Artisanal Nondairy and Vegan Cheese that Tastes Good: Kite Hill

Gourmet dairy-free cheeses: Kite Hill Soft Fresh Original and Soft Ripened.

Gourmet dairy-free cheeses: Kite Hill Soft Fresh Original and Soft Ripened.

Most Thursdays or Fridays is pizza night around here. Armed with our cast iron skillets and Whole Foods ball o’ pizza dough, my boyfriend and I create our own versions of pizza faves. His usually includes fresh mozzarella and some sort of turkey pepperoni, while mine is loaded up on veggies and whatever vegan version of cheese I’m interested in creating that week. Sometimes it’s a cashew or almond nut cheese, sometimes a simple mix of tofu and nutritional yeast, and only very occasionally a store-bought vegan cheese such as Daiya mozzarella shreds. The first time I had Daiya “cheese” was at a nearby restaurant that sold only vegan pizzas. It was pretty exciting to have something close to cheese at the time, but since then, I’ve realized I’m not a big fan of most nondairy cheeses. (The tofu cream cheeses you can get at most NYC bagel shops and at a couple places around Boston are the major exceptions.)

Soft Fresh Original on left; Soft Ripened/Brie-style on right, which comes wrapped in a wood-style round box

Soft Fresh Original on left; on right is the Soft Ripened-Brie-style, which comes wrapped in a wood-style round box

The problem is that most of the readily available nondairy cheeses are a mix of ingredients like tapioca flours and oils, they’re quite processed, and, well, they taste like it. I’m glad they exist but like I said, eating them is a rarity. For many people who eat a vegan or plant-based diet, cheese is pretty much the last frontier. Hands down, it’s the thing I miss the most, and last week I had a wicked craving that had me vowing to finally order some Miyoko’s Kitchen artisanal cheese from California, which is the only cheese I’ve heard about that’s supposed to rival the real thing. The only problem was that I wanted something now. So after researching a bit, it turns out that there’s a whole vegan cheese revolution going on, well, at least the start of one, with a number of companies creating game-changing vegan cheese. And one of those gourmet nondairy cheese companies, Kite Hill, is widely distributed to Whole Foods across the country. In other words, there’s been an artisanal vegan cheese option right under my nose and I didn’t even know it! So, to the store I went for the second time that day, where I picked up two of the Kite Hill flavors: the Soft Fresh Original, which I’ve seen compared to a farmer cheese or basket cheese, and the Soft Ripened, aka, vegan brie.

Kite-Hill-vegan-cheese-unwrapped

Soft Fresh Original on left; Soft Ripened/Brie-style on right

Tastewise: They were both absolutely thrilling. Unlike most nondairy cheeses, the Kite Hill cheeses have just a few ingredients and are made using traditional cheese-making techniques. The company first transforms almond milk into curds and whey, then cultures and ferments the curds. According to the site, the two I bought are aged as well, though I’m guessing the Soft Ripened/Brie-style is for longer. The Brie-style flavor even has a rind just like its dairy counterpart. But these plant-based cheeses don’t just look good, they taste so much better than anything else I’ve purchased ready-made.

The Soft Fresh Original has a sort of tangy flavor and what I think of as a stinky quality (light, but in that yummy cheese way). It is absolutely delicious mixed with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic powder spread on sourdough and topped with vine-ripened tomato slices. The Soft Ripened/Brie-style tastes very close to what I remember Brie to taste, so you could pretty much do anything you’d have done with Brie. (My favorite used to be Brie and grape quesadillas.)

mini-pizzas

An assortment of mini pizzas topped with either the Original or Soft Ripened

So back to pizza night…Neither cheese seemed 100% appropriate as a pizza cheese, and I didn’t think you’re really supposed to cook with them (though after that night I read the FAQs and you can). Anyway, I decided to create four mini pizzas and test different toppings. I carmelized some onions, and had that and (on different ones) olives, fig jam, and arugula and did different cheeses on them. One I made more traditional (tomato sauce, etc.). I cooked the pizzas then put the arugula and cheese on at the very end, so they were just warmed. They were all delicious, and definitely satisfied my cheese craving.

Of course, these vegan cheeses would be appropriate for someone with a dairy intolerance as well. I’m not promising they will 100% satisfy if you’re a dairy cheese eater. I’ll have to test that at some point with some willing participants (i.e., someone more adventurous than my aforementioned boyfriend), but I bet the satisfaction comes close.

Kite Hill has other cheeses—a truffle dill and chive, a ricotta, and a couple cream cheeses—and they have a couple ravioli options. I won’t likely be exploring vegan cheese every day, but I am definitely going to broaden my tastes in this category. In the future, I’ll try the other Kite Hill flavors, for sure. I’ll also order some of the Miyoko’s cheeses at some point as well (check out the beautiful photos). The Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf is sold out right now, but that’s what I have my eye on. And I will definitely look into some other brands I discovered in this research (such as Punk Rawk Labs, which is based in Minnesota, not California like Kite Hill and Miyoko’s). It’s just nice that people who can’t or don’t eat dairy cheeses are getting some options!

Below I’m including some links to other taste tests and articles on the new vegan cheeses, some of which mention other companies. If, like me, you haven’t heard of this brave new world of delectability, do take a look!

 

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Running Love, Audrey Hepburn’s Healthy Living Secrets, and the Empathetic Brain

Running love

Every relationship—whether you’re talking friends, family, or romantic partner—takes attention and a bit of work. That’s even (or especially?) true when you’re talking about your relationship with exercise. On that note, this week I’m over at Runner’s World/Zelle, where I offer ideas for falling (and staying) in love with running, but I suspect the broad strokes of the ideas could apply to a number of passions. Check it out!

More link love:

Audrey Hepburn was an icon of class, beauty, and style, so it’s perhaps not surprising that she brought that grace to healthy living and food as well. Her son has just published a cookbook At Home with Audrey, and in an interview he talks about her very well-rounded and holistic approach to life, including her emphasis on drinking water, her flexitarian and seasonal approach to eating, and her once-a-month detox day. (Of course she was ahead of the curve!) See it here.

A new study found differences in the brains of people who respond emotionally to other’s feelings (like those moved to tears by witnessing others’ pain), compared with those who have more rational (or cognitive) empathy, such as a clinical psychologist counseling a client. It makes perfect sense that there are different kinds of empathy and that those types light up different parts of the brain, and I can see this finding having a number of ramifications. As just one example, one would imagine that helping professionals do far better with a hefty dose of cognitive empathy versus the emotional kind. (Can’t get much done if you’re crying along with your patients, right?) I’ve personally never heard empathy broken down into subcategories and it’s definitely given me things to think about. See the study here.

Reading that study made me think about discussions of how reading fiction cultivates empathy. Not long ago, I saw the historical fiction writer Erika Robuck during her book tour for the lovely The House of Hawthorne, who said something along the lines of: “A history book can help you see a battle, but fiction can put you in characters’ shoes and makes you feel what they’re feeling.” Her words are backed up by a study that finds not all reading is equal, empathy development-wise. Not surprising, literary fiction—as compared with genre or nonfiction—was the winner for boosting readers’ ability to their ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. See the study here.

How do you keep your workouts fresh? Where are you on the empathy continuum? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?

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Triumph, Running, and My New Article on Runner’s World

PLEASE JOIN ME at the Zelle section of Runner’s World this week for my piece on triumph, motherhood, and running! 

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At top: Lauren Edwards of Run Salt Run crossing the finish line of her first marathon.

We’ve had a very strange six months or so in the Boston area. First there was the historic Snowmageddon winter, then it got nice for like two days, then completely hot, then downright frigid—just a week ago I wore a coat to a Red Sox game. In June! (I was sick that week so I was probably even more susceptible to cold than usual, but it wasn’t just me: The day before that people all over the city were in coats and winter hats! This day, they’d ditched the hats, but it was still freezing.)

Anyway, I say all this to illustrate how wild it was that I went out for a run yesterday without checking my weather app. I’d had a bad start to the morning, so maybe that was why. Plus, I went out later in the morning than usual, so I was a bit off my game all the way around. The temperature felt fine when I stepped outside though, so for a change weather wasn’t on my mind. But then about 10 minutes into my run I felt dizzy and like I was going to pass out, and I realized it was extremely hot and humid. Not only that, but I was running faster than usual (thanks to a new song on my running mix). For the next mile it was a war between two voices, one on each shoulder similar to what you see sometimes in movies, only mine were focused on exercise: the lethargic sloth-y devil on one shoulder—“Oh, this is no good at all. It’s waayy too hot to run. Let’s turn around and go slather Earth Balance on that bagel that’s waiting for us”—duking it out with the drill sergeant/angel on the other—“No! We’re going to run! We’re not going to let this heat beat us! Get cracking people!” (The drill sergeant/angel is a big fan of barking out orders.)

After a few starts-and-stops, drill sergeant had her way, and then something miraculous happened: I felt like I was flying, heat and humidity be damned. I did pop into a convenience store for an ice cold bottle of water which didn’t hurt (and felt very good on my wrists and neck), but not only did I finish my run, I actually looped back to add on more to it. When I returned home—completely drenched and face beet red—I felt so happy and triumphant, literally and metaphorically miles away from where I’d been when I’d left.

Each time I go out for a run, there’s a sense of that triumph—sometimes small, such as when I go when you just don’t want to, sometimes grand-feeling, such as when I want to completely drop out of a run or race, but instead push through and surprise myself with something I didn’t even know I had inside. Running’s ability to supply a triumph is one of the many reasons I love it.

My stories of triumph are small. I’ve never had to overcome anything major to run, and I probably don’t push myself as hard as I could since I’m in it largely for the Zen. But the running world abounds with dramatic stories, and I am absolutely thrilled to have written one them for my favorite publication, Runner’s World. It’s online at Zelle, which is the new section aimed at women.

My piece focuses on Lauren Edwards, who underwent two surgeries to correct her femoral anteversion as a young girl, after which she spent most of the year immobilized in a cast from her waist to her ankles, lying prone on her “wheelbed.” Subsequently she dealt with a number of issues, both external and internal. The “you-can/no-you-can’t” voices I dealt with yesterday were nothing to compared to what she had to overcome.

Check out the story I wrote about her inspirational experience of overcoming limitations, and weigh in with your thoughts!

(By the way, there should be a couple more pieces publishing on Runner’s World soon. I’ll let you know when they do!)

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20 Vegan Recipes for Your Memorial Day Barbecue or Plant-Powered Get Together

flag-toothpicks

Appetizers

Salads

Burgers/Sandwich/Sides

Desserts

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Quick and Easy Vegan African Peanut Stew

Vegan-African-Chickpea-Stew

Peanut butter and warming spices make this Vegan African Peanut Stew with Chickpeas a cozy and delicious treat.

Generally speaking, I like to eat light, cool food during warmer months and heavier, hot food during the colder ones. So, even though it’s spring, when yesterday the weather turned a bit chilly, I realized I was craving something heartier than the things I’ve been eating lately (for example, Socca with nut cheeses and vegetables). In addition, for weeks now, I’ve had this really strong craving for peanut butter, but it’s generally not something I like to have around since it’s a definite weakness of mine. But when I had a lightbulb moment that crashed those two cravings together, I remembered the convenient excuse for peanut butter in a bowl, err, I mean, my love for African Peanut Stew, and realized I would just have to indulge myself. (It’s all about balance, right?)

My introduction to African Peanut Stew/Soup was at a Christmas celebration a few years ago. The idea of both peanut butter and coconut milk as star ingredients of a dish was truly scary (read: calories, fat), but I couldn’t exactly say no since the hostess had made a special batch vegan just for me by replacing the chicken with chickpeas. The first taste and the ones that followed were so sumptuous, I couldn’t help but relax and savor every bite. So, not surprisingly I associate that dish with happy times and cozy gatherings, not to mention special occasions. The warming aromas of ginger, cinnamon, and curry, not to mention peanut butter, makes for a decadent and soothing homey feel that is all about the pleasure food was meant to be.

Last night was just a Wednesday, but with the aromas of all that in the air, it felt like a special occasion, and the actual eating of the stew was a definite treat. And as my boyfriend eats very little of the kinds of food I eat (though he has become more adventurous and healthy over the years), I got it all to myself. Again. Even cold it’s awesome. (I checked before I had some for lunch today!)  The best part is it’s actually really easy to make. You could also do in the crock pot if you wanted to go the longer and slower cooking route.

Many versions call for coconut milk and most have chicken, but I don’t eat the latter and since the soup is not the lowest-calorie soup a person could have, I figured I would leave the coconut milk out as well. In addition, just about every recipe you will see is slightly different and may include, for example, celery, red bell pepper, and other ingredients not in this one. But the stew is like a chili in the sense that you can customize it for your taste. Regardless of the way you choose to customize it for your taste, I hope you enjoy it!

(Note: You know how sometimes you meet a person in real life after seeing their photo, and you’re like, ‘holy heck, this person is beautiful and photos don’t do him/her any justice!’ Well, that stew photo up there is like that. Partly because the beauty is in the flavors and the aroma, and partly because, clearly, I need to do some food photography study. It’s on the list, I promise! But all that’s to say, don’t hold that photo against my poor little stew.)

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for cooking
  • One onion (I used Vidalia to add more sweetness)
  • One sweet potato
  • 3 or 4 cups vegetable broth or water (more or less depending on the thickness you want)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Approximately ¼ cup chopped ginger root (or if eyeballing amount, it’s about three thumb-sized roots, or equivalent)
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1T curry powder
  • Kosher, sea, or pink salt to taste
  • Fresh pepper to taste
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 1T tumeric
  • A few shakes of cayenne (about a teaspoon or so)
  • 4T chunky natural peanut butter
  • One small bunch of kale (lacinto, if possible)
  • One bunch of cilantro (it might look like a lot, but it cooks way down, but if you’re not a cilantro lover, do use less)
  • 2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, aka, garbanzo beans (or one large one)
  • Approximately ¼ small jalapeño or Serrano chili (optional, and to taste)

Top with:

  • Sriracha to taste (by which I mean lots and lots!!)
  • Crushed peanuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash all your veggies and drain and rinse your chickpeas. (Or work these steps in as you do other steps.)
  2. Coat soup pot with a little olive oil, then add finely chopped onion and sweet potato. Heat on low until softened. (It helps to add a splash of water after about five minutes. Also, watch closely and stir often to prevent burning.)
  3. Chop garlic and ginger. Add some of your water or broth to a blender, then add garlic and ginger, and blend on high until fully blended.
  4. Add tomatoes to blender and more of the water or broth and all spices except for the jalapeño or Serrano. Blend until smooth.
  5. Finely chop kale and cilantro in between other tasks.
  6. At this point, add to the blender the full amount of liquid you will be working with and to that add the sweet potatoes and onion. Blend until smooth and pour back into soup pan.
  7. Finely chop desired amount of jalapeño or Serrano. Be careful not to touch the chili—I used a knife and fork—and also be careful washing the utensils and cutting board. The juice can burn your skin, and the fumes can be hot.
  8. Add peanut butter, then taste and add more if desired. Add rinsed garbanzo beans, kale, and cilantro. Heat on very low for desired amount of time. This is a dish you can keep closer to raw or not, depending on how you like it. I heated mine just until veggies had softened.
  9. Serve hot (though it tastes delicious cold too), and top with a sprinkle of crushed peanuts if desired and lots of sriracha (which, on the other hand, is mandatory).

 

Serve over couscous or rice, or with toasted scali bread topped with Earth Balance.

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Whole Foods Now Carries 365 Everyday Value Non-BPA Cans

Whole-Foods-non-BPA-canned-beans

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or are simply trying to eat a more plant-based diet, chances are you probably eat a lot of beans. I used to just pick up whatever brand appealed to me. But after learning how toxic BPA is, I pretty much stuck to Eden brand for my canned beans, which is widely available but kind of expensive. (Isn’t part of the point of beans that they’re supposed to be cheap?) I do cook mine from dry as much as possible, but the convenience of canned beans means that they are sometimes the go-to, especially during busy times.

Now, Whole Foods has their own brand of non-BPA beans, and they’re quite a bit cheaper than the Eden brand. Plus, I swear they taste fresher than most canned foods, which I attribute to the fact that they’re so new.

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Whew, It’s Finally Spring!

 

BostonSpringtime_1230x600

No, it doesn’t look anything like this yet, but it will! It will!

Happy Spring everyone!

This is just a quick post, but I realized that after the historically difficult winter we’ve had in the Boston area, I cannot let the first day of Spring pass without marking it.

Spring is not exactly evident around here. I just looked at my weather app, and this morning it was 20 degrees during my run (it’s a whopping 29 or so now). So no, Spring has not exactly sprung. Or at least not in a way that would be obvious to say, people in warmer climes than mine.

Say, like, the people on Lost. In addition to a ton of reading this insane winter, there might have been some binge-watching of Lost going on. Watching the sweaty and barely dressed Jack, Kate, Sawyer and company run around the sparkling, lush, and drop-dead gorgeous Oahu while in real life I wore about 20 layers even inside and outside white skies overlooked snowbanks so high they obscured any view at all was just a tad bit surreal. Escapism and juxtaposition at its finest.

In comparison to Hawaii or plenty of the rest of the country, Spring is not exactly evident. It reminds me of how when I lived in Southern California, people from other parts of the country would say there’s no Winter. There is, it’s just subtle.

The first day of Boston Spring 2015 has that same subtlety: Unseeable to outsiders, unmissable to those who live there. For starters, the six feet-plus piles of snow are gone; it’s down to six inches or less in most spots. You can even see sidewalks now! That means going for a walk or run outside no longer feels like taking your life in your hands because it’s impossible to see around corners. The hardened dirty snow covering most of the yards yields to a narrow strip of grass along the edges (yellow, but still!). Suddenly, the light has a different quality, thinner somehow and more golden. The air, cold as it is, carries the hint of wet earth and the tulips and daffodils to come. Was I layered up during my run? Yes. Yes, I was. But, still…now, with all of those aforementioned signs of Spring, promise is in the air.

Spring is my absolute favorite season. I love flowers, the very particular scent of new beginnings, and—this year especially—the more temperate weather. Somehow everything seems a little easier, and I can’t help but feel a huge amount of gratitude.

So here’s to Spring! I hope your first day of this season is fabulous and that your weekend is as well.

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