Out to lunch: Native Foods

While Denver/Boulder has been hailed as a rising vegan mecca, it lacks vegan restaurants (with the exception of the indomintable Vegan Van). Yes, there are wonderful places to dine where vegan fare is on offer, not the least of which, the many great Asian restaurants scattered across the Front Range. There's also Watercourse, Linger, Root Down, City, O City, the fabulous Leaf in Boulder, Whole Foods Cafes, Garbanzos, Mad Greens, Chipotle...lots of places to suck down a veg patty, salad or plate of pasta without breaking ranks.

Since I occasionally "leave the farm" for the sake of sociability, I'll also beg family and friends to vegify from time to time. Like Saturday after the Wool Market when I cajoled Mom and Ingrid to stop in Boulder at the newly opened Native Foods for lunch. (It's located in the 29th Street Mall near Pei Wei, fyi.)

Native Foods is a fast-casual dining concept, founded in 1994 by Chef Tanya Petrovna, that's growing rapidly. Plans are in the works, I was told, to open 15 stores in Colorado in coming years. (Why is it always Boulder first?)

We loved it, from Mom's veggie pizza topped with steamed kale and balsamic to my red-beans-kale-and-rice soul bowl and Ingrid's "sausage" and portobello mushroom burger (accompanied by a heap of seasoned sweet potato fries). And there's lavender lemonade, worth the drive right there.

While the food is fresh and intriguing, the brightly painted walls and sassy spirit of Native Foods' collateral all say "fun." This is the kind of place carnivores should visit in the same spirit of trying Thai, Indian, Ethiopian or other exotic cuisines.

Take a walk on the kale side and give it a try. And while you're there, tell them to open one in the Highlands, soon!

PS: Stopped at Atomic Tamale on the way home for a dozen vegan lovelies. Made a fabulous Monday night dinner with homemade guac and South-of-the-Border-inspired cole slaw.

Twist and shout

Thrilled to have played a tiny part in this lovely issue. Especially the chance to write about organic yarn and agriculture.

Grazie, mille, Ladies!

And for those of you who don't like to knit in the summer, check out the cute toppers!

Farm report 2011

Yesterday Mr. Nake-id and I put the garden to bed for the winter. For the past few weeks, Mr. Nake-id has been diligently pulling spent tomatoe plants and harvesting fruit before the coming snows. We had a bumper crop of green tomatoes, huge misshappen chartruese heirlooms and bright-green, bullet-shaped Romas: Their likely future, the compost bin. Steadily, though they've been ripening, enough so we enjoyed a hearty spaghetti dinner Saturday night and Purple Cherokees dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, Sunday.

The greens have been clear winners, especially the kale, which continues to unfurl curly leaves in the aftermath of two snowstorms. Our second planting of arugula and spinach remains pert and cheerful, too, in spite of the fact that it's only delivered one or two salads to the table.

There were some mistakes: The tomatillo I planted, thinking it was a zebra-striped tomato. It threw off dozens of charming paper lanterns with tiny, walnut-sized tomatillos contained therein; this made for a bitter, acidic salsa.

The crook-necked yellow squash turned out to be this thick-skinned, warty thing, more ornamental than edible. We foisted these aggressively on friends and family.

And, we planted, too many tomatoes, easy to do in Colorado, where our growing season is so short and the chance of slurping down vine-ripened fruit is slim. So we hedge our bets with quantity, thinking it will boost yield and instead create too much shade. Fresh tomatoes will do that to a person; they make you greedy.

Exasperated with the tomato crop at some point during the summer, I decided the fault was our dirt. Friends and professional gardeners have lauded this lasagna method for amending soil. Unfortunately adding layers of mulch and compost and manure to our garden would necessitate the removal of existing earth from our rock-rimmed bed; the very thought exhausted me. Then we heard this piece on NPR.

Being loathe to rake anyway in the hope the leaves will blow away over the winter (they never do), this technique of breaking down leaves to augment a lawn, struck us as a great way to nurture the farm. While Nake-id IT took on the easy job--breaking up the ground with a pick ax--I raked up piles of leaves, then shredded them with the push mower, or more accurately, moved them around a bit with the push mower, a tool not particularly well-suited for shredding. Mr. Nake-id then worked a couple of big leaf piles into the farm. And we bid the farm goodnight until spring.

The nest pictured in this post was invented and woven by Stephanie, a pratitioner of the lasagna gardening method and a happy Colorado gardener who grew baskets of ripe tomatoes. She weaves these lovelies from the leavings of sewing projects on a knitting loom. I love how mine looks in the crab apple tree; it's a hopeful beckoning image that reminds me of the hope and commitment to the future I felt in caring for our future garden, a reminder that spring and fall are the gaudy transitions between intropsection and expectation, and that life goes on.

How did your garden grow?

Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Bread Recipe

With the cucurbits coming in fast and furiously, I'm forced to bake--even in this heat. Since there is no turning the oven on after noon, I was at it early making our contribution to tonight's neighborhood dessert party: vegan chocolate zucchini bread. Bet they can't wait for us to show up.

I adapted the recipe from Hell Yeah It's Vegan, who adapted it from another source.

3 tbsp chia seeds whisked into ½ c + 1 tbsp warm water*
½ c oil (I used organic canola mixed with Wildtree butter-flavored grapeseed oil)
½ c applesauce
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups grated zucchini, packed (~3 medium-sized zucchini)
1½ c all-purpose flour
1½ c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
5 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder

1 cup vegan chocolate chips

½ cup chopped walnuts

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two loaf pans.

Mix wet ingredients in one bowl, dry in another. Then combine, stirring until combined. Spoon into loaf pans.

Bake for 45-55 minutes. Revel in the scent eminating from the kitchen; is there anything better than the smell of baking chocolate and cinnamon?

*A note about chia seeds. Yes, these are the same chia seeds of chia pet fame. Packed with protein and Omega 3s, these little powerhouses are the new flax seeds. When mixed with water and other liquids, they create this viscous gel that acts as both a leavening and binding agent. (The natural food bloggers can't seem to get enough of this stuff as a pudding, but you gotta grok that slimy texture.) They're readily available at health food stores; in the Denver area, Sunflower Farmer's Market carries them in the bulk section.

Kale chips ahoy!

Not everyone is bananas about raw kale (though the roly-poly bugs in the garden seem to be liking it just fine). Here at Chez Nake-id, we love the stuff. So when organic kale started selling for $3 a bunch, I got out the seed pack and started planting.

Kale is the gift that keeps on giving. While the arugala and spinach went all loose and dishabille in the heat, the kale has kept it togther, producing steadily for months. The kale pictured above is lacinato or dinosaur kale, so named, I imagined, because the store-bought leaves have the consistency of brontosaurus ears. Grow it yourself and you'll be dining on shoots as tender blades of grass; many days I simply run to the garden and pick my lunch.

Two weeks ago in Crestone, our hosts set out bowls of baked kale chips for their guests to snack on. Know what? You can't eat just one.

There are tons of recipes on the internets. You can tart these babies up with everything from lime and chili powder to paprika, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast and fancy vinegars.

Here are the basics:

1 bunch (or two) of kale, lacinato or curly

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp good quality sea salt

2 pinches cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wash and dry your kale. Cut out the fibrous ribs (I didn't do this because *ahem* my kale is so tender) and roughly chop the kale.

Toss the leaves with olive oil, salt and cayenne and spread out in a single layer on baking sheets. (I used two very large sheets.)

Check for crispness after 20 minutes. Depending on how tightly you packed your kale on the baking sheets, you may need to bake a bit longer. You want them very crisp.

Serve them at your next do. They make for a great conversation starter.

Vegan What's for Dinner Contest: We have a winner!

We know what's for dinner this evening. And the next...and the next.

But thanks to Susan (Reflections of a Bad Catholic), winner of our Vegan What's-for-Dinner Contest, we also have Sweet and Crunchy Quinoa Salad and Three-Bean Salad with Olives to look forward to.

Thanks to all who played. Susan will receive two Vera Neumann dishtowels.

Now, what to do about Super Zuke? Zucchini boats? Zucchini air-craft carriers?

 

Local wine whine

Being about as close to a Denver native as they come, I was gratified that when Paul Tamburello decided to redevelop the former body shop, the iconic Olinger Mortuary sign, which has held sway over the Denver skyline for decades, would remain.

That Root Down's Justin Cucci named his new restaurant "Linger" is branding genius. And a grand example of upcycling.

Me, being me, I was *ahem* dying to go, this being the new "it" spot in the neighborhood; I was also relatively certain Nake-id IT would loathe it. Linger has all the elements Mr. Nake-id hates: Crowds. Small plates. Not-so-small prices. So I enlisted reinforcements--two other Cancerians with belated birthdays to toast--Jeff and Carol Carr, owners of Garfield Estates Winery.

The bar area above the main dining room is bound to become a tourist destination. Enormous open-to-the-elements windows dish up splashy views of the downtown sky. We stood gaping amidst the crowds, so mesmerized by the play of sunset against the clouds and sheen of Denver's skyscrapers that we didn't inspect the sparkly countertop that's had local critics all agog.

We were seated before our reservation time at window-side table (downstairs the view is grittier, the alley, fireescape and Little Man Ice Cream's looming milk can), which was a lovely, unexpected turn of events. The side dining room is much quieter than the bar upstairs or the main dining room, a relief for those of us accustomed to shredding our AARP invites.

Linger's concept is international street food, giving the executive staff the excuse to travel abroad to gather inspiration. There are eats from all points; Carol and I ordered the Cucumber White Gazpacho, the Kobe Tacos (Carol) and the Masala Dosa (moi); Jeff threw his lot in with the mussels (you bet this naughty vegan slurped one down!) and the Kurobuta (whatever) Bratwurst Dog (the chipotle katsup, well, out goes the Heinz!); Mitch got the best-ever Pad Thai. We were thrilled.

Jeff immediately fell upon the wine list. We look to him as the de facto sommelier; he remembers wines like fans note baseball stats. Me? I'm like, "Yeah, the rose with the chicken on the label."We started with a beautiful Spanish cava, a flavorful sparkler, and finished with a gorgeous Lebanese red, a choice that clearly impressed the wine waiter.

Though Linger's menu clearly states, "We use local, organic and sustainable products except when not possible," Jeff noted that there was only one Colorado wine listed. Which brings me to my closing rant: It is possible to get local wine. Local wine, the production of which, employs people in rural communities such as Palisade. Many of Colorado's vintners not only make their own vino, they are also growing their own grapes--sustainably. Our very own Grand Valley is an American Viticulture area, which means it is a designated wine grape-growing region, a plus to wineries seeking to establish provenance.

Fifteen years ago a restaurant had every reason to eschew Colorado wines; they could be downright nasty. But those days are long gone. Garfield Estates' 2008 Syrah and the 2010 Rose will make your toes curl. Verso Cellars' 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is big and velvety and yummy. The Bonacquisti wines, too, are delicious.

So, check out Denver's skyline at Linger, and ask them to pour local!

 

Grumpy Cheap Vegan: Weeds!

A couple of years ago, Sundari from Heirloom Gardens sold me some purslane along with other greens. It's an au currant vegetable, full of omega 3's and vitamin C. And, like she said, it's also probably growing in the cracks of your sidewalk.

I chopped it up and put it in a salad, and as we ate, I had that queasy feeling you get when eating something with questionable provenance--like chicken beak or eel roe. Or anything Andrew Zimmer ingests. So with a bumper crop of purslane invading inhabiting our garden, I thought, what if we could obviate its identity? Out came the food processor.

Take your favorite pesto recipe--for basil, sage or parsely--and substitute the leaves from these ubiquitious plants. I used two large weeds, a healthy handful of walnuts, one garlic clove, one lemon, sea salt and enough extra virgin olive oil to get the mixture to "pesto."

We spread it on homemade flatbreads and topped it with grilled vegetables. Lovely. Organic. And free!

N.B. After separating hundreds of purslane leaves from their stems, I've realized that no matter how satisfying it is to eat the enemy, there are more efficient weed mitigation strategies.

Raw dinner at Root Down

It started with a saffron-colored watermelon gazpacho spiked with cucumber habanero granita, pickled fennel and maple vinegar syrup. Each dip of the spoon revealed different layers of flavor, sweet first, then sour, then spicy; diaphanous beet slices surfed this tangy sea, adding a toothsome element.

Thus began our culinary adventure at Root Down's Raw Food Night. Last summer the restaurant did raw food specials every Tuesday, but with the opening of their sister eatery, Linger, last month in the old Olinger Mortuary just blocks away, the staff couldn't manage the sourcing and prep required of these labor-intensive all-organic, all-raw, vegan, gluten-free high-wire acts.

Fascinated by the raw food movement and how through wizardry, dehydration and a really good blender, "cooks" manage to conjure faux breads, pseudo noodles and mock meatballs, I was dying to try one of Chef Daniel Asher's raw food dinners.

I knew better than to try Nake-id ITs patience with a raw meal ("I'm paying $37 for this and it's not even cooked?"), so I asked friend Caitlin, a curious and slightly gluten-sensitive soul, who's always game for new taste treats.

Since I had dithered over making reservations, we could only get a 9 p.m. spot but arrived an hour early on the off-chance of no-shows. Though the night had been spitting rain, Root Down opened their patios and we were seated immediately.

Our table on the perimeter of the porch offered a southeastern view of the Denver skyline and the evening air was cool and still from the rain. Our server suggested three wines, a pinot noir, a white and a sparkling something, but since I was feeling chilled, I urged the red at the same time hoping we hadn't just bought a $75 bottle. (For Nake-id IT: We didn't.)

The pinot was a light but sturdy Oregonian, not a perfect match for watermelon gazpacho but better with the the English pea and almond samosas, which looked like nutty sushi rolls, tasted fruity and exotic and confounded our ability to identify what we were eating. The main course, spiralized summer squash served with a raw "puttanesca" sauce, caused us to reimagine semonlina pasta and plan a similar fate for the curcubits about to emerge from the garden.

Eventually the rain blew in again and the staff at Root Down swooped its damp al fresco diners indoors without ruffling a napkin.

The only disappointing course was the final. The cacao mousse was divine, as dark and velvety as a fleece. An extra dollop of the mousse would have sufficed. Instead, this very trendy plate featured half a raw fig--succulent and beautiful--a sweet lychee and a shot glass filled with a bitter, medicinal liquid--ginger-infused Thai coconut water, as it turns out.

But that's quibbling. If you're raw curious, make a reservation now for August's dinner, offered on the first Tuesday. We were told these rawsome meals always sell out.

Ah-rugula

There's a bus to catch, so this will be brief:

My entire theory of gardening boils down to parsimony: Plant the stuff that's too expensive to buy organic in the market. Like arugula.

Last month the garden happily killed off a zucchini, three basil plants and stunted the tomatoes, putting us aboiut $25 in the hole, but the leafy greens and broccoli are thriving.

If you are similarly blessed, try this easy non-recipe with your arugula of lemon, olive oil and your very best salt. So good you'll be tempted to spring for the greens in the super market.