I have a pair of lucky boots. They are Steve Madden green cowboy boots. I bought them in the Lower West Side Broadway store, during the debauchery of a birthday weekend with one of my best gay boyfriends. At the time, I agonized over the price. I was in the tail end of a messy and costly divorce, but my fashion sense prevailed over my common sense and they were mine. I wore them out of the store. Five minutes later I was stopped by three teenage girls who gushed about them. I knew that they were not going to be a mistake like the bad marriage I had just left. They were now part of my lucky streak.
In the years that followed, my boots became my ‘uniform.’ I bought jackets, dresses, and jeans, according to how they worked with my boots and not on one overseas trip were they ever left behind. My boots trekked the outdoor markets of Prague, Budapest, Sophia, Rome, Venice, Mexico City, Merida, London, Florence, Bruges, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jordan and Paris as well as countless farmers markets on the East Coast. I wore my boots in my kitchen. They became increasingly battered and better looking as the years went on. Sort of a Dorian Grey relationship in the reverse; the boots got the good looks and I got the lines. I have never worn a chef’s uniform in the kitchen. Miniskirts and cowboy boots are part of my persona as well as my professional style. Nothing bad ever happened to me when I was wearing my boots.
The horse crash in Petra I walked away from when I should have ended up permanently in a wheelchair, the throw down’s I won when I should have lost, the dishes that turned out spectacularly when a restaurant critic was in the restaurant. My boots were always lucky, no question about it.
I have taught a plant based cooking class in the winter of each year. Our sleepy resort beach town has only 1,800 year round residents. After you have been here a while, you start scratching around in the dark days of January for things to amuse yourself. The first year I opened my restaurant someone suggested that they would be vegan all the time if they could cook like me, and I thought “I can do that for you.” So that first winter three women learned how to cook vegan in my freezing cold kitchen, huddling next to the stove called ‘HELL’ for warmth. We reduced and chopped and pureed and strained and sprouted and juiced and dehydrated and at the end of the three months I had taught them every vegan technique I could think of and refined a syllabus that the following year would be one of the most sought after and coveted winter activities in Delaware. (This was in large measure due to an extremely loving and vocal member who lost about 90 pounds, dropped her diabetes medication and altogether embraced a completely vegan lifestyle) The syllabus was divided into ten sections. In each section I used different techniques to show that the ingredient is only defined by the technique you use to cook it (or not). I added my own little granola crunchy food philosophy about deliberate eating, food as love and walking gently on the earth, and the Chef Gretchen’s Wellness Program was born.
Over the next two years the cooking classes grew exponentially, till I was teaching three nights a week in the off season to a completely full house. The News Journal, The Cape Gazette, and countless online magazines wrote articles about the plant based class and my reputation as a vegan chef was cemented. I was cresting the apex of the vegan food craze Ellen DeGeneres had turned mainstream when the local paper ran an article on January 2, 2011. The phone rang off the hook for the next 72 hours, with people wanting to get into the class that started at the end of January. One of those phone calls stood out slightly.
“Is this Chef Hanson?”
“It’s just Gretchen. Hi. Who is this?” (Being called “chef” always seems like I am wearing someone else’s shoes)
“This is Michael Daley. I am calling about your class.”
“Great. Would you like to register? I can give you to my manager.”
“Well, actually I had a lot of questions. Would you be available to have a cup of coffee?”
“I leave for Israel on Saturday. Tomorrow is Wednesday and I could probably meet for 45 minutes between 9 and 9:45.”
“Surf Bagel, OK?” Now if there is anything I missed about living in NYC more than bagels I can’t think of it…that was until I moved to Rehoboth and had Surf Bagel within a 10 minute car ride. Chewy and dense, yet light and airy, at the same time filled with little bubbles that suck up whatever you put on top. They made their own extra garlicky hummus and had hummus sandwiches available for breakfast with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Yup, Surf Bagel is my personal beach vegan breakfast Nirvana. Couple that with the fact that as soon as I got back from Israel I was giving up white flour for the duration of the wellness series and I was pretty much binging on gluten every chance I got.
The following day I got in the Hippie Van and headed to Surf Bagel. Did I mention I had on my lucky boots? Not for any reason other than it was a sleety day in January, and I needed all the good luck that I could get.
Michael now tells me that he sat in his car waiting for me to arrive. He now tells me that he had taken one look at my picture in the Gazette, and knew that I was his ‘one.’ He now tells me that I did not walk but rather bounced, into Surf Bagel. As he watched me he knew that he was going to either fall madly in love with me, or not be able to stand me at all. As he explains, “It was a toss-up which one.” He now tells me that as he followed me to the door, held it open for me in order to check out (in his words) “my perfect ass”, he was still unsure.
I can tell you, that he positively filled the door frame.
“OH my…Chael…you are so …tall.” I am such a loser.
“That isn’t a problem is it?” Yes, he really said that so apparently he was a loser too.
“No. Definitely not. “
Thankfully at this point there was no one in line listening to this OH SO lame dialogue and the Surf Bagel guy asks us what we want. I order tea, Michael orders coffee and then the guy says “any bagels?” and Michael says….wait for it….
”NO, THAT’S OK.” I’m not sure why I didn’t say “speak for yourself,” and order something yummy but I didn’t and the story very nearly ends here. I took my tea and proceeded to talk nonstop about the wellness program for the next 45 minutes. I figured it served him right since he didn’t ask me if I wanted breakfast. I really don’t recall if he ever said anything at all other than to ask a few obvious questions he could have asked on the phone. After 45 minutes he politely told me that he had to leave, and I doubted I would ever see him again.
I left that Friday for Israel where, sadly to say, the bagels are nowhere near as good. Two days after I came back was the first orientation for the Wellness Program. Michael was there fifteen minutes early to help with the chairs, and stayed to clean up after we were done. He hovered for awhile but he didn’t actually ask me out until several weeks later and then I said no quite emphatically.
But that is another story.
Follow Chef Gretchen on her culinary adventures around the world at www.chefgretchenhanson.com
WHAT TO FEED YOUR VEGAN FOR BREAKFAST IF YOU WANT TO SEE HER AGAIN
- MILLET AND SWEET POTATO PORRIDGE
- OATMEAL BERRY BAKE
- PUMPKIN PIE OATMEAL BAKE
- FRUIT AND OAT PUDDING
- CHILAQUILES ROJO
- VEGAN HANGOVER EGGS
- EGGLESS SALAD
- GF APPLE BREAD
- MOMMYS PERFECT GF WAFFLES
- CHOCOLATE BANANA WAFFLES
- VEGAN BACON
MILLET AND SWEET POTATO PORRIDGE
½ cup millet or white quinoa
½ to 2/3 cup polenta or oat flour coarse grind
3 cups organic apple juice
One medium sweet potato cooked, peeled & mashed
¼ – ½ cup agave or coconut sugar or white cranberry juice concentrate
½ cup organic Raisins
¼ cup goji berries (optional)
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 TB smart Balance
Bring 3 cups organic apple juice to a high simmer. Add millet or white quinoa and cook for 15 minutes then add polenta and whisk in. Add cooked sweet potato, raisins, goji, agave and nutmeg and stir constantly for fifteen minutes. Finish with smart balance as desired.
BERRY BAKED OATMEAL
1 cup rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup vanilla soymilk
2 tsp flax meal
2 mashed bananas
1/4 cup smart balance
1/4 cup plain unsweetened applesauce
2 TB agave
1 cup minced dried fruits any combination
OR 1 cup fresh berries sliced and tossed with 1 TB gf flour
I used strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries and placed them on the bottom of my baking dish. It calls for 3/4 cup of berries but I use a lot more.
Preheat the oven to 350 spray square baking pan with cooking spray. In a saucepan mix flax and soy milk and bring to simmer. In a large bowl, mix the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and put in a large bowl. Whisk bananas, melted butter, agave, and applesauce into soy milk. Mix wet and dry mix together and pour over the dried fruits or berries. Bake 40 minutes until lightly browned.
PUMPKIN PIE OATMEAL
2 cups quick cooking oats or 2 cups white quinoa
1 cup organic apple juice no sugar added
2 cups vanilla soymilk (non GMO)or almond milk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan or heavy oven baking dish. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes. Cover tightly and put in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
OPTION : Add two finely diced apples or ½ cup raisins or one finely diced baked sweet potato. Add at least ten minutes to baking time.
OPTION : Top with Spiced and Sweetened Pumpkin seeds. Dry heat a heavy pan and add ½ to 3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds until they start browning. Swirl a little bit of Earth Balance (about 1 tsp) and sprinkle with a little nutmeg and cayenne (pinch of each) until heat starts to release aromas. Drizzle with 1 TB maple syrup and pull off heat. Let cool till brittle.
FRUIT AND OAT PUDDING
2 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
2 TB agave (OPTIONAL)
1 1/2 – 2 cups pure organic juice (no sugar or additives) use anything you really like my favorite is pomegranate, white cranberry or grape
½ cup goji berries
½ cup unsulphured dried fruits
2 cups quick cooking organic oats
2 TB ground flax meal
Core and chop apples leaving peel, chop peaches leaving peel and chop bananas leaving in about one to two inch chunks and put in heavy baking dish. Fruits can be changed according to seasonal availability. Top with Goji berries, Dried Fruits*, Agave*, Nutmeg, Flax meal, Oats, Mix everything together thoroughly, top with Cinnamon sticks and pour Juice over the top. Seal container tightly with aluminum foil and bake 325 degrees for one and a half hours at least.
OPTION: use apples (8) sweet potatoes (2) , pears (3) make sure the sweet potatoes are in a half to one inch dice. Use apple cider for liquid or white wine.
OPTION: Use 3 pints berries instead of apples and two other soft fruits. Use pomegranate juice. Cook for 30 minutes covered and then uncover.
OPTION: Use hard squash like butternut (peeled) and sweet potatoes to equal 8 cups in volume. Use white wine and add 1 cup white quinoa uncooked.
1 inch stack of corn tortillas
½ cup roasted onion
2 TB Safflower oil
½ – 1 cup guajillo salsa
Cut corn tortillas into triangles. Heat roasted onion and safflower in large heavy pan and sauté corn tortillas until crispy. Pour in Guajillo salsa and cook till salsa absorbed and tortillas tender. Serve with toppings.
VEGAN HANGOVER EGGS
1 inch stack of corn tortillas
½ cup roasted onion
3 TB Safflower oil
1 block firm tofu, frozen and defrosted
½ – 1 cup fire roasted tomatillo salsa
2 TB just mayo
¼ cup vegan cheese or Daiya
Freeze tofu and defrost then crumble and press out water. Cut tortillas in wedges. Fry tofu in safflower oil and cumin until crispy, add tortillas and onion and cook until tortillas and crispy and sizzling. Add tomatillo salsa, just mayo and vegan or Daiya cheese. Top with cilantro, avocado and crema Mexicana.
2 blocks Tofu
½ cup Just Mayo
1 tsp Turmeric
½ cup finely diced Celery
1 bunch sliced Scallion
1 TB dry mustard
¼ cup Apple cider vinegar
½ tsp Sumac
1 ½ tsp Herbamare
1 tsp White Pepper
Refrigerate tofu overnight. Defrost and press all water out. Crumble very dry tofu. Whisk dry mustard into vinegar. Toss all ingredients together. Serve
2 cups quick rolled oats
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ cup dried raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
2 TB Smart Balance
3 TB Brown Rice Syrup or Agave
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Cook oats and almonds and pepitas in very hot dry smoking pan till browning. Add fruits and smart balance. Swirl quickly and then drizzle in Syrup and vanilla. Remove from heat and cool.
OPTION: ½ cup unsweetened dried coconut shredded add to dry pan when toasting.
OPTION: ½ cup and diced dried fruits desired instead of raisins and cranberries
OPTION: 2 TB unsweetened organic cocoa powder
GF APPLE MUFFINS
½ cup raisins
½ cup cranberries
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup apple juice
½ cup toasted walnut pieces
2 cups King Arthur or Pamela’s GF flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 mashed banana
3 apples grated
1 TB lemon juice
2 TB ground flax seed + 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup agave
1/4 cup cashew cream
4 TB smart balance butter softened
Preheat oven 350. Boil water with ground flax. Set aside. Simmer raisins and cranberries in vanilla and apple juice till warmed. Set aside. Toast and chop walnuts. Set aside. Grate apples and toss with lemon juice. Set aside. Mix all dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix all wet ingredients together in another bowl. Fold the dry into the wet with cried fruits, walnuts, apples and mix till well incorporated. Cook in liners in muffin pan about 15-20 minutes.
MOMMYS PERFECT EVERY TIME GLUTEN FREE WAFFLES
3 cups PAMELAS GF flour
1/3 cup organic evaporated cane juice
1 TB baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups vanilla almond or soy milk
½ cup seltzer water freshly opened
1/3 cup earth balance smart balance melted
1 TB apple cider vinegar
Preheat and prep waffle iron. Melt smart balance, add all other ingredients and stir. If not the texture of cake batter add seltzer water till pourable. Do not over mix batter should be slightly lumpy. Pour in waffle maker to within a 3/4 inch of edges about 1/2 inch thick. Cook for longer than you would ordinarily and until surface of waffle is crispy to touch.
OPTION: Substitute apple sauce for smart balance for oil free
OPTION: add 2/3 cup dried fruits
OPTION: cut back on almond milk and use more seltzer water
OPTION: Use any other type of milk than almond
OPTION: leave out evaporated cane juice or switch to agave
OPTION: Use instead of bread for sandwiches.
CHOCOLATE BANANA WAFFLES
1 2/3 cups cashew milk?
½ cup Smart Balance melted
4 TB vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 mashed ripe bananas
2 1/2 cups King Arthur or Pamela’s Gluten Free flour
2 TB apple cider vinegar
¼ cup organic evaporated cane juice
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
½ cup grated dark chocolate
Heat waffle maker. Mix batter till just combined fold in bananas and chocolate and be careful not to over mix. Spray waffle maker with nonstick spray or wipe with safflower oil or smart balance. Spread batter evenly to within 1 inch of edge, cover and cook until golden.
1 lb extra firm tofu OR 1 lb Seitan
3 TB tamari
2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 TB whiskey
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp smoked sea salt
3 TB agave nectar
½ cup safflower oil
Press tofu till there is no liquid left and then chip or sliver either tofu or Seitan and marinate in all ingredients but the safflower oil. Oil pan on medium low heat and put a couple of slices at a time in to cook. I like to leave some in the refrigerator at all times ready to go.