Friday, October 31, 2008

When Vegans Blog: a farewell to VeganMoFo.

And on this final day of October, as blustery winds crisp the fingers of passersby on the street below, I bid a fond farewell to a month of daily writing on the world of veganism.

But is it truly goodbye?

Uh, no. It's alot more like, see you a bit less often. And that's really only because as of tomorrow, I begin NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, which maybe should be GloNoWriMo since at this point people are doing it all over the world. I'll be writing alright, but it won't have much to do with veganism or baking. I'm hoping that the daily writing I've done here has conditioned me, in habit at least, for the month ahead. Writing 1667 words per day is no easy task, I fear. But I do believe it's possible, and even if it isn't possible I believe it's worth making a go of it, just to see what comes out.

As I look over the efforts and outcomes of past blogging month, I do have some regrets. I wish that I'd been involved in more networking - both in finding awesome vegan peers and in being found. And I'm saddened that I never did get tagged for the freezer thing - it would have been fun to show y'all the bowl for my ice cream maker frozen in by four inches of frost in an otherwise empty box. This is not an exaggeration.

But some fun things happened too: I found a couple of great blogs like Tami's Vegan Appetite and Have Cake, Will Travel. I made comments on many other blogs, and maybe someday their authors will say hi back. And perhaps most importantly I actually did what I always say I'm going to do but never actually get around to: bake, cook, take pictures, meditate on food, and write about it all.

Parting would be such sweet sorrow, if it were a parting at all.

As a sendoff for VeganMoFo, and a pretty interesting Halloween activity to boot, tonight we're going to see Banksy's Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill on its final night of installation. I'm determined to see it, and I really can't believe I haven't made it down there yet; truth is with everything else going on this month it kind of slipped my mind. But no matter. So long as I get to see it tonight, all is well. Hopefully I'll have pictures for you soon. For today, I leave you with this:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Great (chocolate) Debate. (VeganMoFo day 30 - the end is neigh.)

With all of the troubles in the world of chocolate - child labor, unsustainable agricultural practices, unfair purchase prices, animal testing - I'm often in a stupid conundrum when I want to do something as simple as, say, bake chocolate chip cookies. Actually chocolate chips are probably the easiest chocolate product to find in vegan, fair trade, organic, and otherwise non-offensive varieties - even if stupid old Key Foods did start including "milk ingredient" in their generic semi-sweet chips recently.

Where I really run into problems is in doing something like making fudge. My issue lies with two main product groups: 1) unsweetened baking chocolate, and 2) cocoa.

In the baking chocolate arena, there are two main contenders.

Baker's semi-sweet chunks and squares, and their unsweetened squares, are vegan ingredient-wise. And once the little natural grocery is closed in my neighborhood (after 9pm), it's usually all I can get my hands on. However, Baker's is actually a brand of Kraft. And until today I've been under the impression that Kraft was owned by Altria, who is actually just a rebranded Phillip Morris. However, now that I'm researching it again, I find that in 2007 there was a "spin out of the Kraft Foods subsidiary", and supposedly that means that Altria no longer has an interest in Kraft. To which I say, wha??? Apparently what it means is that Kraft is now an independent publicly held entity. Now, whether or not that makes them now a good company is a different discussion entirely, but at least it means that you're no longer supporting Phillip Morris when you purchase Kraft products or any of their brands, so I suppose that's something.

Then we have Green & Black's, who makes various organic and fair trade chocolate products, many of which are vegan - but also many products which don't have any particularly special characteristics, other than being really good chocolate. They started out as a tiny awesome little company - the name itself is actually a testimony to their original ethics and intentions. They were then, however, bought by Cadbury-Schweppes. Then Cadbury and Schweppes de-mergered; Cadbury, though, is still the largest confectionery manufacturer in the world. They've pledged to run Green & Black's as a separate entity, whatever that means... It does mean indisputably, though, that by purchasing Green & Black's you are also supporting all manner of other candies that don't meet various ethical standards.

So.

What I haven't mentioned here is that I'm also quite picky: it has to taste good, and I don't put up with any hippie ass shit. No carob, nothing sweetened with sucanant or brown rice syrup or any of that crap. All I want is chocolate that's organic and fair trade, and contains little or nothing other than cocoa and cocoa butter, maybe a dash of soy lecithin, and if it's semi-sweet then some cane sugar. Why is that so hard?

As far as cocoa, I've got no leads at all. When I go to the regular grocery I have one choice and one alone: Hershey's. Do I even need to tell you that I don't particularly want to buy Hershey cocoa? They are the largest chocolate company in the US, and they put butterfat in freaking everything. It makes me crazy. (As a bit of an odd aside: I've been to Hershey, PA - twice. It's not my fault; it was middle school.)

I can't seem to find a good answer to this search. I came across this page which includes a guide to ethical chocolate, but it's for Australia. It also rubs me a little bit wrong: it strikes me as kind of sadly hilarious and all too ironic that they're encouraging people to support Starbucks and Target when they focus on abuses of child labor.

So, does anyone have any answers here? It seems like it's yet another case of finding the least of a hundred evils. I have so many rules, and I really can't find a chocolate product that adheres to them all. Of course, what it all comes down to is that chocolate is supposed to be a luxury item; it is ludicrous to have it lining the shelves of every grocery store and quick-e-mart. That's the result of the masses wanting the luxuries for cheap, as were so many things. It's related to the fact that there's no reason for a hamburger to cost 59 cents... but that's a different rant for a different day.

There is, to my knowledge, no such thing as the independent, privately owned, all vegan all organic all fair trade chocolate company. So really it comes down to the question, what compromise do I make? Is it better to buy conventionally produced and traded chocolate from Kraft, who is now an independent public entity? Or to buy organic but not necessarily fair trade chocolate from Green & Black's, when in reality I'm only supporting Cadbury who makes a wide range of conventional chocolate products? Do I purchase whatever I can get (that's vegan, of course) at my locally owned vegetarian health food store, rather than buying other products that may be available at a massive chain grocery like Whole Foods?

And to think, all I want to do is make fudge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Theme and variations: Chocolate Strawberry Muffins. (VeganMoFo Day 29.)

Well. After the wonderful success of the giant blueberry cocoa muffin wonderfulness, I was inspired. Berries are fabulous, and what one does well another can often do too. What I decided I must try was this: chocolate and strawberry.

From the original recipe, or rather my adapted recipe based on Celine's mini bundts from Have Cake, Will Travel, I made two alterations. First, I used strawberry yogurt. This did take the sugar content up somewhat, but not terribly. I prefer Whole Soy & Co. yogurt specifically because it is much lower in sugar than Silk yogurts; also I just don't like supporting Silk, which is owned by Dean Foods - the largest milk producer in the country. They boast producing two billion gallons of milk per year, as if that's a good thing.

But anyway.

The second change was, of course, to use strawberries instead of blueberries. Unfortunately it's against my religion, being from Louisiana and all, to buy strawberries out of season, so I got (whole, unsweetened) frozen ones and chopped them.

The results? If possible, they're even better than the blueberry muffins were. The smell and appearance were so enticing that I couldn't keep my fiance away after dinner; while I was washing dishes he snuck in behind me and pulled one right out of the still hot muffin tins. Upon tearing it in half he exclaimed, "MOIST!" And through his first mouthful, he declared, "dfahm bhaby, thessfs arfre pfretty fuuffkin goofdh." And indeed, they are.

As I have no good pictures for you, I'll leave you with this:



Strawberry fields forever.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cookies! The first of the season. (VeganMoFo day 28.)

The heat's been coming on in the house for at least a week. And you know what that means. THAT. MEANS. BAKING! Always, cold weather means baking. There's nothing that makes a house feel more cozy once it starts getting dark so early, and there's the added benefit that you can crack the window for some relief when it gets way to hot in your tiny Queens apartment kitchen.

As I've mentioned previously, Friday at work means Cookie Friday. Now, it doesn't always involve cookies, but I figured that a nice solid chocolate chunk cookie would be an excellent thing to bring for my third Friday in. I developed this recipe by adapting one from the back of a bag of generic grocery store chocolate chips; then I of course added my own touches. I can't help it.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tsp. ground flax seed
  • 4 tbsp. warm water
  • 1 1/3 cups margarine, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon (yup, really.)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 to 12 oz. chocolate chips or chunks




Methods:
  • The secret to making truly great vegan cookies is this: flax eggs.The proportion is basically always 1 tsp. of ground flaxseed - I use Bob's Redmill - to 1 tbsp. of warm water; for those of you not all that up on the imperial system that's a ratio of 1:3. You do not simply mix these two together. What you do is get yourself one of those little two-cup vegetable chopper things. You can usually find them in large grocery stores or drugstores for $10 to $15, and believe me, it's totally worth it. So you combine your meal and your water in your little chopper, and you "chop". Do this for a few minutes; you may want to take a spatula and wipe down what's splashed up onto the sides every minute or two. Do some pulsing. Get innovative. After five minutes or so, something very spooky happens: the innocent flaxseed meal and water gains a texture disturbingly like eggwhites. It's really kind of gross. But it means very, very good things for your cookies. Do this as the very first thing when you begin to bake them, and then set the whole apparatus aside. Don't remove it from the chopper yet; give it another pulse or two before you throw it into the mix.)
  • Cream together the margarine and both sugars.
  • Whisk in the flax eggs and vanilla.
  • Into your sifter dump your flours, baking soda, and salt; gradually add the dry to the wet without overmixing. (For a detailed discussion of how I sift, take a gander at this, after initial babbling but before ingredients.)
  • Fold in chocolate chips or chunks.
  • Spoon tablespoon-size lumps onto nonstick or otherwise prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, then let cool slowly.

  • Makes three dozen cookies. Don't try to eat them all yourself - trust me on this one. Instead share them with friends and loved ones, who will suddenly remember that you are the most amazing person on earth.

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Cocoa and blueberries, yes yes yes. (VeganMoFo day 27)

    I made giant muffins! At least, I think they were giant. Maybe they were normal. My concept of proper muffin size has been regularly challenged over the past two decades: between the supersizing of every foodstuff and the ubiquitous baskets of mini-muffins, I really don't know what their proper size is. But assuming that they should be only slightly larger than your average cupcake, and assuming that the muffins I made were about twice the size of normal cupcakes, I'm going to go ahead and call them GIANT! Giant and AWESOME. Because awesome, my loves, they were.

    Once again, the wonderment began over on Have Cake, Will Travel with this recipe. Now, as you'll see, the ever-ingenious Celine was making three mini-bundt cakes. There we go with size manipulation; I have no idea what size a bundt cake ought to be, none whatsoever, and wouldn't recognize a mini-bundt if it ran me down in the street. So it's just as well that I don't own bundt pans and decided to use my never-before-baked-in giant muffin pans, bought on sale last year because, well, they were on sale.

    I followed the recipe fairly closely, as baking chemistry is such that I'm scared to alter much and this recipe is fairly different than anything I've done before. I did make a bit of a change flavor-wise though; the original recipe calls for a coffee-type ingredient, which I'm not so hot on, so I pulled a little trickery with chocolate extract instead. You'll see.

    {One note before we begin: how I deal with sifting. I have a large hand-crank sifter. I place it on a small plate. Into it I put all of my dry, to-be-sifted ingredients. I then sift the dry into whatever wet preparation there is, mixing at intervals. It works out quite well and allows me to only dirty one bowl. This method was invented/adopted partly out of laziness, and partly because I have extremely limited counter space.





    }

    Ingredients:
    • 1/4 cup margarine
    • 1/2 cup turbinado
    • 3/4 cup vanilla soy yogurt
    • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    • 2 tsp. chocolate extract
    • 1/2 cup hazelnut meal (I actually used almond meal, as my Euro Market let me down in the Hazelnut department.)
    • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
    • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    • pinch salt
    • 1 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries {I used fresh, and boy was I glad I did.}

    Methods:
    Cream the margarine and sugar. Mix in yogurt, extracts, meal, and cocoa. Add flour, baking powder and soda, and salt to your sifter; remember to sit it on top of a plate. Add the dry to the wet by sifting in about a third at a time and mixing; do not overmix. (One day we'll have a talk about just what "overmixing" means anyway.) Once all dry has been added to wet and mixed completely, gently fold in the blueberries.


    Pour the batter into a prepared giant muffin tin thingy, non-stick or lightly oiled or both. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. (Should make five giant muffins.)

    And the results, voila! These five enormous muffins. I'm not making that up, those are big, right? I mean, you know, assuming that that's a large dinner plate they're on and all. Oh, who knows. But they were bursting with fresh blueberries (some of which inexplicably turned red in the baking process!) and backed up by a solid cocoa foundation. I believe I could eat these for breakfast every day.



    Eventually I'll understand the mechanics of baking well enough to come up with something this miraculous from scratch; until then I'll have to continue to stand on the shoulders of giants. It's alright though. Up here the weather's just fine.

    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    Sunday Morning Easy Lazy Sweetbiscuits. (VeganMoFo day 26.)

    I made these this morning as a little bit of a reward for cleaning the hell out of our apartment yesterday, and to have something that'll stick to our ribs for the day's outing to Red Hook...

    • 1 1/2 cups white flour
    • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup Fleischman's unsalted margarine (1 1/2 sticks)
    • 1 cup Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla almond milk

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set your obscene amount of margarine to soften, either on top of your warming oven or in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. (Not melt, mind you, just soften.) In a large bowl combine flours, baking powder, and sugar and whisk together well. Add in the softened margarine and the milk; mix until reaching a homogeneous sticky biscuit-dough like consistency. This will be difficult but doesn't take all that long.

    Spoon into a giant-muffin tin, the kind that has only six muffins per sheet. Use one which is nonstick or lightly oil it, or both. Divide the dough evenly between the six wells. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Eat while still warm, slathered with the best blueberry preserves you can get your hands on.

    Ours came from the Amish. Mmmmmmm, Amish jam.

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Simple Tomato and Cabbage Soup. Erm, that is, stew. (VeganMoFo day 25.)

    What's for dinner? Leftover Thai delivery. Whatta we got? "Singapore noodles" - basically a giant container of flat rice noodles, supplemented by three tiny pieces of broccoli, two slices of bell pepper, and three wedges of tofu. Not enough food for dinner for two, so how shall I supplement? Well, I believe I'll invent a soup and add WAY too much chopped cabbage, so that we end up with a stew. It will go a little something like this:

    Take one medium yellow onion. Slice and sautee in a lil' bit of olive oil in a medium to large soup pot. Cook it till it's good and transparent. Add one cup of chopped celery; cook it until some water starts coming out; about five minutes. Into this pour one large, 28oz. can of tomato puree - not one that has a lot of crap added to it. One that's just tomatoes, and maybe some salt. Also throw in one teaspoon each of lemon pepper, parsley, basil, and salt (if your tomatoes are unsalted), and two tablespoons of maple syrup, preferably grade B. Bring this up to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and let it simmer, covered, for ten minutes and/or until it starts tasting like a semi-decent tomato sauce.

    Add four cups of stock; return the pot to a boil. Then add a quarter of a head of cabbage, chopped, for a more soupy consistency, or do like I did and throw in a full half head chopped for more of a stew. Return the pot to a boil once more, reduce to a simmer yet again, and let simmer covered for 30 to 40 minutes.

    The number of servings depends almost entirely on how much you like cabbage. Don't worry about having leftovers - like most soups, it's even better the next day.

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    A gallery of cupcakes. (VeganMoFo day 24.)



    The red velvets I made in my mother-in-law-to-be's kitchen for Christmas 2007.


    Gingerbread cupcakes...


    With Halloween flare.


    I made these for my own birthday this year, which isn't nearly as depressing as it sounds: more ginger. Or were they? These may have had the rum frosting, and I can't remember what cake I paired that with.


    And yes, more red velvet, made for last Winter's holiday bash. If you were there, you probably drank a martini or three. We had a fairly dazzling array of vegan foodstuffs, and I will never stop mourning the fact that I didn't manage to photograph any of it. Maybe one day I'll tell you about it, and then you'll go to bed with visions of individual mini-lasagnas dancing in your head...

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Vegan Wedding Cake Tasting Number Two: Nana Pearl's. (VeganMoFo day 23.)

    Initial results were promising. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The very first initial result was, well, nothing. The website has a 'contact form' which I filled out, with promises of receiving a response within 24 to 48 hours. No such thing happened; I received no response whatsoever. So a week later I scoured the website, found an email address, and wrote directly to it.

    And then, results abounded. Exactly 1.5 hours after I sent my email, I received not a return email but an actual phone call. The proprietor left a voicemail, explained that she's been having trouble with her website turning up blank forms, expounded upon her vegan options, and stated that she'd soon be sending me an email with details as to what her next available dates for tastings were. Sure enough, at 1:30 that morning she sent an email with links to appropriate pages on her website and the next three dates she had available for tastings. This, I believed, was promising: total score.

    We made an appointment for October. The weeks passed. The week of the tasting arrived, and I emailed her with the flavors we'd decided to taste - some slight variations from our original requests and her suggestions. She wrote back the next day saying that accommodating these changes would be no problem at all. Score number two.

    The fateful day arrived this past Saturday; of course it came when we also had Jonathan's parents in town. That's not so much a problem though, as they're fairly self sufficient. I was excited and nervous and also hopeful: this woman seemed to be the polar opposite of what I'd experienced with Vegan Treats. The meeting was set to be held in the fancy and/or schmancy Penn Club on w. 44th Street. It was sorta nuts in there, to the point where I was inspired to photograph the bathroom... and steal one of their uber high-quality paper towels. (The photograph you see is taken from this angle because I was attempting to hide my camera from the barkeep.) We arrived three minutes early, and despite the fact that she said she'd doubtless be there before us, she, um, wasn't.

    By New York Standards she wasn't really even late at all - within ten minutes of the appointed time. But still. Punctuality is one of my pet peeve kind of things. So, sorry, minus one point. We went to the elevator to go to a more private space than the first floor 'library' and for some reason the elevator didn't want to go to eleven. But instead of inquiring of the two front desk men, the flustered baker simply led us back into the library. Minus half a point there - it was definitely a bit uncomfortable to be talking and eating cake in a place obviously intended to be exclusive and quiet.

    She first presented us with a scrapbook of the cakes that she has made. Sadly, scrap book is the proper term. While the cakes shown were for the most part lovely, the book was put together very poorly - ragged edges on pictures of low quality printed of off the internet , corners not glued down, and so forth. That's an attention to detail thing, big time. If this is what you're using to sell yourself, it shouldn't be sloppy and childish looking. So sorry, another point down. It's just not that hard, and it's a very important part of the presentation.

    From there we moved on to the real meat of the event: the cakelets. She pulled out a bag containing three small boxes, each containing one miniature cake. Each had one flavor of cake batter, two fillings, and one icing/covering. She, um, couldn't tell us which one was which though until she'd cut pieces from each and started tasting them. She'd also neglected to bring a knife.

    By this point, my image of her being a super-organized and polished businesswoman was thoroughly shattered. There we sat, eating tiny pieces of we weren't sure what kind of cake, which had been cut with plastic forks, layered with we weren't sure what kind of fillings, conjecturing flavors as we went along. In a library.

    Fortunately, and very much to her salvation, the cake was pretty good. As was finally discerned, we ended up with the following samples:
    -Almond cake covered in Marzipan, with one layer of Chocolate Espresso filling and one layer of Caramel Espresso filling
    -Almond cake covered with Almond Vanilla Buttercream, filled with one layer of Vanilla Bean mousse and one layer of Hazelnut Espresso filling
    -Chocolate cake covered in Chocolate Buttercream, filled with Grand Marnier filling and a combination of Black Cherry filling and Chocolate Ganache

    The caramel filling, which we had neither requested nor discussed, had an aroma that began as pleasant and ended up being absolutely cloying. Just as well; it was never really in the running anyway.

    The Black Cherry with Chocolate Ganache was pretty good, and definitely goes nicely with a chocolate cake. It would probably work a lot better with a chocolate ganache or rolled chocolate covering on the cake. That seems the obvious choice, and I'm not sure why it wasn't presented that way.

    I was always pretty hot on the Marzipan idea, so I'm excited that it was AWESOME. Not only that, but after tooling around with Jonathan's parents all day that particular cakelet was in much better shape than the other two - the almond paste coating offered structural integrity.

    The Chocolate Espresso filling? YES. Rich and thick, but not overly sweet. Combined with the almond cake and the marzipan, it actually created a kind of amazing petit four situation, and I was pretty upset that I didn't have more of it to "sample".

    The overall decision that we'd come to by the end of the night was that... we're not done looking for a cake baker. I was so hoping that this woman would be The One, but there were ways in which she just didn't come through. She's not out of the running, but her performance (and cakes) were too far from stellar to discontinue the search. Food is going to be a big deal at this wedding, and the cake is sort of la piece de resistance - it has to be amazing.

    Ho hum. I suppose it's not the worst thing in the world. After all, it means I get to eat more cake.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Animal candy. (VeganMoFo Day 22.)

    According to PETA, there is yet another reason not to buy chocolate from the big names in U.S. producers - namely Mars. It seems that they actually do animal testing... with chocolate. I've never heard of animal testing for such a ubiquitous product, and all I can say to this is... uh, what? People have been eating chocolate for hundreds if not thousands of years. Is there some question as to its safety? Do they want to try to make some sort of health claims for Snickers bars? Do they need to know just how many Mars Bars they can force feed to a rat before it simply drops dead? What's the deal here? According to the PETA letter I recently received (via email):

    The experiments funded by Mars, including the following examples, are truly the stuff of Halloween nightmares:
    • Rats have been force-fed chocolate chemicals and had needles jabbed directly into their still beating hearts.
    • Rabbits have been cut apart to determine the effects of cocoa on muscle tissue.
    • Guinea pigs have had cocoa ingredients injected into arteries in their necks to measure the impact on their blood pressure.

    It truly boggles the mind. PETA claims that they have been instrumental in influencing Hershey's, as well as other companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, to stop such unnecessary testing on products already proven to be safe. They of course put all of this in the context of asking for money; the validity of this request I will not pass judgment on, though I will mention that the fund is for a general Stop Animal Testing campaign and not specifically targeted at Mars.

    Vivisection, while obviously not something to condone, is hardly a drop in the bucket when you compare numbers of animals affected to, say, food animals. Animal testing has never been a big focus of mine in concerns of animal rights simply because it is a much smaller problem. Obviously most of it is ridiculous and unnecessary, but I also think that unfortunately people tend to care about it because it happens to cute widdle bunny wabbits. To get all righteous about animal testing and then continue to eat meat or use other animal products is 1) quite common, 2) simply ridiculous, 3) blatantly hypocritical, and 4) a pet peeve of mine.

    As far as chocolate is concerned, problems with the major chocolate companies run much deeper than animal testing. Similar to the coffee industry, farming and labor issues are enormous - all so that an already privileged population can have a completely unnecessary luxury item at a low price. It's a luxury - it shouldn't be cheap. But that's another discussion for another day.

    While I'm not 100% successful in only supporting ethical companies with sustainable practices, I try to always be conscious in my purchases about how a product is being produced and what company it's coming from. In my book, this vivisection issue is just one more reason not to buy chocolate that isn't both vegan and fair trade, and moreover from a company that can be trusted.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    How to Press Tofu in Five Easy Steps. (VeganMoFo day 21 - I'm very tired.)

    Ah, pressing tofu: a daunting new skill that must be attained by vegetarians and vegans everywhere. When this was first presented to me, I was simply baffled. I think the first explanation I got involved cheesecloth; that didn't help matters much. And because I didn't have anyone to simply show me how the thing was done, I was overwhelmed by what is actually a very simple task. I'm putting this out into the cloud for anyone who, like I once was, needs a little bit of help that they cannot find amongst omni friends who think that tofu is weirdo hippie food.

    Step negative one: buy some tofu. Our favorite by far is Nasoya Extra Firm.

    Step zero: open the package and pour out all of the excess water. See, tofu is almost like a cheese made from soybeans. The tofu is the curds, and you have to drain off the whey. Kind of. You'll get used to handling the block of tofu. And by the bye, if you should ever come across a block that's gone bad, don't worry, there's really no question about it - you'll know.

    Step one: Get set to press. Pup your block of tofu, relatively centered, on a flat dinner plate. Handle the block gently; it's important that it maintains structural integrity.


    Step two: Make a sandwich. Place a second dinner plate equally as flat on top of the block of tofu, so that the tofu is sandwiched between the two plates and they are centered over each other.


    Step three: Get heavy. Place an object that weighs approximately two to three pounds on top of the plate-and-tofu sandwich. If it's too heavy, it will simply squash the tofu to bits, which sort of defies the point. I like using textbooks because it distributes the weight across the plate.


    Step four: Observe seepage. Watch as the liquid seeps out of your tofu. You don't have to literally watch; that would be like watching paint dry. But keep tabs on it; make sure that the top plate stays flat and re-balance it if it starts to tilt. Once a significant amount of liquid has accumulated you can remove the top plate+weight and drain off the liquid, then resume pressing.


    Step five: Stop pressuring me! After about half an hour to forty minutes of pressing, the tofu will stop releasing liquid. It's pretty hard to over-press, so don't worry about doing it for "too long"; your only concern is not doing it for long enough. This can lead to soggy tofu, which is not exactly appetizing and doesn't work in most dishes. Simply remove the top part of the apparatus and dump the expelled liquid; your block of tofu is now pressed and good to go.

    * * *

    Once you think that it's given up all that it's gonna, you can move on to your next step of preparation. Depending on what your end goal is, that could be any number of things, including mashing for a scramble, slicing for a fry, or cubing for a marinade. Tofu is quite versatile and readily absorbs flavors. When properly prepared, the sky's the limit as to what it will happily do for you.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    In case you were wondering... (VeganMoFo day 20)

    THIS IS WHY I'M MARRYING HIM.

    Because I come home from a long day of work and errands, and find a meal of herbed tofu sauteed with yellow squash, laid over fresh homemade pesto on penne pasta, with a side of perfectly spiced sauteed apples and pears. Yeah.

    I know what you're thinking. But no, you can't have him.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Success Stories! Two of 'em. (VeganMoFo day 19.)

    Mexican Chocolate and the Tale of Two Bananas.

    As you may recall, I had great success with Celine's chocolate breakfast cake... but I was all, you know, being myself about it so of course I had to go and change it. The first time I made it, I went basically by the book, and it was pretty darned good. But I wanted to go farther, be more extreme. So what I did, see, was that I quadrupled the cinnamon (of the original recipe - two whole teaspoons!) and doubled the banana. Voila! Full fledged Mexican Chocolate Banana bread, fo reals. Cinnamoner and denser and moister, as planned. Good stuff, highly suggested for baking on Sunday and then eating throughout the week.

    * * *

    Happiness Fudge.

    Around the office, Fridays are simply wacky! Firstly, it's a 'casual Friday' - meaning that guys don't even have to wear ties! Actually... yeah, that's pretty much the entirety of what it means. But even more excitingly, we have... COOKIE FRIDAY! Yes, an institutionalized event during which cookies and other sweetgoods are fed to (ahem, adult) employees in the hopes of instilling them with a sense of camaraderie and satisfaction. Um... yeah. Anyway, these Friday soirees are the perfect opportunity for me to slip some of my baked goods to this little slice of the unsuspecting and extraordinarily non-vegan public. Hilarity ensues! It goes something like this:
    "Wow, this cookie/cupcake/other baked thing is really good! Where'd it come from?" "I made it." "Ah. OH! Does that mean it's like vegetarian or something?" "Yup, it's vegan." "So there's like... no eggs in it?... But it's... it's so good!?!"
    Wild times, I'm telling you. So this past Thursday, I tried out my Rum and Coconut Fudge recipe again... the one I royally *fudged* up the first time I attempted it, ha ha ha. And it seems that when the proper amount of sugar is added, it comes out just beautifully - the exact right firmness, perfect flavor balance between rum and coconut and chocolate - basically everything I wanted it to be. I know, I'm like a proud parent. So on Friday I brought the bulk of it into the office, cut into pretty little triangles.

    And my word people, you would have thought I'd brought in ambrosia (the real ambrosia, the food of the gods ambrosia, not that bizarre marshmallow stuff). One of the secretaries actually went into the office manager's office to tell her that it was the best fudge she's ever tasted. So now there's a few more people running around midtown Manhattan that, you know, get it. As, in, get that something can be both vegan and awesome. And that, my friends, is a most definite win for vegans everywhere as far as I'm concerned. All those crazy people that think that vegan food can't taste good can put my fudge in their pipes and smoke it.

    Except that they should probly just eat it, cause otherwise it would be a waste of some really good fudge.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Pudding Madness! (VeganMoFo day 18)

    Not so long ago, I made a rule (again). And that rule was to only eat sweet things, dessert type items if you will, that I had created in my very own kitchen. But for some reason when I spotted the new soy pudding made by Kozy Shack at the grocery, I just had to do it. Partly, there's something truly intriguing about a new soy pudding on the market. It also has a remarkably short ingredient list which is largely organic. So I threw caution to the wind and went for it.

    I basically assumed that this company was owned by, I dunno, ConAgra or some other megafoodcorp. But as far as I've been able to tell through my internets poking, they're actually still a family owned business... even if they do now have pudding-making facilities in California and Ireland. They started in Long Island and are still headquartered there; it seems the founder was a real entrepreneurial sort and just recently passed away.

    I of course went with chocolate over vanilla. I can't help myself. I was mentally drawing comparisons with the ZenSoy pudding that I have purchased on occasion; I like that company and I like their products, even if they are also a dairy. And they make a banana pudding.

    Texturally, this pudding is a winner. It's creamy and dense and kind of awesome. Way way thicker than really any other vegan pudding I've had, many of which have been tasty but a bit thin. On flavor, though - well, it wasn't bad, but there just wasn't much of it. It wasn't overly sweet, which is good, but if I'm going to indulge I want to know I'm doing it, you know?

    I do want to try the vanilla flavor, and it seems that Kozy Shack and the grocery store are conspiring to make me do so: the last time I shopped I got a coupon for a four-pack. A good coupon too. Perhaps, when I finally receive my first paycheck from finally being back at work, I shall mark the occasion with celebratory pudding.

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    The curious case of the quinoa in the nighttime. (VeganMoFo day 17.)


    Oddly enough, along with my tomato and basil cream soup on Wednesday night, I also cooked quinoa. An atypical pairing, to be sure, but it's not like it horribly clashed or anything. It's just what I had on hand that needed to get cooked, and at the time I didn't know quite how filling the soup would be so it seemed we'd need a side dish. So it goes.

    Quinoa is not rocket science. In fact, it's a lot more like rice. It basically involves one part grain to two parts liquid, and then a whole lot of simmering. Nevertheless, I spent about five years being too chicken to cook it.

    To be fair, I'm also afraid of rice. To date I've had many, many, many more failures than successes with rice - I'd say the going rate is about four to one. So frustrating to invest an hour or more in something that's supposed to be so simple, only to end up with it being soupy or burnt or with a bunch of soap in it (long story). I can't even describe to you the relief I felt when someone finally mentioned to me that I could just buy pints of perfectly cooked brown or white rice from the Chinese place half a block from my apartment. Thank you ghetto Chinese!

    So what makes this quinoa special is not just that I managed to cook it, though it is only my second attempt. I made me a flavorful quinoa, and that has made all the difference.

    Perfectly Flavorful Quinoa

    Ingredients:
    • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
    • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
    • 1 small to medium tomato, chunked
    • 1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
    • 1 3/4 cups stock
    • 1 cup dry quinoa
    Methods:
    • Do I need to mention that you're gonna caramelize your onion? It doesn't need to be all that caramel-ey; it just needs to get transparent and cooked and a little yellow and stuff.
    • Once your onion has achieved the above, add in your tomato and pepper and spices. Let them cook down for a while, until it's more mushy than liquidy.

    • Add in your stock and your dry quinoa. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
    • Simmer for 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Once properly cooked, the quinoa will look crazy: each grain will be sort of translucent, except for this white ring around its outer edge. If it's still white in the middle, it's not done. This built-in indicator system is part of the glory of quinoa. And luckily, it seems to be much less picky than rice about things like overcooking.
    • Let it sit uncovered for five to ten minutes before serving.
    The number of servings this creates depends pretty much entirely on how much grain you like to eat at one time. I'd say that it easily makes four good sized servings.


    The moral of today's story? Wheat, corn, and oats are not the end-all-be-all; don't forget your ancient grains!

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Souper. (Yup. I did. I said it.) (VeganMoFo day 16.)

    It's October. It's getting cold...ish. I like soup. This, my friends, is very simple math.

    I also like tomatoes, even though my old chiropractor swore that I shouldn't be eating nightshades. (OK, yeah, like I'm going to give up tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes? Sure, uh huh, I can totally see that happening any minute now.) After Jon's inspiration the other week with putting cream cheese in his potato and cauliflower soup, I'd got an urge to do something with cream cheese in a tomato base - probably along the lines of a tomato sauce of some kind. But when perusing La Dolce Vegan once again, I came upon a recipe for cream of tomato and basil soup (p. 114) and I knew I'd found my victim.

    My version goes something like the following, and I've made shockingly few changes to the recipe; essentially they are that 1) I absolutely refuse to tell you how much oil to saute your damn onion in, 2) I specify milk type because I think it's quite important, and 3) I add cream cheese. Observe.

    Tomato and Basil Cream Soup!

    Ingredients:
    • 1 small red onion, sliced
    • 1/2 cup stock
    • 1 (one) 14oz. can of crushed tomatoes
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
    • 1/4 cup tofutti cream cheese
    • 1 cup Blue Diamond unsweetened almond milk, original flavor
    • 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped or torn (but not too early!)
    • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
    Methods:
    • Shock of shocks, you'll start by caramelizing your onion (in the amount of oil that you see fit, damnit).
    • Add your stock, tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
    • Bring up to a "boil", though since it's quite thick I don't know that it boils per se, and then reduce to a simmer; simmer for five or so minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking / burning.
    • Use this simmering time to chop or tear your basil; in doing so beforehand you'll lose a ton of flavor.
    • After your five-or-so-minute-simmer, quickly stir in your cream cheese until it reaches an even consistency.
    • Immediately add the milk, basil, and syrup. Bring back up to a simmer (not a boil), then turn off heat. (Yup, really.)
    • Let sit for five at least minutes before serving.
    This recipe really does make two large or four small servings; It made quite a nice dinner for Jon and I.

    It reminds me quite strongly of the tomato basil soup that Miss Nina and I used to go to La Madeline for (way pre my vegan years). Like really, we'd be all, do you want the soup? Because I want the soup. And we'd go just for that, and of course the free bread that came with it. That soup I believe was made of little more than tomatoes, basil, heavy cream, and romano cheese. To have achieved a soup with almost the same flavor and consistency, that's vegan and that I can cook myself, and that moreover is infinitely more healthy, is a thing of ecstasy. I will, and I repeat WILL, be making this soup again.

    Whether or not I'll do it exactly the same way, well, that's matter of some debate.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    You put the lime and the coconut... and the tofu. (VeganMoFo day 15 - two weeks down and the third one starting!)

    Coconut milk: what can I say? I freakin' love it. Very few other flavors/substances pair so well with both the savory and the sweet. What else can you mix up with chocolate, or curry, or marshmallow, or lime, or or green chili paste, or lemongrass, or caramel, or avocado (oh yes) with equally delicious results? I can think of no other ingredient with the same range. And at the same time it provides unparalleled creaminess and body and flavor... but, actually, I'm not here to write a love letter to coconut milk.

    I'm here to tell you about dinner! Where'd I get this recipe? Well I done gone and thought it up all my self. It all began when I started marinading some super-firm tofu chunks...

    Coconut and Lime Happytimes, on rice.

    Ingredients:
    • 1 package superfirm tofu chunks, or, if you prefer, firm tofu well pressed and then cubed
    • stock of your preference (quantity explained below)
    • 1/8 cup tamari
    • juice of one lime (fresh, people! anything packaged does not taste the same.)
    • 1 tsp. green chili paste (or Thai green curry, this is predominately made of green chili paste) divided in half - more if you're not a spiciness wuss like I am
    • half of an onion, I like yellow, sliced in a thinness proportional to your hatred of raw onion (so, for me, pretty damn thin)
    • one bell pepper, roughly chopped, green being a good choice but you can feel free to mix it up (I used an orange pepper because it's what we had in the fridge)
    • one medium tomato, chunked
    • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk! make sure it's pure; nothing goofy, like reconstituted or with sugar added or any of that nonsense - just wonderful coconut milk as nature intended it... in a can
    • cooked rice, also of your preference - because, doesn't it really all come down to choice? - enough to serve as many people as you're planning to serve - but more than four would really be stretching one pack of tofu, don't you think?
    • salt to taste
    Methods:
    • Marinate your tofu cubes in the following: the tamari (you could use a quarter of a cup if you like things salty), one of your half-teaspoons of the chili paste, the juice of one lime, and then enough stock to almost cover your cubes. Let marinate for at least an hour or two, but for as long as overnight. I did it overnight.


    • When you're ready to get down to the cooking, throw your onion into a hot pan with a little bit of oil, because let's face it, isn't this the way we always start?
    • Once the onions are nice and golden and transparent and stuff, add in the bell pepper and tomato. (Like I said, I used an orange bell pepper; green would have added much more variety color-wise and a slightly different flavor, and wouldn't two or more colors of bells be just gorgeous? Red, yellow, and green: stoplight tofu!)


    • When the bell pepper and tomato have cooked down a bit, throw in your tofu cubes, marinade and all!
    • Add your second half-teaspoon of chili paste and mix in well.
    • Let the liquid cook down down down, all the way down; this takes some time. Do this over a medium flame, since your goal is not to boil off the liquid superfast but rather to let it simmer off, gentle like.


    • Once you're down to pretty much no liquid, add your coconut milk. Again, let it simmer - don't boil it! - simmer, simmer, and simmer all the way, for ten to fifteen minutes. Let sit for five minutes before serving.
    This dish has a fairly soupy consistency, which is intentional; it works out well for putting it over rice. If you're using cold rice, say left over from last night's take out Chinese, give it 45 seconds in the microwave before ladling your tofu goodness on top.



    Ta da! Coconutty limey tofuey goodness! Now go eat dinner.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Do the mushroom fantastic. (VeganMoFo day 14.)

    ***Hi friends!  I'm so happy that so many of you still love this recipe!  For those who have requested a more printable version, please go here.  Love ya!  January 24, 2014. ***

    * * * * * *

    Hello poppets. What follows here is a modified, me-ified version of a recipe found in La Dolce Vegan (on golden pond mushroom soup, p. 105) - because, as we know, I can't actually just follow a recipe or anything crazy like that. I made it about four hundred times last fall and winter, with variations such as adding potatoes, and it sustained us through harsh cold ickyness. On Sunday night I made it for the first time this year, and I'd say I have my recipe just about perfect.

    I would call my version magic mushroom soup, except for all the stupid unwanted hippie stoner pothead inferences there. Instead I think I'll call it Happy Dancing Mushroom Soup, in honor of those cute little guys from Fantasia. (Oh hush; the first one came out long before Disney was the nexus of evil.) If I post a picture I think Disney might sue me, but I'm gonna go ahead and do it anyway.

    THE FOLLOWING IMAGE IS COPYRIGHTED BY WALT DISNEY GOLIATH MEGACORP INC. AND ANY REPRODUCTION OR DISTRIBUTION WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE DEATH BY DECAPITATION:


    Anyway. I'm interested to see what happens there. And now, on to the soupness.

    Happy Dancing Mushroom Soup!


    Ingredients:
    • 2 small onions; I prefer yellow (or one large - this is yours to choose... choose, and perish!), chopped, sliced, or otherwise rendered into small bits
    • 1 (one) 3.5 oz. container of shitake mushrooms, de-stemmed, fatly sliced
    • 2 (two) 8 oz. container of baby portobella mushrooms, also fatly sliced - your choice about the stems on these, I'm pro leaving them in, but shitake stems are unbearable
    • 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
    • 2 tsp. dried dill
    • 2 tsp. salt-free lemon pepper
    • 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 2 cups stock (I like Imagine Organic un-chicken broth, or Rapunzel makes several flavors of vegan bouillon cubes, one of which nicely flavors two cups of water, but then you need a second pot...)
    • 3 cups unsweetened plain almond milk (the very best one is Blue Diamond, and for this recipe original flavor as opposed to vanilla, fo sho.)
    Methods:
    • Saute, or caramelize, if you will, the onions in a little oil until they're cooked enough to eat - it brings out the flavor, and besides raw onions are the bane of my existence. Do this in the pot you plan on using for the finished soup product, since this is a one pot kinda soup.
    • Add in all of the mushroom slices - this will be quite a quantity, and that's alright. Cook them down for a few to several minutes; as they're cooking down add the tamari, dill, lemon pepper, and paprika.
    • Once the mushrooms are quite cooked down and have released a substantial amount of liquid - yes, they will - stir in your flour. Do this quickly and once it's in don't dawdle. It will form a sort of chunky mushroom paste.
    • Add in the first cup of stock immediately once you get your paste at an even consistency. Bring the mixture up to a simmer.


    • (This is about what it looks like after the addition of the first cup of stock.)
    • Add in the second cup of stock, and bring to a simmer once more. Follow the same procedure with the almond milk, adding one cup at a time. Be careful always to only bring to a simmer, never to a boil. If the soup boils, it will "break" - the flour will separate from the oil it has bonded to, and each will float at the surface of your soup in weird little bubble pods instead of infusing it and making it creamy. Guess how I know?
    • Once all five cups of liquid have been added, let the pot simmer (simmer not boil!) for ten to fifteen minutes.
    • Turn off heat; let sit five to ten minutes before serving.


    (Mmm, Happy Mushroom Soup!)

    Makes 4 to 8 servings, depending on how gluttonous you are. Me, I'm pretty gluttonous, and I like eating out of these here Chinese soup bowls with the special spoons... so I get about three servings. So it goes.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    The Kill Counter. (VeganMoFo day 13 - happy Columbus Day!)

    It appears that the San Francisco vegans have developed a gruesome little gadget. It runs a death count of standard livestock animals (chickens, pigs, cows, and so forth), which starts at 0 when a webpage (such as a blog) is opened. Each animal's number then increases at a startlingly rapid rate, as calculated from actual annual averages. I tried to put it into this post, but despite the source code being html I just couldn't get it to work. It works fine as a sidebar addition, but honestly it's not the kind of thing I want in my sidebar. A little too in-your-face "omnivores are murderers" for me.

    I do find it pretty interesting, though. I think few people have any clue as to just how many animals are actually slaughtered each day for food. In fact, I'm guessing that few people have realized there even are that many of these animals in existence at any given time, much less available to be made into chicken nuggets. If I decide to put this counter up anywhere, it will be on one of my pages that is not predominately visited by vegans; we already know about these disturbing figures. It'll be on my myspace, or my not-specifically-food-related-blog, so that maybe it'll reach an audience that doesn't just go, "yup".

    Anyway. You should check it out. It seems that they did some pretty intense research and number crunching to come up with their figures, all based on information provided by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. It's good to see people relying on data from impartial sources, rather than from well meaning and very possibly accurate but very obviously biased organizations, like, say, PETA. They include a paper-type-document in PDF form that they generated in their research, and in it is this fancy pie chart, which illustrates the proportions of each common food animal as far as number slaughtered:

    I think it's fair to say that chickens have it rough... and that we're creating a really incredible number of them. It's not as if they're just procreating at this rate without any assistance from us.

    When you look at these figures, it's so hard not to say, no way, that can't be right. It's just not possible. For example, I just opened up the SFVegan page a few minutes ago, and already the chickens count is over 700,000. But not only is it possible; it's happening. It's fact. Impossible and incomprehensible, as we've unfortunately seen time and time again in this world, are two entirely different things.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    This one's for Lindyloo. (VeganMoFo day 12.)



    What can I tell you? It's a VeganMoFo thing. Oh, and there's questions involved.

    What's your biggest guilty pleasure in the way of food?
    Sugar, sugar, sugar, all day long. Entire pint of ice cream, whole box of cookies... and there's the times when I make frosting and then just eat it, rather than put it on anything.

    Have you ever done anything nasty to anyone's food and then served it to them?
    Nope. Maybe not made it all that well, but nothing gross.

    Have you ever lied to an omni, telling them you were serving them something meaty but instead serving them veg-food?
    No, I pretty much tell them, no it's not meat, yes it tastes good, you'll try it and you'll like it. And they do.

    Have you ever been arrested? If so, what for?
    Probably should have a couple of times, mostly for trespassing. But no.

    What is the weirdest thing you've ever done in the sack?
    In the sack? Not much of anything. By far the weirdest place is in the office of a coffee shop.

    Who's the weirdest person you've ever done (or thought about while) in the sack?
    I'm pretty boring in this category.

    If, for the rest of your life, you could only have sexual relations with folks in one manner/style/position, what would it be?
    Me on top.

    Do you have any weird fetishes? (i.e. Turned on by orange oily feces)
    Again, yes, I'm boring. I get turned on by people being hot. Crazy, right?

    What's your worst drunken experience?
    There was the time I threw up on myself at the bar, and then woke up the next morning at my ex-boyfriend's house, without my car, and found out that his car was broken down.

    If you could eat any vegan food off another person's body, what would it be?
    Food off of bodies = disgusting.

    Have you ever done anything naughty with a vegetable?
    There was an incident with the mini eggplants... let's just say they ended up deviled!

    Do you think your mom would sleep with me if I asked nicely?
    No.

    Do you have any tatts or piercings?
    Two tattoos, down to one non-ear piercing.

    Any strange names for you and your partner's privates (and/or your sex toys)?
    Names? Really?

    Are you into PDA?
    To the vast aggravation of every boyfriend I've ever had, yes.

    Have you ever cheated on a significant other?
    Maybe with a little kissing. But only when I was quite young.

    Did you ever walk in on your parents doing it when you were younger?
    I think I heard things. And even just that left me severely traumatized.

    What's one of the craziest things you've ever done?
    Oh, hell, I don't know. I do all kinds of crazy shit. It all seems perfectly rational at the time.

    If you could get it on with any vegetarian you know--famous or not--who would it be?
    Probly Alicia Silverstone. That girl is bangin'. Fortunately my fiance is the hottest vegan I know, and I can do it to him pretty much any time I want.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    So, by now you may be wondering... wtf is VeganMoFo?

    Ah yes, VeganMoFo. Perhaps I should have explained this earlier. You see, as vegans we have a deity that we worship on feast days, offer thanks to in the form of pressed tofu and peanut butter (not together, crazy), and so forth. And of course he really loves it, as all deities do, when we include him in our blog posts. His official name is the Great Pumpkin, and he is one bad (vegan) motha(shutyomouth!) In other words, a VeganMoFo. It's a nickname of sorts, an affectionate way to refer to the great one, kind of like how some Christians refer to JC with whom they're like totally BFF. October is his main feast month, so we spend all of it writing as many blog posts about him as possible to get into his good graces. And then, on Halloween, we go to pumpkin patches the world over to wait for our VeganMoFo to appear, in the hopes that he'll shower us with candy and the perfect recipe for vegan creme brulee...

    Wait, no, just kidding.

    VeganMoFo is the Vegan Month of Food. The idea is to spend the month, this year October, writing pretty frequently about, well, vegan food. It's (loosely) based on on NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The goals are a bit divergent though; NaNoWriMo has a very specific ideal of having each participant complete a 50,000 word/175 page novel beginning no earlier than November 1st and finishing no later than midnight on the 31st. VeganMoFo... thinks it would be pretty cool if you get up five posts a week about food stuff. And maybe that's why I'm feeling a little lost.

    See, I blog about food anyway. Now, I get the idealist merit in it. This makes hundreds of people put out thousands of blog posts with recipes, restaurant reviews, anecdotes, and whatever else out into the world, thus vastly increasing the amount of available information about everyday vegan existence. But. But. But.

    Who is it that's reading these blogs? As far as I can tell, about 99% of the time, it's other vegans. And sure, we need to support each other and share ideas and this is one way to do it. But it's also preaching to the choir, as it were... not that we're necessarily preaching, but vegans reading vegan blogs is a different thing than bringing new thoughts to a different audience. And really, what non-vegan is spending his time lately doing google blog searches for "veganmofo"?

    It also feels a bit like a popularity contest, and (s)he with the coolest blog wins. This, of course, is because it's just a bunch of vegans reading each other's blogs. There's about a 70% chance that this feeling is just my inferiority complex rearing its ugly head, but no one can deny that there are veganer-than-thous in our little community, reading blogs and going, "ugh, that is totally not the best way to press tofu. I am such a way better vegan than she is."

    I'm not just here to bitch though. I'm here to propose. I think that maybe we could all decide to create something a bit more tangible and definite than blog posts. Something, like, perhaps, zines, which anyone can make who has access to a pen, paper, and a photocopier. Maybe we could all spend an entire month creating vegan zines. We could make them individually, or people could team up and each contribute one or two or five pages. Cooking zines, zines about raising vegan children, zines about the best brands of vegan shoes and sweaters and coats, zines about how to find vegan food while on road trips or in towns that seem completely carnivorous, zines about the quest for the perfect vegan cake - you name it.

    And at the end of the month we could have zine release parties or even full-on zine fests, all across the world, where we'd serve vegan cupcakes and other such delicacies, and meet other people who've spent the month writing vegan zines. And this part is important: our celebrations would be held in places where non-vegans go, like coffee shops and independent bookstores and college campuses. And people who have never considered veganism might be inspired by our enthusiasm. And pick up copies of our zines. And maybe, just maybe, have their worldviews and lives changed forever.

    Just imagine it: events taking place all over the world all at the same time where vegans are meeting each other, exchanging ideas, creating a stronger community, and educating and inspiring the omni population simultaneously. It's just an idea, a modest proposal... if you don't like it maybe we could consider eating babies - but, you know, only the poor ones. (Sorry, just making sure you're still paying attention.)

    So will I stop writing my VeganMoFo posts? Probably not, though I don't think anyone is reading them / seeking them out any more. It seems that my visitors are back to the old norms, coming through my profile or my other blogs, or through Yeah, That Vegan Shit. I like to finish what I start, even if I lose sight of why I started it in the first place. If anyone is interested in this zine idea, let's talk - I'm serious! And if anyone would like to point out merits of this blogging project that I'm missing, please do.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Ode to Sam, the Juice Cart Man. (VeganMoFo day 10 - TGIF!)

    Alright. I know that in various posts over the past two years or so, I've mentioned my favorite juice cart in passing more than once. But Sam deserves better. For the delicious nutrition in the vast void of midtown which he provides to me and to so many others, he deserves proper recognition. He deserves... a post of his own.

    Food carts are a dime a dozen in midtown Manhattan, of course. They sell nuts covered in sugar, they sell doughnuts and coffee and bagels, they sell hot dogs and pretzels, they sell various piles of meat and vegetables and rice fried on a flat-top and served up in styrofoam containers. But none that I've found are like this little gem at the corner of 48th and 3rd. Unlike other juice stands, Sam doesn't sell any crap to supplement his juices - no "bubble teas" or ice cream nonsense. His cart is stocked from wall to wall with produce - apples, oranges, carrots, kale, parsley, strawberries, cabbage, grapefruit, cucumbers, lemons, beets, celery, mango, watermelon - you name it, he's got it, and he'll put it in the juicer for you.

    It's obvious that the focus at this stand is health. If the amazing array of colorful fruits and vegetables on display don't make you think it initially, it'll get driven home as soon as you happen to wander around the side. There you'll find a list of common ailments, and the corresponding juices that are best to help treat them. No rocket science or voodoo or new age b.s. here, just simple nutrition - a blend supercharged with vitamin C to help fight off a cold, for instance.

    Sam has a special secret too, that only devout patrons know about: in the winters, Sam makes soup. He alternates between a vegetable soup and a lentil soup. They're both awesome, he serves both with a slice of bread and a wedge of lemon, he sells them for half the ridiculous price of most midtown delis, and... yes, you know it - they're both vegan! On cold and dreary days, Sam's soup is a dream come true. It warms my belly and makes even my sunless office seem hospitable again. (Granted, I'm sitting in a better spot now, so maybe this winter won't be so rough...) On Wednesday, while getting my large carrot-orange-celery, I asked if there was soup yet - he said not quite yet, but soon. I await it eagerly.

    I have a lot of respect for Sam as a businessman. He obviously came to the U.S. seeking "a better life", as people always have and still do. And running a food cart is no easy living. I'm sure he works a 12 hour day, bare minimum; he's almost always there alone. Those carts have to be moved in and out each day, which is no small task. From what I understand you purchase the cart, and then have to go through licensing, and you're then basically operating a small business without the advantage of a permanent storefront but with many of the disadvantages of a physical location.

    Last year he was gone for a couple of days for his health inspection; once he came back they started hassling him about where he gets his produce. Sure they have a job to do, but his produce is completely visible to everyone who walks up - it's obviously fresh. So what, do they think he's stealing it or something? Anyway. Sam fights the good fight and works hard on his feet all day, and still manages to smile at everyone and be on a first-name basis with many of his regulars. In NYC, that's just not something you necessarily expect.

    Needless to say, I am quite the frequent customer over at Sam's juice cart. (Actually it's one of the big things I was excited about as far as returning to my old job.) And of course, I think you should be too. Nutritionally speaking, fresh juices are vastly superior to anything packaged. And if you're interested in keeping money in your community instead of giving it to mega-corps, then Sam is a much better choice than, say, Odwalla*cough*coca-cola*cough.

    And in conclusion, juice is awesome, and soup is awesome, so that makes Sam awesome squared.

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    Pencils ready? Pop quiz! (VeganMoFo day 9)

    Ha ha, just kidding. It's not so much a quiz as a survey that was posted by a cute girl named Liz who writes a blog called Food Snobbery is my Hobbery. And since I do indeed enjoy writing about myself and the food I eat to what is probably an unhealthy extent, I thought, what the hell? Even though it is a little myspace, but, you know, whatev.

    1. Name a song that involves food in some way.
    Cibo Matto has the market cornered on this one - after all their name does mean "food crazy". My personal favorites are "sugar water", "birthday cake", and "know your chicken".

    2. What criteria do you use when choosing a new cookbook to buy?
    Is it fucking awesome? That's pretty much the beginning and the end, since I have a pathological inability to stick to a recipe and there's so much available on the internets anyway.

    3. What did you eat today?
    Talk to me later.

    4. Name a vegan food that you know exists but you have never tried.
    Vegan shark fin soup. Its existence upsets me to the point of offence, and for a year or two I referred to it as "the soup that shall not be named." I'm not planning on trying it.

    5. The Food Network just called and needs you to start your new show tomorrow. What will the title of the show be?
    I can't believe it's not animals!

    6. Favorite hot sauce or other spicy condiment?
    Tobasco! Keepin' it real, yo. We were a Tobasco household, not a Crystal household - when you're from Louisiana you have to choose one or the other. Plus I have a lot of respect for them; they're still operating as a family business on this tiny little island, even after the storm. Plus plus Tobasco sauce is awesome and tastes good and makes red beans and rice da bomb.

    7. How old were you when you became vegetarian/vegan?
    Dabbled in vegetarianism from the time I was 14, dabbled in veganism from the time I was 24, finally got my head straight and went full blown vegan at 28.

    8. Favorite vegan cheeze?
    Follow Your Heart mozzerella - sorry Teese, but I still haven't seen you melt properly.

    9. Cutest baby animal?
    Liz, I think I like you, but I'm going to have to call dumb question on you. All baby animals are cute, with the express biological purpose of keeping their mothers from eating or abandoning them - up to and including human ones. That said, kittens kittens kittens!

    10. Favorite type of jam/jelly/marmalade/preserves?
    My fiance's parents live in the mountains of far western Virginia, and of late a lot of Amish have moved in. All of the preserves found in their general store are pretty rockin... except for the apple ones, which are way too sweet.

    11. Do you take any vitamins/supplements?
    I sporadically-to-regularly take Emergen-C. I believe that it's good, even if the diagrams on the box are some of the worst pseudo-science I've ever seen. At the very least it makes a tasty beverage - SuperOrange flavor all the way!

    12. What food/dish most embodies the Fall season?
    Hmm. I can't narrow it down to one food; really anything that feels hearty and restorative and warming. Or definitely anything (that isn't curry) with pumpkin pie-type spices: you know, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom...

    13. What food would you have a hard time living without?
    Most of them. But sugar is the only thing that I have serious withdrawal from. You should see it - I jones like a junke. It's pitiful.

    14. Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate?
    Coffee most mornings, unless it's a gentle morning where I'm sick or don't have to do much that morning in which case tea. In the evenings or afternoons or when I'm sad or cold, peppermint (NOT spearmint or mixed mint) tea. Sometimes when I'm feeling a specific kind of meditative, jasmine pearls in my glass french press, so that I can watch them unfurl in the hot water. When it's cold out, especially if there are Christmas lights up, and I'm feeling a specific kind of sad or nostalgic or festive, hot chocolate. You know, I may be slightly emotionally connected to my food.

    15. It's 10PM and you're starving. What do you eat?
    Have I baked something in the past day? Then probably that. No? Hmm. Any bread around? Old crackers? Bananas? Leftovers in the fridge? Maybe I'll just graze...

    16. If you have an animal companion, what is his/her favorite food?
    When I had dogs, they thought baby carrots were a real treat. My cat, Monkey, who lives 1200 miles away in the loving care of a dear friend but who I still consider my cat, loves nothing more than to get his head up under the kitchen faucet and lick the little bit of water that is inevitably trickling out. He's been doing it since he was a kitten.

    17. Worst injury you've gotten in the kitchen?
    Years ago, when I was doing dishes, a glass sort of exploded in my hand. It cut through the top part of the proximal-most knuckle of my right thumb, managed to sever halfway through the tendon, and required internal and external stitches. That was a blast. The scar makes a little half-moon.

    18. When you have a food-related question, who do you call?
    Totally depends on the question, but if it's cooking it's my fiance (not that I have to call him, other than from the kitchen to the living room). He's been vegan for three times as long as me, and he used to work as a line cook. Every now and then, for the truly old-school knowledge, I gotta call mom.

    19. Summer is ending- What food will you miss most?
    The fruits that are actually in season instead of hothoused or shipped up from South America - I don't really dig that.

    20. What snacks do you keep in your purse/backpack/desk at work?
    I'm big on granola bars, and these bars that are peanuts and sunflower seeds stuck together with sugar.

    21. Favorite soup to make on a rainy day?
    Depends on the season - there's a dill and mushroom soup, and sometimes we do a miso, but our most frequent soup is a frankenstein vegetable. I swear next summer I'm gonna make my mom's gazpacho.

    22. What's your favorite combination of fresh vegetable and/or fruit juices?
    I always start off with carrot - carrot orange celery is good, or carrot orange beet. For a more vegetable-ey thing, I'll do carrot beet kale... honestly my juice cart guy is awesome and the list of combinations are endless and I love juice.

    23. Favorite brand of root beer?
    I really only drink diet root beer, and there's some good ones out there but I can't think of them right now because it's two o'clock in the morning.

    24. Make up your own question!
    OK, I will. Here goes: What is your favorite vegan junkfood indulgence?
    There are these wafer cookies. You know the kind, with the "cookie" part that's sort of a cross between a communion wafer and biodegradable styrofoam, and "creme filling" that's actually just vegetable shortening and an incredible amount of sugar blended together. Well, there's a line of these Croatian wafer cookies at the EuroMarket around the corner from our house - part of the glory of living in Astoria - and I'm telling you, these things will be my doom. I can eat a whole box, which is supposed to be like 20 servings or something, in a sitting. Well over a day's worth of calories in one of those boxes. There was about a week there where I was eating a box a day... man, coming off of that was like coming off of a crack binge... But damn if those aren't some good cookies.