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vegan

Recipes

Spinach Artichoke Blintzes: The Perfect Dip Gets A Brunch Update

vegan blintzes

I recently had the pleasure of creating a recipe for blintzes for a guest post on my friend Jonathan’s blog, Flavors of Diaspora. Blintzes may be upstaged by their better-known cousin, crepes. However, you’ll find that they’re an equally delicious option. After all, whoever said they wanted less pancake when they could have more?

In addition to veganizing a recipe that is typically based on both dairy and eggs, I decided to add a few updates of my own. Below, you can find an excerpt of the introduction I wrote for the recipe on Jonathan’s site:

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Recipes

The Ultimate Vegan Challah For Every Celebration

vegan challah

Since deciding to go vegan 7 1/2 years ago, I’ve been in search of a vegan challah recipe that can compete with my favorite eggy versions from my childhood. The kind I liked best was extra eggy, soft and cake-like challah with an extremely rich flavor and delicate crumb.  I could eat slice after slice, coated with the unsalted, pareve margarine my mom kept on hand for meat meals.  

Although water challah exists in the US, it’s not nearly as popular, and can be quite difficult to find.  In fact despite reassurances from several friends, there was only one store in all of Manhattan that I knew would reliably have an accidentally vegan challah.  Given the scarcity of options, I spent many a Friday night dinner unable to participate in the cornerstone ritual of blessing and breaking bread at the start of a meal. This is less of an issue in Israel, as it is much easier to find egg-free challah here, and at most meals there’s also a pile of soft pitas sitting next to the braided loaves.

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Recipes

Truffled Vichyssoise with Video Demo!

Let me tell you something, it is HOT in Tel Aviv right now.  Not that I ever had any doubts that summers in Israel were anything less than scorching, but after a year in the climate-controlled comfort of suburban New Jersey, weeks of 90+ degree weather (Fahrenheit, or about 32C for the rest of the world) with more than 70% humidity can shock the system.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the summer – days spent on the beach, cool drinks, warm nights, and everything that comes along with it –but it also means trying to find ways to beat the heat without 24/7 air conditioning.  This mostly involves well-placed fans, icy cold drinks, and meals that taste good cold. Enter vichyssoise.

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Travel

Tous végétal en Provence: Vegan Travels Through the South of France

provence

My arrival in the heart of Provence was accompanied by ravenous hunger.  Though the memory of my earlier socca lingered, vegan goodies proved to be scarce during the long journey to the farm.  As luck would have it, there was a railroad strike in progress – of which I was thankfully informed by the front desk staff at the hostel in Nice – and with each leg of my journey, I found myself scrambling to find the information assistants, show them my tickets while explaining (tout en français, I might add), where I was going.

After two trains and a bus, I arrived in the small Provençal town of Tarascon, where the farmer waited for me with his truck.  We drove through a picturesque countryside that was straight out of a Disney movie, before turning off of the fast-moving main road directly into the driveway of the farm.  The house was a stone cottage, renovated on the inside, with an exceptionally large garage.

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Travel

Essential French for the Traveling Vegan

When I first went to Europe at age 17, just after my high school graduation, I brought along a print out list of words in several different languages regarding the food I did and didn’t eat. Being that I had studied French for three years, and that I was on the trip with my French teacher, I wasn’t worried about describing my dietary needs while I was in France (every other country was a different story, especially Italy).

That handy list has been lost to time, but for those of you who are worried about traveling and eating in France, I’ve put together a short list of phrases that might be helpful when dining out. Please let me know if any of you have any specific phrases you would like to know, and for those of you who are native French speakers, feel free to correct any grammar mistakes I may have missed.

A note on pronunciation: I tried my best to represent the phonetics of this in a way that’s accessible to everyone. If anyone would prefer me to add IPA, I will be more than happy to do so (because IPA is the best).  Don’t worry too much about having perfect pronunciation, most people you encounter will appreciate your making an effort.  Most importantly, enjoy your journeys!

french sacre couer

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Travel

Le fabuleux destin d’une petite végan: Nice

As I glimpsed a sparkle from the brilliantly blue Mediterranean from the airplane window, my excitement began to bubble over.  This was it! I was really going to France!  While I hesitate to call myself a full-blown Francophile, given that my interests are mostly linguistic, I’ve always had a soft spot for “l’Hexagone”.

My decision to learn French was made nearly twenty years ago when I became friends with a girl in my kindergarten class whose family was Quebeçois.  During playdates at her house, they never hesitated to speak French to one another, though they would always pardon themselves due to my monolingualism, and translated for me if necessary.  Naturally, I decided that when I got older, I too would learn French, so I could share in the foreign language fun.  If I’d only known how much easier it would have been to begin a second language at five than at fourteen, I would have insisted my parents find me French lessons immediately (and I would have had many more built in opportunities to practice, unlike with my music lessons).

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As planned, however, I began studying French when I began high school, and I was fairly determined to become a proficient speaker, though this goal was still very much a dream by the time I graduated–even as a member of the French Honor Society.  I continued my French studies in university, where my first French professor increased my proficiency by leaps and bounds, and inspired me to pursue French as my minor.  All told, when I graduated, I had taken as many French classes, as I had linguistics classes, but I still felt uncomfortable with everyday speaking and understanding–hence the desire to spend an extended period of time in France.

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Travel

Rhymes With Bacon: Veganz Take Berlin

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

“Rhymes with bacon, which we don’t eat. Because we’re vegan…” sang Rose, as we stood on the train platform, eager to begin our evening.  We bristled with anticipation, and the warmth of a shared bottle of Prosecco–a welcome sensation in the brisk Berlin air that was chilling the train platform.  Tonight was to be my formal introduction into the world of the famed Berlin nightclubs that Rose adores.  Though it’s still not really my scene (despite my love of dancing), I was eager to traverse the dark corners of the nightclubs, as well as participate ever so slightly in the local drinking culture.

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Recipes

The Last Supper: Polentils and Broccoli

As my penultimate day in Israel transitioned into my ultimate Israeli night, I realized that despite wanting to enjoy the many delicious vegan meals on offer in Tel Aviv (before setting off on my European adventure), I had a lot of food left in my kitchen that needed to be used up.  I also had the good fortune to already be spending my time with friends who needed feeding.  After a quick stop at the corner store for some supplemental fruits and veggies, I devised a plan to use up the abundance of herbed polenta chilling in my fridge, as well as the garlic and lentils that had been generously given to me by a friend several months ago (I preferred to save personal food items such as these for when I had guests, so that I didn’t incur the wrath of my ever temperamental roommates should I share anything hailing from the communal pantry).  Earlier that morning, I had begun my polenta experiments, attempting to both pan-fry and bake the starchy squares.  Baking was the clear winner, from the ease of execution , to the crispy exterior.  The pan-fry used too much oil, inducing a veritable volcano of grease, while failing to achieve a crisp and golden outer crust.  That morning, I served the polenta with a sauce of succulent caramelized onions and creamy techina (because I didn’t have quite enough onions to serve them alone).  This style of polenta preparation had the potential to be not just an upscale snack or brunch, but also a deceptively fancy dinner.

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils Photo by Steven Winston

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils
Photo by Steven Winston

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Ashley Available as Private Vegan Chef

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Photo by Liyuphotography

Ashley Goldstein is a vegan chef and baker, currently located in the Tri-State area, who strives to create delicious and satisfying meals the whole family can enjoy.  She has an extensive repertoire, spanning from casual weeknight meals to more extravagant fare, perfect for larger dinner parties and family celebrations.  Ashley bases her cuisine around seasonal and local ingredients, and creates lively menus tailored to each of her client’s specific dietary needs.  She is the founder of Tipsy Shades of Earl Grey, a boutique, vegan cupcake company, specializing in tea and spirits infused cupcakes that have been enjoyed both at home and abroad.  She is a licensed driver and can be reached at tipsyshades@gmail.com.

Travel

Livnot U’lehibanot: To Build and Be Built (Part 3)

At long last, the conclusion:

That Thursday afternoon, we had a class with another kabbalist, with the intent of discussing Shabbat. What I remember from this class, however, was the idea that the whole world was connected, and how everyone’s actions can impact another. While I didn’t want to rile the group up by being the stereotypical vegan, I asked our instructor Alon afterwards what kabbalist thinking had to say about eating animals, if they indeed prescribe to the idea that everything in the world–including everything in nature–is interconnected. His answer was that this perspective didn’t honor human life alone, but that animal life was also something to be respected, and that there were many kabbalists who believe that as we move closer to the coming of mashiach (messiah) more and more of the world will go vegetarian. I continued this discussion with Nina, who brought up the idea that even the famous Rav’ Kook (first head Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine) had said at times that the diet proscribed to Adam and Eve in the Torah was a vegan diet, based on scavenging nuts, seeds, and fruits from Eden. While I never expressly felt that I needed Judaism to validate my dietary choices, there have been people who have insisted to me that I couldn’t possibly be fulfilling Shabbat mitzvot adequately because they involved the consumption of fish and meat. Finding answers to these questions, which were very much pertinent to my own life as a Jew was validating, and definitely strengthened my beliefs, both in terms of Judaism, and in terms of veganism.

Continuing on within the weekly Jewish cycle, Thursday night was filled with preparations for Shabbat. Once again, we had to prepare the common room to accommodate 40+ people for a meal, while the rest of us set about preparing the food. We set about making two vats of soup, one vegetarian, and one a traditional chicken based broth with matzoh balls, salads, roasted chicken, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, as well as a vegetable stir fry. While our equipment was far from state of the art, through an intense amount of teamwork, we made quick work of the kilos of potatoes that needed peeling and chopping, and by the time we headed to bed that night, we were well on our way to an easy and restful Shabbat.

Hiking locally

Hiking locally

Friday morning saw another local hike, this one ending at a natural pool with a waterfall, but given the condition of my ankle on the last one, I sadly elected to stay behind. To my delight, another of the participants also stayed behind (unfortunately due to the severity of his allergies), and instead the two of us spent the day exploring Tzfat, and visiting an incredible local winery.

We brought in Shabbat first by lighting candles, while swaying to the sound of a nigun (a wordless melody), followed by a trip up to the balcony to reflect on the highlight of our week. We stepped out in into the fading sun, and began to sing (and dance) to several songs traditionally sung during kabbalat shabbat, or the service during which we welcome in the Shabbat spirit (and famously written in Tzfat many centuries ago). After this first celebration of song, we were encouraged to go synagogue hopping throughout the city for maariv, the evening service. In a moment of hesitation I took to sing one of my favorites, “Yedid Nefesh” (soul mate), I sort of missed the train (had I tried I could have made it), and instead sat on the balcony with another straggler, quietly singing a few of my favorite Shabbat melodies, and watching the stars begin to burn into view. Our meal was conducted with much song and revelry, so much so that Shlomo somehow broke a chair, and I regularly feared that a table was in danger of being broken in half given the exuberance of the banging that accompanied the songs. It was after dinner though that the real Shabbat magic began. We once again lowered the tables so that we were close to the ground and spread the mats around on the floor. Cups of wine were passed around, and so began the giving of l’chaims (literally, ‘to life’ but here meaning toasts). Many of us went around, toasting each other or toasting experience, until Shlomo stopped us, and asked us to take on a new task. We took the time to go around the large circle, and pay one compliment to the person sitting to our right, and then one to ourselves. The room filled with emotion and sentiment as we began telling each person, just what made them special, and then dug deep to share in honest words the things that we thought made ourselves special. It was an important reminder to verbalize to our friends and loved ones just what makes them so amazing, but also, just how powerful an effect compliments can have on strangers. Being told by someone you may have just met that night (as we were joined by a number of people for Shabbat who hadn’t been there the rest of the week), that their first impression is that you’re a warm and friendly person, or that you’re awesome because you’re vegan was incredibly moving. But as Shlomo said, we weren’t even at the first level.

The line up at Ancient Tzfat Winery

The line up at Ancient Tzfat Winery

For those of us who chose to stay up (as it was long past midnight), we, along with Shlomo, Rachel, and Nina (Tifferet had already fallen asleep), went around the circle, each taking a turn singing a song, entirely alone, in front of the rest of the group. What I guess is less of a secret than I sometimes make it out to be, is that I am a classically trained singer. In fact, my vocal training began at the tender age of 14, which means I’ve officially had more formal singing training than anything else (including dance, linguistics, and even baking). Even so, I remain fairly terrified of singing solo for other people, an anxiety which can be slightly relieved only by starting out in one of my completely ridiculous character voices. As I waffled between doing my one man Les Mis show (nerve wracking because what if no one else thought it was as funny as I do) or “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, Nina gently encouraged me to go with the latter. Now “Part of Your World” isn’t particularly challenging vocally, and I’ve sung it many times in the safety of my home, reveling in how comfortably it fit into my voice. Despite this, as I began the first notes, the familiar fear overtook my body, constricting my abdomen and throat, making it quite difficult to sing. Still, I pressed on, though now I had a real fear of sounding awful, but silently encouraged myself to make it a character and to be as cutesy and “talky” (this is a very esoteric bit of vocal jargon meaning to make the song as speech like as possible) as I could be. But at some point, my fear began to melt away, and I felt as I were almost in a trance, where my voice opened up, and so did my heart. I genuinely feel that singing in front of this small group of people was one of the most difficult challenges I undertook the whole week, and not because I’ve never opened my voice up to other people before, but I think it was in part because of the sheer vulnerability to which I was able to expose myself, allowing for genuine emotion to shine through.

Touring Tzfat on a lovely Friday afternoon

Touring Tzfat on a lovely Friday afternoon

The levels we went to after the song were, in order, dancing (no problem), be an animal (naturally I chose my puppy), and “go crazy” (I was in a pencil skirt and it was 4 am, I did yoga…), none of which I found to be particularly frightening. But still taking part in these exercises until a mere hour before the sun came up, fortified the bond we’d been forging throughout the week. Our Saturday schedule didn’t allow us to sleep in, rather it pushed us to go out and celebrate Shabbat with the greater Tzfat community, as we were invited to lunch with local families in groups of two or more. I had the honor of eating lunch with David Friedman, a local artist as well as his wife, and some of their friends. We were served incredibly delicious, wholesome vegan cooking, while discussing news about the neighborhood, sharing bits of our personal lives with everyone new, and even learning just a bit more about Pesach and how it should be celebrated now that we’ve made a return to the land. One of the rules they had for their table, was that only one conversation could take place at a time, thereby ensuring that everyone was engaged with the person speaking, and also helping us to focus on only one thing at a time. As was suggested when the rule was presented to us guests, it helped to calm the energy at the table, bringing everyone to a more peaceful and restful place.

With the end of Shabbat, brought the end of our time at Livnot, which ended much as it began. In song, in a circle, experiencing the togetherness of the group, only now we were no longer a group of strangers, bonded by our shared anticipation of the week to come, but a close knit family, who had traveled together from Egypt to freedom, by opening up through song and dance. We sang through the ritual of havdalah–Shabbat’s closing ceremony so to speak–then went around and shared what we would each be taking away from the Livnot experience. I was struck by how passionate every person was about their experience with Livnot, and unlike other programs I’ve participated in, each story was one of overwhelming positivity and the conviction that we all had the opportunity to take part in something that was truly special.

Saturday evening jam sesh

Saturday evening jam sesh

Livnot U’lehibanot, to build and be built, is a non-profit organization operating entirely on the generosity of others. Before each program, they attempt to find a sponsor in order to ensure that the cost for participants is no more than $150. In some cases, programs have been cancelled if there was no sponsor, in others, such as our own, the program is run despite this, and the search for a sponsor continues after the fact. If you have yet to solidify your summer plans, Livnot is running a 6-week program in conjunction with Masa Israel, with whom they hope to develop a long lasting partnership, as they are not currently recipients of government funding like other Masa programs. I would very much encourage other young, Jewish adults to consider participating in one of their programs, especially for those who are seeking a way to inject some more heart and soul into their spirituality. It’s designed to be a personal journey for people from all backgrounds and Jewish experiences, lead by three of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. For those of you who are out of Livnot’s age bracket, considering sharing this piece with your children, grandchildren, friends, cousins, brothers, sisters, etc, and for those of you with the means, please consider making a donation to help keep Livnot running.

As we sang throughout my week at Livnot (and in this case complete with hand gestures), “kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od, ve’ha’ikar lo lefached k’lal” or “the whole entire world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all.” I feel like this song, out of all the songs we sang sums up Livnot’s message, as well as encapsulates my experience with them. Reach out to others, connect with those around you, and most importantly, take that leap.