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It's been exactly a year since my last post. I've still been blogging...ish. Mostly, I've shared my thoughts on Instagram, where I'm pretty active. But recently, I was looking for a recipe and realized I'd never published it. I didn't have a good picture to go with it, so I just never posted. I have little natural light in my house now, so my food pics are even worse than ever. And I feel the pressure to have at least one good photo on a post.

But more about why I want to blog again. I have things to say! I have recipes to share (and save)! I want to get my money's worth out of this website I'm paying for!

And now for a bit more about why I stopped blogging. I didn't just stop blogging here. I also stopped blogging (after almost six years) for the Nashville Scene's Bites blog around this time last year. I hit a wall. I had things to say, but became unable to type out coherent thoughts.

I was exhausted. The restaurant scene in Nashville exploded during that time and I found myself writing the easy posts about new restaurants rather than writing thoughtfully about food. Though I wrote a few things I'm really proud of, including a series on school lunches (here, here, and here) and a piece on carp. I wanted to write for the audience, but I became less and less interested in all the new restaurants and unsure of exactly what readers cared about. Based on web traffic, my posts were still interesting to readers (well, some of my posts), but reader engagement really fell with a new comment system a while back, so I lost a valuable method of feedback. It's a shame that this post about coconut oil no longer includes the 200-ish comments from people who took it way too seriously. Or the comments from those who didn't get the humor in Nashville's most vegetarian un-friendly restaurants.

Also, with all the new restaurants and the attention Nashville was getting nationally, the camaraderie among food writers was turning into something less amicable. Though I was never interested in breaking news, there was competition among others and a tenseness I didn't enjoy. There's also (is or was; I'm not sure because I stopped paying attention) a boys' club in Nashville of writers, bloggers, and chefs that was just so tiresome. I don't care about meat, barbecue, hot chicken, whatever and all the back-slapping and glad-handing that came along with their discussions. Not to mention that they all think making fun of vegans and vegetarians is cute/clever/funny. It's not; it's uncreative and shows an inferiority complex. Cooking meat is easy (I know; I did it for almost ten years and I can still perfectly sear a scallop and braise a pork chop); cooking vegetables and making them taste great is a lot more difficult. Side note: most of the best restaurants in Nashville are led by women. They are generally too damn busy to care if they're being written about.

I also grew tired of dealing with the daily onslaught of emails from PR reps. It was so voluminous that I was missing emails important to my actual life. I wasn't managing that well at all. They're just doing their jobs, but so many of them were not doing them well. I got way too many pitches about meat-heavy restaurants and events. Y'all, it's not hard to learn a little bit about me.

Anyway, I hope I will get back to blogging regularly. Share some of these recipes in my drafts folder even if my picture is unusually terrible. Maybe update you on the handful of things my child will eat other than bean and cheese burritos. Maybe even tell you about some of the new restaurants in Nashville that I've actually visited!

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Once in a while, I get the itch to try something new in the kitchen. I’d probably act on that itch a little more if someone else would clean up after me, but whatevs. I finally decided to give  aquafaba meringues a chance after seeing them pop up on some vegan food blogs. I’m not vegan, but I do love a chance to try something interesting. I’m also not a huge fan of eggs (the traditional base for meringue), so this was a perfect experiment for me.

First: aquafaba. It’s just a fancy name for bean juice. You can make your own by soaking and cooking dried beans, but the easiest thing to do is to spend a buck on a can of chickpeas and drain the juice into a container. Any bean will do, but chickpea juice is a) nearly flavorless and b) nearly colorless. Cannellini or white beans are good alternative. A black bean meringue is probably going to be very bad and very ugly, though. Learn more about the science of aquafaba here.

Anyway, get y’self a can of chickpeas, drain the juice and then set aside the chickpeas for something else, such as hummus, lemony chickpea stirfry, roasted chickpeas, or just toss them into a salad as is.

You just put your ⅔ to ¾ cup of chickpea juice into your stand mixer bowl (gotta be a stand mixer for this challenge) with some cream of tartar (or arrowroot powder, if that’s what you have), whip, then add sugar (vegan sugar if you want it to be vegan) and flavor, whip some more and 15 minutes or so later, you’ve got meringue! It’s that easy. And super safe to eat without cooking. Here’s the recipe I used that was based on one from The Kitchn, though I’ve made some notes and also filled in some steps that they missed.

Aquafaba Meringue Cookies
yields 4 to 6 dozen cookies, depending on size

Ingredients

¾ cup aquafaba (the juice from 1 15oz can of low-sodium garbanzo beans/chickpeas

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or arrowroot powder

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavor--see notes)

Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until very foamy, about 3 minutes.

While continuing to beat, gradually add in the sugar (about a tablespoon at a time so it is fully dissolved) and vanilla. Once all the sugar and flavor has been added, increase speed to medium high (I put it on 7 on my KA mixer). Beat until glossy and to stiff peaks, about 7-10 minutes longer. You can stop and check for stiff peaks with a spatula. When you scoop a bit out and hold it upright, it should maintain its shape instead of falling.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a star piping tip. Pipe the meringue onto the lined baking sheets into 1-inch rounds (and 1-inch or so high). You can also scoop the meringues onto the baking sheets in tablespoon rounds or use a sandwich bag with the corner cut off.

Place both sheets in the oven (or you can do one at a time). Bake until completely dry to the touch, about 1 hour. Larger meringues with require 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the meringues from the oven and cool completely before using or storing.

Notes: You might be tempted to use almond. I did that and I don’t recommend it. The flavor doesn’t bake out right at the lower temperature, so it retains some of that metallic almond taste that’s so common in almond emulsions and extracts. YMMV. To save the almond ones I made, I added a bit of cherry-flavored Stur, which made them tolerable. They’re the pink cookies in the photo.

For a second batch, I used a ½ teaspoon of lemon extract and a ½ teaspoon of vanilla and I *loved* that flavor. But, as you can tell from the photo, I didn’t whip them long enough, so they did not retain their shape as well. That’s really the only issue with not getting the stiffest peaks: not keeping their shape. They still tasted great.

Also, try to use two baking sheets at a time if you can. After an hour of sitting in the fridge, the leftover meringue needs to be whipped again to stiffen up and over-whipping may make it break down. That is true for eggs, at least. I didn’t really have that problem, but it was a concern.

You can also make thicker and bigger cookies and they’ll have a bit of a marshmallow texture on the inside. Try it, you might like it.

Another cool thing is that a ½ cup of sugar only has 387 calories, so even a small yield of 4 dozen cookies (I actually ended up with something like 8 dozen because mine were small), they calorie count is very low. You’re eating mostly flavored air. You can also use aquafaba to make a meringue topping or a pavlova. Pretty cool!

pineapple sweet potatoesJamaicaway is a Caribbean style restaurant in Nashville that is one of my very favorite restaurants. They have an extensive vegetarian and vegan selection in addition to omnivore items and it's just like the traditional soul food I'm used to from Memphis but with a twist. My favorite entree is the vegan fried "chicken" which is made from vital wheat gluten. I order it with a side of fried plantains and pineapple sweet potatoes. I almost never order anything else.

This year, we were hosting Christmas dinner at our house and instead of traditional sweet potato casserole, I decided to try my version of the pineapple sweet potatoes. I roasted the sweet potatoes and pineapple instead of steaming them, so the texture is different (definitely drier, but also not stringy) but it is still really good. I was cooking for five, so this recipe was made with three large sweet potatoes, but it can easily be adjusted down for a smaller crowd. One large sweet potato will yield 2-3 servings (judging by the leftovers, it was more like three for mine).

Notes: I used butter, but you can easily make it vegan by substituting coconut oil (which I wish I'd done anyway; I think it would taste better). It takes a while to cook, but you can cut the time in half by microwaving the sweet potatoes for about 5 minutes before adding them to the recipe (you can also make this a day in advance and re-heat; I did this and transferred to a prettier dish to serve). Reduce the size of the recipe by estimating one large sweet potato for every two people and reducing the amount of pineapple accordingly.

Pineapple Sweet Potatoes
serves 6

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
1 16 oz can of chunk pineapple
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp butter (1/2 a stick), cut into 8 slices

Place the sweet potatoes and pineapple in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Add the spices, salt, and sugar and stir together. Place the slices of butter evenly over the mixture and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes covered and then 45 minutes uncovered (until the sweet potatoes are soft).