The Vegan Weekend – Part II, Brunch

Easter Pie ready for the oven

I enjoy entertaining for brunch on the weekends.  I think it’s a great time to visit, without worrying about getting the kids to bed on time, like hosting a dinner party.  We’ve been hosting lots of brunches lately with other families.  It’s a chance for the kids to play as well as have some adult leisure time.  Brunch is more casual.  No need to dress up or even bring a bottle of wine (although I never turn away some sparkling wine and orange juice for mimosas).  

Brunch is also great for menu planning.  There are many dishes that can be made ahead so you can enjoy your company.  There’s also a wide variety of foods, looking at both breakfast and lunch options, that appeal to all ages.  When having kids at brunch (or really any meal) I like to have something they can put together themselves.  Whether it’s spreading bagels with cream cheese, making a yogurt parfait, or decorating fruit faces on pancakes, kids like to be creative and involved.  And if the kids are not already familiar with everyone at the table, it’s a fun ice breaker to get to know and laugh with each other.

We’ve been fine tuning the brunch menu, and here;s kind of our set menu (with first time guests) and our favorites right now.  As you’ll notice these are all great menu items for any time of day.  And most of these ingredients are pantry and refrigerator staples (eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, bagels) to prepare quickly and easily:

  • · Savory Bread Pudding if making ahead, or a simple egg and vegetable scramble made just before eating.
  • · Platter of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers, with a basket of mini bagels and English muffins.
  • · Arugula salad with avocado and toasted almonds with balsamic vinaigrette.
  • · Maple yogurt over mixed seasonal fruit, and topped with granola or Energy Bark (recipe follows).
  • · Juice sparklers (bubble water with a splash of juice) for kids, and mimosas for adults.

However I was hosting brunch with family for 14, while my sister was in town.  Remember she’s vegan and I can’t just make my usual brunch and hand her a plate of raw veggies.  Plus she wanted to help and we were hoping to discover some new tasty vegan brunch options together.  I printed off quite a few recipes from poppy seed muffins to  eggless scrambles.  However I was intriqued by an Easter Pie recipe.  My sister wasn’t too sure, and really didn’t want to be responsible for “ruining my brunch”.  

It’s so funny how people think all will be lost if the meal doesn’t succeed.  I’m cooking for family, not for paying customers.  If it doesn’t come out well, can’t we just all laugh over a bowl of granola?  Or just order something at a deli and visit in the park?  No one wants good food more than I do, especially when hosting, but let’s be kinder to each other and give our hosting families a break.   

Anyways the Easter Pie was great and I will make it again, for vegans and omnivores.  There’s lots of ways you could change it as well – adding roasted veggies, changing spices, etc.  There were plenty of other things to eat at the table, including food brought by other guests, but the pie was gone.  And nope my sister didn’t eat it all.

Here’s the recipe….You may even want to make it for Easter.

Easter Pie

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegan “butter” sticks 
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 lb. vegetarian sausage, crumbled
  • 1 lb. organic firm tofu, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup soy Parmesan cheese (I used daiya brand) 
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground fennel seeds 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a food processor, combine the flour, margarine, sugar, and 1/4 tsp. of salt. With the machine still running, add the water to form a dough ball. Divide the dough into two balls and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the vegetarian sausage, tofu, soy Parmesan, parsley, remaining salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and fennel seeds.

Roll out the dough into two 11-inch circles. Place one circle in a 10-inch pie plate and spread the filling mixture over it. Cover with the other dough, pinch the edges, and prick the center with a fork.

Bake for 1 hour, or until golden brown and cooked in the center.

Easter Pie, going fast

The Vegan Weekend – Part 1

Ellery's giant salad and "pizza"

So my sister came and the corned beef was put away.  Instead I stocked up on vegan sausage and cheeses, vegan “butter” sticks and pleny of fruits and veggies.  I am becoming pleasantly surprised by the vegan recipe choices and products, that are quite tasty.  Many of these items are not as soy based as in the past.  Surprisinlgy wheat gluten, potatoes and veggies make up the vegan sausage.

As my husband was picking up Aunt Christy and Uncle Craig (a.k.a. Unc and Tee Tee) from the airport, I was home with the kids, roasting veggies.   I make these veggies on a regular basis, to create last minute meals during the week.  These are easy to make and great to have on hand for any diet, be it vegan, vegetarian or omnivore.  The veggies (this time red peppers, zucchini, potobello mushrooms) are simply cleaned,  cut, oiled (I use olive) and seasoned (I use rosemary salt, pepper and fresh thyme and rosemary) and roasted in the oven on a baking pan on 400F for about 30 minutes.  These can be added to pasta, salad, couscous, pizza, sandwiches, wraps, and the list goes on and on…

During out weekend we went out to eat twice.  Often going out is a challenge for someone on a restricted diet be it food allergies, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian etc.   Once we went for chinese food at Feng Nian in Sausalito (lots of veggie options and yummy meat and seafood dishes for the carnivores) and the other time we went to Cafe Gratitude.  This place is vegan heaven.  They “celebrate the aliveness of food”.   I’d had their food at the farmer’s market, but never been to the restaurant and was waiting to take my sister.  All the ingredients are organic, local and sustainable.  They even have their own farm.  The food is wonderful.  However the ambance is lacking.  Kind of like eating in your college deli/bookstore.  I think take-out and a trip to the park for a picnic will be my choice next time.  My sister appreciated the food and effort and enjoyed being able to look at a menu and be able to choose anything.  And did I mention all the names of the menu items are affirmations, such as “I am Wonderful” or “I am Refreshed”?  Here’s a few photos, as the food is quite inventive and beautiful.  My daughter had a “pizza” on homemade cracker bread, called “I am Passionate” (above photo).  She liked it but it was a bit messy for her.  My sister and I shared these lovely spring rolls, wrapped in some type of kale leaves as well as yummy indian biryani quinoa dish (“I am Graceful”). My brother in law had a rich black bean mexican inspired dish (Yo Soy Mucho”).  My son had a comforting, sweet porridge with coconut and dried fruits (“I am Bright Eyed”).  However my husband got the short end.  The waiter recommended the “I am Giving” salad of kale and seaweed with miso sauce, and my husband bit.  We weren’t sure why as he is not a huge kale and seaweed fan.  This was the dish that makes people think “vegan” = funky food.  Yes, it was different, but fun.  Even the inside of the bowls ask, “What are you thankful for?”

Springrolls, vegan style
quinoa curry bowl

All Things Green – Belated St. Pat’s Day

No, I’m no Irish, but I certainly like St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s a big excuse to eat fat and salt and wish for luck (that you’ll survive the meal mostly) and dress silly (at least at my house).  It’s also a good night to share with friends, since you’ll be making so much food and only do it once a year.

 Actually I do make a healthier version of the traditional meal.  First I start with appetizers that are green – snap peas, edamame, celery, green beans etc.  The kids get into this and it’s a great way to get them excited about veggies.  As for the corned beef and cabbage…I never really understand why people boil the meal.  Tradition?  The cabbage is sweeter when sauteed with a bit of olive oil.  The meat is easier and quicker to cook by roasting.  And the flavor is so much better.

Here’s what I do…

4 lb. corned beef brisket (brined from the butcher)

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons dijon mustard 

Mix the mustard and honey together.  Use it to coat the meat.  Go right over the black peppercorns and other seasonings on the meat (of if you have a spice packet, mix with mustard).

Place meat on rack over roasting pan with 1/2 cup water in bottom of pan.

Roast approximately 2 hours or until thermometer reads 150F.

I also made Irish Soda Bread.

And Spinach Hummus.

And Cabbage with Apples.

Oh, yeah…and brought zucchini bread to share with my daughter’s preschool.  Along with edamame, which she picked because it was green.

I’m done being Irish for a bit.  I’m tired and full.  Plus my sister (the vegan) comes to town today, so we put away the meat.  Erin Go Braugh.


Let Them Crack Eggs

There’s usually a pecking (yes, pun intended) order in most kitchen.  As the oldest seems to do more of the actual hands on food prepping.  Makes sense as the older kids’ are the more coordinated, responsible and careful.  Well not always…

In the case of eggs at my house, there’s a new chef in town.  My son had always been the egg cracker.  Actually not always.  He wasn’t interested until he was about 5 and wasn’t so worried about getting “yuck” on his hands.  While he liked to do it, the egg didn’t always make the bowl.  It’s o.k. as it’s all part of the process of learning (patience as the adult and hand eye coordination as the child). 

While making pancakes on Sunday my daughter asked for the first time if she could crack the eggs.  I quickly looked at my son to see what his reaction would be.  Jealousy? Territorialism? Chalance? Indignity?  Surprisingly he was all for it and explained the steps with enthusiasm to his sister.  We were all quite impressed, both with his attitude and her ability.  While this rookie had certainly seen many a cracked egg, she was sucessful the first time… all in the bowl with only a bit of shell. 

Here are a few things to do to get ready for your child’s first, and really every, egg crack…

1. Set up your cracking chore at a table or sink with safe stool, where your child can easily see and reach.   

2. Have a separate clean bowl for cracking.  This allows easy removal of any shell pieces.  Rather than adding directly to say cookie batter and trying to fish out shells among other ingredients.

3. Have a kitchen towel ready.  This is both for any mishaps on hands (most are not a fan of the ticky feeling) and/or counter.

4. Have an extra bowl, garbage bowl, compost crock or sink, ready for the shells.  Don’t make your child guess as to where to put or drip the shells.

5. Have extra eggs on hand, in case egg(s) misses the bowl.

6. Have fun and keep a sense of humor.

7. Clap and praise.



I love Oscar night.  I really enjoy movies, and while I don’t get to the theatre much to see anything over a G rating, I’m always there for the Oscars.  It’s the fashion, the comradery, the bloopers, the hopes and joyful tears and jeers… and the food (more on that later).  I don’t watch alone and not at home (the kids aren’t up for a marathon of dresses and talking by real people).  I go to my dear friend Janelle’s, who’s been hosting this night as long as I can remember.  There was a few I missed, but only because I was out of town.  Twice we were out of the country (London one year and Prague another) and did everything possible to get a feed of the Oscars in our hotels, but to no avail.

There’s always one movie I’m excited about.  I love to cheer for the movie and cast my ballot for favorites.  In the past few years since kids, I try to make educated guesses for movies I’ve never seen or even heard of.  This year in addition to A Single Man, I was routing for Food Inc.  I though the movie was great and had just heard the producer speak on a panel at the Teens Turning Green Summit and really wanted her to take the stage and give an Oscar speech.  It unfortuately didn’t happen and now while sad as it is, I need to see The Cove.  The good thing is that Food Inc. is out there and according to the producer is the number one selling DVD of all time.  Hopefully that will help make some changes in the commercial food industry (or at least wake up some consumers).

Back to our oscar food…the spread reads like the Oscar for best appetizers and wine to be found, followed by dessert.  Everything from local cheeses (at least 6 kinds) and crackers (wheat, gluton free, rye, etc), to wild salmon and onion spread, to organic veggies and hummus, to charcuterie to marcona almonds and more.   We laugh and eat and drink and gossip and do it over and over until the show is over – 3 plus hours later.  Mind you there seems to be this much food and variety whether there’s 2 of us or 8.

This year I brought dessert.  Cupcakes and sandwich cookies. Nope you’ll be surprised I didn’t make them.  Fitting the Oscars into a Sunday full of french toast breakfast, a ballet birthday party, a soccer game and family gardening duties is tough.  There’s no time for extra baking and missing out on something else.  The sweets were purchased from Teacake Bakeshop in Corte Madera.  Aren’t they lovely?  Yep, and yummy too.

cupcakes and cookie sandwiches

Happy Chinese New Year – Beef with Lettuce Cups Recipe

We’d been celebrating Chinese New Year the entire month of February.   Making dishes for other blogs and articles, we had been eating lots of yummy recipes so I could take photographs, like this.  See below for the lettuce cups recipe.

lettuce cups

Of course the grand finale of our Chinese New Year celebration was the actual parade.  This year as the past three, was a spectacle of sights and sounds of dancing dragons, decorative floats, music and firecrackers.

Like year’s past, we arrived early and walked the streest of Chinatown; snacking on a pork bun, buying poppers and sparklers, visiting the pet shop, stopping at the fortune cookie factory and people watching. 

A dried fish stand
I paid 50 cents to take this photo of the factory

Before the parade we had a great dinner of dim sum and seafood.  One of the dishes was a seafood nest.  The nest was potato strings all weaved together like a nest (th seafood sat inside).  I had wanted to take a photo to show you, however the waiter was so quick to break (oh gasp!) and serve the dish, I wasn’t quick enough. 

Ellery and her carrot flower

The evening ended for us a bit early (the parade wasn’t quite over) as the crowd was getting a bit rowdy (more than I remember in the past).  There were many more fireworks and smokebombs in the crowd.  Our ears had heard enough, our bellies were full (we had a custard cup on the walk back to the car) and we were happy to help usher in the year of the tiger.


Beef-Filled Lettuce Cups

Lettuce cups are a fun excuse for kids to eat with their hands. If you’re looking for the flavor without the mess, you can simply have children eat the beef mixture out of a bowl with a spoon or fork. This also works as a salad when entertaining by shredding the lettuce and mixing with the beef to be enjoyed with chop sticks out of individual Chinese take-out boxes. For vegetarians substitute diced firm tofu for the beef.

Makes 3 cups beef mixture or 16 to 18 filled lettuce cups

2 teaspoons expeller-pressed canola oil

2 tablespoons minced organic red bell pepper

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 pound organic lean beef

¼ cup fresh organic mushrooms (portobello, crimini or shiitake), chopped

3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves

2 teaspoons organic low-sodium tamari

1½ teaspoons ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

16 to 18 organic butter lettuce leaves

2 tablespoons prepared plum sauce (optional)

In a large frying pan or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, shallot, and garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add beef, breaking apart and stirring, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Drain off excess fat and liquid from mixture.

            Stir in the mushrooms, cilantro, tamari, allspice, ginger, and lime juice and cook until beef is cooked and mushrooms are tender, about 2 minutes.

            Serve beef mixture in a large bowl alongside lettuce leaves. To eat, spoon beef mixture into leaves then top with ½ teaspoon plum sauce (if using).

Pack Perfectly. To pack and take to a family dinner or pot luck, put beef mixture in one container and layer cold, crisp lettuce leaves in another.