Garlicky spinach pesto pizza

I don’t have a Valentine’s dessert recipe this year, unlike all the other years of this blog’s existence so far, but I do have a great pizza idea for you! It’s packed full of garlic, which not only makes it super delicious but also gives you the perfect chance to test your sweetheart’s true feelings. 😀

The other components of this yummy combination are pesto, spinach, cherry tomatoes, red onion and vegan parmesan.

This post is more inspiration than recipe, since the measurements are all approximate and the quantities you’ll need will depend on the size pizza you want to make.


  • 1 pizza base, whatever size you like
  • Vegan pesto – I used half a jar of Barilla’s new vegan pesto (find it at Monoprix), but you can alternatively make your own
  • Garlic cloves, as many as you like – I used four!
  • Fresh spinach leaves – I used approximately three or four cups (it cooks way down, so don’t be stingy)
  • Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Red onion, diced roughly
  • Vegan parmesan to sprinkle on top (I used Nurishh, also from Monoprix)


  1. Preheat your oven to a pizza-baking temperature (usually 400°F/200°C). You may wish to prebake the pizza base since there’ll be so many thick toppings on it during the main baking.
  2. Chop the garlic finely and sautée it in some oil for a minute or two over low to medium heat, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the fresh spinach and stir occasionally until it has cooked down (see photos below).
  4. Spread your pizza base generously with pesto.
  5. Top that with the cooked spinach plus the (raw) cherry tomatoes and onion.
  6. Bake the pizza for 10 to 15 minutes or more, depending on the thickness of the base.
  7. Remove from oven, sprinkle with vegan parmesan, slice and serve!

Sautée the garlic over low to medium heat, stirring frequently and making sure it doesn’t get too brown.

Add the spinach (keep adding more until you think you have enough to cover your pizza base). Stir the mixture occasionally so that the garlic gets mixed in with the spinach rather than resting on the bottom of the pan, where it could burn. The spinach will release moisture as it cooks which should help prevent this also.

When it’s ready, it’ll look something like this.

While the spinach is cooking, prepare your pizza base. You may wish to prebake it a bit first since the spinach topping is so thick. Once it’s ready, spread it generously with the pesto.

Now add the spinach and garlic mixture.

Finally, top all of that with the tomatoes and red onion, and pop it in the oven! 10 to 15 minutes should do the trick, but baking time can vary greatly depending on the thickness of the crust you use and your oven. Keep an eye on the crust to gauge whether it’s done. You may want to move it up to the top rack for a minute at the end to make sure the tomatoes are nicely cooked.

It’ll look something like this.

Top with some vegan parmesan for a nice cheesy and salty final touch. If you can’t find any at a store, a nice homemade alternative is ground almonds + nutritional yeast + salt (and optional garlic powder).

Have you ever seen a more delicious looking pizza? 🙂

So feel free to make this your Valentine’s Day dinner, for yourself and your favorite person, or even just for you!

But don’t forget dessert! Check out my Valentine’s dessert recipes from past years.

Sauerbraten meatballs

Earlier this month, I discovered there’s a National German-American Day (October 6th) in my home country. It seems it was created in 1883 but got put on the shelf during World War I, when German descendants wanted to keep their roots on the down-low. Then in 1983, sensing an auspicious anniversary, Ronald Reagan brought it back. I’ve never known this particular day to be celebrated in Wisconsin, which is home to countless people of German ancestry. But it may just be that it doesn’t stand a chance against Oktoberfest, a much bigger deal for the gentle folk of this state.

As my own family is mostly German on both sides, and almost everyone I knew growing up had this same background, Germany never seemed very exotic or interesting to me when I was younger. I half-heartedly studied the language for a semester as an undergrad, but then when a scheduling conflict made the second semester inaccessible, I enrolled in an Arabic class instead. I’ve taken more of an interest in my heritage in recent years though, so when I heard about this little holiday I decided to pay homage to it with this vegan version of a favorite family dish.

It’s a shortcut version of sauerbraten, a beef pot roast that’s marinated in vinegar over days and days (the name means “sour roast”), although I liked the meatball alternative better in any case. My mom always served the meatballs over a fettucine-type pasta, but they could also be paired with rice or presented on a plate skewered with toothpicks for a buffet dinner.

What sets this recipe apart is its special ingredient. The sauce is made with – hold onto your hats – gingersnap cookies! My mom makes her own gingersnaps, but I used Lotus brand speculoos, which have a similar enough taste. The cookie element makes this dish a bit sweet (there’s some brown sugar in there too!), so to balance out the flavors, consider serving it with a neutral-tasting side dish like green beans, or even something bitter such as arugula/rocket or endives.

Sauerbraten meatballs and sauce

Makes about 23 meatballs (two or three servings)

  • 14 oz (400 g) vegan ground “beef” (look for brands like HappyVore, Herta or Beyond Meat)
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (1 piece of pre-sliced bread)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened plant-based cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • About 6 tablespoons flour, for coating
  • A few tablespoons vegan butter or margarine, for the frying pan
  • Fettuccine or similar pasta, prepared according to package instructions

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup (236 ml) vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup crushed gingersnaps or speculoos/biscoff cookies
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (any kind, but I used red wine vinegar)
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) water

Equipment needed: vegetable grater, large frying pan with cover.

Begin placing the meatball ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.

Using a vegetable grater, grate the onion (alternatively, dice it very, very finely).

Add the breadcrumbs. I just tore up a slice of bread with my fingers, but you could use store-bought fine breadcrumbs and it would also work well.

Add the salt, pepper and cream and stir thoroughly until you have a homogeneous texture. Then get a small bowl and add the flour to this. Roll the meatballs in your hands, making them each about the size of a walnut. Lightly coat them with the flour.

Place the rolled meatballs on a plate as you go along.

Warm some vegan butter or margarine in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs.

Cover (not shown, oops!) and cook the meatballs for several minutes on each side. Keep a close eye on them to be sure they aren’t burning or getting too brown.

While the meatballs are cooking, start making the sauce. Roughly crush the gingersnap or speculoos cookies into a 1/3 measuring cup (the crumb size doesn’t matter since the crumbs will quickly dissolve).

Heat the broth, add the crushed cookies, brown sugar and vinegar. Once the cookie crumbs have dissolved and the mixture is drawing close to a boil, remove from heat.

Immediately pour the sauce over the meatballs, cover the pan again and let simmer for 20 minutes. The flour coating from the meatballs will thicken the sauce. Stir occasionally, turning the meatballs over to ensure they’re all evenly coated with the sauce.

While the meatballs are simmering, prepare your pasta or rice. Use whatever amount you’ll need to serve the number of people who will be sharing this meal.

And there you have it! As a side note, I’m happy to report that my mom now makes this dish in a meat-free version herself even when I’m not there. With Beyond Meat or similar products, the taste is so close to the original, but the impact in terms of health, biodiversity and the planet is much, much better. Not to mention nicer for the animals!

As always, if you try this, let me know how it turned out!

And if you’re a fan of meatballs, be sure to check out my favorite holiday recipe, Scandinavian juleboller with spiced blackcurrant sauce.

Breakfast on the Orient Express

Much nicer than murder, no?

The other day, a YouTube algorithm served me up a fascinating video documenting a trip from Northern France to Venice on board the luxury sleeper train the Orient Express. Yes, the same one Agatha Christie wrote about in 1934, on which detective Hercule Poirot must solve a murder that occurs during the night.

In this YouTube video, not only are no crimes committed, but the host also enjoys a very pleasant surprise. He and his traveling companion have booked a twin cabin ($5,000 double occupancy) but are for some reason upgraded to the Istanbul Grand Suite ($23,000 double occupancy), which features a bedroom with a double bed and a living space with a table to dine at plus an Italian marble en-suite bathroom with gold fixtures and a shower. The room’s 1930s-era interior décor includes polished inlaid woodwork, a hand-carved headboard and a button you can press to summon a butler any time of the day or night.

The train fare includes all meals, in which caviar, lobster and truffle make frequent appearances, plus bottomless champagne. Shortly after boarding the train, the host changes into a jacket and heads to the dining car for his evening repast.

By this point in the video I’d already begun daydreaming, wondering if one day I too could save up and indulge in this unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience (the twin cabin version, that is). But when the meals were shown I realized that on this hypothetical journey I’d undoubtedly be surviving on PB&J in my room, since the train menu is unlikely to have vegan options. Although I suspect that if Joaquin Phoenix or Woody Harrelson were to book the train, some nice vegan dishes would magically appear! As a non-celebrity, I may wait another decade or two for plant-based dining to become more universal first.

In the meantime, there’s no reason we can’t have fun reproducing these dishes at home with vegan ingredients and at far lower cost!

This breakfast dish composed of toast topped with a poached egg and caviar caught my eye as something quite opulent and aesthetically pleasing too. It may seem like something hard to veganize, what with the egg and caviar, but in today’s world just about anything is possible.

My version of the dish is so simple, it’s not so much a recipe as a set of assembly instructions, much like the kind that come with an IKEA bookshelf. Speaking of IKEA, it’ll be handy if you have one nearby.

I opted to use a vegan scrambled egg mix to make a egg-like base for the flavor, plus some very thick vegan skyr or Greek-style yogurt to reproduce the appearance of the poached egg. For the caviar, I used a very inexpensive kind made from seaweed that you can find in the food section of the nearest Swedish furniture store (look for Sjörapport Black Seaweed Pearls). It’s salty and briny, probably doesn’t taste very different from traditional caviar, is way less expensive and is definitely more pleasant for the fish!

Edible flowers add an especially high-end touch but can be difficult to find. Full disclosure: I didn’t go to the bother of looking for any but just pulled some blossoms off a tree on my street! I assumed they weren’t edible so simply took them off before sampling my creation. Alternatively, a lacy green herb such as chervil would also look nice.

Vegan poached egg on toast with caviar

Makes two toasts.

  • 2 slices of firm whole-grain bread
  • 1/4 cup (35 g) Orgran Vegan Easy Egg powder + 1/2 cup (120 ml) water or other scrambled-egg replacer
  • Kala namak Indian “black” salt for the egg flavor
  • 2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened plain vegan skyr or Greek-style thick yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons IKEA Sjörapport Black Seaweed Pearls or other brand seaweed caviar
  • Edible flowers or leafy herbs, for garnish
Start by cooking two small “pancakes” of the egg mixture (with a tiny pinch of kala namak incorporated into the mixture or sprinkled on top) in a frying pan. Once they’re done on both sides, cut them into perfect circles using a cookie cutter or an upturned glass.
Toast two slices of bread and cut circles out of them using the same cookie cutter or glass.

Transfer to a small serving dish and assemble: place the circle of egg on top of the circle of toast, then carefully top with a generous rounded tablespoon of the thick yogurt. Top this in turn with a bit of the caviar (use a plastic or wooden spoon as metal is said to alter the flavor) and then add your garnish.

Don’t forget to remove the flower if you used one that isn’t confirmed to be edible!

Ah, the taste of luxury! I can almost see those mountains rolling past me now . . .

If you try this, let me know how it turned out, and what you think of the seaweed caviar!

Also don’t miss the 2017 film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring himself as Poirot, plus Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Olivia Colman and the incomparable Judi Dench.

For more train travel fun, don’t miss the post about my sleeper-car Amtrak trip from Milwaukee to New York City. It was much less extravagant, but nobody was murdered on that trip either and I had a great time.

Peanut butter and chocolate cookies

Who doesn’t love peanut butter and chocolate together? Such a successful combination, especially in these cookies! I paired a basic peanut butter cookie recipe (my mom’s!) with one of the best vegan chocolate bars on the planet, German brand Rapunzel’s Nirwana Vegan, which has a delightful hazelnut cream center.

Like with my matcha cookies from the other month, the trick is to add the chocolate squares to the cookies near the end of the baking process so they don’t melt too much. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies, so you can opt to get one chocolate bar and leave some of the cookies plain (make a criss-cross design with a fork if you like), or get two chocolate bars to cover them all.

For the binding ingredient, I used Orgran’s egg replacer for baking. In North America, you can use Ener-G egg replacer, following the directions to replace one traditional whole egg. Alternatively, opt for a flax egg or applesauce.

The peanut butter I used is incidentally also from Rapunzel, and is “American style” which I think means with added sugar and salt? (probably, haha)

Scroll to the bottom for the recipe.

Peanut butter and chocolate cookies

Makes about 24 cookies.

  • 1 teaspoon Orgran Egg Replacer for baking, or similar (the equivalent of one egg)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) vegan butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons plant-based milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (110 g) brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (180 g) peanut butter
  • 2 cups (260 g) flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 or 2 Rapunzel Nirwana chocolate bars


  1. Preheat your oven to 375 F (190 C).
  2. Mix the Orgran Egg Replacer powder with the water in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine the butter, milk, vanilla and brown sugar in a medium mixing bowl, stirring until completely combined.
  4. Incorporate the peanut butter and egg replacer mixture, and stir again until fully combined.
  5. In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add the peanut butter mixture to the flour and stir until just combined, taking care not to overmix.
  7. Form balls with the cookie dough, place them on a paper-lined baking sheet, evenly spaced, and flatten them slightly with your fingers.
  8. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 8 to 9 minutes.
  9. Break the chocolate bar into squares.
  10. Remove the baking sheet and press one chocolate square into the top of each cookie. Return the baking sheet to oven for another 3 minutes, watching the chocolate to be sure it doesn’t look like it’s going to melt too much.
  11. Remove from oven, allow to cool and enjoy!

If you like these cookies, you may also enjoy my chocolate & peanut butter mini-pies and nut butter cake recipes too. 🙂

Sloppy lentils

We take things so literally when we’re little. Sloppy joes were a frequent meal at our house when I was growing up, and I always wondered about the name. Who was this Joe, and why was he so sloppy? I reasoned it might be my own uncle Joe, whose shirts were often untucked and face unshaven.

Whoever Joe may have been, the sloppy part is clear enough – this isn’t a dish for a first date. But it is delicious, so feel free to make it once the relationship’s sealed and the person’s no longer a flight risk. Also, thanks to advanced lentil technology, your sloppy joe can now be vegan!

Scroll to the bottom for my take on this iconic recipe.

Sloppy lentils

Serves about 4.

  • 1 cup dry green or brown lentils (don’t use red lentils)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¾ cup (80 g) onion (any color), diced
  • ½ cup (60 g) green pepper, diced
  • ½ cup (55 g) celery, diced
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon brown or red miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs (oregano, thyme etc.) or herbes de Provence
  • A few squeezes fresh lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • A couple grinds fresh black pepper
  • Soy sauce, to taste (optional)
  • Maple syrup, to taste (optional)
  • 4 hamburger buns
  1. Start by cooking the lentils in 3 cups water, with the bay leaf, for 20 minutes. Remove bay leaf, drain any excess water, and set aside.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, chop and dice the onion, green pepper and celery.
  3. In a large skillet, sauté these vegetables in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until tender.
  4. Add the cooked lentils and stir to combine.
  5. Incorporate the ketchup, miso paste, mustard, dried herbs, lemon juice, garlic powder and black pepper.
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If it isn’t salty enough, I recommend a splash of soy sauce rather than actual salt because soy sauce will boost the umami profile of the dish. If you would like the sauce to be sweeter, add a bit of maple syrup (but I find that the ketchup usually makes the sauce sweet enough).
  7. Toast your hamburger buns, if you like, and then load them with the sloppy lentil mixture. Eat leaning well over your plate, which many globs of lentils and sauce will land on, in the company of someone who already knows and accepts you even with sauce all over your face. 😉

Variation: try this same recipe using about 2 cups vegan ground “beef” from a brand like Beyond Meat, Impossible Meat or (in France), HappyVore or Herta.

Enjoy! If you’re a lentil aficionado, you might also like my Lockdown Lentils recipe. And if you too are curious about the name sloppy joe, you’ll find some theories here.

Ojja shakshouka

The first time I visited France, at age 21, I stayed with a Moroccan-French family in the suburbs of Paris. Growing up in small-town America, learning French but surrounded by people without passports, I viewed going to France even once in my life as something almost too much to hope for. So imagine my excitement when my French penpal, a girl my age who was learning English, invited me to visit her! I’d been taking French classes for almost 10 years by that point – albeit at a snail’s pace and taught exclusively by Americans – and had never yet used it for true communication in a real-life situation. As the trip approached, I worried about whether I’d really be able to speak to and understand my hosts.

To my surprise and relief, all the French I’d learned over the years fell into place and was usable as needed. The penpal turned out not to want to speak any English, which was just as well for me as it meant speaking lots and lots of French over the two weeks of my stay. My untested French was shaky at first and I probably said many hilariously incorrect things, but I managed to get through it and returned home full of confidence and enthusiasm for continuing in the language.

These are the memories that are always summoned by shakshouka, a delicious tomato and poached egg dish that my hosts made for dinner my first evening in France. I’d never heard of it before – North African cuisine, or anything North African, being unknown where I was from – and it helped make the beginning of my stay especially exotic and magical.

I’ve been told that this recipe was originally Tunisian but became associated with North Africa as a whole. It seems that a simple version with tomato, egg and optional merguez (spicy sausage) is called ojja and that the name is shakshouka when more vegetables and potato are added. In France, the dish is most often called shakshouka no matter what the exact ingredients are, so I’ve used both names here. Whatever you opt to call it, it’s an easy meal to make and promotes a feeling of community as everyone eats it from the same plate, or just the pan it was cooked in, scooping it up with pieces of bread.

And after my recent discovery of a really nice egg replacer, Orgran Vegan Easy Egg, I realized I could make this dish in a vegan version (in North America, you can use Just Egg). In France you can now even get a vegan version of merguez, from HappyVore, which helps make this creation extra authentic. You’ll also need some kala namak salt. In Paris, the egg, merguez and salt can all be found at Vegami (or order from their online shop for delivery across France).

Ojja shakshouka

Serves two.

  • 14 oz. (400 g) can stewed tomato
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic or more to taste, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) Orgran Vegan Easy Egg + 2/3 cup (160 ml) water or other scrambled-egg replacer
  • 1/4 teaspoon kala namak salt
  • 2 vegan merguez sausages or other spicy sausages, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley to garnish
  • 1 baguette or other bread

Equipment needed: large frying pan with cover.

Scroll down for the directions!


  1. Heat up a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat.
  2. Sautée the diced onion until soft and a bit translucent.
  3. Add the finely chopped garlic and chopped sausage and let cook for a minute or two, stirring often to prevent burning.
  4. Add the can of stewed tomatoes and the coriander, rosemary, thyme and pepper, stir and cover until it reaches a simmer. If the tomatoes are unsalted, you may wish to add a pinch of kala namak salt or a splash of soy sauce to the mixture.
  5. While heating the tomato mixture, prepare your egg mixture. If using Orgran Vegan Easy Egg, combine 1/3 cup (40 g) powder with 2/3 cup (160 ml) water and 1/4 teaspoon kala namak salt.
  6. Once the tomato sauce is simmering, pour regularly spaced egg-sized circles of the egg mixture into the sauce. Cover the saucepan to allow the “eggs” to “poach” all the way through. This will take just a couple of minutes.
  7. Once the “eggs” are firm, transfer the frying pan to your table, garnish with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, and serve with slices of baguette. You may like to add freshly ground black pepper and more kala namak salt on top of the “eggs” (I like having kala namak crystals in a grinder for this purpose) for extra egg flavor.

You may wish to listen to some Rachid Taha or Cheb Mami while enjoying this meal, and to finish it off with some sugary mint tea. For a North African literary immersion, try The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun.

After my first visit to France and inadvertant discovery of North African culture, which is as much a part of the cultural landscape as Latin American culture is in the United States, I developed an interest in Arabic as well. It’s a difficult but beautiful language. I enrolled in an introductory course in standard written Arabic at my university that next year, went on to complete all four semesters that were offered, and visited Morocco with my brother. Later, through friends and other connections, I learned a bit of Tunisian Arabic too.

Incidentally, how astonished would 21-year-old me have been if a time traveler or clairvoyant had told her she would eventually move to France and become French herself?

Anyway, if you try this recipe, let us know in the comments how it was!

To explore more North African cuisine, take a look at my Tunisian sorghum pudding recipe. And if you like vegan egg dishes, give my Moonstruck egg toast a try.

Earl Grey lemon cake

Today’s recipe pays tribute to one of my favorite fruits, the bergamot lemon. Different in shape and a darker yellow than common lemons, bergamot lemons also have that distinctive flavor that makes Earl Grey tea what it is. Hence the title of this cake!

To make this cake plus the icing, you’ll need two lemons.

You can of course always make this cake with regular lemons, or another type (Meyer lemon for example) if bergamot lemons are hard to find. And note that there isn’t actually any tea in this cake, although you could infuse the milk with it to see what happens. I haven’t tried that yet because the tea is likely to make the cake dark, but I might experiment with it another time!

Earl Grey lemon cake


  • 1 cup (236 ml) soy or oat milk
  • zest from 1 bergamot lemon
  • juice from 1 bergamot lemon (about 1/4 cup or 60 ml juice)
  • 1/3 cup (78 ml) neutral-flavored vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt


  • 1 cup (100 g) powdered sugar
  • zest from 1 bergamot lemon
  • 2 tablespoons bergamot lemon juice, or more as desired


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. Line a loaf pan with baking paper, or grease and flour the inside.
  3. Grate one lemon to remove the zest, then cut it in half and juice it.
  4. Pour the milk into a small or medium mixing bowl and add the zest and juice of one lemon. Set aside for several minutes to thicken.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir with a whisk until well combined.
  6. Add the oil and vanilla extract to the milk and lemon mixture and stir.
  7. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold gently until just combined, taking care not to over mix.
  8. Pour the cake batter into your loaf pan and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, checking with a fork or toothpick toward the end of the baking time (if it comes out clean, the cake is done).
  9. Place the pan on a baking rack to cool.
  10. While waiting for the cake to cool, make your icing. Take your second lemon, zest it (set the zest aside) and then juice it. Now combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, stirring until you have the right consistency. If you want it to be thicker, add more sugar, and add more juice if you want it to be thinner (personally, I love to douse the cake in as much juice as possible for maximum lemon flavor!) Finally, sprinkle the lemon zest on top of the icing before it dries.

Enjoy your cake with – what else? – a cup of Earl Grey tea! Who was this Earl Grey anyway? The Internet tells me it’s this fine fellow, whose date of birth hints at his being an unknown son of Lord John Grey of Outlander fame. I mean, yes in the one case it’s a title and the other it’s a last name, but let’s just pretend that’s what happened! 🙂

Speaking of which, click here for a special Outlander recipe! Or two actually…

Italian egg toast

My mom’s birthday is in March, and her favorite film is Moonstruck (1987), starring Cher and Nicolas Cage as Loretta and Ronnie, Italian-Americans in Brooklyn who meet and, against all odds, rather abruptly fall in love. The charming story, set in and around neighborhood shops and Loretta’s beautiful family home, features a close-knit clan whose members nevertheless have their secrets. One of the most endearing characters, who doesn’t come into the plot nearly enough for my taste, is the old Italian grandpa who seems to always be walking his five or six dogs, or preparing to walk them, or coming back from walking them.

Memorable moments in this film include Ronnie meeting Loretta, his future sister-in-law, at his bakery, immediately launching into a long melodramatic rant about how his brother ruined his life, asking for a knife so he can kill himself, and then – about an hour after meeting her – knocking over his kitchen table, scooping her up and taking her to his bed.

The next night, they go to see La Bohème at the beautiful Metropolitan Opera, which I visited two years ago to take some photos for my mom.

Moonstruck is a favorite of mine too, so we tend to rewatch it every time I’m back home. The last occasion was this January, during my extended Christmas visit in Wisconsin. For some reason I noticed the breakfast that Loretta’s mother makes for her one morning while questioning her about her life: slices of bread with an egg cooked in the center of each one and topped with sautéed red pepper. It’s apparently a traditional breakfast dish in Italy (but also in other places), and is sometimes called egg-in-a-hole.

It looked fun. Could it be made vegan, I wondered? Challenge accepted!

I experimented once I got back to Paris, and as the results were quite successful, decided to share the recipe here this month in honor of both my mom’s birthday and nice mother-daughter moments.

The key ingredient in my version is a vegan scrambled-egg/omelet mix (I used Orgran Vegan Easy Egg, which you can find at Vegami in Paris, but in North America you could try Just Egg). And I added shallot and garlic to the red peppers for an extra dimension. Note that the kala namak salt is a must in this recipe, to get that sulfury egg flavor, if your egg mix doesn’t already contain it. It’s called “black” salt but once ground, it’s actually pink in color. I have this salt in ground form, which is good for incorporating it into a recipe, and also as crystals in a grinder, which is a nice way to season a dish that’s already made but just needs a bit more salt – both are available at Vegami, but you can also find the ground form at most Indian grocery stores.

Italian egg toast with red pepper

Serves two (four pieces of egg toast).

4 pieces of bread
1/4 cup (30 g) Orgran Vegan Easy Egg mix or similar
1/4 teaspoon kala namak (sulfury Indian “black” salt)
Several whole or sliced roasted (canned) red bell peppers
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
Fresh parsley or other herbs, to garnish

Combine the 1/4 cup (30 g) egg mix with 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (150 ml) water, and whisk until smooth. Add the kala namak salt and stir to combine. Set aside.

Begin warming some olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat, and chop up your shallots and garlic.

Now take out the roasted red pepper (estimate how much you want based on visual quantity – you can’t go too far wrong) and slice into strips.

Sauté the shallot, garlic and red pepper in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, until the shallot and garlic is soft. Don’t add any salt at this point because the egg mixture will probably be salty enough for the whole dish.

Now get out your bread. This is the kind I like to use, a type of bread that’s solid enough not to get mushy and fall apart. I recommend bread that’s sliced with a machine (rather than you slicing it) so that the sides of each slice are nice and even and will heat uniformly in the frying pan.

Find a glass, teacup or cookie cutter to cut out a circle from the middle of each slice of bread. Be sure that enough bread is remains between the hole and the crust so that it won’t fall apart. Tip: save the cut-out parts to mop up the last delectable bits of sauce from the frying pan at the end!

Spread both sides of each slice of bread with margarine.

Grill the bread on each side until lightly golden brown, then fill the holes with the egg mixture.

Cook for a minute or two on the first side (you may wish to cover the frying pan to speed this along), and once this first side seems done (test by jiggling it with the spatula), flip it over and repeat on the other side.

Transfer to a plate and top with the pepper, shallot and garlic mixture.

Garnish with freshly ground black pepper (I couldn’t find my pepper mill so used a mortar and pestle), fresh parsley or other herb, and have some extra kala namak handy in case you want to add more salt.

Serve and enjoy! It might taste best in the company of your mother or another trusted person you can share your troubles with.

So delicious!

Rumor has it that eating this egg toast for breakfast will help you untangle any complicated messes you may have gotten yourself into the night before. But never underestimate the potential for lasting love with your fiancé’s unstable estranged brother! Basically, if you can suspend your disbelief and forget the laws of cold hard reality long enough, you too many enjoy Moonstruck.

Matcha and white chocolate cookies

Here’s an easy recipe for delectable matcha cookies that you can make for Valentine’s Day or just any old time. You can make them plain, but I find they’re especially nice and eye-catching adorned with some vegan white chocolate, such as Vegó (in Paris, you can find this at Vegami near République).

“Valentine’s Day?!” you might be thinking. “But these cookies are green!” Yes, they are, but why should Valentine’s desserts always be pink, red or white? Green is a lovely color too, and just as appropriate for love, if not more, as it’s the one corresponding to the heart chakra!

White chocolate—which as a loyal reader once pointed out, is not actually chocolate at all—sometimes melts faster than “regular” chocolate, so for this recipe I added it at the very end of the baking time. More details below…

Matcha cookies

Makes about 20 cookies

  • 2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ⅔ cup (131 g) white granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoon unsweetened matcha powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup (79 ml) plant-based milk
  • ½ cup (118 ml) neutral-tasting oil such as grapeseed or canola
  • 2½ oz (100 g) vegan white chocolate (two Vegó bars)

First, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Then sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and matcha powder into a medium-sized bowl. In another bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla extract, milk and oil. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined (if it seems too dry, add more milk), taking care not to overmix.

Form balls of equal size and place on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper, pressing down to flatten them. Place in your preheated oven and set a timer for 8 minutes. Break the white chocolate squares into pieces that will fit easily in the center of each cookie and keep an eye on the timer because timing will be of the essence for the next step.

When the timer goes off, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and quickly press a piece of white chocolate down into the center of each cookie. Doing this will cause the cookie surface to crack nicely. Place the cookie sheet back into the oven and bake for another 60 seconds, long enough for the chocolate to melt just slightly and fuse with the cookie. The melting speed can vary depending on the brand. If you have one that seems to melt less slowly you can add it earlier on.

Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, brown paper bag or paper towel. The cookies will be soft until they cool, so be careful to keep them flat. Store any cookies you aren’t serving right away in an airtight container, as exposure to the air can make the matcha turn brown.

Enjoy with some tea (green tea? why not!) and a Japanese novel. I recommend Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.

Variation: colorful m&m type candies can give these cookies a whole new look (perfect for Easter). I use the ones by Clarana, also available at Vegami. As the tops of the candies can crinkle with too much heat, I add them about halfway through baking. They can withstand heat longer than the white chocolate.

And if you love matcha as much as I do, you might also like my matcha galette des reines, a modern spin on a traditional French pastry.

Yukiwa plate by Yoshida Pottery via Brutal Ceramics. Trinidad photo backdrop by Fondos para Fotógrafos.

The power of the past

December 20th found me on a plane heading back to the United States for the first time in over two years. Like countless people around the world, I hadn’t been able to see family in all that time because of the pandemic. It was such a joy to finally see them again and to spend a Christmas with loved ones for the first time in maybe five or six years. And with opportunities like this becoming rarer, I decided to stay for a good long visit. We watched Christmas movies together, listened to Handel’s Messiah, baked lentil shepherd’s pie, homemade sourdough bread and cookies. I laughed with my sister over funny old anecdotes from our youth. When January rolled around, I made a couple of galettes des rois (below, a chocolate version that turned out really well), something my parents had never had. I took their cat Alfie Kitty for walks on a leash through the snow.

Once the holiday festivities were over, it was also time for me to start sorting through my stuff. 30 years of stuff – everything I’d left at my parents’ house before moving to France – had to be sorted and condensed in preparation for their move to a new house. In addition to a huge bookcase full of volumes I’d accumulated over my entire life, there were no fewer than 50 cardboard boxes containing old school notebooks I’d decorated with collages, binders full of teaching materials, aprons and wine keys from my waitressing days, a colored-pencil sketch I’d made of my calico kitty sleeping on a sofa-top, letters from foreign pen pals, little folded-up notes passed to me in class by high school friends, and countless photo prints from the days of film cameras.

There were countless snapshots of a happier, more confident me, a me who’d been full of hope and excitement for the future. A me that had boldly headed off to live in California, striking out on my own, unworried about what would happen next. A me I could barely recognize from the vantage point of the me I’ve become these past few years.

I found the cavegirl Halloween costume I was wearing the night I had my very first kiss, age 15 at a school dance, with a German exchange student whose last name I’d forgotten. A list of the students in that same box jogged my memory. Two boys on it had that same first name I remembered, and after Googling them both I found the right one. Seeing his face again after all these years, more recognizable than I expected, I was pulled farther through the portal into the past, revisiting another one of the people I used to be.

Digging deeper through the boxes, excavating more strata from my past, I became an archeologist uncovering the history of who I’d been. How was it I’d done so many things? Written so many essays, put together so many term papers and projects, earned these degrees and learned things I’m not really using now? How did I do all that and hold down several jobs all at the same time? How did I also attend so many parties and maintain all those friendships that these stacks of old Christmas cards now bear witness to?

I unearthed nearly forgotten memories as I pulled out objects – a little china teacup and saucer, a prop for so many hours spent as a hostess to my childhood cat and dolls. Ceramic Christmas ornaments made in elementary school art class. Elaborate illustrated letters from my two grandmas. My age-seven diary filled with scrawlings about my little classmates and favorite TV shows. The framed embroideries my mother’s friends had given her for me when I was born.

Going through these relics of my earlier incarnations was like the part of a near-death experience where your whole life flashes before your eyes, but in slow motion. These precious anchors have reminded me who I was and who I perhaps still really am, underneath the careworn outer layers: a joyful, adventurous and creative person who is loved.

Eckhart Tolle famously promotes the power of now to free you from your problems. I humbly submit that power can also be found in the past.