Vegan Friday: Pureed cauliflower

Looks like mashed potatoes. Tastes even better.
Looks like mashed potatoes. Tastes even better.

Several years ago — long before the South-Atkins-Paleo-Beach-Whatever diet caught on — I ordered dinner at a fancy restaurant in Santa Fe. I don’t remember what I ordered. I remember the side dish that came with it: a scoop of something soft, yellowish-white, smooth and very buttery, with a slightly sweet undertone that wasn’t quite like anything I’d ever had. I assumed it was mashed potatoes with something fancy added to it.


What I had on my plate was a two-ingredient dish that tasted better and had a higher nutritional content than any mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.

Pureed cauliflower.

Pureed cauliflower is so easy, I’m not sure it’s even legitimate to call it a recipe, but it’s so cheap and tasty and nutritious that I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it.

1 bag frozen cauliflower
1/4 c. margarine (we like Earth Balance, but the cheap stuff is fine, too)

Put the cauliflower and about a tablespoon of water in a covered dish and nuke until tender. I usually let it go about five minutes and then check it. If it’s not quite tender, add a minute and check it again. Repeat as needed.

Frozen cauliflower is cheap and cooks fast in the microwave.
Frozen cauliflower is cheap and cooks fast in the microwave.

Dump the cauliflower and the margarine into a food processor and puree into a smooth paste.

Serve plain or top with Daiya cheddar-style shreds, Tofutti sour “cream” and a handful of chives or scallions. Add a side of sauteed mushrooms and a big salad, and you’ve got a pretty good meal.



Folk Thursday: Gil Scott-Heron

On a day like this, with protests and vigils scheduled all over the country — organized by the incomparable Feminista Jones — I’d be remiss if I posted anything that wasn’t “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” This is doubly true in light of the fact that most of it thus far hasn’t been televised; if you want to know the details, you’d better get on Twitter, because the revolution will be live-tweeted.

And yeah, I know Gil Scott-Heron ain’t exactly folk. Sue me. The folk revival was about revolution. You don’t have to play the song on acoustic guitar with the Weavers singing backup to earn a spot in my personal pantheon of revolutionary musicians.


On the Road


Quick scene from the road. Ron took my picture looking competent with my guitar at the Rudolfo Anaya sculpture park on Route 66 in Santa Rosa, N.M., yesterday. The lighting was weird — hence the strange color — but I kind of like it. If you didn’t know better, you might almost be fooled into thinking I know what I’m doing. (You’d be wrong, but that’s why I’m posting a photo and not a video.)

If I ever get run over by a bus or come down with bubonic Ebola pox or something, go ahead and run this shot with my obit. It’s about the hippiest photo anybody has ever taken of me.


Hippie lessons

The only thing better than doing a bunch of hippie crap is teaching somebody else to do a bunch of hippie crap.

The first time I did anything along those lines, we lived in Belleville, and a colleague who was particularly impressed with my salsa recipe came by for a canning lesson. We had a lot of fun. I got some help with the prep work, which can be tedious, and I sent her home with a few jars of salsa and a new skill.

A couple of years ago, I taught a neighbor to extract honey. That was mostly penance for a dumb stunt he’d pulled involving one of my beehives, but he really liked the bees and wanted to learn about them, and I won’t be at all surprised if he ends up establishing a hive of his own someday.

Last week, one of my editors mentioned she’d like to learn to can. She’s kind of fascinated with the DIY stuff we do around here, so I promised her I’d schedule my next salsa-canning project on some Sunday when we’re both off.

I like showing other people how to be more self-sufficient — partly because I’m an old teacher and enjoy watching their eyes light up when they learn something new, and partly because it feels as if I’m repaying a debt to someone who unwittingly did me a favor before I was born.

About 40 years ago, my mom worked for the school district in my hometown. A counselor who worked in her office made killer homemade bread. When Mom asked for the recipe, rather than simply scribble it down on a card, he invited her over and spent several hours teaching her to make bread from scratch.

One man’s willingness to share one afternoon of his time with a young secretary is still paying dividends 40 years later.

I like to imagine that 30 or 40 years from now, the children of the people who have spent an afternoon in my kitchen, learning to do something I enjoy, will be standing in their own kitchens, remembering their parents’ lessons and smiling at the thought.

To teach is to own a little piece of eternity.


Eco-Saturday: Jury-rigged cider press

Fresh apple cider is easy to make yourself.
Fresh apple cider is easy to make yourself.

I’ve wanted a cider press ever since last fall, when I remembered that Cape is about a 30-minute drive from some great Southern Illinois orchards, but most of the plans I found required a bigger investment of time, money and storage space than I was willing to put into something I’m going to use once a year. After looking at various ideas, I jury-rigged something together that worked better than I’d anticipated. Bonus: You can store it under your bed when you’re not using it, which makes this a fairly apartment-friendly project.

You will need:
A cast-iron griddle (the kind you lay across two burners to heat)
A sturdy plastic cutting board roughly the same size as the griddle
At least two 4-inch C-clamps
A plastic storage box big enough to hold the griddle and cutting board when they’re clamped together
Apples (6 lbs. will yield about 3 pints of cider)
Food processor
Apple wedger (trust me: This will make the project much easier)
Canning jars

After cleaning all your equipment thoroughly, wash the apples, core and slice them with the wedger, and use the food processor to grind them to a coarse pulp. A standard food processor should handle about two pounds of apples at a time.

Cut a piece of cheesecloth about twice the size of the cutting board. Put the cutting board in the bottom of the storage box, lay the cheesecloth on top, and scoop two to four pounds of pulp onto it.

C-clamps provide the pressure in this simple cider press.
Yeah, I know. You can take the hippie out of Red Fork, but….

Wrap the cheesecloth around the pulp, lay the griddle on top, smooth side down, and carefully clamp the griddle and cutting board together with the pulp in between. (I used two clamps, but I think it would have worked better with three or four.) Tighten the clamps as much as possible to press the juice out of the apple pulp.

Remove the clamps, pour the juice into jars, and either compost the pulp or save it for another project, such as apple butter.

It took me less than an hour to assemble the press and process six pounds of apples into three pints of cider — and that includes 10 or 15 minutes I wasted searching the garage for some extra clamps I am pretty sure we accidentally left behind when we moved.


Vegan Friday: Horchata

Horchata in a wine glass. That's how we roll.
Horchata in a wine glass. That’s how we roll.

I think by this point, we have long since established my fondness for Mexican food. Pretty much everything I cook around here is either Mexican or Italian. The latter comes from growing up in Herrin, Illinois, where everybody is Italian but me. The former comes from developing a taste for hot sauce at age 4 and never outgrowing it, I think.

Anyway, in my travels in the Southwest, I’ve come to appreciate horchata. Good horchata is hard to come by in Southeast Missouri. We had a little taqueria in town that served it, but it closed a few weeks after it opened — a bit too authentic for the gringo palates around here, I guess — and the stuff you get at the Mexican grocery store invariably contains aspartame, which tastes nasty.

I finally got tired of driving all the way to Carbondale to buy horchata at the Neighborhood Co-Op and decided to make my own.

I started by reading this Nosh On It post about the various methods of making horchata, then — in my usual fashion — figured out an easier (read: lazier) approach.

1 c. sliced almonds (I buy mine in bulk at the health-food store)
1/3 c. white rice
Generous pinch or two of ground cinnamon
Simple syrup to taste (mix a cup of sugar with a half-cup of water and nuke until sugar dissolves)

You know my entire kitchen revolves around Mason jars.
You know my entire kitchen revolves around Mason jars.

Put the almonds, rice and cinnamon in a standard (not wide-mouth) quart Mason jar, screw on the blade assembly from your blender, and process to a fine powder.

Pulverize the nuts, rice and cinnamon together in the blender.
Pulverize the nuts, rice and cinnamon together in the blender.

Fill the jar with hot water, put the lid on the jar and let stand overnight.

Mix with water and let it sit overnight.
Mix with water and let it sit overnight.

Put the blades back on the blender and give it another good whirl until it’s smooth. Strain through fine cheesecloth or a permanent coffee filter. Divide the resulting liquid between two quart jars, add another cup of water to each jar, and sweeten with simple syrup to taste. (Don’t get carried away with the syrup; you can always add more, but you can’t undo it if you make it too sweet.)

Blend again and strain.
Blend again and strain.

Chill and serve with your favorite Mexican meal.


It occurred to me tonight this morning that I have not done a volunteer project of any magnitude since the last time I laid out the Trip Guide, which was over a year ago.

It also occurred to me that I have not done a volunteer project that involved ending a weekend paint-spattered and sore and sunburned in almost two years.

No wonder I’m cranky as hell; my soul is starving to death. I wasn’t built for this level of self-indulgence.

At least I’ve finally pinpointed the problem. Now maybe I can start fixing it.