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 fosting...it'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