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February 12, 2017

California Strawberry Festival Poster Competition

I'll admit, the lure in entering this competition I came across on Facebook is the two thousand dollar prize purse.  I have a large outstanding vet bill since Chance passed away, and this would pay off a significant chunk.  
Coincidentally, one of the costumes I found for the girls this Halloween, just after Chance died, was a strawberry, complete with a little leaf-top hat.  Since I had some photos from our shoot last October, I picked a few of them to have blown up.  I cut them out with embroidery scissors and played with the juxtaposition.  
This is the first year the poster contest is open to any art medium, including photography.  Past years' design winners have been fine art paintings.   My take is unusual and a bit outrageous.  I'm hoping the selectors will be open to a humorously memorable direction for the poster theme.

February 4, 2017

Vegan Cheesemaking Demonstration

 (the demo sampler plate--
counterclockwise from left:  feta, coconut black pepper, walnut cheddar, nacho, fermented)

One of my Christmas gifts was a giftcard to a fabulous restaurant I'd long admired but hadn't been able to try, SunCafe Organics in Studio City.  I used the credit not only to visit the restaurant, but to take a class there this weekend!  Chef/Partner Ron Russell teaches vegan cooking classes with a different themed menu each Saturday morning.  Yesterday, he demonstrated five different vegan "cheeses," including feta, a fermented cashew cheese, walnut cheddar, nacho cheese, and coconut black pepper.  Our handout included a sixth recipe for a sundried tomato ricotta that we can experiment with at home.

Mise-en-place:  the Chef's prep for the demo

While the class was a demonstration model, rather than hands-on, Chef Ron's recipes were easy to follow.  The setting made it easy to see each step, and Chef did a great job of lecturing about his reasons for his preferences as well as his step-by-step instructions.  The tasting at the end of the class was sublime.  Each cheese has its own distinct personality which makes it easy to tell them apart both visually and by taste.

We spent a few minutes discussing general nutrition, with Chef highly recommending the ideas of Dr. Michael Greger of the website Nutrition Facts.  We talked about high speed blenders, such as a Vitamix, versus a food processor, and the advantages to each. 

As we got onto the cooking demo portion, Chef suggested soaking seeds at room temperature for at least six hours, and nuts for twelve hours, to remove the enzyme inhibitors which prevent germination until the warmth and moisture of spring.  This affects the flavor and nutrient value of the food.

(discussing nutritional yeast)

Chef taught a bit about nutritional yeast, an ingredient in many of the recipes.  Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability. It comes as a powder or a flake, and has a cheesy flavor.  Brewer's yeast is a bitter tasting by-product of beer making.  The distinct flavors of each mean that the the two cannot be used interchangeable.

 (allowing us to smell the fermented cashew cheese)

Because our class was only an hour and a half, the cheeses were not dried or formed into a hard cheese in any way - they pretty much all had the same basic consistency much like a thick hummus.  We discussed the process of using a food dehydrator or molds for a more dense cheese, but for restaurant purposes most of the recipes are used as a thick "spread" consistency in sandwiches, wraps, on flatbread, and such.  For sauces used for pasta, etc.,  the consistency can easily be thinned with a bit more liquid. 

(demonstrating the consistency of the finished walnut cheddar)

One of the more interesting recipes was a fermented cheese that utilizes kombucha as the liquid rather than water.  Kombucha is a fermented probiotic tea that is naturally lightly carbonated, and Chef mentioned how this can affect the blending process.  He stopped the blender an extra time or two, shaking the carafe to make sure all the air bubbles were coming to the surface and not impeding the blade surface coming into contact with the ingredients.  Because this cheese does require time to ferment, our sample tasting batch had been made the night before. 

(adding ingredients for the nacho cheese)

Of the five demonstrated recipes, the nacho cheese was the most heavily spiced.  Interestingly, it is based on sunflower seeds.  Chef pointed out that these are much more economical, at a couple of bucks a pound for organic, versus cashews, at six to seven dollars per pound for organic.  And nutritionally the seed may have more value than a nut. 

We discussed the value of various sugars, both whole and extracted.  The high spice level of the nacho cheese calls for a bit of sweetness to balance out the flavor, hence the agave in the recipe.

(plating the nacho cheese)
The nacho cheese was served in a taco shell of romaine lettuce.  The cheese spread onto the wide surface made a lovely presentation in the little leaf boat.

(the finished coconut black pepper cream cheese)

The last type of cheese demonstrated was probably the most unusual.  This had coconut meat as a base, and was flavored with black pepper and thyme.  The taste was just as mild as the others.  Chef pointed out that other herbs, such as dill, chive, or sage, could easily be substituted in place of the thyme.

 (the sampler plate)

While the finished cheeses were being plated for us to sample, health coach and raw chef Steve Factor took the stage and gave a general talk about eating healthfully in abundance to restore health and balance in the body.  His joy and self confidence re-energized me for my coaching practice, and the timing couldn't have been better, as I just completed my tenth speech in Toastmasters, qualifying for my first Toastmasters award.  It's time to begin formulating my own health presentations.  I'm so happy to have a few more recipes in my arsenal. 

All recipes by Ron Russell

February 3, 2017

Sweet Potato-Black Bean Soup with Bacon

California has been in a five year drought, but we're catching up during this one winter, with three times our normal rainfall since October.  Surprisingly, it hasn't been that many rain days - just very heavy rainfall on the few days of bad weather.  So we are all staying in, cozying up, and cooking comfort foods.  I've loved Morningstar bacon for years, but never served it in a soup.  I wanted to see if it would hold its texture by adding it to this sweet potato stew.  The beans and the sweetness of the potato meld well with the salty bacon.   Enjoy!

Sweet Potato-Black Bean Soup with Bacon

2 cans Campbell's potato soup
1 can sweet potato purée
1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp dried onion
Low Sodium Vegetable Broth
4 strips Morningstar Vegetarian Bacon
Place the canned goods and spices in a crockpot.  Use crockpot liner for easy cleanup.  Fill Campbells soup can with veggie stock twice and water once, adding liquid to crockpot.  Heat on high two hours or low for four hours.  Serve with crumbled bacon as garnish. 

February 2, 2017

Rose Float Design Submission

I knocked off a lifetime bucket-list desire this year by submitting a design for a Rose Parade float to the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association.  The BTOR float is community funded, designed, and built.  Their design process is open to anyone in the community; you don't even have to be a Burbank resident.  Their board winnows down all the selections received to a few choices which are voted on by their membership (to be a member, one must pay a small yearly membership fee).   

The 2018 Rose Parade Theme is “Making a Difference.” It is "meant to honor and celebrate all of the people in our communities, who quietly and without desire for reward or recognition, act in selfless, generous and kind ways to aid or benefit’s about the human acts of kindness that enrich the lives of others and are the source of inspiration, hope, joy and optimism for all of us.”  I couldn't think of a better focus that fits within this theme than to promote animal rescue.  

My idea is to have one little girl, taking a knee in a park-like setting, with a brother standing next to her. The little girl is wearing a t-shirt that says "Fostering Saves Lives."  Her arms are outstreched wide, and in one arm is looped a leash.  Opposite and facing them, in a single cement shelter kennel (without getting too dark or depressing) is a cluster of abandoned and stray animals--a chihuahua, a big dog, a medium sized terrier, a kitty cat, and a bunny rabbit. The chihuahua is in the front, taking the lead, and is running to the girl.  It's clear she is rescuing the pup and will be giving it a happy home.

Unfortunately, I don't have the artistic talent to draw out the scenario in my head.  I put out feelers for some help, and finally connected with a friend from my film work, who is a talented sketch artist, of the type that does accurate court drawings and portraiture.  I sent him my idea with less than twenty four hours to the submission deadline.  We had little time for revisions or collaboration, so I gave him free reign to run with it, and waited excitedly to see what he would come up with.  While his composite differs from what I would have done in some ways, I was happy that we were able to submit in time and get the theme idea in front of the committee. 

Titled "One Paw at A Time," the text that accompanied our drawing read: "A little girl exits a shelter to a park-like setting, beginning a pet's new life as a foster." 


Postscript:  Tonight was the community voting of the designs.  Of fifty designs submitted this year, the Board chose six to present to the membership, and ours was one of them!  Through a voting process, our design received third place!  I never imagined my design would make it past the board-level, and due to a scheduling conflict, I was not at the meeting.  But my friend sent me a report with pictures.   

The winning design was created by a thirteen year old girl, possibly the youngest float designer in BTOR history.  I don't want to give anything away, so I won't say more, except that I am pleased that it also has a theme which makes a statement. 

The non-selected submissions were laid out on tables after the voting.  All of the submissions were elaborate and detailed, and some quite professionally drafted.  I was amazed at the forethought that went into the animation as well as the overall theme.  

I am stunned that we made it into the final voting round.  Of the five years I've worked on the float, they've all been cute-sy but nonpolitical.  The theme of this year's parade opened the door to some lofty statements.  I can't wait for Deco Week of the 2018 Rose Parade!
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