Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Guess Who Has the World's Best Boyfriend?

I do. Because he bought me this. Yes, that. A Kitchen Aid Mixer. I screamed like a contestant on The Price is Right when I saw it. I have dreamed of owning one for years and now I have one! The mixer is in addition to all the DVDs (My So-Called Life and Twin Peaks) and music (Challengers by the New Pornographers and the Into the Wild soundtrack by Eddie Vedder) and freakin' Veganomicon and more cookbooks and a cute tote and too much. I am truly not worthy. And it's not all the stuff, it's all the thought, truly, that Brian put into everything. I'm so amazed and very grateful.

Now I have no excuse to not make a billion vegan cupcakes and sugar cookies.

I made this soup for Brian because he trekked from Philly to New Jersey with a cold (or "allergies" if you ask him) just to spend the day with me.

Brian's Quick Cold (or Allergy) Remedy Soup (vegan)

You can add any vegetables that will stand up to a few minutes of simmering to this soup. This was just what I had in the house yesterday. Other additions could be two generous handfuls of sliced onions (I'd lightly saute them in some olive oil before adding to the broth), sugar snap peas, a cup of frozen baby peas and corn, green beans, button mushrooms, or dried mushrooms. To avoid oversalting, be sure to use low sodium broth and then add your own salt to taste. Luckily, Brian likes his salt so we were ok but lesson learned. Also, a smaller pasta, such as macaroni, ditalini, orzo, and even leftoever rice, might work even better than the linguini but again, this is what I had. Use the broth, water, and pasta sauce measurements as a rough guide and feel free to add anything else on hand.

1 cup organic, low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 cup canned cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sliced carrots
4 tablespoons pasta sauce (I used Newman's Own Marinara)
3 broccoli spears, finely chopped
2 ounces cooked linguini
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small pot and over high heat, combine broth, water, and seasoning. Stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat and add beans and carrots. Simmer for about five minutes.
3. Add pasta sauce and broccoli (or any other delicate veggies, such as frozen peas, that don't need as much cooking time), stir everything together, and allow to simmer for an additional three minutes.
4. Serves two, or one sick and sweet boy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Seven Ways to Host a Vegetarian-Friendly Cocktail Party

1. Focus on Cocktails: Cocktail parties are much easier to vegetarianize or veganize since the emphasis should be on the drinks and the finger-food, not on a main dish that must seemingly be meat-based. Perhaps you’ll decide to make wine the centerpiece of the event. Have a few bottles of white, a few bottles of red, and you’re done. If you’d like to make an actual cocktail, focus on making one or two rather than buying enough hard liquor bottles to stock your neighborhood watering hole. The point is to welcome and share time with loved ones, not to overwhelm yourself and your guests with choices. Make a pitcher of pomegranate margaritas or green apple martinis. Have some ice-cold beer on hand for those who want less sweetness in their life. An even cheaper and particularly festive cocktail option is making bellinis. Buy a few bottles of Asti Spumante or Prosecco at around 12 bucks a pop and a few cans of Goya apricot, peach, or mango nectar for less than a dollar each. Fill a champagne flute about a quarter way with nectar and top with the fizzy wine. No need to stand around pouring, shaking and stirring various liquors as you consult a mixing bible. A bonus is that everything always looks more delicious and bright when there are champagne flutes involved. Whatever the main cocktail will be, be sure to have some sparkling water and ginger ale spiked with grenadine or cranberry juice on hand for the teetotalers and for booze breaks. Also, not all alcohol is vegan. Stella Artois and Yellowtail wines apparently are. Check company web sites and the following resource on vegan liquor for more information.

2. Hello Hummus: Vegans are notorious for loving hummus. I never even really ate much hummus until I started dating Brian and I am now addicted to it to. Hummus is also one of those "naturally" vegan foods, meaning that meat-eaters don’t give much thought to whether or not it is vegetarian as they might with, say, tofu. They just know it tastes good. Hummus is a wonderfully nutty, creamy dip can be made in classic form-just tahini, chickpeas, and olive oil-or enhanced with red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh garlic cloves, or kalamata olives. The possibilities are endless. Hummus complements cut up, raw vegetables, crackers, pita wedges, bagel chips, sliced and toasted baguette, anything you can dip. Mixing up a batch at home is not difficult but there are many quality brands you can pick up at your local market. I like Sabra, as it is the creamiest and most vibrant-tasting store-bought brand I’ve come across and is sprinkled with fresh parsley or paprika.

3. The Grapes of [Having a] Blast: I’d consider this option no matter what drink you choose to highlight, but a plentiful bunch of plump black grapes draped onto a simple white dish is a no-brainer choice for the wine party. Sumptuous on its own or with cheese, grapes signify abundance, sweetness, and a true party. Bacchus, often depicted as surrounded by grapes, was not the god of wine and getting down for nothing.

4. Cheese-One Word Says It All: Cheese is not vegan. Unfortunately, I cannot yet endorse an edible vegan cheese substitute, particularly ones that can be eaten without having to melt it and hide into other ingredients first. Certainly you can have a cocktail party without cheese and no one will notice but if you choose to include it along with myriad other plant-based options, I don’t see a problem. If you want a truly vegetarian cheese-meaning it is made with microbial rennet rather than with the stomach lining of baby cows-there are plenty that are easy to find. I just found a great one, Andes Panqueche Cheese with Chive for less than three dollars at Stop and Shop . Cabot, Organic Valley, Horizon, and kosher cheeses have varieties that do not contain animal rennet. Alouette, makers of herby cheese spread, do not use any enzymes so it’s entirely lacto-vegetarian, no cow tummies whatsoever.

5. Put the Vegetable Back into Vegetarian: Meat-eaters often think of tofu, veggie burgers, and oddly formed Tofurky when they envision a life without eating animal flesh. They forget that there are no vegetables that are off limits. There are hundreds and thousands of vegetable varieties that are all for the taking. They are delicious raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, or spiked with garlic, lemon juice, oil, and sea salt. For a cocktail party, stick to varieties that are naturally finger food-sized or can be easily cut and served raw, like crudite standards carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, and celery. But don’t discount other less obvious choices such as sliced radishes; sugar snap peas; olives brined in gin and stuffed with whole garlic cloves; glistening platters of ruby-red and savory peppadews; caramelized red onions; blanched asparagus turned in a small amount of balsamic vinegar and tamari; peppers roasted into sweet, charred blackness and seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil (you can buy them frozen and just reheat according to package directions if you don’t have the time or wherewithal to torch them yourself); fried green beans; even fried onion rings. The options are as infinite as your imagination or recipe library. The salty, savory notes of these dishes go great with alcohol. Besides, these are guaranteed to go so much faster than any half-hearted vegetarian cocktail sausage that just ain’t gonna cut muster with avowed meat-eaters (believe me, I tried and failed at tricking one with mock meat).

* This is me, pre-party, as Hostess Bear. Whenever I make this face, I turn into a bear, any kind of bear I choose. It's a really long story. It's also one of those Couple Things that only Brian and I find endlessly hilarious. My mother too. But that's the sorta story behind this picture.

6. Relax and Enjoy Your Guests: There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious in the kitchen but if you’re having people over to eat with the sole mission of impressing them, consider becoming a caterer. The whole point is to be with people you love and perhaps don’t get to see very often. If some dishes are eaten up more than others, don’t take it personally. Food left behind is a sign that people were thoroughly enjoying rather engorging themselves. And if anyone complains that there wasn’t enough or any meat or that the queso-less quesadillas taste bad without cheese, don’t give up throwing parties. Consider having a talk with or even getting rid of a “friend” who’d judge you and your hospitality so harshly.
7. Always Serve Dessert: Especially when dessert is a vegan chocolate ganache chocolate cake from Whole Foods that you surprise your Christmas baby girlfriend with. Other lovely cocktail party desserts: brownies or rice krispie treats cut into mini, bite-sized squares and stacked like a pyramid; cupcakes; dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate; roughly cut shards of bittersweet organic chocolate with almonds and dried blueberries; a big bowl of clementines alongside small plates and more than a few napkins; spritz cookies.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Dead. Just Frozen.

It's officially winter. Out here in my part of the Northeast of the US of A, central New Jersey, yesterday we had what the weatherpeople like to call a wintry mix. I call it a multitude of collisions waiting to happen. On the highway I steamroll down on sunny days, I went a mere 25 MPH. People who drive 18-wheelers and SUVs are, quite frankly, morons. As one radio listener noted on NJ's own semi-conservative radio station--that I listen to for weather, traffic, and to keep up with how the other half lives--"I don't know where these people get their tires but their not invincible. Just dumb." I concur, my brother. But it doesn't matter because they are usually the ones who end up jackknifed on an exit ramp or wrapped around a tree.

Anyways, the delight of my morning today wasn't my cup of lemon tea or my lovely commute through ice and traffic. It was the half-sandwich I ate and I can't get enough of it. It's been my obsession of the week. I go through these phases where everything I eat for a week or two is centered around one ingredient.

A few weeks ago it was ricotta cheese cooked a la Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe--stir-frying it in some olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and some dried Italian seasoning, like a creamier, more delicate scrambled egg.

This week it's been sun dried tomatoes packed in garlicky, herby, red-hued olive oil. Before my last cookbook writing class on Monday, I stopped into Whole Foods' Fresh and Wild and got the Grilled Salmon Omega Salad: grilled salmon, dried cranberries, walnuts, avocado, sun dried tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigerette over a bed of greens. Much more delicious (and cheaper!) than the so greasy they were slimy sugar snap peas and rubbery tofu I kept eating from the $8.99 a pound buffet before. That started my sun dried fixation.

I've been eating sun dried tomatoes at home mostly as a sandwich filling to tide me over before workouts or before bed when I'm feeling the stirs of hunger but have already had dinner. This morning, it was my pre-breakfast breakfast (I usually have either two breakfasts or two dinners with a few snacks throughout the day because I'm hungry pretty much every two hours. And this is one of reasons I have to workout). You should have it for breakfast, lunch, a snack, or light supper too. It's delicious anytime. The well-seasoned and pleasantly chewy sun dried tomatoes pack a surprisingly meaty flavor and texture that will please meateaters and veggies alike. The recipe below could be replicated on several slices of baguette or on one large focaccia loaf and serve as a very nice appetizer for a few folks. This is how I make it for me.

Sun Dried Tomato and Avocado Toast
2 slices of whole-grain bread
1 ounce (basically one chunk, about the size of two dominoes) of Monterey Jack cheese or 1 tablespoon of garlic herb Alouette spread, optional
1/4 to 1/2 of Haas avocado
3 slivers of sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (you can use completely dry ones if you're watching your fat intake but I'm not going to lie and say it will taste as luscious)

1) Toast bread. If using Monterey Jack cheese, add to bread before toasting so it can melt. If using Alouette, add after bread has toasted. If omitting cheese, just toast the bread.
2) Add avocado and tomatoes to one slice of toast. Top with other slice and smoosh down to break up and spread the avocado. Eat.

Serves one, happily.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Creating a Read-Write Culture

Things have been quiet on my end in terms of the blog because I am in the process of writing a cookbook. A very, very small cookbook but one that requires any extra typing and thinking time I have. I am taking a cookbook writing course sponsored by Media Bistro and instructed by Corinne Trang. Corinne is teaching the class so much in a short four weeks, things about creating and structuring a recipe that I never realized while reading and using many of them. I'm really enjoying the process of just sitting with one set of ingredients and instructions for a good, long while, figuring out what to say and what not to say, and really thinking about why I would want to share a recipe, the story behind it. I'm reading the two cookbooks by my bed, Corinne's Essentials of Asian Cuisine: Fundamentals and Favorite Recipes and Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe in a new light, amazed by the amount of detail, thought, and love that goes onto every page. I admit, I first loved cookbooks mostly because I just loved eating and wanted to make something to eat. That's definitely still true but now that I'm trying to write my own recipes and figure out what I want to say with a collection of them, I truly realize what an all-consuming, creative endeavor it can be, even separate from the cooking and eating (although, of course, eating will always be my favorite thing to do).

Anyways, when I opened a window to create this post, I intended to write a sentence or two about the class and just share this letter from Kristin Hersh about how being a culture of either producer or consumer is completely outmoded and how blogging and blogging about food in particular is really an enterprise of community, sharing, blurring, if not obliterating, the lines between reader and writer. But then I just had a whole bunch I wanted to say. It's always cool to be surprised as you're writing. It happens to me all the time. I really never know what I'll say until I do, no matter how sure I am of a point as it sits in my head. That's the funnest part. So, this isn't about food per se, but it is about sharing and art and that's all a part, a huge part, of food. So here are parts of Kristin's letter, which you can read in its entirety here. Then please listen to, share, and play around with her song "Slippershell."

As many of you may already know, CASH is an acronym -- it stands for the Coalition of Artists & Stake Holders. The name indicates just what we're all hoping to build here -- a coalition through which we blur the line that's traditionally stood between creators of content and the consumers of that content...

We're all stake holders here. We all stand to gain from a productive relationship. Maybe it will help to think of this relationship as a conversation...

Art is by nature a conversation. I'd like us to make it a community. Think about what you have to offer. Read-only culture is not enough anymore. We'd like you to treat this stuff as read-write...

What does read-write mean? Maybe as you're listening to "Slippershell", you're inspired to DO something: paint a picture, write an essay, make a video, remix, or even re-record the song. Please do so.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Nigella Lawson Said to Me

After hell, high water, and rush hour traffic, I made it to the Whole Foods on the Bowery by 7 pm on the dot for the Nigella Lawson book signing. I had planned to get there a bit earlier so I could eat dinner at one of the many food stops in Whole Foods--which is built more like a mammoth Jersey mall rather than even your average gargantuan supermarket--before waiting on the line. But my plans were no match for the Lincoln Tunnel at 5 pm.

When I arrived, the line was already quite long. All I wanted to do was sit and eat one of the many vegetarianorganicfreetradeglutenfree power bars I was standing by, or at least one of the scented candles, which might have tasted better. I was so hungry and tired. But I had a mission to get a book signed and knew I could hit up the food bars afterwards.

I've met a few celebrities, or at least people who are somewhat well known and do work I admire. But I never really want to sit and talk with them. What will I say that isn't incredibly dorky? And by the time I think of something great to say, my 30 seconds with the sharpie will be up. I'm over my adolescent celebrity worship, that feeling that I just know someone, that they're actually heroic. We're all just people. But some are extradordinary and get some attention for it and it would be disingenuous to say I haven't been shaped by that.

I don't think I'd be interested in food writing or even doing this blog if I hadn't come across Nigella Lawson's books a few years back. Yeah, I've always loved to eat (too much so) so it's not like I was uninterested in food before dipping my toe, just a little, in the foodie world. I've always been really aware of food. It wasn't, however, until I started cooking more than pancakes and scrambled eggs for myself, learned to read and follow recipes, and referred to various food magazines and cookbooks, that I actually brokered some sort of peace with my relationship with food. I stopped feeling as guilty about sometimes being a glutton and saw it as both a new hobby and a way to sustain my body, just as we all do. Prior to that, food was some weird, painful punishing reward. Now I'm not as controlled by food and I enjoy it more. I have to eat and I'm lucky I can afford to eat everyday and have access to such an amazing variety of food so I might as well lose the guilt trip. Funny, the seemingly two extremes of foodieness and doing Weight Watchers taught me that.

I'm by no means totally resolved. I still want chocolate, bread, and cheese, and lots of it, when I feel stressed or depressed (only really, really high levels of panic can still my appetite). I've gained some "love" pounds, as people say, since being with Brian but it's really just because I stopped running and started eating out a lot more. I, like most women, regularly plan and scheme about what I can do to be thinner. But I'm a lot happier now, and more realistic, than say, 10 years ago in the food department. Everyone has their thing. One of mine happens to be food and eating it. There are worse vices, and lesser joys.

So, here's how it went.

Nigella: Hello.
Me: [dorkily, really, really dorkily] Hello. I'm such a huge fan so it's really great to meet you.
Nigella: Thank you. [reading the post-it of my name one of the organizers put on my book so she'd know how to sign it] You have such a beautiful name.
Me: [beaming] Oh, thank you!
[silence and then someone tells me to get behind the table if I want my picture taken. Nigella tells her she's getting very good at taking pictures. The girl takes our picture].
Me: Thank you very much. Have a good night.
Nigella: Thank you. You too.

She is so gorgeous in person. Incredibly porcelain skin, great posture, lovely smile, very gracious. Brian asked if she'd really be as hot in person as she is on TV with all the lighting and yes, she was. When I told him about the signing and I said, "She's so beautiful." He said, "Should I be jealous?" Um....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Needed: Vegetarian Cocktail Sausages

This isn't so much a post as it is a plea. If you're reading this and know who makes vegetarian cocktail sausages and where I can pick some up, please share the info. I am dying to make the sticky sausages in Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express for a cocktail party I am starting to plan in my head. Thank you much!

By the way, Brian and I made a black bean, corn, and avocado lasagna and blueberry carob pancakes with spelt flour from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan and the German apple cake from The Joy of Vegan Baking this weekend! More on those dishes soon.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Random Fridays: For Some Reason, A lot of Butts

* I don't need coupons for Clorox bleach or Rice-a-Roni. I need coupons for Amy's frozen pizza and Tofurky. But I never see them in newspaper circulars (mayhaps because I don't read the newspaper?). So I have discovered a super, top secret, incredibly byzantine money saving scheme. You go to the company's web site. Ok? You see if they have a link for coupons or something. They don't? Ok. You click on "contact us." You send them an e-mail and ask for coupons. They say, "OK! No probs!" And then they mail you a buttload. You can also sign up for Mambo Sprouts, whose coupon booklet I picked up at Whole Foods one day and proceeded to buy Clif Mojo bars, which I now am addicted to, San-J tamari, and other organic comestibles and junk food.

* I got PJ Harvey's new album, White Chalk, a few weeks back and I just couldn't get into it on first listen. I love PJ most when she's bugged out and sexual. But I popped the CD in on my drive to work today and it complemented the early morning, underwater, slightly disgruntled grog I'm usually in when fighting traffic. Sad but peaceful. Repetitious but hauntingly melodic, deceptively simple, songs like mantras. I just trust and believe that Polly Jean knows what she's doing more than I do.

* It was, however, love at first scent for Marc Jacobs' Daisy and me. It's perfectly floral and sweet but not treacly so. The mild citrus notes give it a tiny bit of bite. It's my favorite scent in a long time. I'm very picky about fragrances and can't wear strong, musky ones because they give me headaches just like espresso and really dark chocolate do.

I love Sephora's descriptions of fragrances, which is appropriate to post on a food blog since they read like wine descriptions (you know, crisp, buttery, like dew upon a baby platypus' buttocks--crap like that): Notes--Strawberry, Violet Leaves, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Gardenia, Violet Petals, Jasmine Petals, Musk, Vanilla, White Woods. Style--Bright. Alluring. Eternal.

Here's how they describe the Prada fragrance, which I got a sample of when I purchased Daisy: Notes--Bergamot Oil Italian, Orange Oil, Bitter Orange Oil, Mandarin Flower, Mimosa India, Rose Absolute ABS, Schinus Molle ABS LMR, Peru Balsam, Patchouli Oil LMR, Raspberry Flower, Labdanum Resinoide LMR, Tonka Bean ABS LMR, Vanilla Absolute, Musk, Sandalwood Oil. Style--Classic. Pure. Addictive. I like this one too and I am wearing it today.

I also received samples of Chance by Chanel and Lolita Lempicka (an old favorite) and L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani. I want to like L.A.M.B., which is full of yummy notes such as frangipani, jasmine, and violet, but also musk, which makes it smell, for lack of a better term, slightly ass-y. Brian detested it and pretty much said that the sweater I sprayed it on was now ass-y and therefore, I was too.
Picture courtesy of Sephora.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Savory Roasted Sweet Potatoes for One (or Two)

I love summer fruits, like berries and peaches, but autumn is by far my favorite time for veggies, particularly the nutritional powerhouses that are root vegetables. I’ve had a couple of sweet potatoes sitting in a bowl on my kitchen counter for a while now and was just too wiped out after work to even think of peeling, chopping, or roasting a thing. Besides their comforting, rich flavor, what’s great about sweet potatoes and some other root veggies is that you can leave them lying around for a while. Unlike that lettuce you have to get to within a week of purchasing or the bananas I refuse to eat after they go brown (another reason Brian and I are meant to be—he’ll eat the brown bananas I would either turn into bread or, more likely, trash).

I finally got around to the sweet potatoes last night. This is so easy, it’s not even cooking. If you can turn a knob and use a spoon, you can make these potatoes. They’re great on their own (that’s how I ate them last night) but would also be even more fantastic dipped in some strong, strained Greek yogurt or some sour cream (dairy or soy-based but I can’t yet endorse any edible plain soy yogurts) spiked with minced garlic or shallots that have been quickly turned in a hot pan of olive oil. These potatoes complement savory barbequed protein sources, like teriyaki tofu or blackened salmon. You could even refrigerate what you don’t eat and have the reheated potatoes with an egg or tofu scramble for a breakfast packed with protein, fiber, and hearty tastiness.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roughly cube one medium, washed, and unpeeled sweet potato and place in a large bowl. To the bowl of potatoes, add 2 teaspoons (tsp) walnut oil (or olive oil), 1 tsp. maple syrup (or brown sugar), 1 tsp. cinnamon, a scant ¼ tsp. nutmeg, ½ tsp. curry powder, and pinch of sea salt (or two pinches of kosher salt). Toss well. Add potatoes to baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil coated with cooking spray and roast for about 15 to 20 minutes, until your kitchen is filled with a yummy, autumn scent of strong spices and the potatoes are browned and, if you’re like me, just a little charred.
Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Random Fridays: Some Ladies For You

I’ve ordered Nigella Express from Amazon but it will not be here in time for the book signing at Williams Sonoma Columbus Circle on Sunday. It will be here in time for the Q&A and signing at Whole Foods on November 15, though. Oh dear, Nigella Lawson and me in the same grocery store would be a culinary dream come true. Much like this magazine cover might be to Brian. A busty lady in a 1950’s polka dot frock bringing him dessert on a silver tray? Died and went to heaven, that’s right.

Here's an interview with Nigella, where she details the stash she keeps by her bed to whet her appetite at all times and talks about the possibility of marketing "beds with troughs." How can you not love that.

Girl with a Satchel (GWAS) is my new favorite blog. It is the blog I would have started had I went on to indulge my magazine obsession rather than my food one. Each day, deputy editor of the Australian teen magazine, Girlfriend, Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) reviews a different magazine, rating it anywhere between a 1 (“To the recycling bin!”) to a 10 (“I’m going to laminate every page and archive it.”). She revels in all things girly, shiny, and pretty but a very sharp, smart, feminist perspective informs the reviews. The only bad thing to come of this new find is, I can’t locate the Aussie magazine Frankie in any local bookstores. From the sound it, Frankie might be a wonderful replacement for my now-deceased Jane subscription (Glamour is nice--she tries hard, means well, does the right thing, always irons her blouse, indulges in a cocktail or two--but doesn’t have the staying power through multiple reads that a subscription-worthy magazine should have). GWAS also shouts out Judy Blume’s BLOG, which I didn’t even know existed. And GWAS calls breasts "boozies!" Yay!

Myra Kornfeld’s blog, Myra’s Table, offers cooking tips and thoughts. She even writes about the class I took with her in September and recounts us all nearly passing out from all the delicious carbs we created and ingested late into the evening.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Baking Power!

If you've never made a cake from scratch, you have to try it! What a rush!

Joselle walked me through my first, full-fledged lesson in cake baking this past Saturday. It was a real high; something we both needed after a two-hour literal walk along the trails of Center City Philly (i.e., the relatively new and forward-thinking Schuykill River Park and City staple Boathouse Row, along a sculpted Kelly Drive and Fairmount Park). We felt winded from rock climbing at the Water Works, and made our way over to the nearby Whole Foods before nightfall. Joselle and I sought out some dinner comestibles (as she would say) and a bunch of ingredients for a cake recipe selected from How It All Vegan, one of the two whole entries in my dusty collection of cookbooks. It was kind of like we were squirrels in search of sweet treats. And sweet treats we did uncover!

After a simple dinner experiment of pasta elbows slathered with Aldi tomato sauce and carmelized onions mingling among Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs---accompanied by fresh salad and cooked broccoli blanketed in a layer of Earth Balance and salt---the Mutual Menu was prepared to bake. We were all set with utensils in hand, when Joselle shocked this cookie rookie with a single blunt statement: "We forgot the baking powder." I quickly replied with obvious naivete that there was a box of some in the back of my fridge. A few things I neglected to mention to my culinary queen: 1.) This box had been in the back of my fridge for more than two years; 2.) This box had been open for an equal amount of time; and 3.) This box contained baking soda, not baking powder! Neither of us was entirely sure of the difference, but Joselle's experience suggested there's a method to all this madness.

Off came the slippers as she and I put on our hiking sneakers to trek all the way across the street from my building to the Quick Stop, a cigarette-smoke infused former 7-11; the frequent rest stop for neighborhood vagabonds and junkies-with-the-munchies. Case in point, Joselle noticed that you can actually buy a pancake-sausage breakfast sandwich there for $.99. What a steal, I suppose, if you're not in the market for a vegan cake's missing baking powder like we were. And, although we never found said baking powder, we stumbled upon a fresh box of baking soda from said Quick Stop. The fact that the trusty Arm & Hammer logo was defending other nearby bakery sale items on the shelf sustained our optimism. The plan would proceed!

The next hour or two invited new experiences for me and increasing yawns for my instructor. A bleary-eyed Joselle advised her student on the importance of fresh ingredients and a gentle mixing form. And, since I consider myself a gentleman, I mixed the select contents of my retro-pink ceramic bowl, and we heated things up! We also licked all of the utensils in sheer abandon, considering there seems to be less of a threat of salmonella poisoning with vegan recipes. As for the vanilla cake with maple walnut's all good! The baking soda didn't kill us. Instead, it just gave the candy-sweet cake a dense flavor similar to a soft pretzel. Since I'm from Philly, I guess that should taste like home, right?

Joselle later researched this arcane difference between baking soda and baking powder. It seems that baking soda---although a considerable subsitute for the similar powder format---has a unique quality that helps to neutralize the acidity of traditional baking ingredients like buttermilk or citrus additives to make a recipe come together cohesively. Baking powder, on the other hand, is self-reliant in this regard. As a hypothetical solution to Saturday evening's dilemma, Joselle suggests adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the mixture to give baking soda something to neutralize; just a little source of satisfaction that we're all looking for in this world. If you find yourself in a similar scenario, give it a shot!

I've already managed to enjoy quite a few voluptuous slices of our creation since Joselle headed back to New Jersey on Sunday evening---but I tend to eat when I get depressed. And I get sad because---even more upsetting than watching such a sweet treat disappear with each passing meal---it makes me feel downright blue to see a woman so sweet suddenly retreat to her seemingly distant life once again. One day, the Mutual Menu's members will be able to be together without having to say goodbye to each other for another week every single Sunday night of the year. I just wish there were a way to eternalize such a great-tasting cake like the one we made together. Well, I guess it's back to the old mixing bowl and oven mitts!

For the Mutual Menu's take on this recipe, please get in touch---or pick up a copy of How It All Vegan to add to your own dusty collection!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Random Fridays: Please Feed the Animals

Strange things happen in and around my house when it comes to what animals eat. One, as I've mentioned before, my dog, Luckie, does not eat dog food. He usually eats ground turkey or roasted chicken with brown rice and veggies, which is supplemented with vitamins and a few organic and animal-by-product-free dog biscuits. Much as I try to make big batches of food for my dog (and myself) once or twice a week so I don't have to cook after work, I almost never do. Therefore I suffer needlessly through late-evening, after-work malaise while at a stove. Last night, I was in between two appointments (therapy for my back and then therapy for my head) and realized I had not cooked for the dog and had no food to cook. So I picked him up some steamed chicken with broccoli and brown rice. I picked up some black bean soup and a Limonata for myself.

Some people think that's weird. I mean, drinking lemon water and bean soup at the same time. Not the whole buying Chinese takeout for the dog.

Other animals around my house have been eating a lot of corn lately. We put out some ragged, dried out corn to make the front of the hearth look all autumnal. But this year, some very obese squirrels congregate in front of my house to dig up grass and, according to the dog sitter (uh huh. I said that), eat the corn. I just hope they don't get sick because those husks have been sitting around longer than I've been alive.

Lastly, many squirrels seem to be joining humans in the obesity epidemic. Brian and I noticed many obese squirrels while sitting in the park last weekend. In the beginning of the summer, we even saw one lugging around a bagel that was almost as large as its carrier.

What this all means is, most animals who live with or near me are eating better than me lately, which is why there is no picture of apple cake and no successful tempeh recipes (my one attempt failed miserably) this week.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Happy and Dead Animals!

I know we're all friendly and kumbaya here. We want to include everyone and all that crap. I understand that not everyone can or even wants to give up eating animals. Lord knows I still eat, and therefore murder, fish (mostly salmon and shrimp). And I torture cows with my cheese addiction. And damn if I don't miss eating bacon. But this is just ridiculous. Emphasis my own but not the exclamation point at the end of the statement. They actually added that all by themselves (!):

Take a look around Philip and Dorcas Horst Landis's sustainability-focused farm. Visit their pasture-raised turkeys and chickens, grass-fed cows and lambs, and pastured pigs and learn about the benefits of a grass-based diet to animal health and happiness. As a special treat, our picnic lunch will include grilled burgers from their own cows!
From the
White Dog Cafe Foundation.

'Cause, ya know, nothing makes a cow happier than being hung and slit open from top to bottom and then churned through a grinder. I mean, I'd take that over a bubble bath anyday!

Let's just get real here. If you're going to eat meat, it makes you, the human, happy. Not the confined, stunned (if they're "lucky"), slit open, and churned animal.

I'm going to make some vegan German apple cake for Brian and me this weekend and if my wonky camera decides to work, perhaps you'll even see it in its autumnal glory. And that will make us all happy...and fatter.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Nature of the Beast

One of my favorite sayings as a vegan and angsty quasi-pacifist living in a city with an intolerably high murder rate is Kill two humans with one bullet. It's my cynical little spin on the equally deranged Kill two birds with one stone. I've been noticing lately just how many of these types of cliches have influenced my adult vernacular, especially as they relate to the most basic of human and planetary ethics and traits. There are the diet-influenced sayings like You are what you eat and An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Then there are all those that try to capture the singular characteristics of our animal kingdom. Here are a few examples: It's the nature of the beast; Birds of a feather flock together; Don't put the cart before the horse; Don't count your eggs before they're hatched; Don't put all your eggs in one basket; or, my favorite, Happy as a clam (which---up until recently---I always thought was Happy as a clown, since clowns seem like much more jubilant folk than clams).

Like most couples, friends, neighbors, family members, or colleagues who share a good portion of their lives together, Joselle and I frequently adopt each other's sayings and thoughts. Some are cliche; some are just plain malicious; and others are suprisingly profound. I've taken to Joselle's This is a slow boat to China when I think about how far off a non-exploitative, animal-friendly world really seems---despite our modern, sophisticated, semantics-obssessed society. Joselle has also commented several times as to how everyone (including the carnivore) is a vegetarian in some capacity, whereas vegetarians will not and cannot be omnivores; something that's always struck me as insightful and poignant. Pretty much everyone eats vegetables, regardless of where people are from or what the hell they believe. Folks like their legumes (Beans, beans are good for the heart). They relish their fruit and pastas and breads and all sorts of treats, which can surely still be savory without all the animal ingredients that industries try to throw at us. If that's truly the case, why do so many omnivores get turned off by the word "vegetarian"?

Maybe it's the nature of the human beast to always want to be in control of everything. After all, A dog is [human]'s best friend---not the other way around. I mean, even the language of these cliches implies the domination of humans over the rest of the animal kingdom. Even more, there are the suggestions of our need for control in the lifestyle choices that every single one of us makes about who, what, when, where, and why we eat what we eat. Vegans choose not to consume animal flesh or byproducts out of respect for the lives of other animal species, as well as in an effort to make a statement of sociopolitical oppostition to an industry that will bleed us all dry for the right price. Contrastingly, Joselle and I can't really seem to grill-wrap our heads around why so many omnivores cringe at the thought of plant-based ingredients for vegetarian dishes; at the thought of stepping foot in a vegetarian restaurant that represents healthy living and, hopefully, environmental consciousness; at the thought of eating a Heart Thrive instead of a Snickers bar from the vending machine. Why is this? Maybe it's the nature of the beast to be selective, opinionated, obstinate, and apprehensive for no clear reason.

In order for a truly effective mutual menu to work, it seems to me that everyone involved needs to have a full understanding---not just a superficial tolerance---of why we all make the decisions that we make. Whether we do something for ethics, for self-preservation (i.e., oftentimes protecting our own individual health, rather than selflessly focusing on the health of our greater environment), or for the sheer fact that we don't really care about anything accept what feels good to us, we as humans have the special gift of verbal language; a tool set that should theoretically allow us to carefully communicate our commonalities and differences with one another. That would be the first step. Beyond that, it'd be nice if we could learn to utilize an intelligence of the "superior species" to figure out how we can all just get along.

If we don't learn to compromise, then I guess birds of a feather will continue to flock together---at least until there are no more birds to stone. In fact, if we could just be a smidgeon more thoughtful about the decisions we make, maybe humans wouldn't seem so stoned themselves.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Random Fridays: Cookies and Blogs and More

My good friend, Sky, recently did some tabling for Animal Place during the 8th Annual World Veg Festival, where Compassionate Cooks’ Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was speaking and doing a signing for her just-released cookbook, The Joy of Vegan Baking. Sky introduced herself to Colleen as a friend of mine and the two of them orchestrated the photo above.

Colleen has kindly allowed me to post the picture here as long as I place the disclaimer that she did not sleep much the night before. Well, she looks to be about the most adorable and cheerful of sleep-deprived people I have ever seen. But since she was gracious enough to create this message for me and always kind enough to answer my e-mails despite the fact that we have never met and I’m sure she gets a slew of e-mails daily, I will post the disclaimer, however unnecessary I think it is.

The real reason for posting the picture is to provide more incentive for anyone reading this to run out and buy The Joy of Vegan Baking (besides Sky, our most devoted, and possibly only reader, who already has her copy). I would recommend it to the novice baker, as this book is chock full of excellent and sound advice on baking techniques. The more experienced baker, especially one who can’t imagine making a cake without eggs and butter, will expand their cooking repertoire as Colleen shows you that vegan baking is a) not some new-fangled fad but a technique that has been used throughout the ages for various reasons and b) delicious. You don’t need chicken’s eggs and cow’s butter to make cookies. Believe me. Try eating Liz Lovely or Alternative Baking Company cookies and tell me you miss the yolks. Then bake your own using Colleen’s recipes. Beyond the many cookie, bar, cake, and muffin recipes housed in this collection, Colleen also shares recipes for pancakes, crepes, waffles, breads, puddings, smoothies, and so much more. For starters, I am dying to make the mango sticky rice and German apple cake. Besides all of this, you get a chart on various baking apples, the deal behind baking soda and baking powder, easy and cruelty-free alternatives to using eggs, milk, cream, and butter for baking, and indices that are broken down by type of ingredient and occasion. At the heart of this book, however, is Colleen's clear and eloquent explanation on her journey of becoming a joyful vegan and her reasons for this choice. As a pretty hardcore cookbook fan, I can safely say that The Joy of Vegan Baking is easily one of my favorites and one I am sure to refer to quite often.

In Addicted to Race’s podcast episode number 82, host Carmen von Kerchove reads a comment I posted about a previous podcast, which focused on bloggers of color. Go check it out to hear what I said.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Trying to Eat Healthfully? Eat More Junk Food

Due to stress, sleep deprivation, and PMS, I have spent the last week or so eating a ton of junk. Yesterday, I left my wallet and my breakfast at home so I had to panhandle for change at work so I could get a noxious and oily (bad oily like gasoline, not good oily like when I drizzle walnut oil and honey on sprouted whole wheat toast) honey bun from the vending machine. For lunch, I had an egg and cheese on an English Muffin from Dunkin Donuts followed by a Rice Krispie treat from the Barnes and Noble cafe. For dinner, I killed half a bag of fried, salty platanos. Then I chased that down with a cup of vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a bag of 100-calorie Oreo Thins crumbled on top (did you know that Oreos are vegan? Or at least they are 99.9% vegan). Not going to win any gourmet health awards there.

The good thing about going on a junk food fast is that it makes your body crave the wholesome simplicity of a bed of fresh spinach drizzled with the tiniest hint of extra virgin olive oil. Or a crisp and tart pink lady apple. When all you want to eat is junk but feel like you should eat virtuously, I say pile on the french fries and then just wait. You'll want to eat produce again. Right now, I am so looking forward to the dinner I have planned for tonight: tofu stir-fry over a steaming pile of red quinoa alongside some kale with garlic and peppers. The following text and recipe is from the October 2005 "Inspired Vegetarian" column in Cooking Light.

Kale with Garlic and Peppers (vegan, which means it's good for

Although you can find kale in supermarkets year-round, this member of
the cabbage family is at its peak flavor in cool-weather months. Kale also
brings a good dose of protein and iron to this side dish, and the jalapeño
pepper adds a pleasant kick. You can substitute collard greens for kale, if you

2 teaspoons olive oil object
2 cups sliced red bell pepper (about 2 medium)
1 tablespoon chopped seeded jalapeño pepper (about 1 small)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 cups chopped kale, stems removed (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup organic vegetable broth (such as Swanson Certified
1 garlic clove, minced
Lemon wedges (optional)

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add red bell pepper,
jalapeño, salt, and black pepper; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add chopped
kale and broth; cover. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 10 minutes or until
tender, stirring once. Stir in garlic; increase heat to medium. Cook, uncovered,
for 2 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 cup kale mixture)

Nutritional Information: CALORIES 157(24% from fat); FAT 4.1g (sat
0.6g,mono 1.8g,poly 1.1g); PROTEIN 8.4g; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 323mg;
SODIUM 321mg; FIBER 4.9g; IRON 4.3mg; CARBOHYDRATE 28.2g

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Fridays: Helping You (and me) Procrastinate

* Addicted to Race is a podcast hosted by Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder of many fabulous blogs (Racialicious, Anti-Racist Parent, and Race in the Workplace), which focuses on "America's obsession with race." The first podcast I listened to was, "Where are all the bloggers of color?" (Hello. Right here. Just because you can't enter "blogs + colored" in google search and find the one domain we're all supposedly hanging out in doesn't mean we're not here! Wow!). Addicted to Race tackles what I just put in parens beautifully. I'm currently listening to the episode on celebrity adoptions and they are so right on. And while I'd love to link to the individual episodes, the page is not working right now so just visit the site and scroll through a bit.

* Jezebel is sorta old news but I just finally decided that I need to read them every day and I love their biting, feminist, silly, and serious commentary on such subjects as, "Is Amadinejad hot?" and "Does it suck standing next to Angelina Jolie at the Clinton Global Initiative?" It's like eating organic junk food. Somewhat naughty but oh so good.

* Brian and I are going to the Cloisters this weekend with his friends in Brooklyn. We'll also be stopping at Moo Shoes so I can buy winter shoes and, of course, eating vegan cupcakes of some sort.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Catskill Animal Sanctuary + Saugerties = 4ever

Brian and I had a wonderful time in Saugerties, NY. We came for the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, and our visit did not disappoint, but we also fell in love with Saugerties, a very charming, small town chock full of antique shops and adorable restaurants and storefronts (and not a little bit spooky to drive through on a very foggy night). We started our day by unwinding in our Hojo's hotel room before venturing into the downtown area in search of snacks to tide us over before our dinner reservations at New World Home Cooking. We weren't out and about for but an hour when a huge rainstorm hit. We ate the bananas and nut bars we picked up at Mother Earth Health Food Store under an awning and ran into a bookstore right before the skies opened up. The owner gave us shelter and, when he told us about all the places he traveled to as a food writer, we told him about the humble little operation you're visiting right now. We didn't get the friendly owner's name but Brian agreed with me when I said he looked like a Bartholomew. He just did.

We ran off to dinner only to find out that the thunderstorms had knocked out power at New World Home Cooking. Very hungry, we drove back downtown and settled on dinner at the surprisingly veggie-friendly, Pig Bar and Grill. Seeing a pig cut as a restaurant out is usually not a good sign but it actually worked out. Brian had a delicious coconut tofu sandwich and I burned my mouth on the blackened fish (the pros of pescetarianism continue to wane). But my mojito was good. We were going to go see Halloween or Hairspray at the old-time moviehouse, the Orpheum but I hate horror movies and neither one of us wanted to see Hairspray so we passed on both. We attempted a night drive to the Saugerties Lighthouse and turned around after the fog and dark winding roads has us feeling like we were in the middle of our own horror film. Like the elderly people we are quickly become, we went back to the hotel and nodded off while watching and making fun of the phenomenon that is High School Musical (but Disney wins because we actually voluntarily watched this swill, which I would have loved when I was nine).
The next day, we went to Miss Lucy's Kitchen for brunch. I was looking forward to drinking a mimosa when our waitress informed us they could not serve alcohol before noon. So I settled for the delicious challah french toast with strawberry compote while Brian dug into some tofu scramble with home fries and salad. We tried taking pictures but my camera was refusing to take pictures. Trust me. Our plates were very pretty and tasty. Miss Lucy's is not veggie-friendly at all for dinner, however, where bunny is heavily featured. Gross. But their brunch is nice and hanging aprons and country-ish air is appealing.
We window shopped a bit before heading to the farm sanctuary. I was so excited to be going. Just seeing the sign made me happy. We were greeted by one of the friendliest (read: doggiest) cats I've ever come across. She came over to us purring and cuddly. We made our way to the HUGE pigs sunning themselves in the mud. One pig put his snout through the gate and let me pet his big, wet nose. They didn't oink; they growled like my dog.
We wandered into the empty visitors' center, where there were vegan flyers, pamphlets, and recipe booklets galore. Another couple came a few minutes later before our tour guide, Betsy, finally came. She put on a short film about the sanctuary and its reasons for existence. She warned us about a portion of the film that showed factory farming footage and assured us it was short but urged us to watch. I never watched the last few minutes of Fast Food Nation, which is the scene that shows real slaughterhouse footage of cows being killed. I won't watch Earthlings. I can't even stand to watch a dog be sad in a fictional movie. But I tried to steel my courage to watch the sanctuary film in its entirety. Watching the pigs being thrown and jostled was heartwrenching and seeing the calves in their veal stalls was awful but what actually set me off was watching two chickens looking sad, sick, and scared holding onto one another while cramped in the cage. That's when I started crying. The camera zoomed in on their faces and there was no denying that not only were they terrified but they were trying to protect and comfort one another. When Betsy came to turn off the film, she saw me crying and acknowledged how awful it was.
After the film, the fun part began we went into the stall to meet all the animals. There was the blind horse, Bobo, who had furry prosthetic eyeballs and was kicking his stall for more oats (it was feeding time when we arrived). We met a mother pig and the cutest piglets but my camera was acting up when it came time to meet them.
Perhaps our most memorable host was Rambo, the ram who, when he first arrived, was so hateful towards humans that he threw three of the farm workers into his stall. A year later, he is not only recovered from having been abused, he is one of the most peaceful and gracious of all the animals we met. In fact, he was so peaceful, we were told he rarely needs to be in the stall and basically roams around, checking in on the other animals who may be more scared or shy. He alerts the staff when anyone is sick. He reminded me of my dog, Luckie, when he came towards me and nuzzled me with his head then gently kicked me when I stopped rubbing him.
After hanging out with the goats (who I can only describe as regal and proud), horses, and some pigs in the stalls, we ventured out to meet the ducks, the chickens and pigs bred to be so abnormally large that they have the same cardiovascular and respiratory problems that a morbidly obese human would have.
Then we were off to see the former dairy cows and cattle. The cows were so huge. It was impressive to be so close to just their enormous heads let alone the rest of their big bodies. They were so gentle and their tongues were sandpapery like a cat's when they licked me.

After that, we headed over to some more horses. We got their at an opportune time because one of the female horses unloaded an impressive stream of urine before flapping her vulva in front of all of us to see. Quite a show.
While walking with Betsy, I told her that I had given up eating land animals but was still eating fish, eggs, dairy, and especially that crack cocaine of dairy, cheese. She said she had a cheese issue herself and then told me how she doesn't eat any meat except for tuna a few times a year when her hunting husband brings some back for her. Huh? Brian asked if the sanctuary housed any sea creatures and she responded with, "No. Only farm animals." Well, fish are definitely animals and nowadays they are farmed ones too. Betsy was awesome as a guide and is doing great work but it was interesting to note how you can work so closely with animals and in a facility that actively promotes veganism and still have blinders on about certain animals (present blogger included).
We ended our last day in Saugerties by visiting Opus 40, a quarry museum where Brian was in his glory.
Then we finally had our New World Home Cooking dinner. The white bean dip and herbed bread they give every table is amazing. In fact, it was better than my dinner of rubbery and bland penne and calamari arrabiatta. Brian got the blue-corn crusted seitan with collard greens and yams. I had one too many apple martinis and we shared a slice of vegan and spelt chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. After being stuffed, we headed back onto the highway towards New Jersey and, though we never got lost once in Saugerties, we did in New Jersey . I blame it on the overabundance of food and relaxation. We didn't want to come back.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Random Fridays: Getting Off the Computer

* No posting this week because I've been dealing with a nasty bout of ongoing repetitive strain injury. One doctor says I now have arthritis in my right hand. Fun. I told Brian that I was reading a copy of Arthritis Today and that all the active seniors pictured in the magazine are now my people. While I get all this sorted, I've been using some great (and free for 45 days!) software, RSI Guard. Even if you're not suffering from any symptoms yet, if you're on the computer or sitting at a desk regularly, I encourage you to try it out. Stretching and resting work best in preventing a problem rather than correcting one so take care of yourself now. The program interrupts your work, prompting you to stretch. And it also demonstrates the stretches for you! You can adjust how often you'd like the interruptions and can postpone them if you'd like (but you really shouldn't) or, if you're low on willpower, set it so that your mouse and keyboard will stop working until your stretches are complete. It also gives you a full report on your computer habits. In just about an hour and a half of use today, I've made 404 mouse clicks. Now I know why I'm well on my way to bingo tournaments and Tai Chi classes at the senior citizens center! I wish I had started using this about 5 years ago.

* Compassionate Cooks' Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has finally released her first book, The Joy of Vegan Baking. I ordered my copy yesterday and cannot wait to get my hands on it. Just the chocolate chip cookies featured on the cover alone seem worth the price of admission. I've tried out a few of Colleen's recipes already from her site (it was she who inspired the maple syrup and tamari combo I am now obsessed with) and they've all been tasty.

* On Monday I went to my very first cooking class. It was with vegetarian-friendly cookbook author, writer, and chef, Myra Kornfeld at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health in New York City. I had so much fun that I walked out of there convinced I should become a chef. For now I'm just going to take more classes. I will post more about the class when arm pain has subsided. The short version is Myra, the assistants, and all my classmates could not have been nicer; I ate a lot of macaroni cheese; I made yummy roasted curried sweet potatoes with shallot-yogurt dip and chickpea corn cakes with olive tapenade; and just about died eating the apple brown betty and ginger chocolate mousse (and I'm not even that big a fan of ginger!). Everything was so delicious. Don't tell Brian but I'm going to make him the potatoes this weekend. He'll die.

* I'm going to stretch now!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Very Quick Random Fridays: Things That Made This Week Better

* The boombox player on the Fred Flare web site: Arcade Fire, Feist, Nelly Furtado, Paris Hilton, Mary J. Blige, and more altogether. Also, this hat. And this wig.

* This interview with Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist, the blog that rekindled my love of blogs. If only she would start podcasting...

* Speaking of podcasts, today was improved with the long overdue latest episode of Vegan Freaks Radio. The hosts, Bob and Jenna Torres wonder how non-vegetarians can stand the podcast. It's because they are so funny and good at podcasting that, for better or for worse, you can dismiss the whole animal rights stuff and just enjoy the quality of the show.

* I updated my profile here. Please read it.

* Getting together with my BFF, Darcy for some kind of retarded fun tonight and seeing my BBF (best boyfriend evah) tomorrow for some kind of retarded fun.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"But how do you get enough protein without meat?"

Two recent new stories point towards the West's--and particularly the U.S.'s--overconsumption of protein rather than our need to go more Atkins. Specifically, we overconsume animal protein (lest we forget that protein is only found in animal flesh and their secretions). A piece in this morning's Yahoo! News states the not-so-obvious to some, "Eating less meat may slow climate change." The article explains findings from a special energy and health series of the medical journal The Lancet and goes on to note that:

Reducing global red meat consumption by 10 percent, they said, would cut the gases emitted by cows, sheep and goats that contribute to global warming...

Other ways of reducing greenhouse gases from farming practices, like feeding animals higher-quality grains, would only have a limited impact on cutting emissions. Gases from animals destined for dinner plates account for nearly a quarter of all emissions worldwide…

"That leaves reducing demand for meat as the only real option," said Dr. John Powles, a public health expert at Cambridge University, one of the study's authors.

The amount of meat eaten varies considerably worldwide. In developed countries, people typically eat about 224 grams per day. But in Africa, most people only get about 31 grams a day.

Man, when I calculated how much protein I need (for healthy adults, multiply your weight in pounds times .4 or use this protein calculator), it was way, way less than freakin' 200 GRAMS! I need about 60 grams. 60, people. And that's from a nutritionist's stance, vegetarian or otherwise. We just don't need all this meat. Besides the harm it does to animals, it doesn't do human animals much better.

In an original contribution to the American Journal of Epidemiology, published online on September 4, researchers found a link between eating cured meats (such as bacon and hot dogs) and an increased risk for chronic pulmonary obstructive disease in men. Even after adjusting for age, smoking status habits, energy intake, race and ethnicity, geographic location, body mass index, and physical activity, the consumption of cured meats was positively associated with the risk of newly diagnosed COPD. The reason for this increased risk is probably due to the high amount of nitrites in cured meats. I remember trying to drink orange juice with my bacon after hearing the vitamin C could counteract the possible cancer causing effects of the nitrites. Now I just don't eat pigs (more to come on hanging out with live pigs at the Catskills Animal Sanctuary, which just further adds to my resolve to not eat animals).

But we do need protein and we do need to eat. So how? No matter your diet--vegan, vegetarian, omnivore--this next dish is super easy and tasty, chock full of protein, fiber, and flavor. I made it for dinner last night and the leftovers will be even tastier tonight, now that the ingredients have really melded all day. This is more a suggestion than a strict recipe. Just use whatever veggies you have handy:

Quick Tofu Stir Fry with Tamari and Maple Syrup, Serves about 4 (or two really hungry people)

Drain and press a block of extra-firm organic tofu (tofu and soy in general is one of those products worth springing a few extra cents for so you can have the organic. Nonorganic soybeans are otherwise highly pesticized). To press, after I've drained the water from the package, I just place the tofu on a plate, place another plate on top, and put a bottle of water atop the plate so all the water drains out. While the tofu is being drained, I cut up some of the veggies I have around--a red bell pepper, half a yellow onion, a whole bunch of broccolini. In a bowl, mix up about 1/4 cup of tamari (or soy sauce) with a few good plops of maple syrup (I'd say about no more than a tablespoon). Then add a teaspoon of canola oil and a teaspoon of sesame oil, a tiny sprinkle of kosher salt, and a good grinding of fresh pepper. Mix it all up. Use a paper towel to pat dry the pressed tofu. Cut it into smallish triangles (or cubes) and place in the tamari-maple syrup mixture, making sure to coat it well. Heat a teaspoon each of canola and sesame oil in a pan. I had some leftover recaito, an absolutely necessary flavor base in Puerto Rican cooking but only optional for this dish. Recaito is just mixed up onion, sweet chilis, a bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro. Not necessary but it's nice to have on hand (I freeze the remainder into an ice cube tray so I can use small amounts as needed). Otherwise, add your onions and red bell pepper to the oil and let them heat up and brown slightly, for about 5 minutes. Add broccolini, tofu mixture, and a handful of frozen peas. Stir-fry over medium high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, allowing tofu to brown slightly. Pour a serving over some brown rice, making sure to get that yummy tamari and syrup mixture over everything. Eat up.

There you go. Tons of protein and no extra flatulence from cows or cancer from bologna.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Not So Random Friday: Catskills Animal Sanctuary

Brian and I are headed up to Saugerties, NY on Saturday morning to visit the Catskills Animal Sanctuary, as well as doing some eating (of course), hiking, window shopping, and general unwinding. We'll be back with pictures and tales next week.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Serving One...With a Cold

Is it cold season already? Apparently so because I have one. I know you can get colds anytime of year but it just doesn't seem right to have one before sweater weather. I spent my Labor Day weekend with Brian and his family and friends, sneezing lots and sniffling. It wasn't until Sunday evening that I really began to feel terrible. I felt achey and feverish and the air conditioned supermarket seemed colder than usual, causing me to shiver. I don't get too hungry when I'm sick but I do crave a few staples: bread, cheese, noodle-y and brothy soup, farina. Here are two recipes to refer to when you're feeling a bit under the weather or just need something soothing and smooth to put in your stomach.

Soothing Tortellini-Broccolini Soup
Adapted from Serves One by Toni Lydecker, a very thorough cookbook with a warm, engaging tone about cooking for one. I usually cook only for myself and highly recommend it. I love broccolini, which comes in small batches, making it somehow seem more manageable at the end of a workday than does broccoli. So of course I would prefer it when cooking for a cold. For the broth, I use Pacific Natural Foods organic broth, which comes in handy 1 cup 4-packs, also perfect for cooking for one. Measurements are suggestions rather than hard and fast rules. Add more carrots if you like or omit them entirely. You could also add a large handful or two or frozen baby peas, asparagus, or onions that have been lightly sauteed in some olive oil.

1 clove garlic
1 cup canned lower-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cheese or vegan tortellini
1/2 cup chopped broccolini
1/4 cup thin carrot slices
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
small handful of whole-grain crackers (optional)

1. Thinly slice the garlic clove lengthwise and then cut into slivers. Combine broth, water, and garlic in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes.

2. Add tortellini, broccolini, and carrot and cook a few minutes longer, until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese or cracker crumbles. Retire to bed or the couch. Serves 1.

Cuca's Farina
My grandmother, Cuca, often made farina for me. She added a special touch by laying little blocks of cheese in a circle around my steaming bowl of farina. I would circle my spoon around the melted cheese and continue to circle around the bowl until it was empty. Since my grandmother left behind no written recipes, this is more my interpretation of a memory from long ago rather than a strict reenactment. I can assure you that hers was better but this isn't bad either. I must admit, 1% or 2%, if not regular, cow's milk works best here. The fat makes it ultra creamy. But vanilla soy milk doesn't hurt. It's just not quite as rich. I haven't had much luck heating rice or almond milk but if you do, go for it.

Boil 1 cup of milk with a stick or two of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Watch very carefully as it boils, stirring frequently. Once cow's milk begins to boil, it takes only a second of turning away from it for the milk to boil over completely and then burn (although my grandmother did slightly burn the milk on purpose in preparation for adding it to her coffee since the brief scorching adding a caramel undertone to the milk). Add 3 tablespoons of farina/cream of wheat, stirring well. Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1 teaspoon of walnut oil (or butter or Earth Balance or no extra fat at all), and a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil again and lower heat, continuing to stir frequently for a few minutes or until the farina thickens. Add 1/4 cup of trail mix (walnuts, cashews, raisins, dates, sunflower seeds etc.) and stir before eating.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Random Fridays: "Summer's Gone, Summer's Over"*

* Sistah Vegan is a site (and an upcoming book) that I just stumbled upon yesterday. I'm interested to read more about veganism and "the intersection of race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness."

* I Blame the Patriarchy is an astute and altogether too funny blog. Highlight has to be an old post that lambasts Oprah's magazine by calling it a "bright yellow box of Empowerment Bonbons...but with Crispy Cockroach Centers." My co-worker had to look over my cube to check on why I was laughing so hard.

* Summer is, calendar-wise, over in the US after this upcoming Labor Day weekend. I'll be in Philly this weekend with Brian, where we will mostly be eating and seeing friends and family. Here are some pictures from earlier in the summer that I never got around to posting because my computer goes nuts when I try to upload pictures. Happy End of Summer, y'all.

Me at my most pescetarian. Trenton Ave. Arts Festival, Philly, PA.
I'm not always so sweet to Brian, despite the supposed "lovefest." Bastille Day, Philly, PA.

Marie Antoinette didn't throw down cake or Philly's own Tastykakes at the peasants on Bastille Day. She and her minions threw Twinkies. And if there's anything worse than eating Twinkies, it's having your chest pelted with them 5 or 6 times in a row.
Brian made that. Yeah. I was impressed too. Friend's house, Philly, PA.
Central Park, NYC, waiting to see Neko Case.
After Neko, we headed over to Red Bamboo for a late-night fried vegan fest, which included fake fish sticks and tartar sauce and some scarily (and yummily) authentic-tasting fried fake chicken breast, which is in the sandwich below.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Break for Blogs

Blogging takes commitment, time, and energy. Commitment is something Joselle and I definitely share...but we seem to be lacking in the whole time and energy department these days. We want to eventually get to a point where we can blog every day; something that seems as distant as aspirations of eventually being able to prepare meals together on a daily basis. It's certainly possible. In fact, Joselle and I are planning on it.

Beyond just living in the same city and getting more frequent access to one of these here computers, we just want to create together. We'd like to follow in the footsteps of Compassionate Cooks and Vegan Freaks everywhere (Joselle is officially addicted to podcasts like I'm now addicted to the whimsical storytelling and television utopia of Northern Exposure). We also want to follow in the footsteps of people everywhere who pursue their passions and whatever brings them joy without inflicting pain on the rest of the world.

I find happiness in the solace of you, Joselle. I love the way you're here for me, even when you can't be here with me. And I'm so grateful for how you---as the evolving omnivore of this relationship---compel me toward an even greater personal commitment to the welfare of animals and environment.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Random Fridays: Get Out Your Doc Martens and Start a Podcast

I realize that my recent posts have been essay-like mutterings on my simultaneous guilt over and desire for meat. I promise to offer more recipes and tips on assembling easy meals for multuple palates and principles very soon, as that was and is my primary purpose in launching Mutual Menu with Brian. I do think it is, however, pertinent to express my own ethical struggles with food choices since creating this blog was the biggest impetus for my considering vegetarianism. It was when I sat around thinking about how to talk about "humane" meat that I questioned whether any meat can be truly humane (my final vote: no..although, my deepest apologies, as always, to the fish I still eat). So, yes, my thinking and all the changes and questions that come along with it will be apart of this discussion. Since we'e having that BBQ on Saturday to honor my grandfather, it will provide me with the opportunity to share some real-life, from the trenches tips and tales on how people can actual make their menus inviting to all of their loved ones.

Until then, here are some random things I have been poking into and loving this week:

* 120 Minutes Aggregator contains mostly You Tube videos from bands I used to watch at midnight every Sunday night on MTV's 120 Minutes when I was 15 years old: Hole, Throwing Muses, Belly, Velocity Girl, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, the Smiths, Morrissey, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Shonen Knife, Juliana Hatfield. I have spent quite a few hours with my headsets on this week, listening to the songs while the videos play, wondering where my back issues of Sassy and Doc Martens are (note: anyone interested in back issues of Sassy should get in touch. I have two copies of each issue from years of Sassy because, in addition to my own collection, I found a mint-condition batch ready to be recycled. I've wanted to get rid of the extras for years but am too lazy to eBay. Any takers?).

* Podcasts: I know I'm about a century late but just this week was when I discovered how much I love them. Favorites include Food for Thought, Vegan Freaks (they'd hate me as I'm "NOT VEGAN! and they're snotty but funny), The Dawn and Drew Show, which is too hilarious to listen to at work. I guffaw about every two minutes. Please share any podcasts you like. I want more.

* Wendy Williams: This is an oldie but goodie for me but I've got to share the love. She is the only thing that makes my evening commute somewhat bearable. She's all about the gossip and giving out pretty solid advice to some often very stupid people ("I"m just a woman from the suburbs with an opinion. I'm not an expert.") As Wendy herself would say, she is a total friend in my head. When I saw her at a book signing last year, she wore a tight leopard print dress and a diamond-encrusted Hello Kitty necklace. Uh, yeah. Love her.

* Dried mango strips. The perfect afternoon pick me up for when energy is failing and hunger is winning. And wow, they're vegan and sweeten.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home Base, Not Ham Base

Veterans Stadium implosion photo courtesy of The Tribune.

The latest issue of the Philadelphia Weekly has brought to my attention some exciting news about PETA's impression of a veggie-friendly City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection (courtesy of the author of the Philadelphia Will Do blog). No longer the general locale of the former architectural monstrosity that was once Veterans Stadium, Citizens Bank Park offers a highly-social baseball institution with an old-fashioned feel and Philly neighborhood themes. Even better---as PETA noted---"The Bank" hosts eateries with actual vegetarian selections. Mock meat at a major Philadelphia cultural attraction like a sports venue is just plain rare.

I'm not a Phillies Phanatic like some. Actually, I'm not really into sports at all. I just enjoy going to ball games to celebrate the social summer element of gathering together with other people to yell and eat. Next Tuesday, I'll be joining my mom (sadly, not Joselle and my brother Johnny) for a work-sponsored event with the hometown team; something my mom, brother, and I've done for the past two years since The Bank opened. We get free food vouchers, which is the only reason I had any previous knowledge about the vegan burger options available. And Joselle can vouch for me that I'll certainly be seeking out the mock steak!

If you're at the game in Philly on Tuesday, keep an eye on the jumbotron to see me stuffing my face and immitating the renowned Harry Kalas: "That ball is outtttttaaaaaa here!!!"