Vegan Mojito Meringues (Aquafaba)

20160527_181525Oh, the possibilities. Have you heard about the new vegan cooking phenomenon that’s taking even the mainstream cooking world by storm?

It’s light, low-calorie, gluten free, vegan, and since you make it from stuff that you normally pour down the drain, it’s FREE!

The funny name aqua/faba (water/bean) tells its whole story. It’s the liquid from garbanzo beans. And when it’s whipped it forms a stiff, white, airy meringue that’s indistinguishable from the stuff made with egg whites.

(And why not egg whites? Oh, so many reasons.)

So, we all know vegan cooking is going mainstream now, but when the likes of the New York Times and Cooks Illustrated are sharing aquafaba recipes with their readers, you know it’s officially a thing.

I had to try it, of course. So I first dove into the NYT recipe for aquafaba meringues.

I’m hooked. These are light as air, slightly crispy, lightly sweet, and only about 25 calories each.

Working with aquafaba is just like I remember egg-white meringue: it requires patience because it needs a solid 15 minutes of whisking to form stiff peaks. It also requires some flexibility on your part, because it’s sensitive to changes in humidity. I tried these on a rainy day and my dogs were happy with the little meringue blobs, but I was disappointed.

aquafaba blobs

I’m already scheming up holiday versions of these wonderful little meringue nibbles: peppermint flavoring and sprinkles of crushed candy cane, chocolate extract and cocoa powder, mint and lime. And the piece de resistance: I’ll start working on making an aquafaba version of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. That particular pie is like kryptonite to my dad, and I haven’t made it in at least five years because I get hung up on the egg thing.

 

But first: my mojito meringues. It marries my new aquafaba obsession with my hobby of inventing fall-over-delicious virgin cocktails. And this is super simple, although you’ll want to make your minted sugar a day ahead of time.

Open a can of garbanzo beans and drain off the liquid. It’s not very much (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup) but fear not.

Whip it. My stand mixer doesn’t have a whisk attachment, so I use the hand mixer. Give it the highest speed your gadget has, and give it a good 15 minutes.

These are soft peaks: almost there. The peaks need to be pointy for this to really work.

aquafaba soft peak

 

Soft peaks won’t work at all for this, so keep going until you can make little peaks that stay standing. Like this.

aquafaba stiff peaks

Then add 2/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, while you beat another 5 minutes. For the mojito version, I let my sugar sit for a couple of days with some bruised mint sprigs* so it was infused with mint flavor. Once whipped with the sugar, the aquafaba gets shiny. Now you’re ready to add flavoring.

I added the zest and juice from one small lime, then whisked some more.

aquafaba with lime

Can you just about smell that lime? I wish I was posting this in the Scenternet.

Drop your meringue onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

aquafaba on paper

Depending on the size of your meringues (larger ones take longer in the oven) you’ll bake them about 90 minutes at 250 degrees. (At that temperature, you’re really drying them as much as baking, so you just look for them to be dry, firm, and light.)

Let them cool. These are light, crispy, minty, and like nothing else you’ve ever had. Enjoy!

aquafaba finished

 

*To bruise mint leaves like a pro bartender (no, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen this in person) you set the mint sprig on your open palm, then clap your hands together once or twice. It releases the oils. Just bury the bruised sprigs in your sugar and let it sit.

 

The Many Modern Paths to Sobriety

no drinking

Bob the Bartender got sober four years ago, while working full-time behind a bar, and without ever attending an AA meeting. He just reached a point where he knew he had to get sober, and he knew he had to do it on his own. He says sobriety still gets better by the day. It makes you superhuman, he says, and then he whispers that we should keep that a secret, lest everyone learn the path to omniscience.

Behind his bar, you’ll find whatever weighty tome he’s currently devouring. You can ask him the name of any capitol city ON THE PLANET and he knows it. He can discuss Herman Melville’s personal quest for sense in the world. And, yes, I still belly-up to his bar, for a ginger ale or a Virgin Mary, and we have conversations that give my brain more nourishing mental superfood than any of my graduate-level philosophy or ethics classes ever did.

A friend in my meditation group won’t tempt herself with a bar or pub setting, and hasn’t in nearly five years of sobriety. She attends AA meetings and nurtures her sobriety with meditation and journaling.

Another dear friend completed a month of residential treatment that included AA meetings, medical care, counseling, meditation, and therapy with horses. She attends AA meetings almost daily and a meditation group twice a week.

A relative of mine dove straight into the deep end of AA and still swims through it, mermaid-like, every day. Her conversations are sprinkled with AA lingo, with praises for God, and expressions of gratitude. She staffs the desk at a drop-in help center and studies addiction therapy at the community college.

Very un-mermaid-like, I dipped my toe into AA and put my shoes right back on. I attend a Buddhist-oriented meditation group. I write daily and read everything I can find on the subject of sobriety. I use phone apps that provide daily inspirational readings, remind me to meditate, and track my days sober as well as dollars saved from not buying alcohol. I have a Pinterest page where I stash any little gem that feels inspirational, soothing, or motivating so I can dive in when needed.

Back in the old days, when I was a kid whose adult relatives were divided between the diligently sober and the lavishly inebriated, I overheard countless homilies on the commandments of sobriety. There was one right way to do it. Even relatives who hadn’t had a drink in ages weren’t considered truly sober unless they were doing it right.

To be fair, my family’s conservative Mormon and Irish Protestant DNA didn’t predispose them to Transcendental meditation retreats or communing with therapy horses, even if those options had been available to them. In those days and in our circles, AA was it. You were in or you were a drunkard. And if you were in, there were rules:

Taking a nighttime cold medicine was cheating.

Non-alcoholic beers or mock cocktails were as dangerous as Russian roulette.

Bars and pubs would lead right back to the bottle.

God was an essential travel companion and no one could journey all the way to sobriety without Him.

Rarely did the sober relatives veer from these commandments. One even tried valiantly to live without doctor-prescribed anti-depressants. It didn’t work, and she still feels hints of judgment for treating her unbalanced brain chemistry.

In this new generation of sobriety, the rules are generously broad, and the judgment is mercifully muted. The old ways still surface, but with less authority. In my circles, one of the Old Guard convinced a woman that true sobriety required her to stop the medications that manage her bipolar disorder. Fellow group members said she was quickly “off the deep end” and they had to pull her to safety.

There is a clear shift in the world of sobriety. There are many paths. All are good.

AA’s Big Book was written in the 1930s by Christian white guys, and little has changed since. The program is still the standard, saving lives every day, and even comforting in its weathered and old-timey feel. Fortunately, today there’s also a welcoming spot somewhere for the Godless, the counter-culture, the non-conformist and the non-joiners.

I know people who find sober sanity in a good pair of running shoes, on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, in a church pew or a secluded forest path, and even on a bar stool across from a philosopher mixologist.

 

 

The Day Prince Saved Clapton

prince and clapton
Watching Purple Rain Drew Clapton out of a Depressive Spiral of “Drink and Drugs”

 

While the world awaits Prince’s autopsy results, there are the usual speculations (Was it a pain meds addiction? Accidental overdose?) Meanwhile, the usual tributes continue to pour out. There’s something a bit unusual, though: the uniquely personal and emotional tributes from celebrities to The Purple One.

You’ll find none more personally felt than than Eric Clapton’s social media post, picked up by Huffington Post.  Clapton retells a grim period in the mid-80s when he was touring, despairing about the dismal state of music culture at the time, and spiraling into a mire of “drink and drugs” and depression. Watching Prince (then totally unknown to Clapton) in Purple Rain filled him with hope. He sat among the empty bottles in his hotel room and penned “Holy Mother.”

Much is written and opined about the apparent tie between creative personalities and addiction. In one of my current favorites among inspirational books, author Meredith Bell writes that our mythology of the brilliant, drunken writer or musician is a ruse. What more would Hemingway and the like have produced if they had lived longer, lived clearer, nursed the muse instead of the bottle? What more would Jack Kerouac have given the world had he not died at 47 from cirrhosis of the liver?

The hard truth is, alcohol likely has cut short more brilliant lives than it unleashed. On the flip side of this tragedy: the fact that some of our best treasures are the creative souls who journeyed to the bottom of the bottle, swam back out, and went on to write and sing about it.

Breathing Back a Trigger

yoga-fun120621

My husband and I met a friend last night. We look forward to our visits with her. She and my husband were drinking beers and I was loving my spinach/ginger smoothie when she launched into an animated rant about how much homeless people disturb her life. They rifle through the Dumpster behind her high-end condo and they sleep in the alleys and doorways of her posh downtown neighborhood. Trash is dirty, and they just don’t have any self-respect, she said.

My husband and I tried to inject compassion into the conversation. How hard would it be if your only option for the night was to sleep on cardboard in an alley? How desperate would you feel if you had to search other people’s trash hoping to find some food or a half-full bottle of shampoo? “I get that,” she shot back. “But I’m not backing down on the fact that they aren’t hungry. I don’t think anybody is hungry in my city; there are so many soup kitchens and programs.”

Now, when I quit drinking, there wasn’t any drama or monumental dysfunction driving my choice. I had never had a brush with the law or embarrassed myself or become someone other than myself. I simply realized that I relied too much on alcohol as a coping mechanism. If I’d had a stressful day, or I was angry, or anxious, or bored, I’d soothe the feelings with alcohol – which, let’s be honest, is how most people use alcohol. I simply realized I was doing this on a regular basis and I was playing Russian roulette with my genetics.

So I quit.

Mostly it’s been a happy change. Until last night. We were at a restaurant that’s hippy enough to serve smoothies and bowls of veggies and quinoa, but it also has a full bar. There was whiskey over there. Probably good Irish whiskey. It was so close, and it would help me swallow down this lump of bitterness and disappointment that was caught in my throat as I listened to my friend sound so mean-spirited.

But I can’t let people drive me to drink. What I really want is to live in a kinder world. A shot of Jameson in my belly won’t make the world any nicer; it will only result in me breaking a promise to myself. So I breathed.

In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. Repeat.

Breathing won’t make the world any nicer, either. I couldn’t do anything at that table in that moment that would heal the world. So I could only say to my friend, “I’ll be curious to hear how you feel about this issue after you’ve thought about it. What I’m hearing from you is uncharacteristic of you. You’ve lost your compassion.” She agreed. And then she changed the subject.

And then I breathed. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. It’s a calming Yogic breath that has never failed me. Maybe I’ll nickname it Jameson.

My husband and I left and laughed at how stressful that conversation was. And then we noticed the beautiful bright moon.

 

Five AMAZING Virgin Cocktails

Part of the fun of a cocktail is that BOOM factor: that hot or smoky or astringent taste that just gets you right there. Nursing a glass of club soda all evening will keep your head clear, but it might make your taste buds fall fast asleep. Invite them to the party too with some mocktails that deliver a jolt of smoky, salty, tart or sweet. Opt for the wow factor of ginger and lemon and fresh herbs. Skip the sugar and simple syrup and corn-syrup-laden sodas. Here are some favorites that are healthy and natural and hassle-free. One is from my own kitchen and the others are happy finds from the interwebs.

One:

bloody mary

These days I’m all about the Virgin Mary.

In my boozy days I practically worshiped at the feet of any bartender who could make a showy, delicious Bloody Mary. Done correctly, I’d say, it was like a really good, spicy salad with vodka dressing.

Well, vodka schmodka. This virginal version is missing nothing. I order these when I’m out, and they’re always good, but nothing compares to the ones I create at home. The way I make them requires no fuss or measuring. All I need is a few minutes to worship at my refrigerator’s condiment shelf. Don’t skimp on the pickled goodies, because they really make this special.

Ingredients:

Low-sodium tomato juice or vegetable juice cocktail (think V8)

Tabasco sauce

Vegan Worcestershire sauce

Spanish smoked paprika

Lime

Lemon

Celery stalk (leafy part intact)

Cocktail onions

Pickled asparagus

Pickled green beans

Green olives with pimento

Salt and pepper for garnish

Coarse salt (optional)

Cucumber spears (optional)

Start Creating:

(Optional: dampen rim of glass with lime juice and dip in coarse salt to create a salt rim.)

Fill a large, clear glass 1/3 full with ice cubes. Add 2-3 shakes of Tabasco and 4-5 shakes of Worcestershire. Sprinkle in about 1/4 tsp smoked paprika and fill glass with tomato juice. Squeeze one wedge each of lemon and lime into the juice, add the celery stalk, and use it to stir the drink. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Garnish with a toothpick or skewer well loaded with olives, onions, pickled asparagus, and green beans. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the veggies.

Add cucumber spear alongside celery if that floats your olive boat. Garnish with lemon and/or lime wedges if you like.

You’re only limited by the size of the glass. Use longer skewers if you want. Load that baby up.

Two:

summer twang
The Summer Twang at bon appetit

 

Fresh cantaloupe and fizzy club soda with some sweetness (use agave nectar in place of honey to make it vegan.) The unexpected twang comes from a hint of apple cider vinegar.

 

 

 

Three:

Herb-Garden-Spritzer
Herb Garden Spritzer at GoodToKnow

Simple, fizzy, and full of summer flavors. This spritzer is easy to make and the sugar is optional.

 

 

 

 

 

Four:

tornado twist
Tornado Twist at AllRecipes

It doesn’t get much simpler than this: a bottle of juice and a bottle of sparkling water. Use a sugar-free and zero-calorie sparkler like La Croix to keep it light.

 

 

 

 

Five:

pink grapefruit
Pink Grapefruit “Margaritas” from Martha Stewart

Colorful, festive, and cool. These are as simple as a sugared rim, pink grapefruit juice with Grenadine, and a bit of lime. But they look like you went to much more trouble.