Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thoughtful, Unexpected Gestures: Part II...

Portobello Frites in a Red Wine Reduction served with Spiced Little Carrots over a Sauerkraut Chickpea Puree

Click Here for Part I.
"Of course, you know what would be really nice as a way to repay my generosity?" I asked, thinking back to the March 2013 issue of Cooking Light, which we'd both perused just over a week ago. 
“You mean…, ” her enthusiasm tailed off mid-sentence, “you can’t do something nice without expecting a favor in return?” 
“Sure I can.  But this is something we’d both enjoy,” I offered reassuringly. 
“What…,” she paused as I flashed my charming grin, “…do you want me to make?” 
“Well remember those recipes from Vedge in Cooking Light?”
There was an extensive write-up in the March issue about Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, chef-owners of Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia, along with several of their signature recipes that looked delicious.  Back in November, we had tried to make dinner reservations on the Saturday evening before the Philadelphia Marathon, which I would run the next morning.  Unfortunately, every available table had been booked for weeks.
“Which one do you want me to make?” 
“I was thinking of the portobello frites for the main course, and--,”
“…and the carrots of the chickpea puree thingie-mixture as a side.” 
“You want me to make two dishes from Vedge?” 
“Well, we need a side dish…,” I protested.  "Don’t we?” 
“Yes, I can make both dishes as long as you’re okay drinking Malbec instead of the Ommegang.  I think I need a half cup of red wine for the portobello reduction.” 
I had a 24-oz bottle of Ommegang Three Philosophers in the refrigerator that I’d been waiting to open for weeks; until that moment, I’d been hoping that Friday night was the big night. But the third rule of marriage… “When in doubt, compromise,” took precedence, in this instance.
“Yes, we can have Malbec with dinner,” I relented. 
“Thank you,” she said. “And thank you so much for painting. Of course we can have a Vedge dinner on Friday.”
She leaned in and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before scratching Indy behind the ears and heading upstairs to change into her pajamas.

The workday on Friday seemed to drag on forever. Eventually, five-thirty rolled around, and I was free for the weekend. While I was looking forward to dinner, what I was really craving after the long work week was a pint from the bottle of Ommegang that was taking up space on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. It’s not that I don’t like wine, but I usually drink it too quickly. And while a cold, frosty pint of beer tastes so much better after a long day, I planned to honor the promise I’d made to have wine with dinner.

As I opened up our back door and stepped inside, I was greeted by an array of mouth-watering aromas, the most discernible being the sauerkraut and red wine reduction. My wife was standing in front of the stove with her back to me.
“Mmmmm… That smells really good.” I stuck my nose into the open food processor, where the sauerkraut chickpea mixture was resting. “And what’s in here… Oooh, the carrots!” I dabbed an index finger into the marinade on the bottom of the baking dish, where the carrots had been festering in a garlic marinade for several hours. 
“Out… Out!” my wife barked, after kissing me on the cheek. “Out if the kitchen! Go change! I’m making your dinner!" 
“And those must be the portobello frites,” I said, leaning around her to peer at the mushroom caps that were about to go in the oven. “They look just like the pict--," 
“Out!” She slapped the top of my hand. “Go change. Your wine will be waiting for you when you come down."
I took my cue to scram and headed upstairs, with our gray and white cat Mookie hot on my heels, chattering, whining, and mewing, in hopes of some attention. The adoption certificate from our local humane society had indicated that Mookie was a cat, but for the almost ten years we’ve had him, he’s behaved more like a dog, loyally following us all around the house from room-to-room, playing fetch with foam golf balls, and flopping over on his back to invite us to rub his furry belly.

Actually, all of the cats that I’ve been fortunate enough to share space with over the years have been loyal and friendly, with wonderful personalities. The key to raising a pleasant kitty is to treat him like a member of the family, giving him plenty of love and attention. Kitty treats don’t hurt, either. In my experience, where there’s a miserable kitty, there’s always a miserable human being just a few feet away.

Rough life

Back downstairs in the kitchen, there was a surprise waiting on the counter. My wife must have been paying attention to my frequent comments about food photographs not looking very good on our multicolored Fiestaware plates. Next to my glass of wine were a pair of square white platters that I’d never seen before, much like the style in higher-end restaurants.
“What do you think?” she asked. “I got them on sale… dirt cheap."
“Nice,” I said, offering my approval. “Now your cooking will look like fine art.”
“Go pick some new music. I just need to assemble our plates. Then we can eat.”
With Mookie’s help, I selected an album from our jazz collection and loaded it into the CD player. No sooner had the plucking and twanging of Ray Brown’s upright bass begun permeating the room, my wife had dinner and wine waiting at the table at our respective seats.
“Dinner is served,” she announced formally. “Tonight’s specialty is portobello frites and spiced little carrots served over a sauerkraut-chickpea puree.”
I sat down at my place at the table and began observing the spread before me. A few moments elapsed into thirty seconds, which eventually turned into a full minute.

“Aren’t you going to try it?"“I’d like to,” I said. “But it looks so nice I don’t want to ruin it.”
“You don’t want the mushrooms to get cold,” she said, as she sipped her wine and cut a slice of mushroom, dipping it in a pool of red wine reduction. 
After another few moments, I picked my fork and began to eat, taking small bites so as not to overwhelm my palate with competing flavors. Everything was absolutely delicious. The mushroom was tender, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. The potatoes were golden and crispy, their unique texture most likely attributed to the steaming and pan-frying preparation method. And the carrots were a perfect complement to the sauerkraut chickpea puree. My wife commented that she never would have thought to mix sauerkraut into a hummus or bean blend, but it worked wonderfully. For the next several days, we used the leftover puree as a spread for our toasted bagels.

We said very little for the next twenty minutes as we gradually chipped away at our meals, occasionally emitting an “Ooooh,” an “Ahhhh”, or a “Wow this is good.”

We’re usually chatty eaters, but in this particular instance, we both wanted to focus on the smells, textures, and tastes of the wonderful meals before us. Once we were each down to just wine, I picked up my phone and texted pictures of our meal to our foodie friends Heidi and Jeff, who live up in Maine. Within minutes, the following exchange unfolded between Heidi and I:

One of the most satisfying aspects of adopting a mostly vegan, plant-based diet is the influence we’ve had on a small handful of friends and family in our lives. Aside from the positive physical and emotional effects that are experienced by those who eat this way, the benefits to our planet are nothing short of astounding. While it would be wonderful to think we can reach a large number of people at one time, the reality is that the way we’ve chosen to eat goes against conventional wisdom, against society, and against what most of us have been taught come to know as normal and healthy for our entire lives.

What each of us chooses to eat is a very personal decision, and it’s not right to preach and proselytize about something so sacred. All we can do is set a positive example and hope that others who are close to us see the benefits, become curious, and realize that they want to know more.

This is how Heidi and Jeff transitioned from steak and eggs to tofu and quinoa. They were searching for more from their diets, and they wanted their children to eat as healthfully as possible. After hearing my wife and I, along with my sister who initially inspired our own transition, rave about our new way of eating, they became curious, they began reading and doing their own research, and they experimented. 

Several years later, they’ve completely overhauled the way they eat, and the benefits that they’ve experienced, along with both of their children, are phenomenal. Like my wife and I, they’re not strict vegans. However, they’ve gradually transitioned to a plant-based diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes around ninety-five percent of the time. Perhaps five percent of their calories comes from animal protein, but this is negligible in the context of their overall diet. A few days later, I received the following text from Heidi:

As you can imagine, it’s extremely satisfying that the example we’ve set has helped to inspire just one other family to make a change for the better. This is enough to give us both hope that large-scale changes can eventually be made, even when the seeds are planted at the individual level.

After we’d had our seconds and cleaned up the dishes, we adjourned to the family room to enjoy homemade chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies with a final glass of Malbec. There was much to be thankful for that evening. We were thankful that Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby had a vision to create delicious food together and share it with the rest of the world. We were thankful that both of us were open-minded enough to realize several years ago that there is just possibly a better way to wellness. We were thankful for great friends who were inspired and excited by the path that we’ve chosen. Finally, we were thankful for thoughtful, unexpected gestures, which have the power to make our days just a bit brighter and more enjoyable.

And to think, our wonderful meal was possible, all because I decided to paint the stairs.

Pretty cool.

Links 'n Stuff

Portobello Frites - Courtesy of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby
Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree - Courtesy of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby
One Bowl Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies - Courtesy of Angela Liddon at

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