A Warm Comfort Soup for a Cold, Story Day

As the year is coming to a close and the christmas season is over, we, in New England got our first storm of the winter season. Snow began to fall overnight, and then began to turn to freezing rain, making the commute to and from work, cold, slippery and not very pleasant. I didn’t want to stop at the grocery store to shop for supper, and my husband, Poppi and I didn’t feel like choosing a restaurant to eat at or to get take-home from; but we both knew we just wanted to get home and cocoon for the night.

So, the best thing for me to do, was cook whatever I could find on hand. Supper had to be nutritious, warming and delicious and I wanted it to be simple and easy to eat. What came to mind was an asian comfort food called rice porridge, or congee. This soup is often eaten for breakfast, or when one is sick or weak, or when one needs food-supplied comfort. Traditionally its made with meats and meat broths, but my mission was to make it vegan and low fat, which I was confident I could accomplish both. So, as soon as we arrived home, and were safely inside, I began gathering ingredients and chopping and preparing for our simple supper. As the storm raged on there was a certain comfort in knowing we had a delicious and nutritious stew simmering away on the stove.

This is the kind of cooking that doesn’t need exact measurements, or a complete listing of ingredients to be successful.  It mostly depends on what you have on hand, personal preferences  and technique, and how you combine all those elements.

First thing I did was choose a pot to cook in. My first mistake was choosing a too little pot.After cooking the rice, I realized I need a lot more room then I was allowing for in my 3 quart pot. A 5 quart to 6 quart pot should have been my first choice. Then I measured out one cup of medium grain rice, which I rinsed in the sink until clean. I put the rice and about 8 cups water in the pot and turned the burner on high. I added mushroom and veggie bouillon powder (low salt) to the water and tasted it to make sure I added enough seasoning.

As the rice began to cook, I began to chop my vegetables. I minced all the veggies very fine, almost the size of a grain of rice, and separated them into two containers. One container held the veggies that would take longer to cook, 1 small potato, 1 cup butternut squash, 1/2 large white onion, 1 large carrot,3 cloves garlic and about 3/4 cup white bok choy stems. The second container held the bok choy greens, minced finely, about 1  cup. I definitely would like to have put any other leafy green in the mix if I had some available, but I was going with what I had on hand at the time. I set the two containers aside to wait until the rice was ready.

After cooking the rice about 40 minutes, I was ready to assemble the rest of the stew. The rice was very cooked and the grains were beginning to break apart, which is exactly what I was going for. I added more water to the pot, as some had cooked away and some had absorbed into the rice, and then I adjusted the seasonings again, adding more mushroom bouillon, to my taste. All together I probably put in about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom veggie bouillon. Then I dumped in all the slow cooking vegetables and let them cook until they were soft, about 25 minutes longer. I tested the carrots for doneness, as I’ve discovered carrots take longer to cook than  potatoes and are a better indicator of doneness when cooking a combined dish. Then I poured in the minced bok choy greens, gave a good stir, cooked 5 minutes longer, then the vegetable congee was ready to serve.

If I had scallions, I would have garnished the congee with the scallions, but instead, I used a few grain of toasted sesame seeds, and crumbled toasted seaweed sheets. The congee hit the mark! It was comforting, hot, delicious and very healthy! We rounded out the meal with a side salad and my husband added a slice of his favorite rye bread!

Very easy and very repeatable. And as I am finding out for myself, more and more, the simplest foods are most often the most delicious and satisfying. Next time a storm is threatening, be it emotional or weather…cook up a pot of comforting congee and see if it does the trick for you!

Happy Vegan Lunch Find

After work today, I had to drive a couple towns over and run a couple errands, shopping and ordering a much needed heating fuel delivery. I was very hungry, but couldn’t decide where to stop for lunch, because anything I could think of was not quite what I thought I wanted. Probably I was too hungry to think clearly. I should have been better prepared and bought a snack with me.

On my way back through town, I went by a charming soup and sandwich shop and decided to stop in. If my memory served me right, I may be able to find something there which was nutritious and satisfying.

And I was right. I got a vegan sandwich called the Veritable Veggie on the Healthiest Bread Ever. Vegan, delicious, nutritious and satisfying; just exactly what I needed!  The sandwich was packed with lettuce, cucumber, carrots, tomato, beansprouts, red onions and peppers. Also a modest amount of hummus, which was just the perfect amount! And all of this on a healthy whole grain bread, which was advertised as vegan.

It made me happy to feel good about eating lunch outside of home, without a big fuss about my food choices. Hopefully many more such places will open up, but sometimes I wonder if enough people will patronize these healthier places to make it profitable for the owners. Oh well, one meal at a time…2015-12-07 15.15.44

A Traveling Vegan Must Be Prepared!

Here we are, back to the cold winter reality of New England. I loved Mexico. We had a beautiful vacation and soaked up the gorgeous sunshiny weather. This was the perfect time of year to visit Mexico because it never felt too hot or stifling, even on the one day it rained, it only rained off and on and one could still enjoy outside activities throughout the day.

The biggest and most important lesson I learned, first hand, is this: you must be prepared!

During the travel to and from your destination, you must pack simple, light, small snacks to get you through those times. Airport food and convenience store foods are very expensive and very often are not vegan friendly. You will be reading labels until your eyeballs fall out and then you will feel the money draining out of your pockets… better to be prepared.

Know what food will be available at your destination. Read menus, and visit the restaurants, look, and ask questions. A lot of times things will be obvious, such as fruit platters or salad bars; most of the time those selections will be vegan, unless they use a cream sauce or dressings. Also obvious will be platters of meats and meat based stews or meat and egg based breakfasts.You will know, those are not vegan. By the way, pancakes will almost always have eggs and milk in them, the best breakfast, I found to be for me was fruits, and oatmeal. But you may have to ask for the oatmeal to be prepared with water, because if you are going to a breakfast buffet most likely the oatmeal will be prepared with milk and butter.
Also not so obvious are veggies, rice and pasta dishes. A perfectly vegan-looking rice and veggie dish may have meat broth or butter or salt pork in it as the beginning preparation. The pasta sauces usually have meat, meat stock or cheeses. The veggies may be grilled in the meat drippings to give them more flavor. Best to stay with veggies that looked steamed and/or have no sauce.

My easiest finds to make things vegan for me, was veggie pizza, pasta, fruits and salad bars. The pizza was made vegan by asking for the veggies of my choice and no cheese on the pizza.
At another meal, I would ask for plain pasta, which I would then add to it veggies from the salad bar and other condiments I would find, which were vegan, such as an olive relish or stewed tomatoes. So each time I had pasta, it would be different depending on what I chose to put on it. Very liveable, very satisfying and easy on the stomach.

And so it depends on your dietary goals and how closely you want to adhere to your own guidelines, and why you have chosen those guidelines, how your experience will be. what are your goals? Do you want to not gain a lot of excess weight while you are vacationing? Do you want to avoid the blah feeling and the overstuffed stomach ache feeling that leaves you unable to enjoy other activities for even a short time? Do you want to spend extra time in the bathroom while your digestive system complains to you because of your meat based indulgences? If all of the answers to these questions are no, then stay as close to your vegan diet as you can. Really. You will feel so much better for it.