Dear Reader, I am old. I went through the whole hippy phase in the 70s. I was a vegetarian for 12 years. I can macramé. To this day, I am an organic, low-carbon-foot-print-except-for-my-whole-diesel-bus-Italian-wine-thang, cook local and when I do eat meat, strive to make sure it came from a local sustainable farm. I wear Birkenstocks. Daily. Somewhere along the way, in the past pushing-60 years, I started to give more respect to the food rules G-d gave Moses.

That is where I am now.

Doesn’t mean I don’t respect the choices of others. Along with me, the world continues to change. Evolve. We invited my sister and niece, Carla, for Shabbat this evening. We wanted to try to cook a butterflied chicken outside on the grill. I would bake a loaf of Challah and prepare a pretty Caprese Salad… with a sweet peach, cherry and blueberry crostata.

That was before we learned our niece, Carla, has gone vegan. No animal anything. No dairy. No eggs. Not even honey. I’m okay with this. Seriously, if we were all vegan, the planet would be a lot healthier. Lipitor would not be invented. Diabetes would practically not exist. Jenny Craig would be out of business.

(I just wish Carla would have come to dinner Monday when I prepared baby bok choy in garlic oil and Soba with Green Onion, or last night when I made black bean tacos. Both meals were vegan.)

As I stated in my recent column about why DT and I are still married after 31 year – we are adaptable. Change is good. Chicken is great, but a big plate of pasta is also lovely. Especially if tossed with a sweet, rich tomato sauce infused with fresh herbs, onion and garlic. Add a salad, fresh bread (not Challah) – and your table is filled a delicious vegan meal. Seriously, even the most dedicated carnivore would not miss the meat at our table tonight.

Though I did miss Challah.

Instead, I bought the bread from our local New Seasons Market – flatbread, topped with mushrooms and salt.

My herbed marinara sauce is super easy, super rich and can be made with ingredients you probably have in your pantry right now. Though I usually finish the sauce with a half-stick of butter… tonight, I did not – and everyone still enjoyed dinner. (I will post the recipe in a few days.)

Carla and I spent the afternoon together… shopping and then mani-pedi’s, before returning home to finish-up dinner. The weather cooperated and we were able to enjoy dinner on the patio! Carla is finishing high school a year early and plans to spend that year traveling the world before attending college. Every friend/relative around the world is expecting a visit from Carla. It is going to be a very exciting time and we hope to meet up with our niece somewhere interesting on her “gap year”.

Carla appreciated our vegan menu – olives and cashews for appetizer, orecchiette with red sauce and Chopped Salad with Lemon-Garlic Dressing (no cheese, please).

Dessert was a little interesting. I had purchased a huge juicy peach, a few cherries and a basket of blueberries (all organic, of course), and planned to make a crostata. When I learned Carla had gone vegan, I researched a way to make a non-butter pastry crust. (Yes, I know I could have used vegetable shortening, but that product has been banned from this house since the first Clinton administration.) I remembered an article about an olive oil pastry crust a few years ago… but I thought the strong olive flavor would be too intense for the fruit. Problem solved when I found a small bottle of almond oil in our market. I froze a little of the oil overnight and used it in place of cold butter in my regular pastry crust recipe.

I can’t say it was the easiest dough I have ever worked with. I had to roll it between two sheets of parchment paper to get the dough to behave.

I macerated the fruits in my new favorite thing – Whipped Cream Vodka. I could never drink this stuff. It is like syrup. Super sweet and I can imagine much of France is cringing to learn this drink is being produced in their country, but I suppose it would be divine in hot chocolate. In January. At a tailgate party. (Just sayin’.) That said, when I found the half-full bottle in our liquor cabinet – I assume left-over from Julie a winter tailgate party – the wheels started turning in my little brain. Tossing a few tablespoons of the flavored vodka with strawberries for an hour before serving over pound cake brings strawberry shortcake to a new level. So, that is what I did with the fruits tonight, before nestling them into the sticky almond-oil dough. 40 minutes at 375° turned the three fruits into a delight.

Dang, if that pastry crust wasn’t tender. Flaky, even. Savory. The fruit was sweet, and the entire tart was surprisingly lovely.

Still, Carla was the sweetest thing at our Shabbat tonight.

Until my next update, I remain, your Auntie correspondent.

Half-way through the month and I am spot-on to my goal! I killed it today with a super hard run too. Nearly looked like a real runner today! Oregon Food Bank is going to be happy with my blisters!

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