The right place at the right time

Central Market at 8 a.m. on a weekday: looking over the asparagus stalks to the perfectly stacked tower of cauliflower to the blissfully empty aisle. Is there anything more inspiring to a cook than having all this gorgeous produce laid out, practically to yourself for the choosing? And the shoppers who are there are serious, like the fella who shared cooking tips in front of the dozens of chili powders in the bulk aisle (I took his advice and am trying the chipotle powder).

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Stir Crazy

Stir Crazy Baked Goods, a newish bakery here in Fort Worth, has a soft spot for vegans, offering an array of baked goods without butter or eggs. But it was their double chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream, with no shortage of butter or eggs, that I recently enjoyed with friends at a joint birthday party. The hostess sent us home with leftovers, which were later split four ways as equally as possible, the kids eyeing the angle of the knife, trying to detect any unfair slip, before enjoying their portion. All-natural and decadent, when I don't do my own baking, I'll go back.

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Great grapefruit

It's Texas grapefruit season, that time of year when big bags of juicy citrus show up at Central Market, Walmart, and everywhere in between. My youngest was tearful on Sunday to be left behind as big brother went to a big-kid activity. She took comfort in getting the very last grapefruit in the house, with an organic sugar brûléed topping. See, being home isn't so bad. (And those creme brûlée torches are more useful than you thought.) 20130128-162123.jpg

Fab falafel

Having dinner out with a group of friends is kind of like book club--you wind up trying things you didn't think you were interested in, and if all goes well, end up pleasantly surprised. That's how Celaborelle Phoenician turned out for me during dinner out with some girlfriends last week. There's the sketchy location, the illegible menu on a dry-erase board, and what turned out to be a long wait for food. (A bottle of red wine--it's byob--and good conversation made it go faster.) But we were rewarded with a table full of mostly great selections, dinner for three for under $20. Our favorites were the falafel--crisp on the outside and light within--and the ftayir, a large spinach pie seasoned with lemon juice and wrapped in pita dough. 20121230-164156.jpg

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.

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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.