Feed the Belly

Valentina’s Cocina: Patatas Bravas

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of announcing the publication of Roots: Where Food Comes From & Where It Takes Us. Today I bring you the second of my recipes from the famed Senora Valentina. This simple recipe is delicious for veg*ns and meat eaters alike. It can be served as a tapas with toothpicks for spearing or as a nice side dish.


Spanish Olive Oil

1 finely chopped onion

2 crushed garlic cloves

Salt to taste

1/2 cup Spanish Sherry (dry white wine will also work)

4 tomatoes, chopped and seeded (or 1 14 ounce can)

2 tsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp crushed dried chilis

2 tsp Spanish paprika

2 lbs. potatoes


  1. Heat about 1 TBS of olive oil in the pan until smoking and then add the onions, cooking roughly 5 minutes. When the onions are soft, but not browned, add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, stirring continuously.
  2. Add the wine and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Then add the tomatoes, chiles, paprika, salt, and vinegar, reducing the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for roughly 10 minutes. Your sauce should have a thick consistency. OPTIONAL: Put the sauce in a food processor and pulse until smooth. (Valentina would smack you with her cane for this, but some people don’t care for a chunky texture.)
  3. Cut the potatoes into rough chunks. In a skillet, heat about 1 inch of olive oil. Add the potatoes and cook on medium-high for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are a pretty golden brown. Make sure to turn the pieces several times to cook evenly.
  4. Remove the potatoes using a slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel, blotting gently to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with a little salt.
  5. Warm up the sauce and combine with the potatoes.

Senora Valentina Tip: Prepare the sauce the morning before you plan to serve it (you can actually make it up to 24 hours in advance). Allow it to sit, either covered on the stove, or in the refrigerator, until you have finished the potatoes. This will give the sauce stronger, more melded flavor.

For a healthier version, check out this recipe test from Robin Robertson’s Vegan Fire and Spice.



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Just Published! BlogHer’s Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us

There is something uniquely thrilling about the day a piece of your work is published. Today is such a day for me as BlogHer and Open Road Media release the ebook culinary anthology Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us. From the Open Road Media website:

A BlogHer anthology about food—and the warmth, nostalgia, and sense of belonging it inspires in all of us

Roots is a love story about food—an exploration of its rich interconnectedness with culture, memory, and discovery, penned by over forty authors and personalities from the culinary blogosphere. The anthology’s deeply personal essays serve up family history, local lore, and tantalizing stories of worlds newly discovered through food, accompanied by original photography and a collection of recipes that, no matter how far flung, taste like home.

My story, “The Saffron Rabbit” is about learning to cook in Madrid. For those interested in reading the 35 essays featured from culinary bloggers (and me), check out any of the following links:

BlogHer is also featuring a mini-site where readers can further enjoy the experience. On my end, I’ll be reading along, exploring the other journeys I’m lucky enough to be featured with. Stop by this coming Thursday for another addition to Valentina’s Cocina.


Categories: Feed the Belly, Write On | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Things that Rocked May 19-25

  1. I’ve been looking a great deal at blog design for inspiration and come across a number of fab destinations. My current obsession is with A Beautiful MessSo many fantastic ideas.
  2. Lucky me was published twice on Cinefilles this week. Check out my review of Star Trek Into Darkness and my retrospective on Cleopatra.
  3. Next week, aside from basking the glory of Margaret Atwood, I’m getting my second tattoo. While looking for the perfect font, I found this fantastic piece about why a mother got a tattoo with her daughter.
  4. It was also my week on The Baraza where I share my favorite graduation themed pop culture moments.
  5. On The Review Review, this article on Twitter Fiction had me thinking and working on my brevity.



Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Y is is for Yummy Cinco de Mayo Brownies

In general, I’m not much of a chocolate person. Sometimes, however, I crave something gooey and rich (a Hershey’s bar won’t cut it). These Mexican Hot Chocolate Black Bean Brownies fit are a big Yes when those cravings strike. Simple, vegan, and gluten-free, these are great treats with a kick.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Black Bean Brownies


1 15 oz. can (~ 1¾ cups) black beans, drained and rinsed

2 TBS water

2 TBS ENER G Egg replacer (don’t prepare as the indicated on the box–just use the powder)

3 TBS coconut oil, melted (feel free to sub your favorite baking oil)

¾ cup cocoa powder

¼ tsp sea salt

1 tsp vanilla (I always use Mexican vanilla)

heaping ½ cup raw sugar

1½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper (replace with 1 tsp cinnamon if you don’t like spice)

handful of mini vegan chocolate chips or chopped walnuts to top


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a regular-sized muffin pan.
  2. Put all ingredients (except the topping) in the food processor and pulse for about 3 minutes in 30 second increments, scrapping down the sides after each pulse. The batter should be smooth and close the consistency of chocolate frosting.
  3. Distribute the batter evenly between muffin slots, smoothing down the top with the back of a spoon.
  4. Sprinkle with walnuts or chocolate chips, if using.
  5. Bake for 11 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees in the oven, and bake another 11 minutes. Adjust time as needed–you want the edges to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan.
  6. Let cool 30 minutes before using a fork to remove the brownies from the pan. Keep them in an airtight container for a few days or refrigerate if there are any left after that.
Categories: Feed the Belly, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

V is for Valentina’s Cocina

I’m pleased to announce that in the next few months two separate publications will feature different versions of “The Saffron Rabbit,” a story about how I learned to cook when I lived in Madrid. I won’t give too much away, but I’ll say that it involved my landlady, an elderly woman named Valentina who brought her granddaughter to translate and was a little too happy to use her cane as a correction tool for poor knife skills. In honor of those publications, and of Senora Valentina, I will be presenting a new series where several times a month I post Valentina’s recipes (along with a vegetarian/vegan adaptation).  Please visit in the coming months for more Spanish recipes straight from Valentina’s Cocina (kitchen). As this is the first post, I’ll start where she did, with a simple Gazpacho.

Authentic Madrid Gazpacho

 Many households in Madrid keep the concentrated version of this in the fridge, adding water to serve to drop-in guests on scorching afternoons. I’ve seen variations of Gazpacho recipes, but if you don’t include the bread, it’s not Gazpacho. Or so sayeth Valentina. It’s a great use for stale bread.


2 slices stale white bread, crusts removed

1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 TBS olive oil (Spanish if at all possible!!)

1 tsp coarse salt

1 cucumber, seeded and chopped, with some of the skin removed

1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped

4 to 5 ripe red tomatoes, skinned and seeded

2 TBS sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar will work if you don’t have sherry)

scant 3 cups ice water

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of cumin (This was my landlady’s secret tip)


  1. Soak the bread in water, then squeeze it out. Put it in a blender or food processor with the onion, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Puree.
  2. Add the cucumber to the mixture and puree. Add red bell pepper and puree. Finally, add the tomatoes and vinegar and puree. Chill mixture for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight. (You can put it in the freezer, but I think it doesn’t taste as good this way.)
  3. When you are ready to serve, dilute the mixture with ice water (don’t use ice cubes!!) and season to taste with cayenne pepper and cumin (I like mine hot). Arrange a selection of the garnishes listed below for people to add to the basic soup.

Garnish Ideas:

4 TBS fried croutons

2 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped

4 TBS chopped red, green, or yellow bell pepper

4 TBS chopped onion or green onion

Green or black olives, pitted and chopped (Spanish if possible!!)

Vegan/Vegetarian Options: This recipe is already fundamentally veg*n friendly. Just make sure that you are using vegan bread (or make your own) and omit serving the eggs as a topping choice.

Categories: Feed the Belly, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

J is for Judgment

I originally wrote this post last summer. Although some of the circumstances have changed, I still deal with judgment of a destructive nature often when it comes to my kids. And it still makes me just as mad.

Yesterday was a tough Mom day for me. Whatever shortcomings Pixar’s Brave might have, it nails one image perfectly–mothers are bears who protect their young.

This Mama Bear is in a fighting mood.

It started during pick up time at my childrens’ Christian Mother’s Day Out program. Standing outside my almost two-year-old son’s classroom, I waited just a moment before getting his attention to watch him dance and play with his friends. Another mother standing next to me complimented me on his plaid deck shoes (which are super cute). I told her he had picked them out himself and that he loves shoes. Her response? She looked at his shoes, looked at him dancing, and then looked at me and said:

“Uh oh. Better be careful or he might end up . . .”

When she didn’t finish, I started to ask, “Might end up what? Working in a shoe store? Doing the Safety Dance? In the Navy?”

But I didn’t. Because I knew what she meant. However, something in me wanted to force her to say it out loud, to make her actually say that  judgmental thing she was thinking about a toddler dancing in the bubbles. So I just raised my eyebrows and waited.

Instead of saying it, she went with something worse: she did a hand gesture. A stupid, early 80s making fun of Billy Crystal’s character on Soap hand gesture.

I actually felt the acid in the back of my throat to the extent that I truly believe I could have spit like that dinosaur in Jurassic Park. In some ways, I guess I did.

“He might end up denied basic civil rights and judged by small-minded hypocrites?” I asked her. Then I smiled. “I would hope that wouldn’t happen to anyone’s child, no matter who they are.”

She started to say something, but I got my kids and left.

On the drive home I heard my daughter unzip her lunch bag. Still angry about the encounter outside Alex’s classroom, I asked her why she didn’t eat her lunch again. She gave me the same response she’s given me for the past two weeks: “I was full.”

Some back story–About three weeks ago Liliana asked me not to send her (vegan) meatballs in her lunch, even though they are her favorite. She said the boys in her class were making fun of her food by telling her it was gross and looked like poop. Her daddy and I talked to her about doing what she liked and ignoring people who make fun her. She and Daddy even practiced saying, “You don’t know, you’ve never tried it,” as a response to her lunchtime critics. She hadn’t mentioned it again, so we figured the situation had been resolved.

Sadly, it has not.

It turns out that Liliana has been telling me and her teacher that she is full each lunch hour and not even opening her lunch because she doesn’t want to listen to the boys tell her that her lunch is “gross’ and “looks like poop.” Now, I know that we have been a little hippie-dippy lately with our vegan ways, but it’s not like I’ve been sending her mung beans. Today, for example, she had a pretty normal looking sandwich: veggie turkey slices with rice cheese on wheat. If you aren’t familiar with vegan deli options, veggie turkey slices and rice cheese look like round lunch meat and Kraft cheese. There is no way these 5-year-old boys are the culinary experts to discern that her lunch is anything out of the ordinary. Other days I’ve sent her pasta, cream cheese pinwheels, and pita pockets. To go with it she usually has carrots, some sort of dried or fresh fruit, and, if we’ve been baking, a muffin or cookie. Yes, these things are vegan, but they look the same.

These boys are just being mean. Liliana, for those who don’t know her, isn’t a timid little girl. She stands up for herself and her friends. However, I think part of the issue is that the leader of the group is a little boy Liliana was best friends with from age two. They’ve played together, gone to each other’s birthday parties, and now, he has become her tormentor.

I’ve tried to explain that this sometimes happens with boys–they get silly and pretend they don’t like girls for a few years. She’s told them her taught line about not having tried it. She sits at a different table with little girls who are her friends. And yet, for two weeks she has been eating her lunch at 3:15 pm in the back of our car because she’s hungry and afraid to eat during lunch.

The compilation of these two events has spiraled me into a new realm of pissed off. In terms of Alex, what set me off about that mother is how easily she slipped into the role of judge. He’s a year old. He’s smart, funny, cute, and loving. He’s a great little guy. If my son is gay, my son is gay. If he’s not, he’s not. No lame stereotype she’s concocted is going to define him. The only reason I wouldn’t want him to be gay is because the world would be harder for him.

We live in a country where normal is defined in a way that strips people of their rights and identities. As his mother, I want Alex to love who he wants to love and not be made to feel ashamed of it nor denied civil rights simply because he is being honest about who he is. Mothers like that judgmental mother will raise sons and daughters who think like they do. Which means one day another child–maybe my kid, maybe not–could be mocked and bullied for being different. That, to me, is not acceptable.

Liliana is another matter. It breaks my heart to watch her learn about cruelty. We want her to fight her own battles, to be strong and proud of who she is, but in this case that has been deflected. I’m going to talk to teachers and possibly the ringleader’s mother because a little girl should not be going through the day hungry due to mean children. It’s ridiculous.

I have had several conversations about motherhood over the years and have named several things that at one time or another seem like the hardest part: the isolation from other adults, the frustration of trying to teach them when you want to strangle them . . . the list goes on and on.

Right now, this feels like the hardest part. Watching the world work its meanness on my cubs is hard enough; knowing that I can’t act on my impulses to protect them in the way I want to tears at my heart. Instead of of one swiping blow that knocks out judgmental mothers and bratty little boys, I have to settle for warning growls and hard lessons for my cubs about standing up for yourself and not letting anyone make you feel bad about who you are.

That being said, if my warning growls get ignored again, this Mama Bear is going to draw blood.

Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

H is for Happy Cassarole

My fear of cooking is a strange animal. What some people find relaxing, I have always found stressful. Instincts? None. If I didn’t have what a recipe called for, I panicked. The weird glitch in this machine is Spanish cooking. That makes sense to me. But that is a story for another time (come back for V!).

Changing our eating habits has changed the way I view cooking. Preparing food for my family is fun and easy. Vegan baking, especially, just makes sense to me. I use my growing collection of vegan cookbooks for inspiration but then adapt them to what I have in my kitchen.

The vegan experiment continues to be interesting. I find the more I cook with real ingredients, the less I want to use the fakes (soy cheese, soy burgers). My son’s perpetual runny nose as cleared up after over a year. Personally, my energy continues to escalate.

Monday afternoon my daughter and I were chatting about something or other (with a 5-year-old you never know) and she said, “Mommy, you should have a restaurant.” What should I call it, I asked her. She thought for a long minute and then said, “Mama’s Happy Gift of Food. And you could serve Happy Casserole every day.”

This made me feel so good about the changes we’ve made. Below you will find my “Happy Casserole,” a dish my daughter asks me to make every day. Mix it up, make it your own.

Happy Casserole (as named by my daughter)

Use whatever green vegetables you have on hand, fresh or frozen, if you prefer to peas and broccoli. I mix all the ingredients with my hands and let my kids help. Feel free to toss in a handful of your favorite savory seasonings. I used Italian Seasoning.


Two 15 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 onion, chopped

2 cups carrots, chopped

1 1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup whole wheat Panko (or breadcrumbs)

3 TBS olive oil

1 cup vegetable broth

1 tsp salt

Cheese or rice/soy cheese (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Mash up chickpeas with a fork or potato masher until they have the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes (about 2 minutes).
  3. Mix vegetables into chickpea mash. Add panko and mix, the oil and mix, and the vegetable broth and salt. Mix one last time.
  4. Press the mixture into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes.
Categories: Feed the Belly, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , ,

G is for Good Eats

Last night I arrived home after a fabulous weekend in Austin, Texas. Among the highlights were a Designing Women season 1 marathon, a visit to BookPeople, and tea at The Steeping Room. Most exciting (aside from sleeping in and seeing my friend Mitzi) was attending Texas VegFest at Lady Bird Lake. It was a wonderful event for vegans and meat eaters alike, with food varying from the super healthy (vitamin drinks and greens) to the deep fried vegan fare (it is Texas, after all). Here were my star samplings:

Good Karma Kitchen

This veg food truck hails from Fort Worth and I would like to personally thank them for making the trip because it made my trip. Their Spicy Asian Tacos put a veggie spin on Korean BBQ with amazing sauce and crisp vegetables. It had just the right amount of spice so that the flavors were elevated without blasting my taste buds beyond repair. So good I actually woke up this morning craving it. My friend tried their Deconstructed Tamales which were also fab, but those tacos will haunt me with their deliciousness. I will definitely be hunting them down when I’m in Fort Worth next month.

Capital City Bakery

While I am not bad at making vegan sweets, Capital City Bakery puts me to deep shame. My oatmeal cookie sandwich (I don’t even like oatmeal cookies!) had a divine texture, wasn’t so sweet I felt like I needed a trip to the dentist, and provided that little bit of comfort I want from cookies. With the generous portion, I was able to sneak bites throughout the day. Even in the heat the filling didn’t melt so I got to bask in the yummy for hours.

The Hearty Vegan

This Texas based tempeh sausage was insanely good. I tried both the lemon pepper and BBQ; win on both products. Beth and Becky, the ladies behind it, know how to throw down. The texture really held up to cooking and flavor, making each mouthful off my kabob as tasty as the last. I hope to see more of their products in my local store.

I was thrilled by the overall organization and vibe of the event. Next year I’d like to take my kids and husband with me as well. It’s the perfect place for my wacky daughter who has been known to loudly announce to the grocery store that “cow milk is so gross” and question how anyone can drink it. VegFest is definitely on my yearly must list now.



Categories: Feed the Belly, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

F is for Five Things That Rocked March 31 – April 6

So perhaps this is a bit of a cheat with my A to Z challenge, but it just happens that F falls on my normal Five Things day–it’s meant to be!

  1. The A to Z challenge. Not only have I had the chance to think outside my normal posting ideas, I’ve gotten to read some really cool blogs. I’m excited for the rest of the month to unfold.
  2. This tribute on Cinefilles to late film critic Roger Ebert. I actually started crying when I heard the news. He was a great writer, lover of film, and an inspiration.
  3. The news that I have been invited to be part of The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2013 anthology. Last year it was an honor; this year it is mind blowing to be included again. Look for more on that as the publication date nears. Also cool? Two days after that contract came through, I had an article accepted for the summer print issue of Brain, Child, my favorite parenting magazine.
  4. Ploughshares has been pretty fab this week with selections from Ian Stansel, Ali Shapiro, my girl A.J. Kandathil (Seriously, why aren’t you following her blog yet?), and little me with more cowboys and a threatened ass-kicking.
  5. Texas VegFest with my favorite trouble-making buddy, Mitzi. Okay, we haven’t gone yet, but how is it not going to rock?
Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things that Rocked March 10 – 16

  1. A big week for writing and reading. Seriously. It required its own post.
  2. This open letter to Harper’s calling them out for publishing almost no women.
  3. The Veganville video from SNL. I won’t even both linking it because I know you’ve seen it.
  4. Book Riot’s lit nerd cartoons.
  5. It was spring break. I slept in. That always rocks.



Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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