Saturday, August 27, 2011

Guest Post #2!

"Serve Me Anything That Didn't Have a Mom"
- Carol Schneider (MY Mom)

What is the most common query of non-vegans? “Isn’t it hard to eat as a vegan in a restaurant?” The answer is, unequivocally, “No!"

Picture this: We are led to our restaurant table and left with a menu. Here’s how the menu looks: plants, plants and more plants - with regular inclusion of animal flesh. But plants always win! That’s right! There are far more plant products on a menu than animals; animal flesh is expensive, and plants tend to be cheaper. You might even think the toughest restaurant would be a steak house, but it’s not! And the more ethnic you get, the easier dining is. And, if you are a good communicator in a restaurant with a cooperative server, you can create gourmet delights!

Let me offer one disclaimer before I offer dining ideas. I am what I call Virtually Vegan; that means I’m 99% pure vegan, but I’m not perfect. If I were pure, it means I would have to give up all leather, feathers in pillows, animal testing in products, among other things. I’m working on improving as a total plant-based human consumer, but I’m not there yet.

As a Virtual Vegan, I don’t feel the need to review the grand total of each and every ingredient that goes into every menu option. On occasion, I’ll ask what kind of broth is used in a soup to avoid chicken stock; or I’ll say I don’t eat dairy to avoid a creamy dish. But mostly, navigating mainstream restaurants is as easy as saying, “Hold the cheese!”

Here are some guidelines to help you become a vegan voyager! 

- Tell the reservationist you’re vegan when you make the reservation and a good restaurant will always comply.

- Tell the server you’d like to request the Chef prepare a vegan plate using any plant/legume/rice offerings that aren’t cooked in animal products. What will happen? Mostly you’ll have the most beautiful and colorful entree of all of your party, as Chef piles on the vegetables.
-  Greens, Beautiful Greens and Salads - your closest friend, and only require that you request no butter nor cheese, nor turkey, bacon or the assorted other animal toppings. I also try to get value for my dining dollar by requesting that they add extra vegetables to replace the products you’re leaving out. They usually comply.
-  Bread is your friend. Dine and enjoy it, and don’t think of “carbs” as killers. “Carbs” aren’t killers, but eating animals will kill. 
-  “Hot” restaurants, these days, often offer bean purees, tapenades (careful the anchovies, though some don’t use them), tomato and bean purees to enjoy with bread - much more exciting than simply fat. 
-  Olive oil is always available instead of butter (personally, I enjoy a teaspoon of butter occasionally on my last couple of bites of bread before the entree arrives). 
-  Avocado is always a great substitute for cheese in salads and in veggie burgers. 
-  Baked Potatoes are available from steak house to drive-thru fast food restaurants. However, even if I didn’t mind a shred of cheese on occasion, I couldn’t accept gratin and mashed potatoes because they’re heaped and piled with empty fat calories 
-  Rice of any kind can stand in as your entree. I’ve even discovered Italian restaurants whose risotto recipes don’t include cheese. 
-  Beans are also entree stand-ins, in Southwestern, as well as Italian restaurants (take a Bean-o pill before you dine if you’re worried about gas) 
-  Pasta is a natural. Is there egg in it? You choose; but it’s a minute amount anyway. 
-  Hold the Parmesan. The dairy lobby has saturated the world with cheese, cheese, everywhere. Make pepper, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, soy sauce, etc your stand-in for cheese. 
-  Lemon Juice is nirvana! It can become your major flavor booster - as well as a hand sanitizer pre-dinner! 
-  Salsa is not only all vegetable; it’s raw! Top everything with it and feast!  

Final reminder: enjoy moderate alcohol. That’s right, cocktails or wine with dinner are natural vegan treats and meal enhancer s(although there are a few cases where animal products are used in production of liquor).  
If you find you’re still hungry, after dining vegan style, don’t despair because you “need protein”. Keep hemp seed in your bag or frig. Hemp seed has more protein - including all of the amino acids - than any other food - plant or animal - on earth - and it’s tasty by itself or sprinkled on sweet or savory dishes!

I gave my carnivore husband a challenge when my daughter and I first started eating a vegan food-style. I ask him this: if you were forced to choose between two restaurants, which would you choose - all plant or all animal? He chose the all plant restaurant; because he knew he could still enjoy fine wine or cocktails, salads, terrific bread and gourmet, unprocessed vegetable/carbs/legumes with olive oil and amazing herbal and juice seasonings.

Go out and challenge ANY mainstream restaurant with your vegan requests. I can guarantee: they’ll be ready for you!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Things I Don't Understand

Warning: this is a bit of a vegan rant. If you don't like or are intimidated by an angry vegan, then you should probably stop reading. But if you want to explore a different perspective, read on.

So. We had some family over for dinner last night. They're all loud, funny, opinionated Jewish New Yorkers. My kind of people. Normally.

My mom and I had a good time in the kitchen during yesterday's rainy afternoon. We made jambalaya, roasted zucchini and eggplant, baked spaghetti squash with olive oil and spices, cornbread, and chocolate peanut butter brownie cake. We took a lot of time and money planning the feast, trying extra hard to blow our carnivorous guests out of the water with some decadent plant-based eats.

Our guest arrived and we started off with some drinks and snacky things. Delicious aromas wafted out of the kitchen. A cousin walked in and proceeded to ask my mom what we were eating tonight. The conversation went a little something like this:
Cousin: Wait, so what's in the jambalaya? Did you find some good andouille sausage?
Mom: Nope, just some vegan chorizo.
Cousin: You know what we call what's in your sausage? Salad! Hahahahahaha!!

Ok, so maybe it was a little funny. I can take a joke. But clearly no one was even curious about a new kind of food. They just wrote it off, no questions asked.

Dinner was served with more sniggers. Another cousin exclaimed, "Ew! I don't even want to know what's in vegan sausage! Gross!"

That's what really set me off. I wanted to shake her and scream DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?! Because the nastiest thing in vegan sausage is probably a little fake food coloring, and that's only if you're using a cheap brand.

Plant-based sausage is made out of vital wheat gluten or soy, some fat, and plenty of herbs and spices. Animal-based sausage is made out of a corpse. It is decaying flesh, a dead thing. PLUS oodles of antibiotics, arsenic, feces, cholesterol, bacteria, steroids, pesticides, and parasites. YUM!

I do understand that it's hard to think about food as what it was before it was on your plate. I'm not so brain-washed to think that people will immediately associate a steak with a cow, or a hot dog with a pig. Hell, I used to be carnivore myself. I knew what I was eating, but some part of my brain chose not to consider the idea that I was eating a dead creature. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Some people don't want to hear a different view. They just aren't open to it. They like their way of life and don't want to consider alternatives. I'm not going to preach to anyone who doesn't want to listen. But next time I'd hope that they could be better dinner guests and at least save the rude comments for after they leave. Any cook, meat-eating or not, wants to be appreciated for the food that they lovingly put on the table. I don't think some common-sense manners are too much to ask for.

Also, thinking before you open your mouth is generally a good idea.

By the way, Bill Clinton is officially vegan. If that doesn't say something for my so-called "alternative" lifestyle, then I don't know what does.

Love and jambalaya for breakfast,

Monday, August 8, 2011

Easy Summer Dinner

It's hot out. No matter where you're reading this you're likely sweaty. You don't want to cook anything. You don't want to think. You just want some food, but nothing too fattening for swimsuit season. And it has to be tasty.

Solution? Raw noodles and almond alfredo sauce.

- 1 zucchini (or summer squash)
- Water
- 1/3 cups raw almonds
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp oregano
- Salt n peppa
- Olive oil and tomato to garnish

How To
1: peel the zucchini. Discard the skin and use the somewhat starchy inside as noodles. Peel off ribbons until you reach the seeds
2: in a blender combine the almonds, garlic, thyme, oregano, and water. Add about 1/2 cup water, more if necessary, until the sauce has the consistency of hummus. I like it thick
3: put noodles and sauce in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
4: drizzle olive oil and add diced tomatoes
5: enjoy!

Yep, it's that simple. Play around with the sauce and see what you like. It's hard to go wrong.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Post!


I’m Samantha, the “Sam” from Suzie’s “It Tastes Like Real Food!” post, and you can attribute the title of that post to my father, Scott. :P

I should probably tell you a bit about me.  I’m a junior psychology major at Barnard College, the women’s college at Columbia University, in New York City.  I’d say that the majority of my monthly budget goes to travel expenses with the MTA and food.  I’m so lucky that my friends appreciate and enjoy food as much as I do.  Last summer, we’d have Food Fridays every week and cook up elaborate dinner parties for 10 to 20 people, or spend our evenings making peach and goat cheese galettes, or cook roasted herb potatoes and spinach and smoked Gouda omelets for brunch.  And that was just when we cooked for ourselves.  Not exactly the menu for a typical college student.  My favorite day in New York City was when I got a free ticket for a food tour of the West Village.  The tour was several hours long a 30-degree windy winter day, but I really couldn’t have been happier.

The Awkward Camp Phase
Suzie and I met at sleep-away camp when we were in middle school, only to learn we actually lived in the same town, and we became close friends once high school started.  As an open-minded, meat-eating (well, until about three weeks ago), will-try-almost-anything, self-declared foodie, I’ve been traveling along the vegan journey with Suzie for the last couple of years.  Mostly, I just taste the delicious meals and baked goods she makes, join her for meals at vegan restaurants to which her parents (my second family) so generously treat me, and occasionally help with the cooking. 

When Suzie returned from Florida during winter break of our senior year of high school, I did read Skinny Bitch, but I didn’t have the same reaction to it as she did.  To be honest, I met it primarily with skepticism.  To me, it seemed to air on the side of propaganda, or perhaps exaggerated the truth a bit, and while I didn’t think that everything in the book was false, I just wanted to get more information and make sure I was seeing the whole picture.  Since then, I’ve come around to respect, and even admire, the vegan lifestyle, even though I have admittedly rolled my eyes a few times over the last few years at some of the things Suzie has said.  But our dear blogger admits to writing the occasional snarky rant, so that reaction is to be expected, right? ;) 

Second Family
As you read Suzie’s blog posts, I’m sure you notice how passionate she is about being vegan, because of both the health benefits and the benefits to the environment and animals.  As her friend, I am thrilled that she has found something she loves and to which she wants to dedicate herself.  I also want to be able to participate in that with her, even if our opinions on the subject may vary.  So, when she came to stay at my house for a long 4th of July weekend, during which we had not one, but two, barbeques, I wanted to not only learn from her, but I also wanted her to feel comfortable and her values and the habits of my family to be mutually respected.

Suzie has already written about the mouth-watering, satisfying, filling, and healthy dishes we made, and I am telling you that if you haven’t already cooked them for yourself, go do so!  Just, seriously, watch out for the spiciness.  Later that night, as I was in bed trying to fall asleep, I noticed my fingers burning… sort of like the burning nose Suzie talked about.

I decided that for the weekend while Suzie was at my house, I would eat as at least a vegetarian.  She arrived on Thursday evening, and my mom had made a delicious pot of lentil soup (one of my favorite things that my mom makes).  We’re a blended Italian and Jewish family, so many of my most loved dishes contain dairy products and meat.  I needed my grated Pecorino Romano cheese (if any readers do consume dairy products, this is wayyy better than Parmesan—supposedly a little-known secret about Italian cheeses) on my lentil soup, so I happily sprinkled it on my soup, but otherwise, this would’ve been completely vegan.  On Friday evening for our first barbeque of the weekend, I did slip up, and while Suzie wasn’t looking (she doesn’t know this yet), I snuck into the kitchen and had half a hot dog.  But she will be happy to know that it really wasn’t as satisfying as I had wanted it to be, and after a day of eating a vegetarian diet, I felt like I had just violated my body in some way.  I didn’t like that the taste lingered for hours, and worse, I didn’t like picturing the food clogging my arteries and adding fat to my Jewish hips.

As the weekend progressed, I ignored the heaping tray of burgers in favor of channa masala from Whole Foods, veggie burgers (which I believe had just five or six ingredients in it), and our leftover spicy sweet potatoes.  I realized what I love most about food: the flavors, the sauces, the savory warmth that spreads over my tongue and puts a grin on my face.  It was the way chicken or burgers were seasoned and prepared that I liked, while the actual meat was my least favorite part of a dish. 

So I decided that I would give myself a challenge: eating a vegetarian and/or vegan diet for 30 days.  I thought a few things: one, that there was no harm in trying; two, that I owed it to my friend to participate in something about which she truly cares; and three, that my body deserved to be well-fed and treated with respect.  Now it’s two and a half weeks later, and I’m doing fantastically well! 

I was never that big of a dairy eater; I don’t like milk, yogurt, and most cheeses, except for my Italian cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, and Pecorino Romano).  I don’t believe in depriving myself of things that give me joy, and I’m never going to give up cheese on my pasta, but I’m okay with that.  I do love frozen yogurt, and I don’t see much harm in eating it on occasion.  To be honest, I haven’t yet looked into dairy-free ice creams, but it’s on my list of things to do.  One thing I did not anticipate was how much fish I would be eating, so I guess technically I can’t say I’m a vegetarian… yet.  But, baby steps, right?  When Rosh Hashanah comes around, I’ll figure out what to do about my mom’s mind-blowing brisket…

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that my body feels better, and I feel better about myself, which motivates me to keep going and not revert back to my meat-eating days!  And, I’m not sure how many of you have seen Suzie in person, but if you have, there’s no denying that she does have a rockin’ bod… so I am hopeful that I will achieve that too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ode to the Green Drank

I never thought I would be one of those disgustingly healthy people who started their day with a salad in a beverage. Those people were too extreme, too dedicated. They also believed in colonics and loathed cupcakes.

Well, I’ve turned into one of those people. Granted I don’t want my insides purged with a hose and I still adore fluffy sugary things, but I’ve had a smoothie for breakfast almost every day since I’ve been on the farm.

It started with my housemates, who showed me that the taste of leafy greens can magically be disguised with enough fruit and other tasty things. Then I read Kris Carr’s book, Crazy Sexy Diet and decided to give it a shot. If a weird concoction can give me ridiculous amounts of energy, prevent cancer, and make me look fabulous, I might as well try it. When in Rome, right?

I’ve been hooked ever since. There’s something about starting your day with a good serving or three of vegetables. You feel empowered. You want to wear a gold star on your shirt like “look at me! I ate veggies for breakfast and liked it!” Plus it’s perfect for summer. On a bright sunny day you don’t want to be bogged down first thing by white floury things and too much sugar. You want to feel light and airy and drink something icy cold.

If you want more scientific reasons to try green dranks, here ya go: leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, romaine, swiss chard, mixed salad greens) are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins. They are a great source of non-dairy calcium, magnesium and Vitamin C.  And they contain carotenoids that may help protect against macular degeneration and folate to guard against heart disease and cancer. Popeye was onto something.

But if you just skipped the nutritional jargon, just know that these shakes just make you feel awesome. It’s as simple as that.

So…how do you make a green smoothie without grimacing with every sip?

Start with something green. I like spinach best because it has a really mild taste. But if you want to be adventurous, kale is an even healthier choice.

Next I like cucumber, about ½ . Peel it, it’ll taste better. Maybe throw in some celery or romaine.

Next for the fun part. Fruit! Bananas are really sweet so they’re great if you’re just starting out with this whole green drank thing. Berries are great too. Go with the frozen kind.

Want to stay full until lunch? Make sure to add protein. Nut butters are great, so are non-dairy milks, especially soy milk.

Finally, make it sweet! I love adding raw cacao powder, cinnamon, and agave or stevia. It tastes much more like a milkshake this way.

My go-to recipe for delicious green gooddness:
- 2 handfuls of kale or spinach
- ½ peeled cucumber
- Non-dairy milk
- Almond butter
- Agave
- Cinnamon
- Ice
- Banana
- Raw cacao powder

Give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"It Tastes Like Real Food!"

Last weekend I ventured to my hometown in Westport, CT to see a close friend from high school. It was so nice to be treated to some home cooking from a loving Jewish/Italian mother, and I was even able experiment with exciting flavors in a new kitchen. I was wined and dined by my second family, and I managed to stay vegan the whole time. Gold star for me!

My first night I was fed delicious lentil soup over ditalini, which was quite welcome after a ten-hour travel day. I spent Friday in New York City, wandering where I pleased on my own schedule. My first destination was The Union Square GreenMarket. I arrived there on a gloriously sunny day around nine o’clock. Foodies browsed the tents as I hunted for breakfast: gluten free AND vegan orange-chocolate muffin. Plus blueberries and coffee from the Whole Foods across the street. I felt very city-gourmet-chic.

Next, I set off for the Chelsea Market and bought some goodies from One Lucky Duck. I’m falling in love with this great company called Sprout. They create all-natural, simple, local skincare products that are so pure you could easily make them in your kitchen. They also have a consultation service to figure out what products and dietary choices can help you feel and look your best. I’m giving this a try to figure out why I still have the skin of a pubescent thirteen-year-old.

I digress…

I had a light lunch on The High Line, an old railroad that has been turned into a gorgeous public park. It was a perfect city afternoon.

On Saturday I settled into the comforts of my hometown. My friend Sam and I went to The Sherwood Diner (where else?) for breakfast. I had about ¼ cup brown sugar with oatmeal J, plus homefries and too much coffee.  We spent the day shopping and prepping for dinner. I wanted to cook for her family to thank them for graciously hosting me for the weekend.

On the menu:

It was a relatively easy meal to prepare, especially with two cooks. However, I managed to casually rub my nose after chopping a hot pepper. The effects were disastrous. My sinuses were burning and I turned into sniveling weepy mess. My fingers stung into the next day!

Kitchen tip: use plastic gloves when chopping peppers.

While the gumbo simmered the ladies of the house enjoyed FoodPornDaily. I don’t recommend looking at this site at work or at family functions. You will moan and scream. People may assume you’re having a bit too much fun.

Dinner was a success! The non-veg family ate it up, along with some antacids to cut the spice. And, according to Sam’s dad, “it even tastes like real food!” Well duh, sir.

I’ll admit that I was a little anxious about leaving my little vegan bubble and entering the home of a carnivorous family. I knew that I couldn’t stray from my values, but I still had to respectfully live in someone else’s home. Luckily I didn’t encounter a single issue. Sam’s mom graciously bought soymilk and Tofutti Cuties for me, and I was even able to enjoy a veggie burger at a big family barbeque. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too grossed out when it came time to prepare and cook turkey burgers, hamburgers, and hot dogs. I figured that after a month on a farm where the animals are so distinctively not food I would be extremely sensitive, but for whatever reason I brushed it off. It was amusing, however, when Sam’s sister squealed in disgust when forming the burgers. I wonder if she ever considered why she was so innately revolted…

But now I’m back in the veg cocoon, cooking up a veggie stiry fry with tempeh for dinner and eating dates for dessert. It feels good to be home.
The New York Public Library

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Emergency Post on Roasted Vegetables

Ever since my lil blog was featured on in Tulane's New Wave yesterday (!!!) I've been dreaming up all sorts of things to write about. I have lots of exciting features coming your way, BUT FIRST:

I just made roasted vegetables for the first time.


And so simple. And maybe not as nutritious as straight-up raw veggies, but still better for you than french fries.

Here's what to do.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400°
2. Put a little olive oil on a big pan with sides so that the vegetables don't stick
3. Cut up some veggies. I used half a red pepper and a head of broccoli, but you can use whatever you fancy
4. Toss the veggies with some olive oil in a big bowl
5. Sprinkle on some sea salt and fresh-ground pepper. You can use any kind of seasoning you want, however
6. Place the veggies evenly on the baking sheet. The more room between the veggies, the better
7. Pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
8. Eat ridiculous amounts of freshly-cooked vegetables, and try not to moan too much while doing so

Behold! Vegetable heaven
I'm eating my veggies right now with some brown rice. They're a little crispy and are perfectly satisfying for my current salty food craving. The red peppers are incredible. I don't think I've ever had freshly roasted red peppers before! They're sweet and flavorful and soft.

Hits the spot.