Hey, internet, hey, I’ve been away. Four years ago - four! - I had a baby, and while there are people who can have a baby and still blog every day, I am apparently not one of those people. Code Name: Little Nettle is four now, and we moved from Oakland to the Pacific Northwest last month so she could go to preschool in the forest. New city, new state, new kitchen, new tiny sous-chef: hopefully I’ll be around these parts a little more. So, how the heck are you?

Vegan Ethiopian test kitchen

Happy New Year, everyone! I know things have been quiet around here lately, but behind the scenes things have been busy-busy. For one thing, I've been recipe testing for the awesome and adorable Kittee Berns - if you remember the fearsome pirana dish I made during VeganMoFo2013, the chickpea fish are her very own invention! She's coming out with a vegan Ethiopian cookbook, and it is going to be amazing. Here's a little sneak preview of some of the delicious dishes I've tested so far.

This is a life-changing recipe. I can't tell you what it is yet but I promise you won't be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure there's nothing vegans love more than mac and cheese.

Look at these colors! Just as tasty as they are vibrant.

And who doesn't love a dumpling? Someone who isn't invited for dinner, that's who.

field trip: Oaktown Spice Shop

Oaktown Spice Shop chalkboard

My sweetheart, W., presented me with a charming salt grinder for my birthday a few weeks ago and a promise to visit the Oaktown Spice Shop  to pick up a fancy salt and a mystery ingredient. Before I learned how to cook the prospect of a mystery ingredient would have been alarming and paralyzing, but now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen I was pretty excited.

so many salts

I was a little overwhelmed when we got there - so many jars! So many different spellings! - but managed to stay mostly on task. All the staff is incredibly nice and helpful, and I'm sure you can imagine my delight when one of them turned out to be an undercover PPK fan! They let you smell and taste the spices, which is wonderful. I tried the Kala Namak since I've had my eye on the omelette recipe from Vegan Brunch; my hands smelled ridiculously eggy for quite a while afterwards. 

row upon row of neatly labeled jars

There aren't as many organic spices as I would like, but that's purely a matter of personal preference and there are spices I have a hard time finding an organic supplier of anyways. And so, along with some good-natured teasing from W., I selected several items for my basket.

the final selection: Cyprus Wild Mushroom Sea Salt, Kala Namak, Baharat, Barberries (Zereshk)

I went home with Cyprus Wild Mushroom Sea Salt, Kala Namak, Baharat, and Barberries (Zereshk). This is obviously more than one fancy salt and one mystery ingredient, but I do have a sweetheart who spoils me. I had a really lovely time wandering about this tiny delight of a store and taking it all in. I love living and cooking in Oakland  -and I love supporting local businesses so I'll be back for sure. I don't want to give anything away, but I've got my eye on some Jamaican Curry Powder.

batch cooking for H. & J.

playing tetris with frozen portions of batch cooking in the freezer

My friends H. and J. are having a baby this month, and I offered to make a few meals to ease a bit of the strain of the first few days of brand-new parenting.  Neither of them are vegans but they're both adventurous eaters and I've made dinner for them a few times before. I cooked up a few things and then - thanks to the folks over at the PPK forums - learned a few things about the things I should be cooking, too!

frozen dal makhani

I wanted to make them things that would freeze, keep and reheat easily and be warm and nourishing. They both really like dals and curries, so I made up a batch of dal makhani - I use coconut milk instead of ghee, yoghurt and cream - and aloo saag with beet greens, spinach and kale.

frozen NOLA red beans in a thick gravy

I also cooked up a batch of NOLA red beans in a thick gravy. I froze everything in 1 cup portions in storage containers and unmolded them by placing the containers in a bowl of cold water until the contents just released from the sides. Once all the different dishes were unmolded, I put the 1 cup portions in individual bags labelled with all the ingredients (in case of looking out for baby allergies) and with reheating instructions (for easy reference).   

molasses cornbread, cooling

I made some molasses cornbread as well, a house favorite, let it cool and then cut into single servings to freeze.

What hadn't occurred to me was this: things that can be eaten with one hand are a serious boon for new parents. So thank you, PPKers, I'll be baking off some empanadas later this week as well. Hopefully this will at least be a small help for H. and J. and their new little person - I can't wait to see what they look like as a bigger family!