Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

When I knew that I wasn’t going to see my Mom for Thanksgiving, I decided I wanted to do something special for her.  I had all the ingredients to make chocolate tartlets for Thanksgiving weekend, but then Thanksgiving wore me out, and we had dinner and dessert out with the family.  So I decided I would make some tartlets for my mom, and asked her what was her favorite kind of pie.  She said, “lemon meringue,” and I was set: I would make my Mom some lemon meringue tartlets.

I have made Alton Brown’s recipe for lemon curd (adapted below) many times, so that part of it was no problem.  But there were two issues to be conquered.  In the past when I have made tartlets, I have had issues with them exploding, resulting in there being more tart filling splattered all over the tart pan and the bottom of the oven than in the actual tarts.  I researched, and found various suggestions.  Some said use a cooler oven.  Others said use less filling.  And then a couple people said to prick holes in the tart shells.  So I went for broke and did all three of these, and sure enough, that worked pretty well.

The other issue was with the meringue.  I have used meringue in a lot of different ways, but never as topping on a pie or tart.  The recipe, as you’ll see below, suggests piping the meringue onto the top of the tarts.  At the end of this post, I will describe the two ways I handled the meringue, and how that worked out each time.

Lemon Meringue Tartlets Recipe
(Makes 24 mini tarts)

If you’re like me, you have only one mini muffin tin. That’s ok: you can easily make this recipe in two batches, a day or two apart. The only part that won’t survive in the refrigerator is the un-cooked meringue, so if you want to do this in two batches, save two of the egg whites for the second batch (or just have extra egg whites on hand).

Ingredients
5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 lemons, zested and juiced
1 stick Earth Balance, cut into pats and chilled
5 egg whites, at room temperature (the egg whites need to be at room temperature to meringue well)
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon [caster] sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
2 puff pastry sheets (I use Pepperidge Farm)

Lemon curd method:
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s lemon curd recipe)

Bring about an inch of water in a medium sauce pan to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium size metal bowl until smooth, about 1 minute. Measure lemon juice and if needed, add enough cold water to reach 1/3 cup. Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth (if you want to cut down on the lemoniness of the curd, only add half the zest). Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat a bit and put the bowl on top of the open sauce pan. (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 20 minutes, or until mixture coats the back of a spoon (as you go, keep your eye on the water – if it stops simmering, you may need to raise the heat a bit). Remove the bowl of curd promptly from the heat and stir in Earth Balance a piece at a time, allowing each pad to melt before adding the next. Cover the curd with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t develop a skin, and lay aside to cool. (If you want to use it on a future day, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks).

Meringue method (prepare once the lemon tarts are cooked):
(Adapted from a Fisher Paykel recipe)

Beat the whites in an electric beater until stiff. Add the cream of tartar, beat, then gradually add the sugar and continue beating for a few more minutes.

To assemble and cook the tarts: Remove your puff pastry from the freezer, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Defrost your puff pastry on a cutting board for 20-30 minutes, or just until it is un-frozen enough to spread out – if you let it get all the way to room temperature, it may stick to itself and be hard to handle. Unfold the pastry and slice it in half lengthwise. Lay the one half on top of the other, roll it up the short way, and slice it first into four, then each of those into three, leaving you with a dozen little pillows of puff pastry.

Puff Pastry Rolled and Cut into Pieces for Shaping into Tart Shells

Puff Pastry Rolled and Cut into Pieces for Shaping into Tart Shells

Lightly spray your mini muffin tin(s) with cooking spray, using a pastry brush to make sure that the cups are thoroughly coated. One at a time, take your disks of puff pastry, and flatten them out into a round disk, shaping it to fit into a muffin shell shape. Put the shell-to-be into an empty spot on the muffin tin and press it lightly, bringing the sides a little high up.

Tart Shells Pricked with a Fork

Tart Shells Pricked with a Fork

When you have done the same with the other 11 tart shells, blind bake them for 15 minutes.

Tart Shells Ready for Blind Baking

Tart Shells Ready for Blind Baking

For my blind baking, I took aluminum foil, shaping the foil into a mirror of the tart shells and placing them inside the tart shells. Then I filled each open aluminum shell with some split peas to weight it down. This prevented the shells from flattening out too much while baking – i.e., they were left upon baking with a dip in the center that was perfect for the lemon curd.

Tart Shells That Have Been Blind Baked

Tart Shells That Have Been Blind Baked

Fill each tart with a generous tablespoon of lemon curd and bake for a further 5-7 minutes at 300 (if the oven is too hot the lemon curd will boil over).

Tart Shells with Lemon Curd Added

Tart Shells with Lemon Curd Added

Pipe the meringue mix onto the lemon tarts, raise the oven temperature to 400 and bake for a further 5 minutes. If you want to get the meringue nicely browned, put the tarts under the broiler for an additional 30 to 45 seconds.

Lemon Meringue Tartlets Straight From the Oven

Lemon Meringue Tartlets Straight From the Oven

Okay, so the piping of the meringue.  You’d think since I work at a first-rate kitchenware store that I would have lots of tools for piping and lots of experience.  Well, I have neither.  So the first time I made the tartlets, I took a Ziploc bag and snipped a corner off of it, filled the bag up with meringue, and zipped it closed.

Little did I know that the bag’s bottom was pleated, and so the hole was much larger than I intended.  So I had little control over the meringue in piping, and it was messy.  I used a spatula to try to get it under control a little before doing the final step of baking.  The key point here is that I ended up using a lot of meringue per tartlet.

The second time I made the tartlets, I found a bag without a pleated bottom, and cut a nice small hole.  This resulted in a more controlled effort, a more aesthetically pleasing effort, but substantially less meringue per tartlet.  Here is a side-by-side of examples from each batch of tartlets to show you what I mean.

So the upshot of it is that the batch number two was better constructed, but batch number one tasted better!  Lesson learned: next time I will use more meringue per tartlet, and maybe not use the full portion of lemon zest to cut down on the strong lemon flavor.  So aesthetics aren’t everything.  And the most important thing is that Mom, who got batch number one, was very happy.

Lemon Meringue Tartlets for My Mom

Lemon Meringue Tartlets for My Mom

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Slav Epic of Mucha

Slav Epic of Mucha

Slav Epic of Mucha

Visiting the Slav Epic of Mucha was the pinnacle of my experience in Prague (not to say there weren’t other pinnacles – I’ve blogged about a few others – but this was the top of the top).  20 large-scale paintings displaying Mucha’s history of the Slav peoples, from the Middle Ages to the modern age.

As I’ve mentioned previously, experiencing the full range of Mucha’s art during our time in Prague was a revelation for me.  Before visiting Prague, I knew Mucha mostly for the Job cigarette posters and other Art Nouveau posters he created with gorgeous ladies in pastel colors.  Seeing his work in the Municipal House, and then visiting the Mucha Museum opened my eyes to the breadth of his artistry – yes, there are lots more of those posters of lovely ladies (for example, the ones he created for Sarah Bernhardt’s shows), but there is much more.

Along the way, probably in the Mucha Museum, we read about the Slav Epic, and Therese and I discussed it.  We wondered where it was, and whether it was completely on display.  When I found out it was in a branch of the National Gallery, the Veletrzni Palace, which was conveniently accessible by another tram that left from right around the corner from our hotel, it became obvious that a trip to see the Epic would be the perfect start to one of our days in Prague.

Mucha worked on the Epic from 1910 to 1928.  Ironically, he gave the works to the city of Prague with the stipulation that they build a permanent pavilion for the paintings, and that has still not happened.  In fact, the paintings had not been on display in Prague as a complete unit since their completion until they were brought to Veletrzni Palace in 2012.  Before then, they had been on display in the remote town of Moravsky Krumlov for nearly 50 years.  Apparently, there has been some controversy over bringing them back to Prague, but I am so thrilled that they did, because it was just extraordinary to see this series of paintings.

Now, I can’t say that I am an expert on the subject matter, or on what is going on in each painting.  I am happy to share with you some photos, so you can get an idea of what this series is like.  Keep in mind that many of the paintings are, say, 20 x 25 feet in size.  I have left people in some of the photos to give you a sense of the scale.  And I have kept them in the correct order, with their titles (to learn more about the individual paintings in the Slav Epic, see the hyperlink in the third paragraph above).

After passing through several areas with individual paintings in groupings of three – one on each side wall, and one on a middle free-standing wall – you come to a triptych of paintings that deal with the Jan Hus and the Hussite movement.  This massive three-painting sub-series is perhaps the centerpiece of the entire series (numbered 7, 8 and 9 in the 20 painting series, it is also almost at the chronological center of the series).

Master Jan Hus Preaching Triptych

Master Jan Hus Preaching Triptych

So what was there to see after those first incredible 9 paintings?  Oh, just 11 more amazing paintings, ho hum.  Seriously, while (as I said) I retained little of the history being depicted on these various monumental canvases, I appreciated the opportunity to glimpse, if only for a moment, the incidents central to the culture of an entire swath of people about which I knew absolutely nothing.

When Therese and I visited Chartres Cathedral last spring, Professor Malcolm Miller told us, on his excellent guided tour, to consider the building as a book, upon which you could read all you would need to know of religion and history and so forth.  I think the same thing can be said for Mucha’s Slav Epic.  For those of us who know nothing of Slavic history, there is all you need to see here to lead you into an engagement with the subject.

At a time when modern abstract styles were coming into being, for Mucha to create these works of hyper-realism must have seemed incredibly conservative.  For me, these works connect Mucha to the Renaissance and even Medieval art.  For example, the way he has chosen to group people in the more active paintings, like “The Coronation of Tsar Stepan Dusan,” reminds me so much of Medieval paintings of similar subject matters.

Another feature of many of the paintings that I loved was Mucha’s use of eye contact.  Which is to say, I loved the paintings where one (or more) figure looked directly at the viewer.  For example, look at this grouping of two people from “The Printing of the Bible of Kralice.”  While the old man on the left seems absolutely in bliss that the bible is being printed in his own language, the young man on the right has looked up to see us watching, and he looks a little intimidated.

Detail of the Printing of the Bible of Kralice

Detail of the Printing of the Bible of Kralice

Another great example of this feature are the two figures at the bottom and front of “The Oath of Omladina.”  Completely removed from the main action of the painting, they have their own minor adventure going on.  The boy on the right is looking across at the girl on the left, who plays a harp and gazes at us mischievously.  Apparently, Mucha’s son and daughter modeled for these two characters.

After bringing his history lesson up to the end of the nineteenth century with the abolition of serfdom in painting 19, Mucha concludes the series with the “Apotheosis”, a utopian vision of the Slavs triumphant over the trials of their past, overseen by a huge powerful-looking Christ.

Apotheosis of the Slavs

Apotheosis of the Slavs

Before I close, I will say just a word or two about the building that currently houses the Epic.  The Veletrzni Palace, a Soviet-era building with all the lack of grace and beauty that we expect from such an edifice, has several other galleries with lots of other art to be seen.  The Slav Epic will remain there until some time in 2015, at which time it will go who knows where.

Veletrzni Palace

Veletrzni Palace

We left Veletrzni Palace and waited for a tram to take us to lunch.  Across the street I noticed – what do you know? – that a building had a painting of Jiri of Podebrad on it, one of the Slav heroes to which I had just been introduced.

Building Decoration of Jiri of Podebrad

Building Decoration of Jiri of Podebrad

And looking north, I saw the Industrial Palace, a late-nineteenth century structure that plays host to exhibitions and various cultural events.

The Industrial Palace

The Industrial Palace

Our way would take us in the other direction, to the south and west, back towards the Charles Bridge, where we would have lunch at the Vinograf Bar.

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The Changing Face of the Dairy Aisle

The Changing Face of the Dairy Aisle

The Changing Face of the Dairy Aisle

Cream Cheese and Sour Cream Area in Jubilee

Cream Cheese and Sour Cream Area in Jubilee

I am happy to report on what I see as the changing face of the dairy aisle.  In supermarkets where I live in New York City, dairy free milk alternatives compete for space with the traditional milk products that used to dominate shelves in supermarkets.  And the split between dairy free and dairy is, to my eyes, getting pretty close to being an even one.

When I talk about “competing for space,” I am referring to the economic reality of the situation.  Every shelf that is filled with, for example, Silk Soy Milk is one less shelf for the dairy industry, and therefore, less money for them (and more for dairy free product makers).  And in New York City supermarkets, even the dairy milks often tend to be specialty items, like Lactaid (milk that is supposedly safe for consuming by lactose-intolerant consumers) and organic milk.  To find just regular old milk products can sometimes be a challenge!

I know this because, while I buy almond milk and coconut milk for myself, my wife drinks dairy milk (mostly in her coffee), so when I do the grocery shopping, I look for her milk.  Her preference is for Skim Plus Fat Free Half & Half, and it can be quite a challenge to find it – sometimes I have to go to three or four markets before I find one that has it in stock.  There are other brands that make a fat free half & half, but they tend to add lots of extra ingredients that Therese eschews.  Skim Plus’s only has skim milk and cream, so that is her favorite.  I usually stockpile, buying 2 or 3, when I find it, because I never know how long it will be before I find it again.

Meanwhile, as I said, to my eyes, the dairy free products are making in-roads.  To give you an idea, let me just give you photos of the three supermarkets I shop from most frequently: Zeytuna, Jubilee and 55 Fulton.

By my reckoning, Jubilee has the closest to even balanced between dairy and dairy free, Zeytuna’s refrigerator is still mostly dairy, and 55 Fulton is somewhere in between.  55 Fulton’s aisle is so long that, as you can see, I couldn’t fit it all in one photo; and while one end was pretty well dominated by dairy, the other end featured products like Silk Soy, Almond and Coconut Milk and Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze fairly prominently.

Part of what has made it possible for dairy free products to compete successfully with dairy in the dairy aisle is that there are several brands that have gained popularity.  It’s not just Silk, but also, again, Almond Breeze, as well as So Delicious and even Califia Farms with its unusual containers shaped like bowling pins (more on them later).  A person looking for dairy free milks has many options, which is quite a wonderful thing.

In other areas where dairy products are kept, the split is less advantageous for us dairy free folks.  When it comes to butter versus margarine, the dairy industry has been very successful in making people feel doubtful about margarine being a safe alternative to butter.  So much so, that even most products calling themselves “margarine” on the market these days contain butter in them!  The one brand bucking this trend is Earth Balance, and in my area, you can find a variety of Earth Balance products, both tubs of whipped varieties and sticks of the old fashioned style (great for making things like pastry dough).

In the cream cheese/sour cream area, it is similarly one dairy free brand (mostly) against all the other dairy brands.  Tofutti cream cheeses and sour creams, for me, are the one alternative, and a great one at that.

Cream Cheese and Sour Cream Area in Jubilee

Cream Cheese and Sour Cream Area in Jubilee

I have omitted one crucial section: the shelves of dairy free milks that all my supermarkets feature.  So not only are there many dairy free milks in the refrigerated dairy aisle, but also a series of shelves dedicated exclusively to dairy free milks (boy, if the dairy industry knows about those shelves, that must really make them grind their teeth in consternation!).  For example, in Jubilee, directly across from the refrigerated dairy section, and next to the cereals, is their dairy free milk section.

Dairy Free Milk Shelves in Jubilee

Dairy Free Milk Shelves in Jubilee

Seeing all this gives me a great feeling for the present, and the future, of competing with the dairy industry for a place in supermarkets and shelves at other food stores.  And sure, while I am trying to present an accurate picture of what the current status of our dairy aisles is, my hope is that dairy free products will continue to make in-roads as more and more people choose to partake of almond and coconut and soy milks rather than the old artery-clogging, mucus-producing dairy products.  We will just have to see how this goes.  In the meantime, I will raise my holiday pumpkin latte (made with almond milk, of course) in a toast to the wonderful dairy free brands we enjoy!

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Czech Museum of Music

Czech Museum of Music

Czech Museum of Music

The Czech Museum of Music was the highlight of a day Therese, Eileen and I spent exploring Prague’s Lesser Town (or Malá Strana).  We began the day by taking Tram 5 to the Malostranska stop, and from there we walked to the Franz Kafka Museum.  Then we walked to the Charles Bridge and had a beverage stop at a café nestled under the bridge.

From the Charles Bridge, we then walked to the Czech Museum of Music.  Since Eileen and I are both singers, I always look for a music museum when the three of us travel together (Therese enjoys those too).  For example, a few summers ago when we were in Antwerp, we visited their Vleeshuis music museum, and we loved it.  I was eager to see if Prague’s music museum would measure up to the high standard set for us by the splendid Antwerp Vleeshuis.

In two words: it did.  Like the Antwerp museum, Prague’s music museum has audio clips featuring the exact historical instruments on display.  The difference is that in the Antwerp museum, you are given an audio guide and you punch in numbers corresponding to the clips featuring the displayed instruments.  Here, in each room there is a listening station in one corner with one or two sets of headphones, and a list of the audio clips available is posted on the wall.  So if there are other museum visitors listening to clips in the gallery where you are, you have to wait your turn.  That is the one small disadvantage to the system in Prague’s museum.

But you don’t have to be able to hear the instruments: just looking at them is wonderful, for these instruments are works of art.  I was overwhelmed with the number and variety of string instruments the museum has on display: violins, violas, cellos, Baroque guitars, mandolins, theorbos, archlutes, violas d’amore, violas da gamba, violones, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of them.  Take a look at these photos and you will see what I mean!

I am getting ahead of myself a bit.  When you enter the museum, in front of you is the concert hall at the center of the building.

Concert Hall in Czech Museum of Music

Concert Hall in Czech Museum of Music

To the left is the entrance to the temporary exhibit, which is where your visit to the music museum begins.  When we were there, the temporary exhibit was all about Godmother Death, how music has been involved, down through the centuries, in the ways that people come to grips with death.  There were folk songs talking about death, and one gallery talked about the art and music created by people in the concentration camps during World War II.  There were also some early musical scores that dealt with death in one way or another – one, for example, was a chantbook or gradual opened to the mass for dead (Missa pro Defunctis).

After passing through the temporary exhibit galleries, you come out at the base of a staircase, at the top of which a museum employee checks your ticket, and then ushers you into the beginning of the permanent exhibit galleries.  Ringing the entire second floor, you pass counterclockwise from room to room.  It all starts with some wonderful keyboards: pianos, harpsichords, organs, even a “lautenwerk” – a harpsichord that is made to sound like a lute when it is played.

After the keyboards are the many rooms full of string instruments I mentioned above.  I got bogged down in these rooms.  I just couldn’t get enough of the Baroque sonatas and ricercars and such.  The one thing I would’ve liked was to hear some voices included here and there.  In the Antwerp Vleeshuis there are a fair number of vocal and choral-related things on display – opera scores and that sort of thing – and thus a good number of vocal clips.  Here in the Prague museum I only remember there being one vocal clip, a motet for chorus and organ that featured a large organ or calliope.  I wish there had been more voices.

But a minor complaint.  I could’ve stayed there all day and come back the next day to listen to all the music again.  Even after extricating myself from the string instrument section, there were, holy cow! lots more instruments to see.  Wind and brass galore, from some of my favorite Renaissance and Baroque winds like the krumhorn, cornetto, serpent, shawm and recorder, to winds that are still used today like the oboe and its cousins oboe d’amore and English horn, and lots of brass that are used in bands, horns whose names I couldn’t even tell you.

Right at the end of the permanent exhibit they included a case or two of folk instruments.  This had the effect of giving our visit to the music museum some symmetry; for the first thing I had heard when I entered had been folk songs accompanied by hurdy-gurdy, and now I once again heard that loud rustic instrument playing a Czech folk song.

Folk Instruments

Folk Instruments

When we were done at the music museum, it was already getting kind of late in the afternoon.  But we had seen a restaurant off the beaten path near the bridge, an Austrian restaurant, which we thought might be a nice change from all the Czech food we’d been eating.  In retrospect, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two cuisines, but at the time it made sense to us.  So we wandered back to Kocar Z Vidne, across the courtyard from an intriguing museum of film scenery and special effects, the Karel Zeman Museum.  As curious as we might have been about that, we were hungry.

Like so many restaurants in touristy areas, Kocar Z Vidne has most of its seating outside, which was fine with us, since the day was quite warm (we only had one really rainy chilly day in the whole time we were in the Czech Republic).  I was so hungry that I managed to eat a rather large salad and a whole plate of spare ribs washed down with yet another Moravian red wine (I had thought I might order pork schnitzel, but the waiter told me it could not be made dairy free, so the spare ribs were a respectable Plan B).

After such a full day already, it was time to get back to our hotel and have a break.  That night we were on our own – I was going to have some bachelor time to explore Prague, and the ladies were going to do some shopping.  I had already gotten the one thing I wanted to buy in Prague, a hat pin, which I had already attached to my hat.

My New Prague Hat Pin

My New Prague Hat Pin

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Tofutti

Tofutti

Tofutti

I admit it:I take Tofutti for granted.  For thirty years I’ve been eating Tofutti products – frozen desserts, cream cheeses, frozen pizzas, etc.  And unlike some other allergy free brands whose products I love – for example, Enjoy Life – it is not hard to find Tofutti products.  Even my Luddite local supermarket carries Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream.  And even CVS Pharmacies (well, some of them) carry the truly awesome “Yours Truly” Tofutti ice cream cones.  So as I continue to enjoy the products, and am thrilled every time I pull, for example, a tub of cream cheese from my fridge to smear some on a roll, it has all become a bit ho-hum at this point.

Fortunately, my passion for Tofutti has recently been revived.  You see, I get to write about Tofutti for a totally mainstream publication.  My friend Andy Smith is editor of a New York food encyclopedia called Savoring Gotham that is going to be published by – yes, this is no gag – Oxford University Press.  And since Tofutti was started by Chef Dave Mintz in New York City, among the 6 entries I have been assigned to write about is – again, no gag – Tofutti.

Of course, for that entry, I have to stick to just the facts, ma’am.  You know, where and when and why Tofutti was invented (not to say that that is not a cool story, because it is).  But I can’t wax poetic (as I am free to do here) on how Tofutti changed my life (ok, maybe that is a bit of a stretch).  And while the average smart-ass foodie would be bound to infuse a blurb about Tofutti with some sarcasm, intuiting to the reader that no self-respecting foodie would touch this white bland goo with a ten-foot pole, I am not going to be doing any of that either, neither there nor here.  Instead, I am sure that my entry will pulse with the respect and admiration I have for the man who came up with it, whatever his reasons, and the versatility and usefulness of the product.

Now you may be saying “whatever do you mean by ‘whatever his reasons?'”  Well, I will save the full story for my Savoring Gotham entry, but an interesting fact for us dairy allergic folks is that Mintz’s motivation was not to create a dairy free product for health reasons.  Instead, he wanted to make a kosher dessert that could be eaten with a meal that included meat.  Therefore, it had to be something devoid of dairy.  The fact that what he created can also be enjoyed by those of us who eschew dairy for health reasons, not religious ones, was sort of a happy accident.

But as I said, I don’t care why he did it.  I care that we have this great product, and can enjoy it in so many areas of our culinary lives.  The original product, the frozen dessert, continues to be a favorite of mine.  For pints, I prefer Vanilla Fudge, and I have also been known to pleasure my way through a box of the sandwich desserts called Cuties now and then (love the Key Lime ones).  And as I have told you before, the new ice cream cones called Yours Truly rival any chocolate-covered cone I ever had (even the Good Humor bars I ate as a kid).

For non-frozen applications, the cream cheese and the sour cream are probably what I use most of all.  The former is great as a base for icing for, say, red velvet or spice cupcakes.  When I have soup or goulash, I will often put a dollop of the sour cream in my bowl to make the soup just a little richer and creamier.

I have eaten the Tofutti frozen pizza a couple of times, but honestly, if I want frozen pizza, I usually opt for Amy’s Vegan Margherita.  Tofutti has a frozen ravioli which I don’t believe I’ve ever had (I wasn’t aware that it still existed until I saw it on the website just now).  There was a time when Tofutti’s cheese slices were the only ones available that were truly vegan, and I would eat them back then; however, I felt the taste was too strong to eat them on their own (used in a vegan cheeseburger, they could be quite nice).

I recently bought the Tofutti ricotta for the first time, but haven’t really had a chance to use it for anything yet (I put it in some recipe that called for ricotta cheese and I seem to remember it came out nice, but I have forgotten the details).  I would love to make my own cannolis – I will have to look for a good recipe for making the cookie as well as the creamy filling (I know there is such a recipe on the Tofutti website, but have yet to check it out).

Now I know there are some folks who are dairy free who also like to limit their soy intake.  Since Tofutti is all soy-based, that means (for them) laying off the soy.  For me, there are definitely areas where I don’t like to use soy products – for example, when it comes to drinking, I prefer almond or coconut milks to soy (sorry, Silk!).  And I am thankful that So Delicious has championed making so many great products with coconut milk base.  With Tofutti, I don’t notice much of a soy tang or unpleasant aftertaste, or digestive bloating or anything like that (I know, tmi!).  In other words, I think by using Tofutti for my soy products and brands like Daiya and So Delicious for dairy substitutes that have coconut and almond (and other products) as their base, it balances out nicely for me.

Once again, I celebrate Tofutti.  For its 30 or so years, it has provided me with so much of the comfort and creaminess and plain joy of eating that I might have otherwise had to pass up due to my allergy.  People who think that “tofu” equates with nasty and that anything made with tofu must be a poor substitute for the real thing need to get over it already.  Tofutti has led the way and continues to lead the way in showing that those of us who live the dairy free lifestyle don’t have to settle for anything less.  Thank you, Tofutti!

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Prague St Nicholas Church and Charles Bridge

Prague St Nicholas Church

Prague St Nicholas Church

On our 7th day in Prague, we changed our cadence a little bit.  Instead of doing sightseeing, lunch, more sightseeing and then break, we put the break right after lunch.  That way, we could do the whole rest of the day in sequence without taking a break: a visit to Prague St Nicholas Church, then a long walk over the Charles Bridge, an early dinner at Kamenny Most Restaurant on the eastern bank of the Vltava River, and then some night-time picture-taking of the Prague Castle and the Bridge.

If only I had known at that point that we could take a tram to Malostranske Namesti (aka Lesser Town Square), where St. Nicholas Church is located!  Unfortunately, at that moment I didn’t know that, and as a result, we took a taxi from our hotel, which turned out to be another overpriced taxi ride! (remember, I told you how to avoid getting ripped off by taxis in Prague)

Anyway, we don’t sweat overpaying for something here and there.  The point is to enjoy ourselves and not get too stressed over missteps.  Besides, arriving at St. Nicholas Church was no misstep.  After a diet of Gothic and Romanesque art earlier in the week, it was refreshing to see some ebullient, over-the-top Baroque architecture and statuary.  To be exact, St. Nicholas Church is breathtakingly beautiful.

I’ll admit it, in St. Nicholas Church, I was a typical tourist, snapping off dozens of pictures.  But how could I not?  Every detail was so beautiful.  I’ll tell you, photographing the pulpit, for example, was a challenge.  All that gold made such a glare that all I got was a shiny blur.

So when you leave St. Nicholas Church, if you circle around to the left (or south), you will find yourself on Moustecka Ulice, the street that connects this square with the Charles Bridge.  There are numerous attractive cafes and shops on this street, so if you are not in a hurry to get to the bridge, there is plenty to keep you busy!

As you pass down the street, you see in front of you the western tower of the Charles Bridge.

West Tower of Charles Bridge

West Tower of Charles Bridge

From there, we just took a leisurely walk across this 14th-century pedestrian-only marvel.  Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who thought this might be a splendid way to spend an afternoon!  Being out over the water with the sightseers and the vendors and street musicians was great fun.

As you see in some of my photos above, the views from the bridge of the rest of Prague are stunning.  But the bridge is best known for the many statues of saints that stand along the bridge’s sides (here is a full roster of who’s who on the Charles Bridge).

The statue of Saint Anna is my favorite – something about her smile just really won me over.

When you get to the east end of the Charles Bridge, you once again step into a bustling square, surrounded by the Saint Saviour Church, St. Francis of Assisi Church and a statue of King Charles IV, after whom the bridge is named.

We were very early for our dinner reservation, so we killed some time resting after our long walk in the hot afternoon sun, with a cool drink at a nearby sidewalk cafe.  The sun was just beginning to wane when we sat down at our riverside table on Kamenny Most’s terrace.

We enjoyed a very nice dinner.  I had a sort of mixed grill made up of a duck wing confit, smoked ham, and grilled sausage with new potatoes.  The bottle of red wine we shared, a varietal I’ve never heard of before called Zweigeltrebe, was hearty with a little spice to it.  And for dessert, I enjoyed a lemon sorbet that was artfully presented with a lime slice and a slender cookie (which reminded me of a Stella Doro cookie).

As we were eating, I was concerned that we might still need to kill some time after dinner before it would be dark enough to take our night pictures of the Castle.  But by the time we climbed the stairs back to the street and headed to the spot with the best view, a street called Smetanovo nábřeží, the sky deepening to purple, and we started snapping.  I think I got two good ones: one with the sky still quite lavender, and then one later on, when the sky was nearly black, and the Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge were set aglow by the lighting.

Posted in Beverages, Churches, Czech Food, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Prague, Wine | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life could be an exhortation you hear on public television spoken by a self-help guru like Dr. Wayne Dyer.  Or it could be an invitation you read in an essay of Henry David Thoreau.  But today what I am talking about is merely a brand, a wonderful, miraculous brand.

I hope your cynic-meter didn’t shoot up when you read that last sentence.  Believe me, I have a bit of a cynic in me when it comes to honestly looking around at the consumer culture of which we are all a part.  But when you are talking about a product or a brand that you truly believe in, the cynicism melts away, and it’s all about speaking from the heart.  It’s all about enjoyment and delight.

And those are just two of the things I feel when I think about Enjoy Life.  You may think calling this brand “miraculous” is complete hyperbole.  But if you are dairy allergic like me, or if you suffer from probably any food allergy, you have experienced the following scenario.  You read food labels like a fiend, and are constantly disappointed as you find that over and over again, all the packaged foods you would love to eat are off-limits, with the ingredients that make you sick among their listed ingredients.  Then, when you find even one thing that you CAN eat, you smile from ear to ear.  You can’t believe your good fortune.  Maybe you even want to shout or sing, it makes you so happy.

OK, maybe you don’t get quite excited about finding allergy free food as I do.  But Enjoy Life is a brand that is worth getting excited about.  I first learned of their existence just a few weeks ago, at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference.  Included in the copious bags of swag we received upon registering for the conference were about a half dozen different samples of Enjoy Life products.

And when I say “samples,” I don’t mean like one cookie, or a handful of chips, or one snack bar.  I mean a whole box of cookies, a bag of lentil chips.  Wow!  I was so excited, I wanted to ditch the first conference event, and just spend a couple hours doing some serious sampling.  As it was, there was so much good food at the conference (95% of which I could eat, by the way), that I hardly had a chance to dig into my swag bag during that weekend.  (OK, in the evening while unwinding with some mindless tv, I did munch on a few cookies – but otherwise, there just wasn’t the opportunity). I did find a way, though, to fit most of the swag, including all the Enjoy Life products, into my luggage and bring them home with me.

On the way home, I arrived in Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport to discover that my flight was delayed by several hours.  The airline offered some snacks for us to munch on while we waited, but of course these were all dairy-full – mini Snickers bars, that kind of thing (I did help myself to a can of lukewarm Coke).  Sitting there, I strategized.  I had bought an Italian hero (sans provolone, of course) at an airport restaurant, but I was saving that for the airplane ride – if I ate it now, by the time the airplane got halfway to New York City, I would be starving.

Wait a minute…  I remembered that there was a bag of chips among my swag.  I reached into my suitcase and pulled out a bag of Enjoy Life Dill & Sour Cream Plentil Chips.

Enjoy Life Dill & Sour Cream Plentil Chips

Enjoy Life Dill & Sour Cream Plentil Chips

I tore the bag open and started munching.  Crunchy, salty, and they did taste like they had sour cream in them!  What, are these really allergy free?  I probably read the back of the package seven times, so delighted I was at how good these tasted.  I was reluctant to believe my good luck.  But by the time I had finished the bag (who knew I had been so hungry?), I was convinced.

When I arrived home, one of my first priorities was to find Enjoy Life’s products in my local markets and health food stores.  And to be honest, I have had to work to find their products.  Their cookies have been the easiest thing to find – Whole Foods has them in all their locations.  The only place that I have found the Plentil chips thus far has been Westerly Market in the west 50s – I got a bag of the Plain and one of the Dill & Sour Cream varieties, as well as a new variety called Margherita Pizza (good, but they don’t taste like pizza to me).  I am still looking for the Garlic & Parmesan variety.

Posted in Dairy Free, Food, Products, Snacks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment