulled our bikes out of the garage.



Where did we go? Nowhere at all. And we spent three beautiful hours getting there.



We stopped for iced coffee at Romancing The Bean. Greeting cards and a birthday gift for a friend at Mindful Nest. A meander over the train tracks to the Burbank Metro station. A curious gander at hidden businesses on a deserted street. A bag of ground coffee on the way home. 



And in our travels around town, we turned over some new leaves. One thing we realized in our lazy bicycle banter is that we both miss our home-cooked meals. We’ve been eating out more often lately, and we miss the picnics in the backyard, the healthy-but-innovative dinners, the post-dinner laze in the hammock, and of course the extra dollars in the bank. 



When we got home, Bassman stayed in the backyard to switch out his bike tires. I headed inside to put something together for dinner, but it still felt early, and as I walked through the dining room I was struck by the golden beauty of the peaches sitting in a bowl on the table. 



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Their soft fuzz and the deep shadows. The flesh that would surely be overly dimpled by Tuesday. The call of the plums from last week that I had thrown in the fridge to keep from turning. 



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Before I really had thought it through, the oven was already preheating and peach juice was running down my fingers. Is there a color more lovely than that deep plum edge around the pit of a midsummer peach? 



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This pie comes together super-quick. If you time it right, while Bad*ss Bassman is out in the backyard switching the tires on his bike, you’ll have this in the oven and on to chopping vegetables for dinner by the time he comes in to wash his hands. You’ll pour two glasses of wine and Bassman will be on his second taco before he even realizes that there’s homemade pie for dessert. 



"You’re so sneaky!" he’ll say, when he walks in the kitchen for some more salsa and spots the pie cooling on the tile.



"Save room!" you’ll call back.



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As an aside, if you, like me, have had way too many indulgences lately, this is your pie. In fact, it’s more like breakfast — granola on top, stewed fruit underneath. Whole oats and nuts. Full-summer fruit. Soft fruit that won’t keep for too much longer. Sweet fruit that doesn’t demand too much (or any!) added sugar. Fruit that almost melts as you slice it. This is more like the pie that you would make for you and your family, not a fancy pie for company. This is the pie that gives you a Sunday dessert for your spirit when your body really just wants simple things. Perhaps it gives you a Monday breakfast, too. 



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INGREDIENTS



Filling:

6 cups sliced mixture of peaches and plums

1/4 cup sugar (if needed)

1/4 cup oat flour

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon sea salt



Topping:

2 cups rolled oats

1/4 oat flour

1/3 cups raw whole almonds

1/4 maple syrup

1 teaspoon cardamom 



DIRECTIONS



Preheat oven to 425. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Pour evenly into a pie dish. In another bowl, combine all the topping ingredients. Sprinkle evenly over filling, pressing carefully gently to make an even top. The filling does not have to cover the filling completely. 

To bake, place a sheet tray under the pie dish. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 325. Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is beginning to brown. 

Serve with ice cream, coconut whipped cream, or, for breakfast in a bowl with non-dairy milk. 



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Enjoy! 



xoxo, a.


Passover Macaroons (vegan!)

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A few months ago someone asked me to make a German Chocolate cake for her birthday. The fun thing about making birthday cakes is that I get to participate in celebrating even when I’m not actually going to the party. Besides sugar and spice and everything nice, when I’m making cakes and pies and other goodies I can feel the positive energy of the joyous occasion. I add my own good wishes into the yumminess. I’ve realized that a big part of what I like about cooking and baking — in fact, perhaps the biggest part, actually — is that it’s my way of giving love to whomever is the recipient of the goodies. In some way I’ve also realized that I’m not really an artist when it comes to these things — I’m just a lover. I want to put more love in the world. This is one of the ways I know how to do it. 

 

The other thing that is fun scary about making birthday cakes is that it’s a one-shot deal. I’ve got to get it right. And oftentimes someone calls me up with a request for a cake I’ve never before tried.

"I’m gluten-free and my son is allergic to nuts, but would you be able to make a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting?" Hehe… yes! I loved that project. 

 

Once I got a request for a completely flourless (as in, not any kind of flour — not just wheat), sugarless, vegan cake. And, um, no. That was the only cake I’ve ever said no to. I can do gluten-free, but no flour of any kind? I suggested they just make a bowl of fruit and stick a candle in it.

But I like trying out new ideas, and I’m learning as I go. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to making a German Chocolate cake …. macaroons! 

 

Last Passover, Bad*ss Bassman and I and three other friends gathered for a very small but very fun seder. Of the five of us, two of us were born and raised Jewish. One was raised Catholic. One’s mother was Jewish and father was Baptist. One was raised with no religion at all (the heathen!). It was one of the sweetest and most open-hearted seders I’ve ever attended, but at the end we ate French macaroons which felt odd. 

This year we five decided to gather again. Passover doesn’t really start till tonight, but we got a jump on the holiday by doing it last night. The seder plate had a roasted beet in place of the traditional roasted bone. Our main course was vegan matzoh ball soup, jackfruit brisket (recipe to come), roasted beets and turnips, a salad filled with avocado and grapefruit, and a big dollop of charoset. We drank more than our fill of the four cups of wine, and by the end of the night we had all moved to the living room and were shouting at the clap-on-clap-off lamp, laughing at its seeming willy-nilly switches that left us in the dark mid-stories. Just before the afikomen was discovered perched on the top of a door, we broke out the macaroons, protesting “I couldn’t eat another bite, but maybe just one more…”

 

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PASSOVER MACAROONS (vegan)

Inspired and adapted from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen  

Makes 40-45 macaroons

 

Ingredients

1 cup unsweetened soymilk

1/3 cup coconut milk from a can (shake it so you have both cream and liquid)

1 1/4 cups unbleached granulated sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract 

1/3 cup cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water until smooth

2 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

8 oz. dark chocolate

Directions

Combine flaked coconut and chopped pecans in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine soymilk, coconut milk, sugar, extract, and cornstarch mixture. Cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly. When mixture boils, cook and stir for 30 seconds more and then remove from heat. Pour mixture into bowl with coconut and pecans, and stir together till uniform. 

 

Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a double boiler (does anyone actually have a double boiler?? I just use a glass bowl set over a little water in a pot - see photo below). Scoop out and roll macaroon dough into balls, about 1 Tablespoon size (smaller than a golf ball). When chocolate is melted, dip halfway in, and then place on parchment or wax paper or solidify. 

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Happy Spring!

xoxo, Arielle


Cakes I’ve Made for Happy Celebrations (all vegan, of course!)

There’re a hundred different ways to tell a story. Here is the story of the past year or so, told in photos of some cakes I made for happy celebrations.

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(margarita cake with candied limes)

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(german chocolate cake)

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(cupakes: vanilla with raspberry frosting, and chocolate with coconut frosting)

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(gluten-free carrot cake with cream cheese frosting/filling and candied carrots)

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(cupcakes: mini gluten-free lemon with lavender frosting)

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(mexican chocolate cake)

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(green tea cake with raspberry buttercream filling and green tea frosting)

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(cupcakes: chocolate with coconut buttercream, red velvet with cream cheese frosting, and green tea with raspberry frosting)

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(3-layer lemon cake with lemon bar filling and lavender frosting)

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(cupcakes: chocolate with toasted coconut buttercream)

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(3-layer lemon cake with meyer lemon buttercream and strawberry pie filling)

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(3-layer green tea cake with raspberry buttercream filling and green tea frosting)

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(cupcakes: red velvet with cream cheese frosting)

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(mocha cake with mocha mouse filling and ganache frosting)

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(cupcakes: chocolate with ganache and berries)

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(coconut cake with banana vanilla buttercream filling/frosting, topped with fresh organic fruit and toasted coconut)

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(cupcakes: green tea with raspberry frosting)

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(lemon cake with blueberry buttercream filling and lavender buttercream)frosting

image(coconut cake with banana buttercream filling/frosting)


Waffles & Banana-Berry Compote (vegan!)

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One-use kitchen tools are not my thing. Bad*ss Bassman and I don’t have a fancy kitchen with endless cabinets, and even if we did, something silly like an avocado slicer would likely get lost at the bottom of drawer, lost to the world. I see myself sacrificing 10 minutes of precious life to root around in a drawer, only to give up and slice the avocado with a knife the way I always have. Knives are useful. Mixers? Useful. One-use kitchen tools? Lost. And, inevitably, difficult to clean.


Of course, the one exception is for waffles. Crispy outside, soft middle. Like a pancake but with more depths to dig into, more southern, more geometric….


My childhood waffle experience was limited to the frozen boxed kind, so I wasn’t even sure I liked waffles, but for years I’ve felt the pull of that strange one-use electric appliance. I’ve bookmarked Amazon pages and secretly wished for a waffle maker gift. In the end I’ve always reasoned that a one-use tool is a useless tool. Pancakes are better, I reasoned. Cooked in a pan, pancakes are universal. Every culture has its version, adaptable for sweet breakfasts and savory dinners. Who needs a waffle? Not me. Until a few weeks ago.


One beautiful December Sunday morning, just as I was coming off of a run around Griffith Park, I got a text from Bad*ss Bassman. A friend who organizes estate sales had contacted Bassman to say that his latest estate sale was over. The owner, our friend said, was practically on a plane at that very moment moving to western New York, and there was a ton of books and odd kitchen things left behind. Would we be interested in stopping by?


I can’t resist a pile of books - what fun! Besides, we’ve been on the look out for a couch — this has been an on-going discussion for months since the old one is on its last threads, but with the environmental impact, needing sturdiness for the rambunctious kidlets, and the cost, there’s so much to consider. Perhaps this New York transfer left a decent couch?


I met Bad*ss Bassman in the backyard of a lovely home in Burbank, and we spent 20 or so minutes flipping through boxes of silver platters, books galore, and other odds and ends. We didn’t score a couch, but somehow before dashing off for Bad*ss Bassman’s yoga class, we did manage to collect three boxes of old books (including the photo album of some name-forgotten stranger born in Greece around the turn-of-the-century), some scarves with horse pictures that we stuffed into the girls’ holiday stockings, and…. you guessed it… a waffle maker.


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In all the hurried holiday excitement, I almost forgot about our new waffle maker, but on New Years Day Bassman dug it out of the garage. Since this was my first foray into the wonderful world of waffles, I snagged a recipe online. These are not too sweet which is great - save the sweetness for the topping, I say. I made a banana-berry compote that Little E said she could just eat all day long. That’s a pretty good compliment from the pickiest eater in the family.


I like the rustic corners of imperfect waffles, so I under-filled each batch. This was the perfect amount for the 4 of us. Cooking spray would have been helpful, but we did just fine with a drizzle from the vegetable oil bottle.


NEW YEARS WAFFLES (vegan!)

adapted from Art of Dessert

Waffle breakfast for 4. Serve with compote or maple syrple (as we like to call it).


Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder (or, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can of coconut milk (or 1 1/2 cup other non-dairy milk like soy or almond)
cooking spray or cooking oil


Directions

Let the waffle maker warm up while you prepare the mix.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add the milk and mix until just combined (do not over mix). Pour 1/3 cup batter into each waffle section and let cook until waffle maker beeps.


Meanwhile, make some compote.


BANANA-BERRY COMPOTE

for 4


Ingredients

1 Tablespoon Earth Balance (or butter substitute)

1 banana, sliced

1 cup (or so) of mixed fresh or frozen berries

2 Tablespoons maple syrup


Directions

In a sauce pan, melt Earth Balance. When melted, add banana and stir to coat. Let cook for a few minutes until the edges brown. Add the berries and some water to the pan, just so they won’t burn. Add maple syrup and heat through until the water has evaporated and your compote is the desired consistency.


Serve with your waffles and raise your coffee in a toast for a happy, healthy, and abundant new year!


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xoxo, Arielle