Fresh Spring Roll Vermicelli Salad


Fresh Spring Roll Salad with Peanut Dressing

I love Vietnamese fresh spring rolls and got the hankering this weekend to try making them when I noticed how much thai basil we’ve got growing our garden! My sister makes them frequently and she makes it look very easy to make them. So, while on the phone with her yesterday, I tried to make them following her instructions. I got all the filling items prepared: rice vermicelli cooked, cooled and seasoned, and vegetables, tofu and herbs chopped. When it came to the rolling up of the rolls, things quickly went down hill. The rice paper wraps stuck to my fingers, and they stuck to the counter, and they stuck to themselves. After several failed attempts, which ended up in throwing away several smushed up balls of sticky rice goo, I decided to go a different route: eliminate the rice papers altogether. The best part is the filling anyway. So I ended up with a bowl of salad/vermicelli with peanut sauce dressing and liked it so much, I made it again today for lunch. It was refreshing, filling, and delicious!

The Recipe:

Serves 2

1/2 package of rice vermicelli noodles

1 Tbl sesame seeds (white or black, to taste)

1 tsp tamari

1 tsp sesame oil

1 cup diced firm tofu

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/3 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup chopped cucumber

1 cup chopped romaine lettuce

1/4 cup thai basil, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

2 Tbl (or more depending on taste) peanut sauce.

Cook the rice noodles according to the directions on the package (each package will vary slightly). Rinse the noodles with cold water and drain. Toss the noodles with the sesame oil, tamari, and sesame seeds (I used a white/black mix of sesame seeds). Chop the lettuce, carrots, cucumber, green onions, basil, and cilantro in bite size pieces. Dice the uncooked firm tofu into 1/4 inch cubes.

chop vegetables and tofu

Divide the seasoned noodles into two large-ish bowls (depending on the package size, this may be a lot and so adjust to serve what you want to eat–the rest will keep in the fridge):

seasoned rice vermicelli noodles

Divide the toppings in half and on each bowl sprinkle the vegetables, herbs, and tofu on top of the noodles (I actually forgot to chop and add the lettuce, so just try to imagine it’s there–Oops!):

add vegetables and tofu to noodles

Top with peanut sauce dressing. You can certainly make your own, there are tons of recipes out there for great peanut sauces, but I’ve been determined to focus on school work this week, so I bought a bottle of peanut sauce, which turned out to be pretty freakin’ delicious (be warned, I got it home and realized it does contain a little honey, but otherwise it’s vegan and gluten-free):

thai peanut sauce

And voila! A quick and delightful summer meal. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a belly full of rice noodles, tofu and vegetables! Now, back to work!

Cafe Flora Brunch

Strawberry Creme Scone

Eric and I have been sneaking off to brunch on Saturday or Sunday to Cafe Flora for the past month or so. It really does feel like sneaking because it’s such a special treat. We get only the things we absolutely love, and we usually share everything. The first couple of weeks, we didn’t tell anyone about it–I think we kind of wanted it to be a magical secret of delicious food. Of course, with how much I like to talk about food, we couldn’t keep quiet for long. So here goes. Cafe Flora is a Seattle vegetarian institution. When we went vegetarian, we started using Flora for our special occasion dinners (for dinner, it can be quite pricey). We eventually found ways of ordering dinner, too, that weren’t as expensive (the black bean burger with yam fries and the falafel sandwich, for instance, are much more reasonably priced). Nonetheless, the atmosphere feels special with a lovely cool atrium surrounded by bamboo and a little fountain, while the rest of the restaurant feels warm and inviting. Brunch is casual and the prices are equivalent to most other brunch joints around town. We stumbled across brunch by accident, when I read the brunch review post over at Vegan Score. The descriptions in her post won me over and we decided to try all of the brunches listed on the post. Of course, we tried Flora first and haven’t yet moved on to try another one. Good thing we’ve still got more time in Seattle to tour the vegan brunch offerings!

Now to the food, the most important thing! That almost-too-beautiful-to-eat ‘Strawberry Creme Scone’ at the top of the post is the main reason to go to Flora right now. A nice biscuity scone with a hint of cinnamon, filled with almond creme and served with fresh stawberries. To die for. We had it this weekend and I might be a little sconed out after the blackberry scone making extravaganza, but delicious nonetheless. Another of our typical orders is the ‘Cinnamon Roll’, which is both light and fluffy and richly dense all at once. It’s topped with candied pecans (which are a little sweet for my taste), some kind of syrupy sweet sauce, and side of frosting:

Cinnamon Roll

We both really like their ‘Roasted Potatoes’ side, too, just in case we’re feeling a little starch-deprived after our cinnamon roll and scone! The potatoes are great-very simple preparation, with just the right amount of crunch and squish:

'Roasted Potatoes'

This week, I ordered their vegan ‘Caesar Salad’ and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was pushed into ordering quickly because they surprised me by saying that they could not make their quesadilla vegan (they are apparently premade with dairy cheese). So I scrambled to pick something else, and defaulted to the salad. I was pleasantly surprised. It was, in many ways, what you’d expect from a very standard caesar salad–croutons, caesar dressing (vegan style), and romaine–but it was topped with crunchy (I think they were grilled?) capers, and pistachios. My only complaint was that there was slightly too much dressing, so I will probably ask for the dressing on the side next time:

Caesar Salad

Eric gets coffee with his brunch; they serve Stumptown coffee, which in our opinion is definitely one of the best offerings in town (along with Victrola, Vita, Vivace, etc — is there something about V’s and good coffee?!). I get the Earl la Creme tea, which is an earl grey with a hint of vanilla and something else. It is very similar to the Earl Grey Creme loose-leaf tea that I purchased at Market Spice last week. They have stevia in packets, which I like. And they have a range of offerings of non-dairy milks for adding to tea (I prefer the rice!). If you go to Flora and try the tea, don’t let it steep too long- the tannins come out very quickly and make the tea bitter.

Earl la Creme tea

Each time we go, we try to be more and more minimal in what we’re ordering because we always leave feeling so full. The scone with a coffee or tea is probably a great amount of food, if you’re not really famished.

Have you all tried Cafe Flora’s brunch? What do you think? Are there other vegan brunch offerings around town that we should be lured away from Flora to try?


Travelers Thali House

travelers' vegan janata thali

We had a delicious and relaxed Friday dinner last night at the new Travelers Thali House that moved into Beacon Hill a few weeks ago. This is a second location to the Travelers on Capital Hill and is quite a welcome addition to the south end of Seattle, being both Indian and vegetarian food! The space is pretty dreamy–a Northwest craftsman style house, painted purple with prayer flags and mandala wall hangings:

2524 Beacon Ave S. Seattle 98144

A little patio out front with a brick oven and a warm airy interior with wood floors and a casual vibe. We sat inside by the open window and there was a nice breeze as we were eating. The food was very good, with a lot of variety. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, they have the thali meal option, which is basically a tray containing lots of little dishes of different foods (see picture above). They have three sizes of thali and so we each opted for the middle size (the ‘Janata Thali’ for $7.50). We ordered some chapatis for $2.00(the whole wheat flat breads-like tortillas) on the side:


and at the end of the meal we were both uncomfortably full and glad we had not ordered the larger size thali. While the whole restaurant is vegetarian, they are happy to accomodate vegan diets and say so on their menu. I ordered the vegan option and this is what it contained:

1 bowl of dal (a nice lentil soup)

1 bowl of baingan bharta (a smushed eggplant curry)-delicious!

1 mixed vegetable salad (cukes, tomatoes, daikon, lime, etc)

1 bowl basmati rice

1 dish indian pickle (i am not a fan of this pickle.)

1 mango chutney

1 dish of fruit (grapes, pineapple, canteloupe)

side of chapatis (ordered separately).

All in all, it was a satisfying and very affordable meal, and we’re looking forward to going back again. Apparently the thalis change each month depending on the seasonal availability and they also have lots of a la carte options, which we’re looking forward to trying. They’re open for lunch and dinner and also have chai–something I’ll definitely pop in to try (since chai is my favorite and I’m on the endless mission to find better and better chais–stay tuned for a Seattle Chai post in the near future). They also have a small shop area in the restaurant with classic Indian grocery items, a rack of spices, and their very own “Travelers Chai”. Stop in to try it if you’re around the area and in the mood for Indian. The last business in this particular location did not last long, so I’m hoping that Travelers is here to stay!

sign out front

Have any of you tried Travelers on Beacon Hill or Capital Hill? Do you have favorite vegan-friendly Indian restaurants or recipes?

Outdoor Adventures

canoe rental at the UW

Lucy’s (my sister) visit was really a wonderful time to catch up and do some fun things around town. Usually, when we have visitors in town we try to get out of town for at least a day hike to take advantage of the amazingly wonderful hiking and wilderness in the Puget Sound region. This time, instead, we just decided to take advantage of some of the outdoor activities in the city limits. We went canoeing in the Arboretum, which is such a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. You can rent canoes and rowboats by the hour at the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center. The rental is pretty inexpensive and easy. You can just walk up to office, which is located down by the lake behind the Husky Stadium at the University of Washington, and leave your driver’s license as collateral. They give you paddles and lifevests and then you just grab a canoe or rowboat from the dock and head out into the lake. For information, check here. We experienced an almost immediate moment of anxiety as we had to scurry across the Montlake Cut in between the big motor boats and yachts, but once you cross the Cut, it’s smooth canoeing and you can paddle around the Arboretum to your heart’s content.

passing under a foot bridge

You never know what you’ll see when you’re paddling around the arboretum. Last time I went, I saw a beaver(!). This time we saw turtles and ducks and some other birds who were difficult to identify. We also saw a great blue heron, which are totally majestic birds:

great blue heron in the reeds

And we saw these two cute adolescent ducks snuggled on a log:

ducks on a log

And it was water lily blooming time, with thousands of flowers sprouting up from the lilypads:

water lilies

It was a really nice afternoon and great way to get a little taste of nature, fresh air and sun while still in the city. One of my favorite (and frequent) walks in town is the Seward Park loop. I think it’s about 2.5 or 3 miles around.

Seward Park path

Once you get going around the loop, it really doesn’t feel like you’re in the city any more. There are some trails up through the middle of the park in the woods,

out in the woods in the city!

and beaches on the outer edges of the park:

Seward Park beaches

And of course, one of my favorite things about the park is that on a clear day you can see an awesomely epic view of Mt. Rainier:

Mt. Rainier

We took Maizy (our yellow lab) with us for a walk around the loop and she was so tired on the way home. She loves the park.

so tired...

A great end to a great mini-vacation with my sister. Do you have favorite in-city mini-getaways to nature in Seattle or your own city?

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market, Puget Sound, Olympic Mtns.

No visit to Seattle would be complete without at least a quick stop at the Pike Place Market. In the summer months, it usually gets so crowded with tourists at the market that you can’t even walk through. My favorite time to go to the market is on the scuzziest winter day in February, preferably a Tuesday or Wednesday (definitely mid-week). You can walk around swinging your arms about if you want to, and you can hang out and talk to the vendors, which is something I love to do. Going in the summer is tricky business, and so we got up first thing, and hit the market just after the vendors opened. Of course, summer at the market is a special time for very different reasons than in the winter. The flowers are, of course, the most outrageously beautiful in the summer, with some of my favorites–sunflowers!


And dahlias that look like bright explosions of fireworks or sea anemones. We’ve never been successful growing dahlias in our garden, for some reason, and so these are a special treat to see:


And the produce is awesome in the summer, of course!

peppers and tomatoes- a true summer treat!

And of course, one of my favorite things at the market–the hanging chiles. Every time I see them, they just take my breath away and remind me of happy visits to my godparents’ in New Mexico:

hanging chiles

One of my main reasons for venturing down to the market on a regular basis is to go to MarketSpice. They have a gazillion spices and loose leaf teas at very reasonable prices.

Market Spice loose leaf teas.

They will measure out exactly how much you want and wrap it up nicely in a package to take home. I always end up getting more spices/teas than I plan on because I run into something new that I want to try. My standard purchase is 4-5 ounces of the ‘Market Chai’ and 0.5 ounces of dried stevia leaf. I like to drink at least 1-2 cups of chai in the morning with some stevia and a splash of rice milk. But this time, my sister pointed out the ‘Earl Grey Creme’, and I had to get some of that, too! I have been having a version of that flavor tea at Cafe Flora’s brunch recently and was delighted to find something similar. I also got some loose leaf peppermint tea, since I was out of my normal peppermint (from my one of my favorite local tea companies–Choice Organic Teas). Here’s what I came home with; I thought it was admirable restraint:

Market Spice bounty

After we left Market Spice, we walked around for a few minutes and stopped at Cinnamon Works in the market.

Cinnamon Works!

If you’re walking down the cobblestone street outside the market, you’ll probably catch a whiff of the cinnamon-y goodness coming from this corner shop. They have an array of gluten-free items and vegan baked goods that are all superb! I wish I could have provided a picture of the vegan cinnamon rolls, which are practically as big as my head and are awesome, but alas, they were out of them when we stopped by. They did, however, have their vegan snickerdoodle cookies:

vegan cookies from Cinnamon Works

We could not pass up the opportunity to share one of the snickerdoodles, which are at least 6 inches in diameter:

Lucy having the first bite!

All in all, it was a lovely trip to the market, and I’m enjoying some of my earl grey creme tea as I’m writing. One last picture to leave you with…I think it was the market pig’s birthday or something because he/she was wearing a tutu and birthday hat:

happy birthday!

Blackberry Scones

mini blackberry scones pre-baking
It’s that time of year again! The blackberries are ripening and popping up everywhere–on the side of the road, in parks, in backyards, in the cracks on the sidewalk. Every year, one of my very good friends and I pick buckets of blackberries and have a long hot day in the kitchen of making jam. We usually make enough jam to share around with our friends and family and store some through the winter. It’s not quite time for jam making; as you can see the berries have a ways to go to be really ripe. There are still lots of red ones, but enough ripe ones for a small project. My sister and her girlfriend are in town and so we went out to the local park for a quick little berry picking excursion–enough for some baking projects. We ended up picking more berries than we had anticipated actually. I’m not sure if it’s just because we were earlier this year than usual, and this summer hasn’t had as many hot days, but the blackberries this year are TART! I like a tart berry, but these really get you behind the ears in that sour spot.
          Anyway, the first night, we decided to make a cobbler. I did not use a recipe for the topping; I just improvised and went by taste. The great thing about vegan baking is that you can taste the batter or dough as much as you want and you don’t have to worry about getting sick from raw eggs. I miscalculated the timing for baking the cobbler and cooking dinner and had just put the cobbler in when we realized we needed to bake the flat bread my sister had made for dinner. So, after 10 minutes of baking, I took the cobbler out, set it aside, and waited 30 minutes until the flatbreads were done. Then, we put the cobbler back in and baked it for 30 minutes. We took it out and let it cool, only to find that the topping wasn’t cooked completely. So we put it back in the oven and baked it longer. It was a bumpy ride for that poor cobbler. And after all of that, we tasted it and I hadn’t put enough sweetener in the berries, so it was quite tart. Needless to say, it was not the perfect cobbler and so I’m leaving off the pictures and the recipes until I perfect it and maybe try baking it without the periods of “relaxation” out of the oven in the middle of the baking process.The next day, I made blackberry scones, which turned out quite nicely and so I’ll share the recipe with you all.
Blackberry Scones: The Recipe
Makes 18-24 scones, depending on size
35 minutes total: 10 minutes active prep; up to 25 minutes baking time
4 cups unbleached flour (you can use part whole wheat, if you prefer)
2 1/2 Tbl baking powder
6 Tbl sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup oil
1 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups blackberries
2 Tbl agave
Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate small mixing bowl, stir blackberries together with agave and set aside:
blackberries and agave

Make an indent in the dry ingredients and add in remaining (wet) ingredients:

wet ingredients added to dry

Using a fork, gently fold wet ingredients into dry. When partially folded, fold in blackberries. It’s okay if some of them get squished in the process, but try to keep some whole. This dough should be treated like biscuit dough. In other words, handle it as little as possible. Sometimes I use my hands to fold the dough a bit at the end. Flour a clean surface, or use a piece of parchment paper to cover a clean surface. Transfer dough to surface and press gently with your hands to flatten the dough out to 3/4 inch thick:

patted out scone dough

Using a biscuit cutter, a knife, or a cookie cutter, cut out the shapes you want. I did one pan with mini scones (1 inch diameter) and one pan with regular sized scones (3 inch diameter). Place them at least an inch apart on a non-stick pan, or on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees F. You may need to bake longer for the regular sized ones. The blackberries slow down the cooking process. Just poke them with a toothpick or knife to see if they’re done.  There you go! Easy, delicious scones for breakfast, afternoon tea, or for whatever other occasion you like to eat scones.

large blackberry scones fresh from the oven

 Notes: The mini scones were a creative solution to my sister’s girlfriend having room to take scones back on the plane with her. She didn’t have any room in her bags at all, so she suggested scones that would fit insider her water bottle, since that was unused space! So, we made these tiny scones and she filled her water bottle with them. I think I ended up liking the mini ones best! My husband got us one of those non-stick baking mats, which I was wary of at first because of the idea of cooking on silicon. But now, I’m totally in love with it because it is so easy to use and wash and the lazy person in me doesn’t have to grease a baking pan.

Until next time! Hope you enjoy the summery sconey goodness as much as we are. Do you have a favorite summery blackberry recipe?

Basil Kale & White Bean Soup

In the middle of summer, I’m always looking for ways to use the abundance of basil we grow in our garden. Summer salads with basil are great, as are pestos, but it’s been quite a cool summer overall. My sister arrived on Thursday from Baltimore, where it’s been hovering in the high 90’s and low 100’s. So, when she showed up at the SeaTac airport on Thursday morning in shorts and a hoodie, she found herself quite chilly in the 60 degrees and cloudy weather. So, I thought some nice soup would warm her up and took the opportunity to make this soup with basil from the garden with some of the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen. We’re talking leaves 5 inches across. I also used some kale from the farmers market. This would be superb with fresh tomatoes, particularly since they’re in season, but we were going for the quick fix and so used canned instead.

The Recipe:

28 ounces of diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)

3 carrots, diced

2 large or 3 medium sized stalks celery

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups chopped kale

1 cup chopped fresh basil (or to taste)

28 ounces (2 small cans or one large can or dried and cooked) great northern beans

4 cups vegetable broth or water

2 Tbl tomato paste

pinch crushed red pepper (to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

Chop onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute in a large pot with a little water or olive oil until soft (about 5 minutes). Add tomatoes, water or vegetable broth, tomato paste, red pepper, salt and pepper. Add the beans. Simmer for 30 minutes. Chop kale and add. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir in chopped basil at the end. Serve and enjoy! Serves 4-5.

What are your favorite recipes using fresh basil?