Thursday, December 31, 2009

Red Bamboo Brooklyn Goes Red Meat - NYiG declares FAIL.

If you're vegan and living in the NYC area, you've likely already heard that Red Bamboo Brooklyn will be closing its doors at the end of the year. What you might not know, however, is that it's actually just changing over. In 2010 it will re-open as "Poppa's Place," under the same management and with the same cook, as an omni restaurant. (Disclaimer: I did not take the photograph.)

Why? Steven Brown of the Brooklyn Paper postulates that it's because vegetarianism is "on life support". (I'd love to chat with him about that erroneous idea over brunch or dinner one Saturday at any of the dozens of thriving veg restaurants in the NYC area, but I just get so impatient waiting for a table.) Owner Jason Wong seems to be attributing the switch to a combination of economy troubles and a decline in demand for the processed mock meat fare that has heretofore defined the restaurant's menu.

But it's also personal. Wong has given up his own vegetarianism, and believes his restaurant will do better offering "humane" meat. "I am ready to serve meat," he stated. Well Mr. Wong, I am ready to no longer patronize your restaurant. Maybe reheating soy cutlets from May Wah is not the best business model, but is Happy Meat really the best you can come up with? Did you pause to wonder how so many other restaurants have been able to develop diversified, crowd-pleasing menus without depending on either mock meats or flesh? Meh, no need to worry about it, bring on the dead animals (and the profits)!

According to at least one source, both Red Bamboo locations are owned by Wong, son of Philip and Lulu Wong who in turn own Vegetarian's Paradise 2. The Red Bamboo West Village location will remain vegetarian... for now.

Red Bamboo Brooklyn is having a Closing Party / New Year's Eve celebration on December 31. I, for one, will not be in attendance: to me, even to show up is to give more support than I feel this restaurant owner currently deserves.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vegans Drink! Erm, that is, Vegan Drinks!

It has been far, far too long since I've posted. But here I am! You can all rest easy now.

I'm here to tell you that I finally, finally made it out to Vegan Drinks! You see, for ages now I've believed that they held a not-too-secret vendetta against me. Vegan Drinks is held on Thursday evenings - the last Thursday of the month, generally, to be preciseish - and see I have a longstanding appointment every Thursday evening. What conclusion is there to come to, other than, they did this on purpose so that I can't come? It seemed clear enough to me.

Well this week I thwarted their maniacal little plan and showed up anyway! And what do you know - they were just tickled pink to see me. It seems that they actually schedule the event as it's most convenient for the organizers and the location - Angels and Kings in the East Village - and has nothing to do with me at all. What are the chances? Anyway, as it happened, this Thursday was one of the biggest NYC Vegan Drinks events yet - more drink specials (rum nog!), more food (empanadas from V Spot served up by Danny himself, chocolate from Compassionate Confections), a whole ton of giveaways (including books from the Post Punk Kitchen dynamic duo and jewelery from Evolve Accessories)... It was quite an evening!

There were so many to people to talk to, and the DJ rocked it out all night long. She kept playing songs that I thought only I remembered and loved - the mark of a truly good DJ, I must say. I will definitely be making it back for the next Vegan Drinks, January 28, 2010! OK, I'll definitely be trying to anyway. ;)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eating Animals: Slices of Paradise / Pieces of ____.
The sixth chapter in the new book by Jonathan Saffran Foer

This sixth chapter of Foer's book Eating Animals, more than those preceding it, seems to have a theme: differences that matter. This can be an important concept when one talks about animal rights. Many changes could be made to the living conditions of a battery cage hen - she could be given three more square inches of living space, for example. But is this a difference that matters? Or just a thinly veiled attempt by industry to get do-gooders to shut up about animal welfare and go away, without industry having made any real change? This idea ties in nicely with one of my personal mottoes: better is not the same as good.

In this chapter, Foer visits Paradise Locker Meats, a smalltime slaughterhouse doing things in a more "traditional" way than most of the bigger houses these days. Even so, he has a difficult experience.
"It's not just because I'm a city boy that I find this repulsive. Mario and his workers admitted to having difficulty with some of the more gory aspects of slaughter, and I heard that sentiment echoed wherever I could have frank conversations with slaughterhouse workers."
This discomfort is heightened all the more for Foer by the fact that the animals being slaughtered on the day of his visit are hogs - pigs, with their intelligence and particularly gutwrenching squeal (or scream, if you prefer). The visit comes to a head when, upon leaving, the abattoir staff are just dying to share with Foer the end product of their hard labors: a slice of glistening pink ham. Foer wriggles from this predicament by playing the Kosher card (he isn't, but he sure could play one on TV). Awkwardness ensues.

If you're going to discuss pig eating, or to put it nicely "pork", there's no way to avoid the name Smithfield, leading pork producer in the U.S. Run a Google search for "Smithfield Farms pork", and among the first entries (sometimes the very first) you'll find a Rolling Stone article entitled Boss Hog: Pork's Dirty Secret. As have many others, Foer has found this article to be particularly illuminating regarding the manure "lagoons" that go hand in hand with pig factories.

As Foer points out, the pits are filled not only with animal feces but also with "whatever will fit through the slatted floors of the factory farm buildings. This includes but is not limited to: stillborn piglets, afterbirths, dead piglets, vomit, blood, urine, antibiotic syringes, broken bottles of insecticide, hair, pus"... et cetera. No wonder, then, that neighbors get upset when an industrial pig "farm" gets built nearby? The presence of these lagoons shifts from nauseating to enraging when one understands that accidents do happen, and sometimes these cess pools "spill" into nearby lakes and rivers.

Foer goes on to discuss another major concern in the raising of commercial pigs: the gestation crate. This is a contraption which confines a sow, and is generally justified by the excuse that the mother pig may crush her babies if she is allowed to move.
What defenders of such practices don't point out is that at [non-industrial farms], the problem doesn't arise in the first place. Not surprisingly, when farmers select for "motherability" when breeding, and a mother pig's sense of smell is not overpowered by the stench of her own liquefied feces beneath her, and her hearing is not impaired by the clanging of metal cages, and she is given space to investigate where her piglets are and exercise her legs so that she can lie down slowly, she finds it easy enough to avoid crushing her young.
The chapter is concluded with a brief revisitation of the plight of fish. Fish do seem to be different to most everyone - we've all met the "vegetarian" who still eats fish. Perhaps it is the land/water divide that so separates us? Philosophical quandaries aside, there are no numbers kept for how many hundreds of thousands, or millions, or maybe even billions of fish and other sea creatures are caught and consumed each year. They count for so little that we literally don't even count them.

I've always known about that thing called "bycatch" - I'm old enough to remember the craze of dolphin-safe tuna, after all - but this section held a piece of information that actually shocked me. According to Foer and his fact checkers, 80 to 90 percent of the sea creatures caught by industrial fishing operations, even those businesses considered efficient, are thrown back as bycatch! Well, I had to check that out. While I couldn't find a reliable source to mirror those numbers (other than maybe Greenpeace, but I think they're biased?) I did find an FAO report on shrimp trawling that finds an average of 85% . Ouch.

I'm unsure why this section on industrial fishing was tacked to the back of chapter 6; nevertheless, it is most certainly good information to have.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Eating Animals: Hiding / Seeking - the fourth chapter of the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer

I'm wearing black in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. There are surgical booties around my disposable shoes and latex gloves on my shaking hands. I pat myself down, quintuple-checking that I have everything: red-filtered flashlight, picture ID, $40 cash, video camera, copy of California penal code 597e, bottle of water (not for me), silenced cell phone, blow horn. We kill the engine and roll the final thirty yards to the spot we scouted out earlier in the day on one of our half-dozen drive-bys. This isn't the scary part yet.
Thus begins the fourth chapter of Foer's book, the chapter entitled Hiding/Seeking. A lot happens in this chapter. As you may have gleaned, it begins with our hero pretty much breaking into a factory farming facility. He does so with a woman we call "C", who seems to do such things on a fairly regular basis. But she is not radical or extremist. We actually get to know how she feels about it, because it is in this chapter that Foer begins to use the device of personal narratives - that is, short segments actually written by various people he interacted with while writing the book (rather than just about them). Whereas his description of the event has the subheading, "I'm not the kind of person who finds himself on a stranger's farm in the middle of the night", her section, which immediately follows, is titled "I am the kind of person who finds herself on a stranger's farm in the middle of the night." {Emphasis added.} Get it?

Unlike the black bandanna-wearing members of the ALF that you sometimes see around NYC, chanting things like "We will drive the final nail!" (sorry guys, but what does that even mean?), C seems like a person you could comfortably take into your living room.
I am not a radical. In almost every way, I'm a middle-of-the-road person. I don't have any piercings. No weird haircut. I don't do drugs. Politically, I'm liberal on some issues and conservative on others. But see, factory farming is a middle-of-the-road issue - something most reasonable people would agree on if they had access to the truth...

It's crazy that the idea of animal rights seems crazy to anyone. We live in a world in which it's conventional to treat an animal like a hunk of wood and extreme to treat an animal like an animal.
Well said, C. (But, you know, it's so convenient to treat them like hunks of wood.)

Foer, somewhat needless to say, is moved by his experience of witnessing conditions at the factory of animals. But what disturbs him most is the difficulty they have finding a door to the animal sheds that isn't locked.
We spend several minutes like this, looking for an unlocked door. Another why: Why would a farmer lock the doors of his turkey farm? It can't be because he's afraid someone will steal his equipment or animals... A farmer doesn't lock his doors because he's afraid his animals will escape. (Turkeys can't turn doorknobs.)... So why? In the three years I will spend immersed in animal agriculture, nothing will unsettle me more than the locked doors. Nothing will better capture the whole sad business of factory farming. And nothing will more strongly convince me to write this book.
The next section, surprisingly enough, has the heading "I am a factory farmer." Reading this is sort of like talking to a rational republican. You think, Well, I see what you're saying, and clearly you've thought it through. But I think you may be missing some things... For example: "Sure, you could say that people should just eat less meat, but I've got news for you: people don't want to eat less meat." No, many people do not want to eat less meat. People also don't want to go to school, work eight hours a day, pay rent or a mortgage, follow driving laws, have their teeth cleaned, go visit grandma in the hospital, clean the house, take the trash out, or pay their taxes. There are plenty of things that people don't want to do. But in order for society to function, and for individuals to remain safe and healthy, they do them. It is part of being a responsible adult on the planet earth which has an ever-increasing population. What am I really saying here? Sorry folks, suck it up. Your 99 cent cheeseburger has just got to go.

The chapter goes on to say a good deal about chickens. Given that an estimated 99% of chickens come from factory farms, they become a good icon for this system of creating food animals. (I have seen this number cited in numerous places, but unfortunately I can't find you an unbiased reference for it.) "As described in industry journals from the 1960s onward, the egg-laying hen was to be considered 'only a very efficient converting machine', the pig was to be 'just like a machine in a factory', and the twenty-first century was to bring a new 'computer cookbook of recipes for custom-designed creatures.'" *shiver*

The last segment of this chapter is one called "I am the last poultry farmer." It is written by a man who raises turkeys, and loves them as if children. Except, of course, that he eventually kills them so that people can eat them, which most people will not do with their children. He is, however, the first of the contributors to give a name: Frank Reese. He doesn't support or want to have anything to do with factory farming methods.
Not a single turkey you can buy in a supermarket could walk normally, much less jump or fly. Did you know that? They can't even have sex. Not the antibiotic-free, or organic, or free-range, or anything. They all have the same foolish genetics, and their bodies won't allow for it anymore. Every turkey sold in every store and served in every restaurant was the product of artificial insemination. If it were only for efficiency, that would be one thing, but these animals literally can't reproduce naturally. Tell me what could be sustainable about that?... What the industry figured out - and this was the real revolution - is that you don't need healthy animals to make a profit.
As you may have guessed, he raises what are now referred to as "heritage birds", rather than the genetically adulterated birds generally raised for commercial uses these days (i.e. for the past maybe 50 years). His birds can fly, and jump... and have sex. Frank makes a statement in his diatribe that I strongly agree with: "If consumers don't want to pay the farmer to do it right, they shouldn't eat meat." There's that 99 cent cheeseburger again.
Just the other day, one of the local pediatricians was telling me he's seeing all kinds of illnesses that he never used to see... Everyone knows it's our food. We're messing with the genes of these animals and then feeding them growth hormones and all kinds of drugs that we really don't know enough about. And then we're eating them.
Couldn't have said it better myself, Frank.

And people still wonder why I'm vegan?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eating Animals: Words/Meaning - the third chapter of the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer

As an author, Foer likes to play. In his first novel, Everything is Illuminated, he played with time and the sharing (or not sharing) of space. In Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, he played with images - specifically, visual and cognitive perceptions of the world from unusual viewpoints (such as those of a nine year old boy struggling with incomprehensible loss). In his latest book, Eating Animals, Foer plays with language: both in the meaning and sound of words, as well as the physical presence of letters, words, and shapes printed on a page. This is present throughout the book in the chapter headings - pick up a copy and you'll see what I mean. But nowhere is it more expressed than in the third chapter of the book, "Words/Meaning."

This chapter reads as a highly editorialized series of unusual encyclopedia entries, which are indeed listed in alphabetical order. The device allows Foer to address a wide range of issues without leaving his central exploration of the food industry. At times the "definitions" reference each other; many flow brilliantly from one to the next (Bullshit -> Bycatch, for instance), though each stands on its own.

Michael Pollan, an author who has become one of the best known food journalists at least in western culture, takes his knocks in this book. This is unsurprising - many in the vegetarian / vegan community feel that Pollan has all of the information directly in front of him, and yet draws all of the wrong conclusions from it. For example, Pollan has taken the position that becoming veg is the wrong way to go about combating factory farming, and that it is in fact much better to buy meat and animal products from real family farms instead. In 'Discomfort Food', Foer makes the following fabulous point, more or less in direct response to Pollan's argument that vegetarianism is a barrier to 'table fellowship':
Imagine an acquaintance invites you to dinner. You could say, "I'd love to come. And just so you know, I'm a vegetarian." You could also say, "I'd love to come. But I only eat meat that is produced by family farmers." Then what do you do? You'll probably have to send the host a web link or list of local shops to even make the request intelligible, let alone manageable. This effort might be well-placed, but it is certainly more invasive than asking for vegetarian food.
(Is he trying to imply that pasta with marinara is easier than chicken from Joel Salatin? Pish posh.)

Foer's definition of "Free-Range" is priceless:
Applied to meat, eggs, dairy, and every now and then even fish (tuna on the range?), the free-range label is bullshit. It should provde no more peace of mind than "all natural," "fresh," or "magical."
Followed by "Fresh":
According to the USDA, "fresh" poultry has never had an internal temperature below 26 degrees or above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh chicken can be frozen (thus the oxymoron "fresh frozen"), and there is no time component to food freshness.
Food labeling conundrums are really Marion Nestle's ball of wax, but they're always good for a (terrified) laugh. Other definitions of interest include "KFC" "PETA," "Sentimentality,"

In this chapter, Foer briefly addresses the problems that have arisen in the kosher food industry due to the industrialization of the slaughter process. He asks this difficult question of his own Jewish community: "Has the very concept of kosher meat become a contradiction in terms?"

Living in New York City, I have made many friends and acquaintances who keep kosher. One of the things we have in common is our "restrictive" diets - we tend to understand each other on that level in a way that people who aren't so conscious of food do not. I've had many conversations in which the "two sets of pots and dishes" situation comes up, particularly among people who are dealing with roommates who do not share the same habits. And admittedly, more than once, I've brought up the idea that by going vegan those kosher friends would only need one set, ha.

While here less of a story is woven than in other chapters, it is no less compelling - in fact, given the variety and content of information presented, quite the opposite.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eating Animals: All or Nothing or Something Else - the second chapter of the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer

In the second chapter of his book "Eating Animals", Foer looks at a conundrum that was first brought to my attention in middle school French class. This was of course the revelation that the French eat horses. The room full of 13 and 14 year olds was of course perfectly aghast. "Horses?! Surely you must be joking?!!!" To which our teacher, sensibly enough, responded, why is that so different than eating a cow? The best answer we could conjure up was that you can ride horses, and they're pretty. Of course we couldn't really come up with an answer, because there is no real answer.

We are talking, more broadly, about why different cultures choose different animals as OK or not OK to eat. Here in the US, for the most part, we accept cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and a few other birds, and a variety of sea life as perfectly normal food. But talk about eating goat or whale or monkey and we're kind of like, wha? And we pretty much freak out at the idea of eating horse, or, heaven forbid, dog or cat. Even just in the one country though, being the "melting pot" that it is, differences arise. Those of the Jewish culture who follow kosher dietary laws don't find pigs or shellfish to be acceptable food at all. I live in Queens, where many of my neighbors think nothing of eating goat - I know this because of the whole, skinned goats hanging up in butcher shop windows. Some people in some parts of some states are happy to eat wild animals like possums, pigeons, and snakes, or body parts such as cow tongues, chicken gizzards and necks, and pigs' feet and ears, that many so-called omnivorous city folk would lose their lunches over.

Go international, and things get much wilder. Plenty of countries do in fact eat dog. And really, why not? Because they're smart, and loyal, and know their names and do tricks? Any pig owner will tell you that this all holds true for The Other White Meat. And of course the Hindus think us downright blasphemous heathens for eating cows. Monkey brains are a delicacy in many parts of the world. Some find the meat of the orangutan to be quite tasty - so much so that poaching is a threat to the species. The birds that we choose to eat (chickens, turkeys, pheasants...) are no less intelligent or complex than the parrots and other birds we bring into our homes, name, love, and treat as family members - they just have a good amount more breast meat.

As Foer puts it,
The French, who love their dogs, sometimes eat their horses.
The Spanish, who love their horses, sometimes eat their cows.
The Indians, who love their cows, sometimes eat their dogs.
What does all of this tell us? That the decision of which animals we eat vs. which animals we love is essentially arbitrary.

Foer begins his second chapter by making an argument for eating stray dogs rather than letting them be euthanized, ground up, and fed to what we consider to be "proper" food animals. (Didn't know that's what happens? Well it is.) This is classic satire, a la "A Modest Proposal", except that it is infinitely more plausible as dogs, in many places, are eaten, whereas we've pretty much successfully killed off all of the human cultures that think it's alright to eat each other, even when it's just their way of mourning.
The inefficient use of dogs - conveniently already in areas of high human population (take note, local-food advocates) - should make any good ecologist blush.
Ha! Well if animals are here for our use, the man's got a point doesn't he? And if they're not... well you tell me.

Foer continues the chapter in comparing factory farming to war. The analogy is fairly apt, particularly when he draws it out with the example of fish. We could even use a much uglier, particular word: genocide. For the simpler term "war" indicates an enemy, someone fighting back. To an outside observer, it would indeed appear that we are doing our damnedest to simply rid the planet of, say, tuna. We go after these animals with a vicious, no-holds-barred methodology that leaves pure devastation in its wake. But they're just so darn tasty mixed up with some mayo and celery!

Many, many people want to believe that fish are somehow different, somehow special. (Or less special, maybe. For a very brief period I was one of them. Given my roots, I wanted to believe that the livelihood of so many from the place my family comes from could not have grown so tainted. Alas.) We often call these people pescatarians. Regarding this, I will quote two things.

Industrial fishing is not exactly factory farming, but it belongs in the same category and needs to be part of the same discussion - it is part of the same agricultural coup. This is most obvious for aquaculture (farms on which fish are confined to pens and "harvested") but is every bit as true for wild fishing, which shares the same spirit and intensive use of modern technology... Once the picture of industrial fishing is filled in - the 1.4 billion hooks deployed annually on longlines; the 1,200 nets, each one 30 miles in length, used by only one fleet to catch only one species; the ability of a single vessel to haul in fifty tons of sea animals in a few minutes - it becomes easier to think of contemporary fishers as factory farmers rather than fishermen.
No reader of this book would tolerate someone swinging a pickax at a dog's face. Nothing could be more obvious or less in need of explanation. Is such concern morally out of place when applied to fish, or are we silly to have such unquestioning concern about dogs? Is the suffering of a drawn-out death something that is cruel to inflict on any animal that can experience it, or just some animals?
Food for thought, har har.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Eating Animals: Storytelling - the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book.

I started working in a bookstore in 2004, and immediately realized that not only do people almost always judge books by their covers, but that it's actually possible to do so with some accuracy. My fellow booksellers and I would run through the "New Releases" or "3 for 2 Paperbacks" tables playing this game, and then reading a few pages of given selections to determine the accuracies of our presuppositions. The plain fact is that publishing houses spend a good deal of time and effort creating book covers, and much can be gleaned by paying attention to the fonts, images, and colors used, as well as nuances such as the presence (or lack thereof) of review quotes on the front cover. While certainly not a perfect system, it can be a good beginning when you are faced with the millions of books to be found in the mega-books-r-us stores that now dot stripmalls across America and are simply looking for that bibliophile's holy grail: Something Good to Read.

It is in this way that I came across "Everything is Illuminated", the first novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. If you haven't seen the movie, or especially if you have, you should read the book. It is far more extraordinary. Don't read it if you're easily offended though, because things happen in it that you can't imagine. Anyway, neither here nor there. Next came "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", a snapshot of the life of a nine year old (vegan) boy who has lost his father in one of the great tragedies of this decade. Very moving, brilliantly written, and not nearly as depressing as it sounds. You should read this one too.

If you can't tell yet, Foer pretty much immediately made it to my list of favorite authors and has not fallen from it - a long list though it may be. And now he's gone and done something that surprised me greatly: he's gone and written a book about eating animals.

It is, in fact, called "Eating Animals", and you've probably heard about it. It has gotten a lot of press lately. Why? For a few reasons I think. First, the obvious one is that an acclaimed fiction writier has now burst forth with this non-fiction work - not about his Jewish ancestry which would have seemed to be a logical progression, but about the fairly hot topic of the ethics of food. What with the likes of Time Magazine and Oprah talking about this stuff now, it's something that mainstream western culture is actually beginning to take notice of.

But for another thing, I think it's simply that a book on this kind of subject is coming from such an unexpected source overall. We expect Michael Pollan, investigative food journalist, to come out with one of his best-selling foodie diatribes every few years. We expect Peter Singer and similar thinkers to talk to us about animals as sentient beings. We expect Marion Nestle to educate us all with her wisdom of moderation and nutritional knowledge. We expect the new "miracle diet" and "magic curing foods for every disease" books - out just in time for the holiday season! What we do not expect, though, is a thoughtful and balanced examination of whether or not we should be eating what we, as a culture, are eating, from an author who has previously just been around to entertain us... which seems to be precisely what we have on our hands.

Is it a vegan book? No. Does it rail against eating meat, and try to convince its readers to become vegetarian at once? I don't believe so. What it does do, though, is attempt to get its audience to think about the food they are putting in their mouths, and why, and how.

Is it worth reading? Well I certainly hope so. I was so hot to read it that I actually shelled out for the hardcover - something I never, ever do. Normally I'll wait a year or more for the paperback, thank you. But this book just struck me as too important not to read immediately. I need to know what he is telling people: whether I agree and applaud, or whether I must start a letter-writing campaign to his NYU office the moment I'm done reading. I have a feeling that this book will be powerful, that people will read it who normally don't think about these things, specifically because while they would never read Peter Singer they will read Jonathan Safran Foer.

I haven't read much yet, but there are two short passages that I would like to share with you. In this first one, Foer tells us about the beginning and end of his initial bout of vegetarianism:
Her intention might or might not have been to convert us to vegetarianism - just because conversations about meat tend to make people feel cornered, not all vegetarians are proselytizers - but being a teenager, she lacked whatever restraint it is that so often prevents a full telling of this particular story. Without drama or rhetoric, she shared what she knew.

My brother and I looked at each other, our mouths full of hurt chickens, and had simultaneous how in the world could I have never thought of that before and why on earth didn't someone tell me? moments. I put down my fork. Frank finished the meal and is probably eating a chicken as I type these words...

My vegetarianism, so bombastic and unyielding in the beginning, lasted a few years, sputtered, and quietly died. I never thought of a response to our babysitter's code [of not hurting things], but found ways to smudge, diminish, and forget it. Generally speaking, I didn't cause hurt. Generally speaking, I strove to do the right thing. Generally speaking, my conscience was clear enough. Pass the chicken, I'm starving.
In this second passage, Foer is discussing his life before he became a father, when his dedication to vegetarianism had still not quite firmed. It strikes me as so honest, so true, so much what so many of us struggled with on our journeys to becoming vegetarian and eventually vegan. I believe it's even more universally true than that, something that will be identified with in almost everyone who reads it, who is honest with himself:
"Of course our wedding wasn't vegetarian, because we persuaded ourselves that it was only fair to offer animal protein to our guests, some of whom had traveled great distances to share our joy. And we ate fish on our honeymoon, but we were in Japan, and when in Japan... And back in our new home, we did occasionally eat burgers and chicken soup and smoked salmon and tuna steaks. But only every now and then. Only whenever we felt like it.

And that, I thought, was that. And I thought that it was just fine. I assumed we'd maintained a diet of conscientious inconsistency. Why should eating be any different from any other ethical realms of our lives? We were honest people who occasionally told lies, careful friends who sometimes acted clumsily. We were vegetarians who from time to time ate meat."
Anything, or most anything, anyway, can be justified in our minds. Justified, and then ignored. Pushed to the corners, hidden in gray places. But those actions that we cannot look in the face when brought into the light of day deserve some re-analysis, don't they? Because left to their own devices, eventually they begin to gnaw - even from those far off, peripheral perches, whether we want to acknowledge them or not. What Foer seems to find is that his first son drags his lesser, hidden actions out into the bright sunlight, holds them up to his face, and asks, "why, daddy?" Daddy, in order to have better answers, wants to have better actions to begin with.

I've only read the first chapter. I'll post updates, let you know how it goes. Please have your pens ready for letters of protest... or of praise. It's entirely possible that I may tell you that you have to read this book too. Just think - that'd be three for three.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Memoirs of a Pumpkin Seed...

If you read my other blogs, you may have gleaned that I grew up in a kind of effed up house. But one of the things that we did right was food. And especially for the holidays, we went all out.

When it came to fall, there was this one giant orange squash, The Pumpkin, that dominated all for about a month. Each year we would buy a huge ass pumpkin a few days before Halloween. I remember when I first saw how pumpkins grow, on vines, and suddenly the phrase "pumpkin patch" had meaning. I had trouble imagining how something so huge and round could have grown on such a weak wiggly little vine, and I was fascinated.

We'd get the gourd home and cut around the top, like you do. All the scooping and scraping and cleaning out of the interior of the pumpkin happened through that small orifice, so as to keep the shell intact. When I was in kindergarten I learned about toasting pumpkin seeds, so from then on we always did. I called up my mom, because kindergarten being 26 years ago and all, I don't actually remember quite what we were taught. I know that you had to clean off all of the pumpkin guts really really well right after you scooped everything out of the pumpkin, and that you spread them on a cookie sheet in a single layer to bake them. I can still distinctly remember the smell of pumpkingut. But as far as the particulars... well it turns out that ma doesn't remember either. But this recipe seems pretty much on the money. Maybe that's too long a bake time? We didn't get a pumpkin this year, so if you try it out let me know how it goes!

So anyway, once the business of gut scraping was done, my dad usually did the honors of making the pumpkin look like some scary Halloween thing. He was pretty good at it. Some years turned out better than others, of course. But he's quite the creative type, and there were definitely some masterpieces.

My mom kept whatever chunks he cut out to make the jack-o-lantern face, and then the day after Halloween she hacked the pumpkin up and froze the lot (minus whatever had gotten charred or waxed from candles or any bits that were getting funky). Then, about a month later, this is the pumpkin that became our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. And if you want the truth, I've never liked any pumpkin pie but my mother's.

So that's my pumpkin story, the cycle of The Great Pumpkin in my childhood household. I think this year, beginning with this Thanksgiving, is when we - Jonathan and I - begin to claim these "family" holidays as our own. Holidays for the family that is me and him. And our friends of course: the built family. I'm excited about it, and hopeful. And excited and hopeful is a nice way to feel, when headed into this dark-and-dreary but chock full o' holidays season. ;)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Thirty-One: Parting is such sweet sorrow...

So that's it folks. A full month of food blogging! Can you believe it? If you ask me, it went by really, really quickly. Crazy quick, like whoa. I enjoy the MoFo - it makes me cook, and eat out, and actually pay attention to what I'm eating and enjoy the food. My life being as hectic as it is, and my health being the challenge that it can be, sometimes eating becomes a mechanical chore rather than an enjoyable experience. MoFo has the ability to bring me where I want to be with food: a place where it is nourishment, enjoyment, comfort, and the sharing of an experience all rolled into one.

This is probably going to sound spooky-familiar to anyone who has followed me for long (more empty promises, Ms. Bastian?), but I really want to say that even past this crazy month of food blogging, I'm going to continue to post more regularly. Not every day, certainly - honestly it's too much of a strain and I have other things I need to attend to (like you know, that little wedding thing). But my goal is to post a few times a week on one or another of my way-too-many blogs, and then of course repost whatever I post anywhere on my combined blog. In case you don't know about it, it's called OK, all together now! (If you're reading this post on that blog and are really confused right now, well, don't think about it too hard. It'll just give you a headache.)

It's been a good month, a busy month. A month of awesome food, for me directly and also vicariously through so many other awesome, fantastic, ridiculous blogs written by people who possess cooking skills infinitely superior to my own. But hey - that's how we vegans are, when you get right down to it. Get us excited about food, and the craziest, most amazing recipes and meals and downright feasts will just start pouring out before your very eyes.

I first discovered this during the Christmas of... 2003? 2004? I was not to be vegan for a couple of years yet. Nevertheless, I was friends with many vegans and very interested in the food industry and such, and very careful about what I ate. I was lucky enough to be invited to a holiday feast at the home of Andy the Asian Cajun (semi-famous in certain circles) - an all vegan feast of course. Well, after leaving a day with the fam, this was such an amazing event to walk into! I ate foods I'd never even heard of before, and for the first time truly understood that vegan cuisine was anything but limited.

It was around this time that I had my first reuben sandwich - and it was a vegan reuben, made by and eaten with two friends in New Orleans (where I was of course still living at that time) at a community house called Nowe Miasto. I had good times at that house, and those were some effing good sandwiches. (Thanks Vanessa, wherever you are!)

Something about the spirit with which vegans tend to approach cooking and eating is just right. The joy of sharing a meal - a feeling which for so many people living in "western culture" has been supplanted by the efficiency of a mass-produced sandwich wrapped in paper, purchased from a drive-thru window, and eaten alone at 70mph - seems to be revived in our community. I, for one, am thrilled each and every time I get to take part in the experience. This year for Thanksgiving Jonathan and I will be having some vegan friends over for a small feast, and I can't wait.

But... what am I going to cook?!

Farewell MoFo. I'll see you next year. And until then, we'll all be keeping the spirit alive.

Friday, October 30, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Thirty!!!: She sells stuffed shells...

So, people been askin 'bout my stuffed shells. It's kind of funny, actually. I got this recipe for vegan lasagna out of a magazine like three years ago, and I've been baking it ever since! The potluck escapade was my first trial for the shells format, but I think it worked out pretty darn well. It has met with many good reviews as lasagna, and I've contemplated making lasagna roll-ups and other nutty pasta items. Once you make your tofu ricotta and get ahold of some sauce, you are limited only by your imagination. (Sorry, couldn't help myself there.)

So first we'll talk about the sauce. Why first? Because if you're going to make your own, it's going to want to cook for hours. And I mean like four hours. You definitely don't have to make your own - you can get a couple of good jars of, say, a tasty Newman's Own flavor and cut down the work on your lasagna-or-shells significantly. You can also make your own and ignore my recipe completely. Totally up to you. For me it's usually governed by the time I have to spend in making a meal. Since I started cooking for Tuesday's potluck on Sunday, I had plenty of time.

I make red sauce based on how my mom has always made it: get everything that tastes good in a pot and let that thing simmer till the cows (or in my mom's case, kids) come home. For lasagna-or-shells, you need A LOT of sauce. So I started with two of those ginormous cans of crushed tomatoes (28 oz?), and one teeny tiny can of tomato paste. I'm careful about what canned tomatoes I'll buy - the ingredient list really can't name anything other than tomatoes and maybe ascorbic acid. What else do you need in there? Nuthin.

So I empty these two giant cans and one tiny can into my big pot on the stove and start the flame on low. And then gradually, as they become prepared (there's really no rush, since it will be cooking till I go to bed pretty much), I add the following: one large yellow or red onion, coarsely chopped (how coarsely actually depends on whether or not you want to find chunks of soft onion in your sauce); about a third of a cup of fresh parsley, minced; a quarter cup to a third of a cup of fresh basil, torn then minced; six nice fat fresh peeled cloves of garlic, cut lengthwise; a teaspoon-ish of dried oregano; a teaspoon of salt; and a teaspoon of sugar.

Once everything is in the pot, you just let it cook. Keep it on low, don't let it boil, and stir it pretty regularly to make sure it isn't sticking. You have to keep a continual eye on it, but you can do a lot of other things in the kitchen or in other rooms nearby. Just remember to stir and everything is alright. You'll know it's getting close to done when you can smash the garlic cloves against the side of the pot with the back of your mixing spoon and they just turn into a dissolving mush. You actually want to root them all out and do this to all of them. Like so many sauces and soups, this one is good the first night, and even better the next day.

So, that's sauce. What did I do for all those hours as the sauce cooked? Well, many things. I do have thirteen blogs you know. But the thing you care about is that I made my tofu ricotta! This is another one of those items that is good when you make it, but even better when it's allowed to marinate in its own juices overnight. This being the case, of course I made it on Sunday as well. As I began to cook my sauce, I also began pressing tofu - two blocks of it.

Here's the ingredient lowdown, as this one is a good bit more complex than a simple ol' red sauce:
  • two bricks of tofu: I default to Nasoya extra-firm
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, torn then chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 to 3 peeled cloves of garlic
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (very optional)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
I like to press the tofu for a long time for this recipe - a good hour or so. Is it necessary? Probably not. I'm just a touch compulsive. Also, in most recipes I have zero qualms for subbing dried herbs for fresh ones, but here I feel that the fresh herbs really carry the flavor in a way that dried just wouldn't.

Some tips: to toast pine nuts, let a dry skillet heat up over a medium-to-high flame for a couple of minutes, and then just dump those suckers on in. They have tons of natural oil, which is what allows them to toast. Keep them moving for about three minutes, until they begin to get toasty brown. Bingo: toasted pine nuts. And on juicing lemons: in case you don't know it yet, the best way to get the most out of your lemon is to squash the hell out of it before cutting. Rolling it along the counter while applying pressure with the length of your hand is generally the way to go; you'll be able to feel the skin softening and imagine the juice pockets inside getting burstey.

Why tear the basil first? Because it releases more flavor that way. I swear, it really does. As far as peeling garlic... if you can't peel garlic, I can't help you. Yes, your fingers will smell. It's part of cooking. Embrace it.

So once your pine nuts are toasty and your lemons are juicy, you're just going to dump every last one of these ingredients into your food processor. Hooray! (Don't have one? Not a problem. The first time I made this, I had my Cuisinart but I was still afraid of it, so I used a potato masher instead. It takes a lot of elbow grease but it works just fine.) I tend to break up the tofu into rough chunks and drop them in, because it makes sense to me to do it that way.

As for the red pepper flakes, they are really and truly optional. I've made the recipe several times both with and without, and I really can't tell what function they serve other than to occasionally get something reallyreally hot stuck in your teeth. You could also skip toasting the pine nuts - untoasted pine nuts have a fantastic flavor. Just make sure they're not stale, as that flavor is distinct enough to ruin the whole thing. Why do I know this? Umm... just trust me, kay?

It's kind of amazing what this mixture becomes after you pulse for a couple of minutes. Of course you'll want to scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times during the mixing to make sure that everything's getting in there. The end result is really quite tasty and creamy and divine. Jonathan, always "testing" what I'm whipping up, noted this time 'round that straight out of the processor the mix is plenty good enough to eat on crackers or use as a sandwich schmear. But this particular mix had a purpose. So I smacked him away and into the fridge it went for putting into shells the following night.

How you assemble your lasagna-or-shells-or-what-have-you is basically up to you. You'll want to either parboil your pasta of choice or make sure that it has plenty of liquid by its side during baking. For my lasagnas I just use tons of sauce but don't cook the noodles. No, I don't use special noodles - those things are a total sham! You can just use normal ones, I promise. The layers from the bottom of the dish will go something like: sauce, noodles, sauce, ricotta, zucchini (or sausage or mushrooms or whatever), sauce, noodles, sauce...

For the shells it was a good bit simpler. It was going to be baked for less time because it's much less dense, so I did boil the shells for about 10 minutes before putting them in the dish. This also made them pliable and therefore easier to fill. I of course had to rinse them in cold water before I could handle them - ouch! But the process went something like, sauce, fill shell with ricotta, put shell in dish, continue until dish is filled, cover everything with more sauce, bake at 350* for about 45 minutes covered with tin foil.

And the leftovers? Lots of em, and they're totally delish.

So try it out! Get creative. Lemme know how it goes. Send me pictures! I love pictures.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Nine: Gettin' (pot)lucky.

I know it. I've been teasing you about this potluck thing for DAYS. You've almost lost patience with me. Make with the pictures already! Give up some recipes, damnit!

You want pictures? Oh, I got some pictures. I got your pictures right here.

For real though. Right here. You're looking at one. There's more as soon as you scroll down (while reading, of course). Ready? Here we go.

You've already gotten a brief introduction to the delectable delights upon which we dined on that very special (rainy) Tuesday eve. But oh, you really don't know the half of it. Not until you see! Behold.

We started off the night right thanks to Quarantined's friend J, who provided us with artisan quality almonds in oil and fancy olives - deluxe finger foods, to be sure. As various casserole dishes of deliciousness heated in the oven, we sampled these delicacies, and engaged in delightful smalltalk... and drank beer, as all civilized and cultured people do.

Quarantined brought this lovely creamy chickpea and tahini casserole. For those of us that love those funky little peas and live for all things that emerge from baking dishes, this was quite a lovely dish. It was actually my sister, a wacky and not at all vegan gal, who made me understand the glory of the chick pea. I later learned from my local Halal food cart that chickpeas and rice really do go together! Sources say that Miss Q was working from this recipe, just in case you feel like trying some out for yourself. (You probably should, don't you think?)

Seitan Said Dance brought this fabulous quinoa dish - a recipe from the upcoming Vegan Latina by Terry Hope Romero. I am a big, big fan of quinoa. I lived so much of my life not knowing there were other grains out there, and quinoa is so unique that it still totally blows my mind. Miss Seitan was talking about how it was much too spicy for her to eat, and as I too am a giant spice wuss I was a tad worried. But that of course didn't keep me from dropping a big ol' spoonful on my plate. And I'm totally happy that I did! The grain seemed to absorb a dose of the spice while it waited for us to dine, and by the time we were ready for it, it was ready for us and just right. And not just spicy - crazy flavorful!

Alf-redo showed up with two, count them TWO!, kinds of stuffed pepper. Apparently Food Not Bombs hit the bell pepper jackpot this week, and Miss Alf decided to get creative. Fine by me - I was raised on stuffed peppers! Of course, my mom stuffs them with ground beef - not exactly up my alley any more. (R.I.P., little cow friends. :{ )The breadcrumbs, seitan, and chickpea mix in these peppers were much more to my liking. Some of these got left behind... did I totally have some for dinner Wednesday night? Well yes, yes I did.

And then we come to Sashi's baked mac and cheeze. This just may have stolen the show - at least for me, a macaroni-and-noodle freak. Did I have seconds? Yes. Did I have thirds? Well, um... Hey! Look over there! Is that a penguin?! Oh, sorry, must have been a trick of the eyes. What were we talking about? Totally forgot, better move on. So, perhaps me and Jonathan really are soulmates; today he was lamenting the fact that we hadn't kept a little extra around for today's lunch... and dinner! Fortunately, Sashi too shared the recipe, so we can all recreate this noodley joy.

And what about my stuffed shells? Oh yes, those. Well, I'd never done shells before; this was actually a modification of the lasagna I've been making for a couple of years. It's pretty simple - an herbed tofu ricotta whipped up in the food processor, some good tomato sauce, and then what you do with the pasta part and the baking-ness is pretty much up to you. I've done mini-lasagnas before, in tiny five inch baking dishes - that was kind of awesome and fun. I did make my own tomato sauce this time - I do that sometimes - which came out pretty well. Anyway, I can't judge, but I thought it was pretty tasty, and my guests were kind enough to agree. :)

Was there dessert? Uh, yeah! If you know anything about my house you know that sugar is of primary concern. (More than it should be? Well, that's a different conversation.) I baked cupcakes - stared out with Terry and Isa's recipe for golden vanilla cupcakes (oil variation), and for the extracts used half a teaspoon of lemon (a.k.a. what was left in the bottle) and 1.5 teaspoons of orange extract, along with the one teaspoon of vanilla that I put in everything sweet that I bake. (Unless I'm using way more than one teaspoon of vanilla, that is.) Lo and behold, to my surprise, what happened? Creamsicle cupcake! Given the delicate flavor of these cakelets, I ditched my original plan of a full on chocolate icing and instead did my standard "butter"cream" flavored with chocolate and vanilla extracts. Was it absolutely everything I'd wished for? Well, no. But they got pretty good reviews.

Then along comes Alf-redo with these super amazing, texturally supreme "pepita pistachio cranberry oatmeal" cookies! Pepita, in case you didn't know, is the small seed of a pumpkin or other squash. (Yeah, I googled it. What of it?!) Good thing I was already stuffed on real dinner food, or I would have gone into total sugar overload. Good thing I snagged some of these cookies for today, because I would have been sad not to get a second taste!

So as you can see, if you weren't here you missed a totally awesome feast. Come out next time wouldja? The more the merrier, so long as we don't piss off my 80 year old landlady.

Recipes forthcoming for stuffed shells, I promise! Clearly, I make good on my promises... eventually. :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Eight: Confessions of a potluck virgin.

Today... did not go as smoothly as it could have. Observe:

1) I woke up with the headache from hell. This was probably in part because it was raining, and partly because I slept terribly.

2) Work was work. It's like that.

3) The headache from hell escalated to near-migraine proportions. To the point where I had to go home from work, actually. And I kind of think one of the attorneys that I work for thinks I went home to get ready for the potluck, which I totally didn't. I went home, dosed myself with NSAIDs and caffeine, drank lots of water, and laid in a darkened room for two hours praying for the evil pain in my face to go away. Well it didn't go away, but it dulled to the point where I could function again.

4) Mobile once more, I made frosting for the cupcakes I baked last night. And for some damn reason, it just wouldn't emulsify. I don't know if it was because I was using a different kind of powdered sugar than I normally do, or because the margarine was the wrong temperature, or because I used too much extract, or what, but it just wasn't happenin. I powered through it though, and I made them cupcakes work. And then I put sprinkles on them to cover up the crappy looking frosting.

5) At 6:55 Jonathan made it home, which was a relief, because I was afraid he wouldn't be home until 8 or later. (His work has been as bad as mine lately.) But at 7:10, none of the guests had arrived yet. So of course I began to have fanciful delusions that no one was showing up at all; that it had all been an elaborate rouse. (Because, you know, clearly I'm important enough to people who have never met me in person to pull such a prank.)

But then of course the doorbell rang. Four people came together, followed shortly by a fifth, plus the two of us already here made for seven total. Which is apparently just perfect, because as it turns out I own seven plates, seven chairs, and seven forks. Who knew? My dining room also holds seven guests sitting in the round quite well.

(I may or may not have mentioned that this was a PPK meetup kind of potluck, so you'll have to excuse the use of handles below.)

All of the food was delish. My stuffed shells were not overbaked as I had feared, SeitanSaidDance's quinoa was spicy perfection, Sashi's mac and cheeze made a second appearance on most plates, Alf-redo's stuffed peppers brought me back to my mother's kitchen, and Quarantined's chickpea casserole rounded out the plate. As for dessert, everyone loved my cupcakes! But that didn't stop me (or anyone else) from having one or two of Alf-redo's delectably chewy pistachio cranberry cookies as well. And thanks Joe-friend-of-Quarantined for the almonds, olives, and chocolate! He made us fancy, yo.

We sat around and chatted and ate for almost four hours, and all in all had a grand old time. So happily, I can call my first potluck a success. And the best part is, now my house is clean! Well maybe not the best part, but it sure doesn't hurt my feelings.

It's late, and I'm going to bed. But if you're good I'll post pictures of the food and festivities. Really I will. Any day now. Naw, srsly ppl, I will. Tomorrow probly even! I'm sure you await it with baited breath.

But for now, g'night!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Seven: Stuffed shells and creamsicle cupcakes!

I'm gonna tell you right up front: this blog post is a total tease. You will neither see photographs, nor hear descriptions, of either of these dishes. Did I, in fact, bake both of these items on Monday night? Why yes, yes I did. So why am I not giving you all of the delicious/gory details?! Because I'm cruel and heartless.

Well no. Actually it's because as of 11pm, I still haven't managed to get in the shower much less get myself to bed, which I really have to do soon, because I must leave work on time tomorrow, because TOMORROW NIGHT IS THE POTLUCK! That's right people. Tomorrow night I am HOSTING a vegan potluck! Thus the baked pasta dish and fancy cupcakes.

Hoo. Ray!

Fear not. You'll be seeing lots of pictures. You'll hear aaaalllll about it. But right now I must must must must MUST get in the shower and then get to bed!

A hostess needs her rest, you know.

Monday, October 26, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Six: Beer! That is, Vegan Beer!

Beer: we love it. I don't remember not drinking beer - my parents were of the "let her have a sip" school, and I clearly remember being two years old and scamming for a second taste. But there comes a moment in the life of every young vegan when a slightly terrifying discovery is made: not all beer is vegan.

I was at a veg meetup when I found out. It was maybe a month after I went vegan. I was drinking a Guinness at the time. It was my last Guinness.

What? What the heck would they put in there?!

Well, it's not so much what they're putting in there, with the few exceptions of beer with honey in them (and those tend to be pretty obvious - they generally put the word "honey" right in the name of the beer). It's more that there are some really odd animal byproducts - "finings" - being used in the process of making some beers.

There are two main animal byproducts that pop up. The first is isinglass, which is obtained from the swimbladders of fish and used for clarification. This, I'm sorry to say, is why I will no longer drink Guinness or Murphy's Irish Stout. Not every batch of Guinness uses isinglass, which is annoying and infuriating. Every time I think about this stuff, my mind boggles. It's right up there with "how did we figure out how to eat artichokes," except with about a hundred levels of disgusting piled on top. Who figured out how to get the collagen out of swim bladders in the first place? Isn't there any other way to clarify beer? Oh, yeah, and GUINNESS ISN'T CLEAR ANYWAY. But whatever, I guess I'm splitting hairs, huh?

Then, oh, then there's gelatin. That's right - the same thing that ruins marshmallows and Altoids (which HELLO aren't even chewy) and so many amusingly shaped candies is now ruining your beer! What is the fixation with this stuff? Apparently it is also used for clarification. I think what's actually clear, though, is that using a product made from the skins, connective tissues, and other "leftovers" of "food animals" is ridiculous and unnecessary - particularly given all the great breweries that have no trouble making a wide range of beers without these substances.

The good news is that the majority of beers out there are, in fact, vegan. The ones you have to watch out for are usually odder ones: dark ones, cask ales, special brews, et cetera. And the Brits, well, they just seem to love to use this stuff for reasons unknown. But then, they put fish in all their sauces too, so go figure. (No offense loves - some of my favorite vegans are from the Isles!) The Germans, though, take a special pride in their beer making, and have actually had special laws on the books for centuries regrading what ingredients can be in them. Thank you Germans! (Not sure if this makes up for all the sausages, but it's a start.)

Plenty of great beers are vegan. Brooklyn Brewery, a fab brewery that I'm happy to call local, makes almost exclusively vegan beers, with the exception of one specialty cask ale. Abita, another beer I consider local (as I also consider New Orleans home) is an all-vegan brewery. Blue Moon, Harpoon, Sierra Nevada, and Magic Hat each make a variety of very tasty vegan beers that are widely available, and really this is just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say the bottom of my fridge).

Want to know if your favorite beer is vegan? Find out! Barnivore keeps the most extensive list that I've found, not only of beer but also of wine and liquors. This list of breweries is interesting as well, in that the list's author took the time to contact each one personally.

Do I totally want to make the oatmeal stout brownies from this article? Yes, yes I do. Maybe I will. Maybe you should!

Of course, you could also order these amazing-looking (and -sounding) "drunken cupcakes" from one of my favorite Etsy bakers, Sweet Fritsy. Chocolate cupcake + stout = I vote yes!

Now that you're fully armed with knowledge of vegan beer-ness... are you still sitting in front of your computer?! Utilize your town's public transportation system to get yourself over to the nearest beer hall, and put your newfound education to good (responsible) use!

Happy drinking!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Five: French Toast FAIL.

Today I will tell you a sad story of a Sunday past. It all started out so innocently - a plan for a little bit of lighthearted brinner as a happier finish for what had not been the best weekend. The recipe (which I of course then doctored) was simple enough; it came out of How It All Vegan, a tried and true little book, and went like so:
1 1/2 cups soy milk (I used almond)
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbst nutritional yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (I put in two)
(I also added a dash of nutmeg and other pertinent spices, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, because, I mean, come on, how can this not have vanilla extract?)

The batter/dip/wash/whatever came out looking pretty darn good. A solid start, I thought.

Well, I dipped in my first piece and tossed it in a heated up pan that had just a bit of oil in it. So far so good.

But when I went to flip it over...

It really just digressed from there.

Maybe I had soaked it in too much of the batter? It was in the bowl for a maximum of about two seconds, but I resolved to dip the second slice of bread much faster. After the first side fry and flip, eureka! Things were really looking up.

But then... structural failure.

Big time.

Kind of hurts, doesn't it?

Slice number three broke as I was putting it into the pan! Ended before it had even begun.

The big one kind of looks like Australia. (Use your imagination.)

Alright. So what the hell happened here? I considered many possibilities.

1) I suck at making French toast.
2) The structural integrity of my bread was somehow compromised throughout the loaf; it kept breaking in the same spot, after all.
3) I suck at making French toast.
4) Too much oil in the pan.
5) Not enough oil in the pan.
6) I suck at making French toast.
7) Pan too hot.
8) Pan not hot enough.
9) I suck at making French toast.

Did I eat the mangled wrecks of bread that I produced? Yes, yes I did. And they tasted pretty good; they tasted like French toast. They even had the proper consistency. But my oh my, there is no question that something was terribly amiss.

Well, an hour or two after I had finished making battered trainwrecks in the kitchen, Jonathan came home. There was still some batter left, so while I was back here in my studio blogging away, he busied himself in the kitchen using it up. And not that surprisingly, in he walked 20 or so minutes later with three gorgeous slices of French toast (drizzled with homemade fig syrup, obvs.).

Now, Jon is not necessarily a much better cook than I am, but he is much better at certain things. This, clearly, is one of them. Apparently, though, there is a secret here that I did not know about.

He staled his bread.

I mean, I know about pain perdu and all, but the recipe just didn't indicate that I needed to do anything to my bread. In fact, all it says about the consistency of the bread is "Soak 1 slice of bread in batter until bread is gooey." Does this indicate a stale and/or toasted slice of bread to you? To me, it does not. Nevertheless, if you're going to essentially soak your bread in milk, firmer bread does indeed seem the way to go. You can throw it in an oven for a couple of minutes, or lightly toast it, or ideally just let it sit out for a while and actually get stale. Fresh bread straight from the package? Apparenly not where it's at.

Thus is my story. Learn from my mistakes, and move forward, and be happy... and use stale bread.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Four: Stuff-I'd-Used-Half-Of Stew!

Sometimes I just... sort of... start... cooking. Without, like, a plan you know? I recently had such a night. I had a half a box of leftover something in the pantry, see, and I wanted to cook that. And I kind of just started finding what else was around the kitchen half used up, unloved, waiting to be put into some meal or other. This would be that meal!

Anybody wanna guess what I made? Was it some sort of weird jambalaya? Good guess but no. Rice-a-roni gone horribly awry? Close, but no cigar. It was a dish that has never been made before, will likely never be made again, was prepared using absurd methods, and yet somehow came out surprisingly tasty. You ready?

Orzo with okra and potatoes in a tomato based sauce! Didn't see that one coming, did you.

Well it happened like this. I decided I wanted to cook the half a box of orzo that had been hanging around the pantry. I like orzo veryvery much; it's a textural thing. But what to cook it with? Well I had to season it with something, and I spotted a red onion that had been languishing on our sideboard for ages. In another week it was sure to be a goner. So I sliced it up and set it to sautee... before I had any idea what else I was cooking. I figured I'd better do some quick searching.

First I came upon the half a bag of babynewred potatoes that I had left over from my corn chowder adventures at the beginning of the week. Sure, there's always something to do with potatoes. But since Jonathan loves a good starch on starch combo, why not? Orzo and potatoes would be weird on their own though, so my search continued. And there in the freezer, I found the perfect answer! A bag of okra that I'd bought a couple of months ago, and then forgot to put in the freezer when I got home with it, so that when I finally did freeze it it turned into one giant okracube. Great!

My onion being well sauteed, I tore open my bag of okra and just dumped it right on into the pan. I then looked over at my potatoes, which I had rinsed and cut up, and realized that they would take a while to cook. And so, I did something that I was glad Jon wasn't home to witness: I put the raw potatoes right in that pan at the same time with the giant frozen block of okra. People, this is the wrong way to cook. Please do not ever cook this way. Do as I say, not as I do. Do not try this at home. I added some stock from the omnipresent carton of it in our fridge, put the lid on, and hoped for the best. (Alright, by "hoped for the best" I do actually mean "checked on every two to three minutes, gently prying apart the pieces of okra, flipping over the okracube, and adding more stock as needed". Same diff.)

Well, eventually the huge cube-o-okra broke up and the pan was as it should be. I added a healthy dose of lemon pepper and "Italian Seasoning", and then I added the final ingredient - about a third of a carton of tomato soup! Whenever I eat orzo I want it to be kind of tomato-ey, see. Plus, I like okra and tomato, and I'm intrigued by the idea of combining tomato and potato. It all works! Round about this time I also put on a pot of water to boil (along with a cube of bullion) to go ahead and cook my orzo. Orzo takes a surprisingly long time to cook, what with it being as tiny as it is. Mine took a good 13 minutes or so. Which was fine, actually, because the potatoes needed more time to cook.

After approximately an hour from when I had begun my mad kitchen-raid adventure, all of the pieces were ready. I combined the orzo with the okra and potato mix in the pan and folded everything together. I thought the veggies were going to overwhelm the orzo, but I had it bass ackwards. Orzo apparently does a ton of expanding as it cooks. I turned the fire off, put the lid on, and let it set for a few minutes before serving. (By the bye, I think the color is pretty off in this pic. Apologies. Although, it wasn't exactly going to win any awards anyway, now was it?)

The biggest surprise of the night? The meal was kind of fantastic! You may have trouble believing this, and I don't really blame you. By all accounts it should have been terrible, or mediocre at best. I should have been punished for my evil ways. But no. The sauce and orzo were seasoned just perfectly, the potatoes were amazing with a buttery consistency and great flavor, and the okra was okra - we love okra. Jon and I agreed that it was delish, and we're both stoked that there are leftovers.

Sometimes strange things can happen in the kitchen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

VeganMoFo Day Twenty-Three: Chowda!

Over the weekend it was rain rain rain and cold cold cold - blegh. But then around came Monday, and suddenly there was the beautiful fall weather I've been waiting for! I put on my new boots, wore my autmn-ey long skirt and a brown sweater, and took it easy at work (well, a little bit easy anyway). And when I finally got home and the day was still wonderful, I was inspired to cook. Cook what? What else! Corn chowder, of course.

Now, I say that having a) never made it before, and b) never had it other than from out of a carton. But I could just feel in my bones that it was a corn chowder kind of day. So instead of heading for my apartment from the subway, I headed for the grocery store. There was a recipe in my head just dying to get out.

That's not to say that this recipe is all my own - not by any stretch. I got a solid framework for it from the corn chowder recipe in Clean Food by Terry Walters. (This book was bequeathed to me by my adorable co-worker Alyza, who may or may not be fed some vegan corn chowder any day now.) As usual, though, I deviated pretty significantly from there... partly because I am terrible at following recipes, and partly because I don't fully agree with this book's school of un-seasoning. I heart my spice rack.

As so many good things do, it all begins with one medium onion, chopped, and then sauteed for a few minutes in some good olive oil on low to medium heat. (This is a one pot soup; sautee right in that pot!) Basically, I get the onion in the pan and then start chopping the other vegetables. As they're chopped, I dump them in as well. Chop chop chop, stir stir stir, kind of like that. (What's that you say? I make Jonathan do all of the chopping for me? Hush now, don't talk so. Just because it's the truth and everything, you don't have to go talking about it.)

What other vegetables? Well in this instance, a few stalks of celery (3 or 4?) and a couple of carrots - we ended up using three small ones because that's what was wilting away in our fridge. Also, potatoes! The original recipe called for two "medium" potatoes. What does that mean anyway? I don't really like regular icky thick skinned potatoes though; I much prefer little baby new potatoes. So naturally that's what I picked up at the store, red ones. I used eight of them, each approximately the diameter of a golf ball, but flatter. I left the skins on (such a pretty red color!) and cut them into about eighth pieces.

Once all of your veggies have been chopped and added to the pot, add about a half cup of white cooking wine, or just regular old white wine if you happen to have half a bottle of the cheap stuff sitting in your fridge. You can measure, or you can eyeball, depending on how much you trust yourself (and how much you want your veg sautee to taste like cooking wine). I also added some seasonings here: celery salt, lemon pepper, and dried parsley. Let the mix sautee for a good five or ten minutes this way so that the potatoes start to cook and the flavors start to mingle.

Next, add your corn. You can use fresh or frozen. The recipe I was working from called for 3 1/2 cups, but I was using frozen, and how do you not end up with that little fist of unused frozen corn sitting in your freezer? I ended up using two 10 oz. packages of Cascadian Farms frozen organic sweet corn, which was probably about 4 cups. I didn't measure; I just dumped both bags in. Corn heavy corn chowder? Fine by me. (And actually, if/when I make this again I'll probably up it to three bags, but maybe puree one of them...)

So once your corn is in, you want to fill the pot with your "milk" of choice. As always I was using almond milk, but I could not get my normal brand (unsweetened Almond Breeze by Blue Diamond, what's up) which I think would have made the soup even better than it turned out. Anyway, you want to add enough milk to "just cover" the ingredients already in the pot - in my case this was about four cups. That equals one of the smaller (quart sized) cartons that non-dairy milks often come in. Whatever you choose to use, I suggest that you get a plain flavor that is low in sugar for this kind of cooking.

Once the milk is in, you want to bring the pot up to just barely a boil, and then lower it down to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Once your 20 minutes is up, you're going to do the exciting bit. The original recipe calls for a stick blender; I don't have one of those. What I do have, though, is a food processor. You do too, right? So grab your ridiculously oversized pyrex measuring thingy - you know you have one - and transfer 2.5 to three cups of the contents of your pot into it. A ladle works well for this kind of thing. Then pour this into your food processor. (You can let the remainder in the pot continue to simmer, but keep an eye on it.)

It will look something like this. Then... process! Pulse and process away till the contents of your food processor is smooth. It gets kind of spooky smooth, actually, kind of like creamed corn out of a can. If you've never had it, well, it borders on slimy. (Did I forget to take an "after" shot because I suck? Yes, yes I did.)

Pour your blendy-smooth mixture back into the main pot and stir well. It should hopefully look something like this. The chowder is now essentially finished, but you want to let its separated parts get to know each other again. Let it simmer for two or three minutes, and then turn the fire off and leave it covered for five to ten minutes before serving.

I served mine with a little sprinkle of dill on top, because every now and then I'm fancy like that. Was it just exactly perfectly the meal I was looking for? Yes, yes it was. Did Jonathan love it? Yes, yes he did. Should you make this chowder immediately? Yes, yes you should.

It will bring you joy. Joy... in the form of corn.