Vegan Friday: Spicy baked potatoes


I’m not gonna lie to you: I could eat my own weight in hot wings. I will eat just about anything if it’s doused in wing sauce. Fake chicken nuggets. Real chicken nuggets. Fries. Chips. Sandwiches. Whatever. I have been known, on occasion, to drink Louisiana hot sauce straight from the bottle.

I had a craving for wing sauce a few weeks ago, but I didn’t have any wings. Or sauce, for that matter. But I had TVP, potatoes, hot sauce, and butter, so I did the only thing I could be expected to do under the circumstances: I made fake-wing-stuffed baked potatoes.

Start by baking a couple of potatoes. You can do them in the microwave, but they taste better in the oven, especially if you smear the skins with olive oil, sprinkle them with a little sea salt, and wrap them in aluminum foil, shiny-side-in, so the skins get nice and crispy and browned.


Melt half a stick of margarine (this is butter, which isn’t vegan, but it was all I had on hand, so let’s just pretend it’s margarine, which will work just as well) and add a quarter-cup of Louisiana-style hot sauce. Other types of hot sauce also work, but to get the traditional Buffalo wing flavor, you need a cayenne-based hot sauce.


Stir until well blended and simmer over low heat while you do the next step.


Microwave a small vegetable bouillon cube with equal parts textured vegetable protein and water (I think I used about 3/4 c. of each) until the TVP absorbs all the water. Stir the reconstituted TVP into the sauce and let it absorb as much of it as possible. It will look disgusting while it’s cooking. Don’t worry about it; the end product will be fine.

Split baked potatoes down the middle and top with the TVP mixture and, if desired, your favorite vegan sour cream substitute.

The TVP mixture also works as filling for wraps or sandwiches, but I like it best over baked potatoes.


Folk Thursday: Lead Belly

It doesn’t get more folk revival than Lead Belly singing “Goodnight Irene.”

Without Lead Belly, there’s no Woody Guthrie. Without Woody Guthrie, there’s no Bob Dylan. And without Bob Dylan, there’s basically no ’60s as we know it.


Scenes from a relaxing afternoon

I spent part of last Saturday unwinding on the Makanda Boardwalk and wandering around Giant City and Carbondale a little bit. Here are a few visual highlights:

View from the log where I stopped to play ukulele and sing old Dylan songs quietly to myself.
Found this little guy in the garden behind Rainmaker. I can’t decide whether an eroded, crumbling Pan-cherub is cool or just creepy. Maybe both.
I will never get done being impressed with these crazy metal trees. Also, I am in love with that retaining wall.

In other news:

1. All my seeds have sprouted, and my mini-greenhouse has created a wonderful micro-climate. I need to put a rug or something under it to protect the floor from excess moisture, but it’s wonderful to open it up once a day and breathe in warm, moist, earth-scented air while I wait for spring.

2. A stylist recently informed me that my hair is now 50 percent gray, so I have spent the past few days diligently seeking a viable means of either lifting my henna or masking my roots while they grow out. I still think henna is the most magnificent dye on the planet, in terms of both color and conditioning properties, but ginger will never be as sexy as salt and pepper, no matter what the Doctor might think, and the plan has always been to use henna as a way to showcase my gray streak and keep my hair healthy until it’s ready to go full-on Emmylou. To that end, after fading the henna from auburn to copper with Color Oops! (which I’m told would strip out all of the henna if I had the patience to endure another nine hours’ worth of sinus-crushing brimstone fumes, which I don’t), I rustled up a red mousse that precisely matches the remaining color, rinses out in a single wash, and should keep my roots from looking too unkempt while they grow out. I caught a three-for-two sale, so by the time I run out of the stuff, the transition should be complete. W00t!


Eco-Saturday: Tin-can planters

One of the little gardening tricks I learned from my parents, which they picked up God knows where (probably either Organic Gardening or Mother Earth News sometime in the ’70s), was to recycle tin cans into seed-starting planters for tomatoes.

For this project, you will need:

A can opener
Aluminum foil
Empty tin cans, rinsed well
Potting mix
Tomato seeds
Some kind of drip tray


Step 1: Use a can opener to cut the bottoms out of the cans. NOTE: Cans that are rounded on the bottom for easy stacking won’t work for our purposes, because you can’t cut out the bottoms. You want the old-fashioned kind with an identical top and bottom. Ro-Tel tomatoes come in such cans (hence the plethora of Vegan Friday recipes involving Ro-Tel lately), as do enchilada sauce and most brands of black olives.


Step 2: Set the can in the middle of a piece of aluminum foil and drop the bottom back into it, making sure any barbed edges are facing up, not touching the foil.


Step 3: Wrap the foil up around the bottom to keep everything together.


Step 4: Fill the can with the planting medium of your choice (compost, potting soil, planting mix, whatever), tuck in a seed or two, set them on some kind of tray to catch drips, and water them.

The advantage of these little planters is twofold: First, there’s something about the metal that seems to stimulate growth in tomato plants, so your seedlings will be good and healthy, and second, when it’s time to transplant your seedlings in April, you can simply peel off the foil and use two fingers to push the plant up out of the can without disturbing the roots.

This is a project you’ll want to do a couple of months ahead of your last frost date so your plants will have time to sprout and grow.

Happy gardening!


Vegan Friday: Lentil soup


Sorry I’m a few hours late with this. It’s been nuts around here this week. Anyway, here we go.

About 20 years ago, during one of my early forays into vegetarianism, I found a great little book called The Gradual Vegetarian by Lisa Tracy. It’s out of print now — or was the last time I checked, anyway — but if you can put your hands on a copy, do it, because it’s about as sensible an approach to the subject as anything you’re likely to read. As the name suggests, Tracy advocates easing into vegetarianism instead of trying to go vegan overnight or whatever. Hers is a three-stage approach that works very well, regardless of your ultimate dietary goals.

One of my favorite recipes from the book is lentil-mushroom soup. I have long since forgotten the proportions listed in the recipe (and you know I am too lazy to look them up), but soup is an inexact thing anyway, and as long as you end up with something earthy and hearty that tastes nice on a cold evening, you’re golden.

Lentil-mushroom soup

Olive oil
Medium onion, cut into little slivers
Sliced mushrooms (I think I used a pound)
About a cup of dried lentils
Chopped-up carrot (as much or as little as you like)
Soy sauce


Saute the onion in olive oil until clear. Add mushrooms and saute lightly.


Throw the onions, mushrooms, lentils and carrots in the Crock-Pot. Add enough water to fill it up, turn on high, and ignore it overnight or all day or until the lentils are soft. Serve with soy sauce.


The mushrooms and lentils combine to produce a sturdy, beefy sort of flavor that’s particularly satisfying on a chilly day.



I did several things this weekend, but this was the most important:


That would be the new mini-greenhouse shelf unit I found on sale for $17 while I was picking up seed-starting trays this afternoon. I bought four growlights to go with it and put them on a timer so the seeds I started this evening — parsley, chives, Genovese basil, cilantro,  sage, echinacea, wisteria, pumpkin-on-a-stick eggplant, and eight varieties of tomato — will have enough light.

While we were at Menard’s, we found a compost bin for $30. I generally prefer a compost pile to a compost bin, mainly because I like turning the pile and watching it steam, but I don’t have a good way to keep the dogs from raiding it at the moment, and this bin was cheap enough that I’m OK with using it for a year or two until I figure out my optimal planting areas and install a garden fence.

Walter is terrified of the shelf. I think the assembly process freaked him out. We had the refrigerator delivered last week, and this week, I brought in several boxes, assembled a shelf in the middle of the dining room, and rearranged the furniture to accommodate it. Last time we started bringing in boxes and dragging furniture around, we were preparing to move, which Walter did not like one little bit, so he is understandably concerned this evening.

Poor kitty. His life is so stressful.

Meanwhile, I’m over here beaming, because Planting Day is two months away. Whee!


Eco-Saturday: Rainy-day clothesline


We’ve installed umbrella-style clotheslines in the backyards at our last two houses, and I’ve no doubt we’ll do the same here when the weather improves. In the meantime, I decided to take advantage of the open space in our basement to cut back on energy consumption even when it’s cold or rainy.

I just tied the ends the way I used to tie lead ropes when I rode horses. Google “how to tie a lead rope,” and you’ll find all kinds of instructions.

We haven’t been able to track down the exact year our house was built, but it’s a little Craftsman bungalow, and we’re guessing it’s a good 80 years old. It’s old enough to have undergone several wiring updates over the years, so the floor joists — which are exposed — have quite a few holes in them to accommodate long-gone wires. I took advantage of that by running nylon clothesline cord through the holes. It zigs and zags as it weaves in and out of the openings, but the tradeoff is that I don’t have hooks sticking down from the already-low basement ceiling. I’ll have to find a different place to install my clothesline when I insulate that part of the basement, but for the time being, it’s convenient and neat.

Be sure to use plastic hangers. The metal kind will rust if you put wet clothes on them.

If you don’t have a good place to install horizontal clotheslines,  a sturdy cup hook, a length of decorative chain and some plastic hangers will work in a pinch.

Hang the chain by the middle to double the number of available slots for hangers; just be aware that garments dry faster if they have a little breathing room.

I used to hang chains from the top of the window alcove next to the woodstove at our old house. The warmth from the stove helped dry the clothes faster, the wet clothes helped humidify the dry air, and we saved gas and electricity by running the dryer less. Bonus: By using hangers instead of clothespins, I saved a step when it was time to put away the dry clothes.

I had some pictures of my fabulous Dr. Who and ThinkGeek T-shirts hanging from the basement clotheslines, but I think they were on my old hard drive when it crashed. I trust your imagination can take it from here without visuals anyway.


Vegan Friday: Mushroom-wine cream sauce


If you need a good last-minute, impress-your-vegan-date recipe for Valentine’s Day, here’s a good one: mushroom-wine cream sauce. Completely vegan, but it’s so rich, you’d never know it.

Start with a pound of sliced mushrooms. You don’t need anything fancy here; just plain old white mushrooms from the grocery store. Saute in margarine or olive oil over medium heat until they start to release liquid. Reduce heat to low.

In a separate pan, make a quick roux by melting about 2 tablespoons of margarine, adding enough flour to make a thick paste, and stirring constantly over medium-low heat until browned. (I normally use white flour for this, but I didn’t have any on hand this time around, so I tried substituting wheat flour. It was OK, but the texture of the final product was slightly gritty because of the bran in the flour, and the little brown freckles didn’t make the sauce look particularly appetizing. White flour will yield much nicer results.)


Add the roux to the mushroom pan, then add about a cup of wine, stirring it in a few tablespoons at a time to prevent lumps. If you can put your hands on a bottle of Madeira, use that; if not, any decent red wine will work in a pinch. (Rule of thumb on wine: If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. Seriously. Heating lousy wine won’t make it suck any less.)


Gradually add about a cup of soymilk, stirring constantly until you have a thin sauce. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens. If it seems too thick, add more soymilk. If it’s too thin, you can thicken it with a little more roux — or just keep simmering until the excess moisture evaporates.

You’ll end up with a rich, boozy cream sauce that’s great over linguine, capellini or couscous. Serve with salad and maybe some chocolate-dipped strawberries* for dessert.


*Vegan chocolate-dipped strawberries are uber-easy. Just put a bag of vegan chocolate chips (available at any respectable health-food store) and about a tablespoon of plain cooking oil in a microwave-safe bowl, nuke 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until chocolate is completely melted. Dip whole strawberries in chocolate and refrigerate until ready to serve.