A. Cook for Six Years

I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but today is my six year blog anniversary!
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To celebrate, I think I’ll eat A.Cookie (har har).

Last year on my five year I had a lot to say about the path my blog had taken up to that point, but it’s pretty amazing how much things ramped up in the year that has gone by since then!

This year, participating in blogger events like Vegan MoFo and Virtual Vegan Potluck really got me to step out of my comfort zone and start interacting more with the incredible and vast community out there.  I discovered so many new blogs and friends (just check out the size of that list in the righthand toolbar!) and this really helped to keep me motivated to post regularly (something with which I had majorly struggled in the past).Vegan Week 003

I finally found the confidence to create and post some of my own recipes (and now have enough of them [though still a very modest amount!] to share on their own page).  I hosted my first (and second and third!) giveaway.  I had a guest blogger.  I got awesome free stuff to review (woo hoo!).Spicy Spotlight 010
Sesame Tamari Roasted Brussels Sprouts featuring Dragon’s Blood Elixir hot sauce

I took some amazing vegan voyages (in DC, Richmond, and L.A.).RVA 016
Tofu Po Boy and veggie chili from 821 Cafe in Richmond, VA

I also began to branch out past my own little corner of the Internet by contributing blogs at Chic Vegan.  I created a Facebook page and Instagram account, and became much more active on Twitter.Skull Cakes 2 007
Spooky Skull Cakes seen on Chic Vegan, October 2013

AND I finally purchased my domain name acookinthemaking.com!!!

Needless to say, I am very excited about everything that has happened in the last year and want to say thanks to all the awesome bloggers and other visitors who make this such a fun thing to do 🙂  Here’s to the next six!!

Regrowth: Thoughts on the Boston Marathon, One Year Later

Exactly one year ago today, which was 7 days after the Boston Marathon bombing and 3 days after the terrorist responsible was caught, I wrote a post called Reclamation describing my experience of the attack and the harrowing days that followed.  This post is my follow-up to that one.

Every year on April 19th, a 21 gun salute takes place at dawn at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, the site of the Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  The salute commemorates the anniversary of the 1775 battle that began the Revolutionary War and eventually led to the birth of our United States of America.
 photo MarathonWeekend005_zpsf18f7ee9.jpgThough it was a very early wakeup call for a Saturday morning, H and I managed to make it over to the Bridge to take in the ceremony this past weekend.
 photo MarathonWeekend006_zpsc35a1178.jpgDuring the benediction and reading of accounts of April 19, 1775, I found my mind wandering back to April 19th of last year, the day of one of the largest manhunts in history.  It was in our car around 5:30 in the morning, on our way over to the North Bridge that H and I first learned that one bomber was dead and that the other was being heatedly pursued by the authorities.  It was somewhat eerie to be standing there in the cold dawn, saluting the flag in memory of one of the earliest expressions of American freedom, while a few miles away the hunt was on to overtake the latest incarnation of someone trying to take it away.

I still find myself in awe sometimes of the fact that the bomber was actually caught.  The sheer courage and tenacity of the local, state, and federal authorities in pursuing him evokes in me a deep sense of patriotism and pride.
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After the Dawn Salute on Saturday, it was time to face the fact that only two days remained until I was going to go back to the Marathon.

Obviously, staying home was never an option.  Doing so would feel too much like giving in and letting the terrorists win.  And of course, I knew that security was going to be insanely tight.  Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some reservations about going into the city yesterday for the Marathon.

But go I did, and spent the day by Fenway, just before the 40K mark.  It was a great spot to see Rita Jeptoo pass by in a flash on her way to breaking the woman’s course record. photo MarathonWeekend019_zps3922bcaa.jpgAnd of course, Meb!!  Check me out on TV cheering him on (I’m the one in the white coat just to the left of center screen!): photo MarathonWeekend023_zps49d3b43b.jpgFor the next several hours after the lead runners came through, I stayed outside to watch and encourage thousands upon thousands of runners as they went by.  During that time, I vacillated between ecstatic moments of cheering and high fiving the runners, and moments where I became silent and had to force myself to take deep breaths because I was becoming overly emotional.  I’m not sure exactly how to describe the emotion; it was sort of a mix of deep sadness about what happened last year, and anger at the fact that someone actually tried to spoil this day for all time.

Well, it definitely isn’t spoiled.  But…it also isn’t quite the same.

As with every Marathon Monday, the city, and the tens of thousands of people who came out to enjoy it, was in great spirits yesterday.  But the reminders of the terrible tragedy of last year were everywhere…in the quadruply aggressive police presence (compared to other years), in the security checkpoints stationed all around, in the National Guardsmen who ran without their traditional backpacks (no packs whatsoever were allowed), in the omnipresent signs and t-shirts bearing the slogans “Boston Strong” and “No more hurting people.”

I’m not sure one year is enough time to allow for the necessary level of recovery and regrowth after something like the Marathon bombing.  I’m not sure that any amount of time will truly be enough.  What’s important is that there are signs of growth and healing all around us if we can only remember to look for them.
 photo MarathonWeekend014_zpscb5b3064.jpgNo more hurting people.  Peace.


Spicy Spotlight: NW Elixirs

You may recall that two weekends ago, H and I attended the second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, where we had the time of our lives sampling incredible, small batch, craft hot sauces in every flavor imaginable and meeting tons of great people.  We also purchased and brought home dozens of bottles of those sauces, and I immediately got to work coming up with fun uses and recipes for some of our acquisitions.

Over the coming weeks I am going to spotlight some of these products and my uses for them on the blog.   No one is paying me for this; I am only sharing because I have truly fallen in love with each and every one of these sauces and the incredible depth of flavor that they have added to my food.

For my first Spicy Spotlight, may I present NW Elixirs.  This company uses high quality ingredients to produce four flavors of hot sauce.  All four flavors were available to sample at the Expo, but only two of them are vegan, and H and I and purchased those two: the Verde Hott (#2) and the Hott Smoke (#3).

If you’ve ever had salsa verde, picture that…and then turn it up about 1000 notches, and you’ll be approaching Verde Hott.Spicy Spotlight 001I don’t know what it is about this sauce, but it is bursting at the seams with flavor.  It is so incredibly fresh-tasting, slightly sweet, and a little tangy.  It is perfect.  This is not a particularly spicy hot sauce, but it does have a nice kick.  I didn’t even consider myself a salsa verde fan before trying this, but once I tasted it, I had to have it.

The #1 way we’ve been using it is to make the easiest and best guacamole of all time.  This is what you do:

Take half an avocado, remove the pit, and fill the hole with Verde Hott.
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Mash it up.  You’re done.
Spicy Spotlight 005This is wow-inducing guacamole.  If you don’t currently experience cravings for raw veggies, you will after you try dipping them in this.

The Hott Smoke is somewhat similar to a traditional barbecue sauce in consistency, but with a well-rounded, less sickly sweet flavor than other such sauces.  It is one of the least spicy sauces we bought.  With this one, it’s all about the flavor!
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H is a big fan of this sauce as a spread for sandwiches (with non-vegan fillings).  I think it is absolutely perfect for grilling tofu:
NW Elixirs Smoke 007Just brush it on and grill it up!

Or for amping up your standard mushroom gravy!
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Makes 1-1.5 cups

2/3 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon mild miso (I used yellow)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons worth)
8 oz. sliced baby bella (aka crimini) mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons NW Elixirs Hott Smoke
1 – 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

Combine the broth and milk in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Add cornstarch and miso and whisk until dissolved.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and shallots and saute about 2 minutes or until lightly golden.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and shrink down (about 5 minutes).

Add the broth/milk/cornstarch/miso mixture, thyme, and black pepper, stir to combine, and then bring the whole thing to a gentle simmer.  Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it has cooked down and thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in Hott Smoke and optional nutritional yeast (start with 1 tablespoon, then taste and add more if desired).  Add salt to taste (mine didn’t need any because there was enough salt in the broth and miso, but this will vary).

1) If you aren’t lucky enough to have Hott Smoke in your kitchen, you can substitute another not-too-sweet barbecue sauce and a dash or two of liquid smoke.
2) The non-dairy milk is optional; if you don’t have or don’t want to use it, just go with a full cup of broth.
3) Use chickpea miso for a soy-free version, or omit altogether.

This is heaven over mashed potatoes.  Heaven, I tell you!
NW Elixirs Smoke 009So my first attempts at cooking with Expo products were a success!  It felt good to justify the absurd amount of stuff we brought home from it this way 🙂  As per H:  “The lack of restraint we showed at the Hot Sauce Expo actually worked out fantastically!”

I’ll have lots more fun, spicy cooking experiments to share in the coming weeks!

Have a great weekend!


NYC Hot Sauce Expo 2014

Last Saturday, H and I headed down to New York to attend the 2nd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo.NYC HSE 026
NYC HSE 001I was so SO excited about this event.  With over 45 vendors giving out hundreds of samples, how could a spicy food lover like me not be?

I can now tell you that it was even better than I had hoped it would be.

The level of quality of both the products and the vendors was outstanding.  I mean, really outstanding.  Even the hottest sauces and foods I tried were absolutely bursting with flavor.  The freshness of the ingredients and the care put into making the products was readily apparent at every turn.  I can’t recall consuming even one sub-par product the entire time I was there.
NYC HSE 007Horseshoe was one of my favorite brands at the event.  Their kiwi jalapeno hot sauce might be the best thing I tried the whole day.  They also had the prettiest display!

H and I purchased the Sweet Spot level tickets, which give you access to the vendors plus a free bottle of a sponsor’s hot sauce and 6 drink tokens per person that you can redeem at the bar for wine, Lagunitas beer, or cocktails.  These tickets cost $35 each. I don’t think I need to explain why this is an absurd value, especially in New York City.
NYC HSE 008Throughout the day you can try as many samples as you can handle (and that is included in your ticket, obviously), but each vendor also has bottles and bottles of product for purchase as well.  Fair warning that this can become expensive quickly, especially if, like me, you simply have to have every sauce that made you say “Mmm!” to take home.

The vast majority of the sample sauces are vegan, and sampling is done either on tortilla chips or with a small spoon.  So as far as the sampling goes, it really is a vegan-friendly event.   A few of the vendors (though fewer than I would have thought) had sauces containing bacon and a few more have sauces with honey (but again, fewer than I would have thought).  Another thing to watch out for is Worcestershire sauce (which typically contains anchovies), but outside of the Bloody Mary mixes this didn’t seem to crop up very often.
Several of the vendors had food available to sample, some of it vegan (like spicy pretzels and sriracha popcorn) and some not (like beef jerky and Cabot cheese).  There was also some food available to purchase, the majority of which was not vegan (pulled pork sandwiches and tacos…although they did have a vegetarian taco option).  They had soft pretzels which looked pretty good (I didn’t try them), although some of them were wrapped in bacon or stuffed with something non-vegan.

They also had a number of stations selling (and also giving samples of) ice cream.  Imagine my utter shock and delight when I saw this:
I will have much more to say about this company in a future post.  For now, all I need to tell you is that the almond marzipan flavor is out of this world.  H couldn’t stop raving about it.

The length of the event (10 a.m. – 7 p.m.) seemed like a lot but was actually perfect, for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, you really can’t just sample hot sauces for 9 hours without a break [well, maybe you can, but I sure cannot!].  There were times when I felt like my face was actually melting, and it took me a good 20-30 minutes to cool back down, so having a nice long event meant that I still had plenty of time to get around to most or all of the vendors.

Second, the Expo got increasingly crowded as the day wore on, and the lines for the bathroom and bar lengthened accordingly (although this did correspond nicely with that 20-30 minute cooldown).

Third, as the event winds down, it is nice to have a little time to revisit booths that you particularly enjoyed and to chat with the vendors.  I met a lot of really interesting, passionate individuals and was grateful for the opportunity to learn a good deal about the art of hot sauce making and flavor development as well as their sourcing and production.
The expo took place at the Penn Plaza Pavilion, which is on 7th Ave at 33rd Street, directly across the street from the train station.  It’s a fantastic, central location and very easy to travel to.

The space was definitely big enough to accommodate all of the vendors and attendees, but I thought the layout was kind of strange and a bit maze-like.  It seemed like there were several nooks and crannies where you’d unexpectedly encounter a vendor you hadn’t seen before, even though you’d already spent 4 hours walking around.  I’m not sure the layout was *bad* necessarily , but it was different from other expo-type events that I’ve been to.

I should mention that there was nowhere to put coats.  H tied his around his waist, and I had to carry mine over my arm the whole day, which made sampling a bit awkward at times.

There also was nowhere to sit down (although possibly there is if you buy the VIP tickets…I didn’t have one so I didn’t see if there were seats in that section), which I know might deter or, frankly, prevent some people from attending.  An old friend of H’s came to the event and the two of them ended up just sitting on the floor against a support beam to be able to chat and catch up.

[But none of this took away from the] FUN FACTOR
This event was SO much fun.  It’s full of an offbeat, niche crowd of pepperheads that really gets into the whole thing.  The vendors also appear to be having the time of their lives, and there’s plenty of silliness and puns to go around.NYC HSE 010NYC HSE 005NYC HSE 015H and I couldn’t stop talking on Sunday about what a great time we had.  We already can’t wait to go back next year!  In the meantime, we will not lack for hot sauce goodness, as we came home with and outlandish amount of hot sauce (THREE tote bags full) in every flavor imaginable.

In the coming weeks I will have posts highlighting some of the companies that stood out to me, including recipes/uses I’m inventing with some of the wonderful stuff we bought.  Stay tuned!