More Spiral in the New Year...

From the latest issue of 360 West, here's a vegan recipe from Spiral Diner's executive chef, James Johnston. One of the best parts of my job is the chance to meet the people in and around Fort Worth whose ingenuity and follow-through make our town culturally richer and so much more interesting for their efforts. James and his wife and business partner Amy McNutt are high on that list. They've been running Spiral Diner, our town's only vegan restaurant, for close to a decade; add to that the fact that 2012 should see their dream of opening an art house theater realized, and you can see why they're so important to Fort Worth. My thanks to them for sharing this recipe with me and our readers. I tested it at home with a jar of Joe T's salsa and it's good stuff. This simple recipe is also a great way to incorporate quinoa — that high-protein super grain (or seed, technically) — into your cooking. (Costco has great deals on big bags of organic quinoa.)

Awesome Austin

I recently took my first trip to Austin proper; it felt, in large part due to the old friends from my LA days who I got to see, more like a homecoming than a first glance. It was a weekend full of really good meals and really great ideas floating around so easily that I wish I could have stopped time and savored the conversations for longer than they lasted. It’s always a treat to hang out with super-smart publishing people. From the weekend, I have three restaurant recommendations to share, places to veg out should you find yourself heading south on I-35. All three are super-casual, inexpensive and, living up to the city’s reputation beautifully, lovably oddball.

Graj Mahal is a food truck, but with a permanent pavilion set up for dining, draped with gauzy white fabric and cooled by fans. While most vegetarians love Indian food, this place spreads the love to vegans, too: Graj Mahal will prepare food with sesame oil instead of Ghee (the clarified butter traditionally used in Indian cooking) upon request. Everything’s served on biodegradable paper plates and bowls. Works of bicycle art from the Austin Bike Zoo are on display.

Pacha is a great organic breakfast spot; eating at Pacha feels like eating at somebody’s house — somebody who knows how to make amazing fresh fruit pancakes, eggs, quiche and breakfast tacos. Regulars keep their coffee cards on file at the front counter.

Home Slice Pizza on South Congress has the best pizza crust ever — really (fairly thin but soft and chewy), and they also make it into garlic knots that are served with the salads or just on their own. The Margherita pizza is fragrant with pools of fresh garlic and a generous sprinkle of sliced fresh basil.


Vegan Family Meals

Ann Gentry’s new cookbook, Vegan Family Meals, was officially released last week. While Ann is better known in Los Angeles as the owner and chef of a pair of vegan restaurants, Real Food Daily, she is now author of not one but two cookbooks (The Real Food Daily Cookbook came out 2005) available to a national audience. Whereas her first book shared some of the recipes she uses in her restaurants, this newer book is focused on shorter ingredients lists and less time-consuming preparations—the food she cooks at home for herself, her husband, and their two children, hence the “family” part of the title. Getting to work with Ann on her book wasn’t only a pleasure from a professional standpoint, as writing about food, family and entertaining is a particular interest of mine, but from a personal standpoint as well. Through many Los Angeles-to-Fort Worth phone conversations, I absorbed her philosophy on feeding her family and being a responsible resident on this planet. The vegan diet treads more lightly on the earth than any other I can think of, and it’s hard to argue against the fact that even those who aren’t vegan — like me — benefit from smaller doses of dairy and eggs and bigger helpings of whole grains and veggies. Her book also touches on gluten sensitivity, which a growing number of people are experiencing. For someone who’s guilty of having various combinations of wheat and cheese (bagels with cream cheese, quesadillas, pasta with parm) far too many times in a week, it’s helpful to think about the wisdom in variety, with a wider range of health benefits, not to mention tastes and textures. Congratulations to Ann on a beautiful, warm book that truly inspires. My family is a little more vegan for her efforts. medium

Forks Over Knives

On Monday night I attended a media preview of Forks Over Knives, which begins its general run at The Magnolia in Dallas this Friday. I even brought my omnivore husband with me. This documentary film advocating a plant-based diet for its health benefits is powerful, thought-provoking, and, thankfully, not laced with the fightin’ words and images of the vegan cause that can come across as cheap shots—it stays positive and hopeful, and in making its point, it doesn’t rely on gross-out tactics as much as it could. Sure, you’ll see meat hanging in a slaughterhouse, and you’ll see some open-heart surgery scenes, but in general, it keeps the message reasonably upbeat, using statistics as well as following some endearing personal stories to show that a plant-based diet can not only prevent a host of chronic ills, but it can actually reverse damage already done. As a vegetarian who enjoys dairy and eggs, and one living in a family of omnivores, it gave me a lot to think about. The film sticks to stark contrasts: The typical American diet filled with huge slabs of grilled meat, packaged convenience foods, and soda is held up to compare against a completely vegan plant-based diet. Those of us who live somewhere in the middle definitely leave wondering where we fall, health-wise. I felt inspired to volumize the fruits, veggies, and whole grains in my family’s diet and downplay the cheese and eggs, though not moved to cut them out completely. There are several scenes of big vegan meals being served, and while the food looks very appealing, it’s hardly indicative of what a vegan might grab for lunch on a Thursday.

The film is an old-school documentary, to be sure—appealing to reason and thought more than offering entertainment. That said, it has its funny, smart moments, and the handful of people whose health stories are profiled are authentic and interesting; you will want to see them get well, and rejoice with them when they do. The obvious reserve used in producing the film serves it well; it doesn’t put the viewer on the defensive, instead offering every reason in the world to want to change. It’s a film I feel comfortable recommending to omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike—catch it if you can.

Cooking Lessons

I attended the Vegetarian Dinner Party cooking class at Central Market last night, taught by Christine Ilarraza, and in spite of having completed a series of professional pastry classes and many years styling recipes for print, I definitely came away with a few new pointers: How to poach eggs free-form (no poaching cups needed), tips on how to make a very tender pastry by hand (no Cuisinart needed), and that butter makes things taste really, really good (did I need to be reminded of that?). Mostly, I just had a good time. Chris, as she goes by, is fun, and so were the other students; it felt like a dinner party with a purpose. With a 6:30 pm start time, Chris made sure that before launching into longer topics, we prepared the first dish, Frisee with Shaved Red Onions & a Poached Egg, so we would have something to eat. She also talked me through my slight squeamishness regarding eggs, and convinced me to pull mine out of the simmering water before it was hard-cooked. I slid it atop the frisee salad, ate it, and lived. We prepared two free-form pie crusts for this class; although I usually go for richer food when entertaining, I think I'll reserved these two recipes—Herbed Mushroom & Goat Cheese Tart and Mixed Seasonal Berry Galette—for separate occasions. Each was appealing, easy, successful, and delicious, but very rich, as pie crusts tend to be.

While Central Market doesn't host a lot of devoted vegetarian cooking classes, it's worth noting that most of the baking classes in the schedule are appropriate for vegetarians, and menus are available online ahead of time, so you can double-check. Up next: Cake Decorating?


Vegetarian Cooking Class Tonight

There's still one spot left in tonight's Vegetarian Dinner Party cooking class at Central Market in Fort Worth; be the lucky one to snag it! On the menu: Frisée with Shaved Red Onions & a Poached Egg; Herbed Mushroom & Goat Cheese Tart; Creamy Potato & Chive Soup; and Mixed Seasonal Berry Galette with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

Catching Up

This was my first weekend in Fort Worth in about a month, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean I have any fantastic veg-friendly restaurant recommendations to make; this weekend was for catching up, not going out. Of note in March: The last few weeks have seen the opening of Avoca Coffee on Magnolia, an independent coffee house that roasts its own coffee beans on-site. Stop in to enjoy a cup of the freshest coffee you’re likely to find in town, along with the free WiFi and goodies from a few area bakers. I wrote about it in the forthcoming April issue of Indulge magazine. (Any tips on forthcoming restaurants, cafes, or wineries, and other food-related news? Email me; I have a new assignment.)

Buon Giorno Coffee on Florence also had its grand opening (it opened quietly a few months ago) in March. This coffee is   also roasted locally (at their other location in Grapevine); the new Fort Worth outpost has very friendly, chatty service and a bottomless cup of coffee for about $4, which will come in handy if you park it to take advantage of the WiFi for any length of time (and feel free to--there are plenty of tables and no owner crankiness detected).

Fort Worth is fairly bursting with new bakeries, which is good news for me, because it means I won’t have to open my own anytime soon. I wrote about several new bakeries for the Star-Telegram recently and especially enjoyed the opportunity to chat with these inspiring small business owners and passionate foodies. Support your neighborhood bakery—new or old—so it can continue to support you.

*THAT* mom

I don't have anything against sugar. And I would usually rather go with the flow than try to browbeat other parents into seeing things the way I see them. But the collective result of Valentine's Day, for which each of my children's 20-plus classmates brings them a Valentine, two-thirds with candy attached, is sort of a buzzkill for me. It means they came home with more candy than they should eat between now and Spring Break. (I threw out the rest of the Halloween candy only last week.) But the biggest buzzkill is this: With that influx of candy, if I were to buy my own children the little red cardboard heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate candies that my father used to get for me on Valentine's Day, it would just be overkill. So I didn't. And I'm a little bummed about it.

I guess that's how I became *that* mom—the one who helps her kids stuff their valentines with all-natural fruit leathers with no sugar added (each counts for half a serving of fruit!) instead of candy. It's my own small rebellion against the status quo. And guess what? One parent has already thanked me. You're welcome.