Wednesday, September 29, 2010

did you miss that?

Pardon me - does anyone know where I might find the forest?  All I can see are all these trees...

Last night I got an amusing message from a friend I used to work with.  Having [presumably] read my posts about Skinny Bitch, he decided to pick up a copy and see what it was all about.  I think it would be fair to say it changed his life, since the purpose of him contacting me was to get help on starting his journey away from eating animals.  I wrote him back a short novel and he responded quickly to thank me for being the first person to be happy for him making such a change.  Part of the transformation he is affecting helped him to quit smoking cigarettes and people are universally happy about that, but he is meeting with the same resistance I've encountered for the past eight years.  He expressed appropriate horror that people are missing the "bigger picture" because eating animals is so socially acceptable that no one wants to know what goes on behind the scenes.

Another friend, rich in compassion, has been posting impassioned pleas for awareness and action on behalf of dogs being bred solely to die for human consumption in Korea.  Sound familiar?

No one wants to think like that though, but really - in our country, we have set aside these animals to eat and these animals to keep as companions.  In other countries, they do the same, but that doesn't mean we all choose the same animals.  In a culture where a cow is held up as sacred, they would have the same livid response to our consumption of cows - one of horror and disgust that anyone would think it's okay to eat this animal.  Whether it's cows or canines shouldn't be the issue as much as the factory farming that exploits and destroys them both.

On that happy note... I've discovered yet another weapon in the war on dairy!

For reasons I don't know, the Dream team does not have any information available on the website for their almond milk-based frozen desserts.  Fortunately, I have a relatively sharp camera and an even sharper tongue.  This creamy, sweet, all-around delightful ice cream analog found a welcoming seat on that same tongue.  With only 140 calories a serving and devoid of dairy, this sweet treat is welcome there anytime.  If you blindfolded my husband (BIG ice cream fan, who has dragged me on multiple mid-winter midnight ice cream runs) and fed him a spoonful of Haagen-Dazs, one of Ben & Jerry's, and one of Almond Dream, I promise you, he would pick the wrong one to be the non-dairy dessert - it is so close that it even has that bizarre aftertaste that usually accompanies "real" ice cream.

With 140 calories per 1/2 cup serving, it is competing with Tempt for a favorite low-cal treat to keep around - Sometimes Treats are even better when the Sometimes can be closer together!  There are 7g of good fats (poly- and mono-unsaturated) and 0 Saturated or Trans fats.  There is also no cholesterol, which seems to be a growing problem among my age-peers and I think that is tragic.  The ingredient list is also short and sweet.  I used to be super-obsessed with labels, refusing to buy things with too many calories or too much fat.  If you've been paying attention, you know that kind of behavior can lead to all kinds of trouble, consorting with the devils of artificial sweetening and chemically engineered fat substitutes.  Since reading Skinny Bitch (will I ever get tired of promoting that book?  I don't know.), I recently realized that I don't look at the nutritional facts until I've read the ingredients, and sometimes, I just don't even bother if I'm happy with the ingredients.  My waistline has not yet punished me.

In case you're wondering, last night's dinner was Black-Bottom Pineapple Tofu with Coconut Cashew Rice from Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy.

In case you're wondering, it was wonderful.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have some forest to find.  Do you think it's behind those trees there?

Monday, September 27, 2010

organic spinach and the continuing battle with brown rice

Years ago, when I became a vegetarian and then moved within 5 blocks of a Whole Foods Market, I became an avid fan of organic produce.  I understood it was a bit more costly than conventionally grown (and at times, manipulated) fruits and vegetables, but I was convinced I could taste a difference and if nothing else, I was full of the zeal which often accompanies a major lifestyle change.

Years passed, times got a little tough...I lost my job at a non-profit organization after multiple cuts in government funding, coincidentally occurring at the same time as Bush's Great War.  In the nine months it took me to find a new job, I would be lying if I said I had little trouble surviving on unemployment.  I took a part time job and continued to look for full time work while trying to nourish my body while being as thrifty as possible.  Actually, Robin's book would have come in awfully handy if it had been written in 2006.  In any case, while I continued to purchase the best quality food I could justify with my shrunken budget, I let organic food slide, bit by bit, out of my diet.

Why did I do that??

I've recently been reminded, in many ways, of the superior quality of organic produce, as well as other staples.  Mostly out of laziness (I prefer not to scrub my pesticide-coated food with steel wool), I have gotten back into the habit of buying organic fruits and most vegetables.  However, in the frozen food aisle, I have continued to buy "normal" vegetables.  In preparation for tonight's Indian-Spiced Lentil Ragu from Vegan on the Cheap, I needed one of those nifty boxes of frozen spinach.  The past several times I've purchased those little cubes of chopped greens from Superfresh, I have found myself fishing out dead and brown pieces, as well as prickly sticks, and I'm not fond of dissecting my frozen veggies.  So, this time, I decided to try the boxes of organic frozen spinach at Whole Foods, just to see if there was a difference.

I don't know why this continues to surprise me.  I guess I'm just that dense sometimes.  My first thought upon adding the green brick to my ragu was exactly how green it was; there was not a single shred of rotted brown spinach or sticky stems.  It remained a green that could only be described as lush throughout the cooking process and even the curry spices couldn't muddle its beautiful emerald coloring.

I'm not sure you can see it too well in this picture, but it is gorgeous and more tender than I have been accustomed to when eating frozen spinach.  I didn't even realize the different texture until tonight, but once again, the organic proves to be worth its price even when frozen.

Last night, I waged another battle in my war with Brown Rice.  I don't know why we can't just get along and live harmoniously.  It wants to be cooked; I want to cook it - I don't know why we can't work together for what is obviously a common goal.  Nevertheless, I nearly lost the battle last night.

There are no pictures of the Mexican Bean and Rice Bake from Vegan on the Cheap.  I was too angry at dinner to photograph it.  I am somewhat convinced that Brown Rice is not necessarily picking a fight with me, as much as it is trying to avoid bathing in Tomato Juice.  It seems that every time I have trouble with Brown Rice, it involves this nemesis.  After waiting over two hours for dinner to cook last night, I have come to the unshakable decision to always cook the rice separately from anything that involves tomatoes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

sometimes it's the simple things

You should see some of the things I see from my little window, overlooking a very popular street in Philadelphia.  The costumes some women wear, complete with these amazing shoes - I can't figure out how they remain upright, much less walk down the uneven, high-heel-unfriendly, chunks-missing-here-and-there sidewalks of center city.  The men aren't much better - gold-rimmed sunglasses (after sunset, because they're that cool), bright color-coordinated outfits, snakeskin print shoes...I see these people prancing around my neighborhood each weekend, sometimes arriving in outrageously pimped out limousines, jewelry (or shirts) sparkling even in the streetlights.  What are they looking for?

I think Lady Gaga put it best in her song, The Fame:
I can't help myself I'm addicted to a life of material.
It's some kind of joke, I'm obsessively opposed to the typical.
All we care about is, runway models, cadillacs and liquor bottles.
Give me something I wanna be, retro glamour, Hollywood.
Yes, we live for the Fame
Doin' it for the Fame
'Cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous.
Fame, Doin' it for the Fame
'Cause we've got a taste for champagne and endless fortune.
People want to feel special; they want to indulge and partake in luxury.

I'm no different.

Fortunately, my indulgence takes far less time for make-up and outfit-selection.  I'm fine just the way I am - I just need a nice glass of red wine and a few squares of decadent, high-quality dark chocolate.

This little moment of opulence is brought to you courtesy of Yellow Tail Cabernet-Merlot (blue) and Vivani Chocolate.  (P.S. I dare you to go to Vivani's website and not drool while watching the homepage slideshow.)

Back to earth, back to the reality of a fun day of food shopping and laundry tomorrow, here is the new menu:

1. Indian-Spiced Lentil Ragu and

2. Mexican Rice and Bean Bake, both from Vegan on the Cheap and both left over from last week's menu, because Mister's belly troubles resulted in an extra night or two of not cooking.

3. Black-Bottom Pineapple Tofu with Cashew Coconut Rice from Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy, because
  • I love this recipe
  • It's been a while since I've made it, and
  • I have some coconut burning a hole in my cupboard.
4. Pasta Jambalaya from Vegan Express

5. Braised Cauliflower with Three-Seed Sauce from Vegan With A Vengeance.  Can you see that I'm trying to make up for getting all of my meals from one cookbook for two weeks? 

Angst also has his little piece of heaven right now - a red wire he stole from Mister and is now gleefully batting around the living room floor.  Sometimes, it's the simple things. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

california dreaming (and kale soup)

As if Summer was not quite prepared to leave just yet, on this second day of Autumn the high temperature today soared over 90 degrees.  I did what any rational person would do - I made soup for dinner.

Let me back up a little.  I had actually intended to save the soup recipe for Sunday when the weather forecast is cool and gloomy.  However, my poor Mister has been having stomach troubles the past couple of days and wanted something light for dinner.  I asked him if he wanted dinner and if so, which dinner, and he chose the soup.

Tonight, I made Black Bean Soup with Kale and Rice from Vegan on the Cheap.  As I suspected, I did not need a slow-cooker to make the soup.  I let it simmer on the stovetop for almost an hour and it was flavorful and hearty.  Mister enjoyed it and there are leftovers if he wants them tomorrow.  I did get to wondering what a vegetarian would use a slow-cooker for, since they gained popularity for tenderizing tough cuts of animal.  I realized, after a few bags of dried beans, the slow-cooker would pay for itself in terms of canned bean savings!

It's a pretty soup, yes?  I'm glad I didn't use three cans of black beans (I used two) because it was a much thicker soup than I anticipated and I think the third can would have been overkill.

So, what does all of this have to do with California?  Glad you asked!  Nothing at all.  However, amidst the many text messages I got today sending me cyber-hugs for Hug A Vegetarian Day, my beautiful and beloved sister-in-law sent me one asking Mister and I to come visit around the time of our anniversary.  She included a very valuable bribe - a free ticket for Mister to accompany her husband to BlizzCon.  He was pretty excited since most of the time that I'm sitting here at my computer typing up witty posts, he is battling all sorts of mythical monsters in World of Warcraft (another gift from my considerate brother-in-law).

I'm just looking forward to spending some time with this lovely lady:

the milk conundrum

I grew up drinking huge amounts of milk.  I can't remember a time that it wasn't a vital part of my diet.  I credited my milk consumption with an incredible growth spurt in Middle School.  I was certain that my milk and saltines "diet" prevented me from gaining the dreaded Freshman Fifteen when I went to college.  Through the parties, showers, and wedding receptions I attended through my twenties, I couldn't imagine life without the cheese tray.  When I moved into my present home, one of the most attractive parts about the location was that it is placed an equal distance from Dairy Queen and a frozen yogurt place, with Rita's and Haagen-Dazs just another short block away.

When I became a vegetarian 8 years ago, in the course of educating myself, I thought I might give up dairy.  I was aware of the horrific conditions of dairy farms and the mistreatment of cows, but for some reason, it didn't occur to me that the same thoughts would apply to goats.  I considered forsaking cows' milk for goats' milk, but it would have been a very cost-prohibitive undertaking when I was fresh out of college and working two jobs to afford a place of my own.  Also, a friend pointed out that the goats are not treated any better than the cows and you're still robbing another species of the milk meant for its babies.

Recently, my sister started having the same thoughts, but is also wary of soymilk due to the conflicting research about its nutritive qualities.  To answer her queries, I wrote her a novel of an email, and as I was typing, it occurred to me that a "milk" round-up might be a beneficial post.

The first point I wish to make, before a consumer review of the various non-dairy "milks" available, is this: critics of soy most frequently point to the prevalence of phytoestrogens present in soy.  Before I held the position I currently hold at my workplace, I had the privilege of interacting with a broad spectrum of our clientele.  One man shared his disgust with our program by telling me there was too much soy in our program and that soy is "what's turnin' men into women these days."  What Cletus the Cowboy probably does not realize is that when he drinks his milk, he is drinking the breastmilk of a mother animal (of another species) which is meant to nurture her baby.  This breastmilk is rife with her hormones, including more estrogen than the phytoestrogens you'll find in soy.

So, if you aren't "supposed" to consume dairy from a cow or a goat, what to do?  There is a wide variety of non-dairy "milks" available now: soy, almond, rice, coconut, even hemp!  I have tried almost all of them and will say this: once you break the dairy habit, you will find that you only occasionally wish to use a dairy substitute.  Soy milk and hemp milk are the best for protein - hemp milk actually provides the best nutrition I've found so far.  Almond and rice milk are low in calories and have a more neutral taste than soy, but are not terribly nutritious - they're really more for "show" so to speak.  Coconut milk has a slightly sweet aftertaste and is undeniably coconut milk.  It is thick - if soymilk resembles 2% milk and rice milk resembles skim, coconut milk is definitely whole milk.  The thickness is vaguely disturbing - I had some trouble eating a bowl of cereal using it, but I think it could be beneficial for use as an ingredient.

Silk soymilk is available in many nutritional configurations and flavors.  They use only non-GMO soybeans, battling the allegation than soybean farming is as dangerous for the environment as cattle-ranching.  The unsweetened soymilk has only 80 calories for an 8oz serving and 4g of healthy fats.  It packs 7g of protein and half the B12 needed for a day, in addition to other vitamins and nutrients.  For complete nutritional information, click here.

Tempt has a variety of dairy substitutes.  I am completely addicted to the frozen desserts and plan to try the hempmilk once I get through the coconut milk currently in my fridge.  You can see my analysis of their "ice cream" and why everyone should eat it by clicking here.  Hemp milk is a great source of fatty acids and other helpful nutrients.  Mandi at Chic Vegan just posted an article on the benefits of hemp.  I can't share any personal opinions of the taste or texture of hemp milk, but hemp makes one heck of a soft and comfy skirt!

Turtle Mountain has recently launched a line of coconut milk beverages.  Having tried the unsweetened "flavor," I can say that it has the thickness of coconut milk with far less than half the calories and fat.  I'll admit I'm having a little trouble adjusting to the whole milk-like consistency, but I'm willing to see it through because coconut milk is full of Medium Chain Fatty Acids that are not common in the average American diet.  Although it is lower in calories than soymilk, it is also deficient in protein and potassium in relation.  For complete nutrition information, click here.

Almond Breeze has a slightly creamy and pleasantly neutral taste.  The vanilla flavor is wonderful for making oatmeal or lightening coffee.   Almond milk is low in calories and fat, but also has only 1g protein in each 8oz serving.  You will, however, get half of your recommended vitamin E and 30% of your daily calcium needs met in this easy-to-drink dairy substitute.  This is the one "milk" I would actually drink as a beverage - the others have been relegated to moistening cereal/oatmeal or as an ingredient in mashed potatoes and cookies.  For complete nutritional information, click here.

Rice Dream is actually the heaviest hitter in terms of calories, and honestly, it provides very little nutritional value for that punch.  It is low in fat, but high in carbs and sugar.  I also have found that the texture is less pleasing than other "milks" and it seems more watery.  This would be fine for your breakfast cereal, but I wouldn't drink it as a beverage unless you are also attached to the taste and texture of skim milk. 

Hopefully, this little review will be helpful to anyone sitting on the fence, or at the very least, will encourage you to expand your milk-consumption horizons a little.  Please feel free to leave comments about your favorite variation and/or brand so we can all learn from your experience!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

special wednesday hummus

Tonight I learned two things:

First, it is much easier to devote your brain power to "what am I having for dinner?" when you don't have to bother with pesky side-thoughts like safely operating a motor vehicle.

Second, regardless of the privilege of devoting my whole brain to filling my stomach, I still didn't know too much about what I would eat by the time I arrived home.  I can't say I wasn't closer, but I still didn't have a definite plan beyond this: It would involve the sweet potato that has slowly been trying to sprout legs and run away.

I purchased the sweet potato at least a week ago and it has been sitting on my counter next to the recipe for which I originally bought it.  Sometime between buying the sweet potato and tonight, I lost my zeal for the recipe, kindly shared with me by a colleague.  She and I were swapping oatmeal strategies today while she was surreptitiously eating instant oatmeal from a coffee cup at her desk, and it might have sparked a renewed interest in the other recipe.

I have no pretty pictures, but Martha does. 

Tonight's dinner was Sweet Potato Hummus with pita wedges.  I was going to slice some celery sticks as well, but I was quite full by the time my pita got me through about a cup of this stuff.

It is a charming shade of pumpkin orange and covers a pleasant range of tastes from the exciting bite of raw garlic to the steam-enhanced sweetness of the yam.  It is a very simple recipe and I had everything I needed on hand.  I doubled the amount of garlic, as I commonly have to do with dear Martha's recipes and I added a total of 6 Tbsp of water to get everything full incorporated and to the right consistency.

It makes a ton, so I have about two cups in GladWare in the fridge, and I put some into a small to-go container for Spunky - she loves hummus and has admitted to eating an entired tub by herself in a night.  At least this one is a little lower fat.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

you people = a (welcome) challenge

I have mentioned before that I was kind of a thorn in the side of the catering service at our old offices, asking pesky questions like, "Is there chicken broth in the vegetable soup?"  I don't like to inconvenience people, but I will admit that I was quite pleased when after a few inquiries, the catering manager did two things: first, he started labeling whether a soup was vegetarian or not; also, there were two tureens, and after a short while, I found that one of them always held a vegetarian soup to balance whatever was in the other.  I appreciated this effort and was sure to thank him and make compliments where appropriate.  More time passed and I found that creative and substantial vegetarian options were finding their way into the weekly menu, and again, I found the time to thank the staff for that effort.

Two months ago, we moved into our new offices and acclimated to a new on-site caterer.  As a welcome and thank you gift, each member of the staff was given a travel mug (emblazoned, of course, with our brand logo) and inside was a $5 giftcard to the cafeteria.  With nothing to lose, I wandered in one day...and wandered around...and came up relatively empty-handed.  I greatly appreciate their ingredient cards beside their soup tureens, but on the day I was there, both tureens contained animal soup.  All the hot food was also out-of-bounds and even the salad had chicken on it.  To their credit, they carry Luna bars, and I was about to try to make a meal out of them when I remembered some colleagues excitedly telling me the salad bar had tofu.  Spunky had also shared that there were snack-sized hummus-n-pretzel cups.  Just as I was wandering toward the salad bar, the chef came out from his station and asked if he could help me find anything.  I told him I was vegan and was just investigating my options.  He looked dismayed, but as I was to learn, he was not dismayed because I was being difficult.

What have I learned from these two experiences?  Real cooks/chefs welcome the challenge someone like me brings to the table.  I think they don't realize how bored they get within the established parameters of "normal" cuisine until someone comes along and says, "Well, it's great what you're doing here, but can you make something substantial and palatable that does not involve dead animals?"  Since that first interaction, the chef has approached me twice - once in the cafe, while I was making another salad, he came over to show me the marinated barley salad he had added to the line, proudly showing it to me and telling me it is vegan and that he plans to experiment in coming months with a variety of heirloom grains he had ordered.  Today, we had a health fair at work, and the catering company was represented and had a tray of adorable little bamboo boat with plastic demitasse spoons so you could eat the mini wheatberry salads.  They even gave out recipe cards, and again, my new friend was there, excitedly letting me know that the salads were vegan.  I was touched.

This is a marked improvement over HotDogMan.

Last night, I made Coconut Curry Rice from Vegan on the Cheap.

The best part about this was how well-portioned it came out.  It provided enough for Mister and I to fill our bellies, as well as providing my lunch today.  It was tasty and smelled good, but was nothing special.  I realized while putting together the ingredients that the way Robin keeps things so cheap is by relying heavily on frozen foods and pantry staples.  I don't think I would make a menu exclusively from this book again, once I get through this week - I need more fresh foods, especially when I am so aware that the winter is coming with the threat of stealing all my fresh foods from me.  It is inexpensive and convenient, but I can't eat a whole week of pantry foods.

Tonight, we had the Tuscan White Bean Pizza.

It was so good and I was happy for the freshly sliced Roma tomatoes decorating the top.  The base is a simple but flavorful "sauce" of mashed beans and garlic, and I used a pre-made pizza crust from Whole Foods.

Served with a bowl of mixed olives, we heart pizza!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

a tasty way to save money

One of the recurring themes of Vegan on the Cheap is that you can save a ton of money through DIY (Do It Yourself).  Now, this makes sense to me in the way that I understand I will make my money go further by cooking most nights and only dining out on a monthly basis (if that frequently!), and I know I save money by taking my leftovers to work for my lunch.  Everyone who has paid any attention to the money-saving tips and advice articles that have been quite abundant in recent years is aware of the way convenience foods like bagged salad suck the money from your bank account.  I think we've become so used to other convenience foods that it hasn't even occurred to us that they are convenience foods.  This includes things like: condiments, lunch "meat," baked, flavored tofu, Tofurky sausages.  Although Isa has several awesome sausage recipes in Vegan Brunch, it still seemed more like a special occasion "Hey, look what I did just for you" kind of thing, meant to impress more than to save money.

The entire first section of VotC teaches you how to make everything from a two-pound seitan loaf (which can be diced for stews, roasted in a slow-cooker as Pot Roast, or thinly sliced for sandwiches) to simple things like mayonnaise or stock/broth.  The rest of the recipes usually refer back to this section for one or more ingredients.  Last week, I was a bit resistant to the "extra work" that appeared to create, but tonight's experience just might have changed my mind.

Tonight's dinner was Peanut Noodle Salad, which involved some fresh veggies, noodles I already had on hand, tofu, and a DIY peanut sauce that was so good I could only believe I made it because....well....I made it.  Whole Foods carries a store brand peanut sauce that I love and have been relying on since the very first vegetarian meal I prepared in my first solo apartment in this beautiful city.  If someone blindfolded me and had me taste that prepared sauce and then Robin's sauce, prepared with the two hands busy typing this post, I would not be able to tell you which was which.  I consider that worth the price of the book alone, because I had all the ingredients necessary for the sauce on hand, and I usually do, where I had been paying over $4 a bottle for the prepared one.

In other news, I can honestly say I spent at least 30% less on my groceries this week.  Just some food for thought...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

father knows best

My dad is a very smart man.  I crack a lot of jokes at his expense, which could cause a person to overlook the genius hiding inside his goofy exterior, but it's true - my dad knows his stuff.

I am a stubborn pain-in-the-a$$.  Although I frequently give the outward appearance of intelligence, I am That Person who needs to learn from her own mistakes.  All my life, people have warned me about things from taking the ease of youth for granted (guilty!) to continuing to pour money into a car that Kelley Blue Book would laugh at (also guilty).  All my life, I have ignored their sage advice, only to turn around when all is said and done and admit my stupidity and attempt to prevent someone just like me from making the same mistakes...and knowing I'll fail.

Many years ago, when my father began his daily commute from the far-flung suburbs of Philadelphia into the heart of the city for his [new, at the time] job, he had the option of having money withheld from his paycheck for a train pass.  He has been blissfully commuting by train since then.  When I started complaining about my long commute to my job and the stress it was putting on my aging car, he suggested I look into taking the train.  I laughed and made excuses about how inconvenient that would be, not to mention expensive...and no, if you're wondering, I didn't listen to the fact that it wasn't that expensive.

When my car died on the side of a highway in early May, my father said, "why don't you get a new car?"  I said, "No, that's stupid and I don't want to spend the money.  Besides, it will run fine after the engine transplant."  When my catalytic converter blew shortly after the engine transplant, he said, "Why don't you just look around a little, see what's out there?"  I said, "No, the CC is still under warranty, so I only have to pay for the other things that are wrong with it."  Maybe my error was that every time my car broke, I went to lunch with my dad while it was at the doctor so we could argue briefly about what he thought I should do and what I thought I should do.

Or maybe my error was not listening to him the first time.  I would be many thousands of dollars closer to my financial goals if I hadn't replaced the engine, catalytic converter, tensioner belt, compressor, side mirror, and a few incidentals over the past few months.  I could have used some of those thousands to buy a new car that wouldn't have caused me so much trouble.  Or, I could have recalled his words of wisdom about the train sooner, because he is absolutely right; it is the best commute ever.  I can't believe I survived so many white-knuckled obstacle courses to work or back, wondering who was going to pull out right in front of my car or run into the back of my car when I stop for stop signs.  I get to walk to the train station, hop on a train and just sit and listen to my music as we speed through the ghetto and out of the city.  It's also far less expensive than owning a car.

So, in honor of my dad, I made a real meat-n-potatoes kind of meal...okay, seitan and potatoes.

Savory Vegetable Cobbler was slightly more labor-intensive than most meals I've made lately, but as you can probably tell, I like to do things the hard way.  In this case, however, the outcome was absolute success.  Even my father would want seconds on this guy - the seitan stands in for chunks of beef, soaking up the gravy along with the carrots, potatoes, and friends.  The topping was a little thicker than Robin probably makes it, but it was the perfect accompaniment to the rich, savory sauce and tender veggies.  Mister and I did quite a number on that dish and I don't think we'll have trouble getting through the leftovers, either.

I have constructed the new week's menu from Vegan on the Cheap as well and although I didn't feel like I saved a ton of money last week, I was very happy with how perceptibly shorter my grocery list is this week.  Here is our new menu:

1. Peanut Noodle Salad

2. Coconut Curry Rice

3. Indian-Spiced Lentil Ragu - because I've been really good lately about not having an Indian dish on the menu every single week.

4. Mexican Rice and Bean Bake

5. Tuscan White Bean Pizza - because Mister loves pizza and I am attracted to anything that begins with a reference to Tuscany.

6. Black Bean Soup with Kale and Rice - this was listed in the Slow-Cooker section of the book.  I don't actually have a slow-cooker, and until I have a larger kitchen, I do not want one.  However, this recipe has kale in it just looked too good to resist, so I'm just going to cook it stovetop and hope it comes out. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

embracing my inner goddess

This week has been a little wackier than anticipated.  Why don't we start with a colorful vignette?

On Wednesday night, I was driving my familiar route down I-95, about a mile from my usual exit, when the unpleasant scent of exhaust reached my nose.  I was sniffing the air and trying to discern whether it was my car or the truck I was following which was the source of that scent.  Suddenly, a familiar light on my dashboard helped me decide:

The picture is a little blurry - my cellphone does not take pictures as clear as those taken by my camera.  In case you can't guess by the context, that is my check engine light and when it illuminated, I decided the source of the smell was, in fact, my car.  I had a short conversation with God about how much I would prefer breaking down within walking distance of my home, meanwhile pondering exactly what would qualify as "walking distance" in 4-inch heels.  I made it all the way to my street, and serendipitously, there was an open parking spot right in front of my home and on an end spot which will be very convenient for a tow truck to reach my car.

Having only gotten my car back from its last stay at the mechanic's less than a week ago, to say I wasn't excited would probably be understating the situation.  More than anything else, I am really just quite weary of "dealing with" my failing car, so it has been sitting in that same spot since Wednesday night.  I have discovered over the course of these past few days how much less stressful and how liberating it is to take the train to work, rather than driving through multiple construction zones, road/lane closures, stop-n-go traffic, and all the people in Montgomery County who only could have gotten their licenses as a cereal box prize.

I hope you enjoyed that little tale of woe.  I'm a little aggravated, but I'm actually more focused on the positive changes this could affect now.  It is possible that I am right on the verge of my first public-transit-induced cold, but it's a small price to pay (and hopefully a quick one).

Last night, after a fun but immune-system-weakening walk through light rain to get home from the train station, I made Penny-Pinching Pinto Picadillo from Vegan on the Cheap.  I was a little nervous about the russet potatoes, but they steamed to squishy perfection.  The recipe instructed me to include rice in the finished project, and I did, but honestly, it would be a completely fulfilling meal without the rice.

It's a little sad, but I don't think there is anything visually pleasing about this dish.  I know everything doesn't have to be beautiful to be tasty, but I think the very first class I would take if I were taking cooking classes would definitely be Presentation.  I feel like someone more skilled in presentation probably could have made that more attractive.

Tonight's dinner was slightly more attractive and it was tasty enough that its appearance didn't really matter, especially considering the speed with which we wolfed it down.

I made Garden Rotini and Chickpea Salad with Inner Goddess Dressing also from Vegan on the Cheap.  Actually, you could take out the "and Chickpea" part, since I completely forgot to add them until I had already tossed everything else with the dressing and had begun to scoop dinner into my bowl.  I actually dumped the contents of my bowl back in, thinking I would add the chickpeas and mix everything up again, but then I decided the salad would be just fine without them.  Mister and I just end up chasing them around the dish with our forks anyway.

I love the way the fresh, raw garlic complements the crunch of the cucumbers and celery and brings out the sweetness of the grape tomatoes.  The dressing has a lot of ingredients, which makes it a little less than ideal, but it was so good, I'm sure I'll make it again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

two sides of the same coin

It's amazing how two people can react to the same stimulus/influence in completely opposite ways.  I am fortunate to be the catalyst in this particular revelation and I am greatly enjoying watching it unfold.

As you might imagine, working for a weight loss company, food and dietary choices are a relatively common topic of conversation between colleagues.  Sometimes, good-natured joshing results when a pair of folks are comfortable enough with one another to know their jabs will be absorbed easily.  Sometimes, regardless of the intention, the same tired jokes grow old or sometimes, poking fun gives way to not-as-innocent sarcasm and the time for truth takes hold.

As a general rule, I find it useless to attempt a break-through with my colleagues regarding my choice of diet.  For the most part, I ignore that they can't imagine meals without carcass bits and they [eventually] make a "funny" comment about my rice and beans and that's that.  If someone asks me or initiates an earnest conversation about my choices and why I made them, a productive and hopefully illuminating conversation can occur.  Other times, I grow weary of the same stupid "jokes" about my rabbit food and jab back a little....the results are amazing!  Apparently, some people can dish it out, but when it comes to putting something back in their bowls, they come up remarkably shallow and unable to take it.

Here is a Tale of Two Colleagues:

Colleague #1 (henceforth referred to as Spunky because of her excitable demeanor) joined me while I ate my lunch outside in the courtyard one day in early summer.  She initiated a conversation with me in this way: "I'm going to Jamaica with my sisters next week.  While I'm there, I'm going to eat anything I want to" -- so far so good - she is perpetually dieting and then rewarding herself with short, "harmless" binges, so I assumed she was just pre-absolving herself -- "But when I get home, I'm going to be a vegetarian."

What?  She went on to explain that she didn't actually eat a lot of meat as it was, but one of her sisters had recently "gone vegetarian" after watching Food, Inc.  So, Spunky's plan was to enjoy her "last week of meat" and then come home, watch Food, Inc. and become a vegetarian.  That is not the way things played out, but it was also not the end, as I was to learn.

I have to tell you something.  The highlight of my day yesterday, the thing that made my Monday worth the effort, the thing that made me smile was this: Spunky paid me a visit at my desk and said this: "I wanted to tell you before I forget again - I've been a vegetarian for two weeks!"  She seemed so pleased with herself and so happy to share that with me.  I asked her how she felt and she said [with no small amount of overt surprise] that she felt better than she had in a long time and that she didn't even miss it after a few days.  We talked for a few more moments, I congratulated her and offered any assistance I could, and she left for the day.

Colleague #2 (henceforth referred to as Dopey because of his complete ignorance to the big, wide world that exists beyond his minute, traditional existence) doesn't ever get bored about teasing me about my lunch.  Whether I bring pasta with spinach and cranberries, roasted vegetables with tofu, stewed lentils and a hearty roll, or some real-life rice-n-beans, he insists on telling anyone who will listen that I am eating beans-n-rice for lunch.  It seriously never stops being funny for him.  Although Dopey and I do have a very amicable working relationship, as a person, he just bugs the heck out of me.  As an almost inadvertent reaction to his continual "joshing," I subconsciously decided to turn myself into a mirror and reflect some of his ugly behavior back on him. 

To be completely honest, it started as an innocent and well-intentioned effort to help him use the brain bouncing around in his cranium.  Presently, his wife is pregnant, and somehow it entered our conversation one day that although she enjoyed ham cold cuts, she couldn't eat them when she was pregnant.  I saw this as a learning opportunity and asked him why she couldn't eat lunchmeat while pregnant - mind you, he was "enjoying" his turkey and cheese sandwich with diet pepsi during our conversation - and he said it was bad for the baby.  We had previously had the same discussion about his diet soft drink addiction - diet soda was also bad for the baby.  So I asked him why he would want to eat something from which his wife was protecting their unborn baby.  Apparently, this disturbed him deeply, because he moved to a different subject.  Hoping to eventually provoke him to think just a little bit about how he is fueling his body (regardless of whether he eats animals, he shouldn't eat junk), I have resorted to calling meat by its "real name" around him.  He was quite shaken up today when I asked him what eggs were and he looked at me like he didn't understand, so I explained that they were "chickens that didn't happen."  I made a deal with him - I would stop calling his food by the animal names if/when he stops ridiculing my sustenance.  We'll see how tomorrow goes!

It just struck me, though, how disparate their two reactions to my lifestyle are.  Spunky embraces it because she recognizes that I am not crazy and because she is aware of that whole big world around her.  Using her brain to think critically, she is able to come to the logical decision that she does not want any part of eating animals any longer, due to environmental and cruelty factors.  Dopey, on the other hand, is so resistant to learning about things outside of his worldview that if I never spoke another word about food, my lifestyle all by itself would silently convict him.  He uncomfortably recognizes that my intentions are genuine and that I live the way I do because I care about the world around me.  He knows he is eating animals and some part of him knows something is amiss, but it would destroy everything he knows to venture out and think about this honestly.  I feel compassion for him, but it is also super frustrating because he is preserving a point of view that ultimately harms him as well.

In other news, I made Orzo Pilaf with Tofu Feta tonight and it was marvelous:

It was very attractive while cooking and tasted great on its way to my belly.  Because the only ingredients you have to mess with are the garlic, tofu, and spinach, it comes together very quickly and easily.  The tofeta only marinates for a half hour.

If you'll recall, I mentioned in the menu that I was curious to see who had a better tofeta recipe - Robin (above) or Sarah Kramer.  I have to say, I prefer Sarah's.  It's a little more authentic, possibly because the marinade involves vinegar.  This tofeta did not disappoint, but it was not as good as Sarah's recipe.

Monday, September 13, 2010

something sour this way comes

By way of introduction, I would like to strongly encourage you to read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, if you have not had the opportunity to do so yet in your life.

Dinner last night was completely unremarkable - I merely reheated the 48 oz of Pasta e Fagioli leftover, moistened with what was left of the Bertolli marinara.  I did buy an almost-fresh loaf of sunflower bread from Essene, initially with the intention of turning it into multi-grain garlic bread, but it was so squishy and soft with perfect bits of crunch from the seeds mixed generously into the body of the bread, so I just sliced it and served it plain.

Tonight, I made Barbecued Black Bean and Tofu Burritos from Vegan on the Cheap.  It cooks up very quickly, so if you make it yourself, be prepared for it to be ready in about 10 minutes from the time you begin cooking.  The barbecue sauce is very flavorful, so it is well-balanced by the relative blandness of the tofu.  I think the tofu will be better next time if I slice it slightly larger and marinate it in something for 5-10 minutes.  I served the beans and tofu in red chile tortillas from Whole Foods, which added a fun twist.

What was really fun, though, was last night's dessert!

Lemony Vanilla Cashew Cookies
yield about 2 dozen cookies

2 cups of flour, lightly spooned and leveled
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
1/2 cup raw agave nectar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup raw cashew pieces

Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
With an electric mixer, cream together shortening and agave until thoroughly combined, about 1-2 minutes.  Add lemon juice, coconut milk, and vanilla and mix to combine.  Slight curdling will occur - don't worry.
Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing well and scraping down the sides in between.  Fold in cashew pieces with a spatula.  Scoop batter by the tablespoon and place on baking sheets.  Pat down lightly with your hand - the cookies will not spread much at all in the oven.
Bake in 350 oven 18-22 minutes, until lightly golden and beginning to darken at the edges.  Cool for a minute or two on the sheets then move to a rack to cool completely.

These cookies grew in my brain when I was trying to figure out a way to capture the taste of my loved-and-lost Clif Nectar bars.  Because the vanilla is subtle yet noticeable, the sensory emphasis remains on the taste of the lemon.  It doesn't strike you all at once, but rather accumulates as you make your way through this tender and chewy cookie.  Although I loved the [four] I had right out of the oven, I believe they were even better after sitting overnight. 

As always, please let me know how it goes if you make these yourself!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

we're just getting started

Has everyone read my two part review of Skinny Bitch?  Have you all gone out and gotten a copy?  Excellent.  But that's not the end!  Just when you thought you were safe from another book review, Someone got bored of the three-shelf cookbook collection she already has and spent a little time browsing at Borders last Sunday...

I already own one cookbook by Robin Robertson and she is one of the most prolific authors in my lifestyle/cuisine, so it wasn't a far stretch to try out another one.  Vegan on the Cheap seemed like a good idea in these tough economic times, especially after another few hundred dollars dumped into a dying car and the end of the busy season at Mister's job.  Because I had already picked out my menu by the time I got the book, I held onto it until last night, when I flipped through it with my pen and a glass of Malbec.  I will review the book more thoroughly as I make more recipes, so let me share the upcoming menu: Everything comes from Vegan on the Cheap.

1. Garden Rotini and Chickpea Salad with Inner Goddess Dressing

2. Orzo Pilaf with Tofu Feta - I'm interested to see whose recipe for tofeta is better - Sarah's or Robin's - I'll let you know!

3. Penny-Pinching Pinto Picadillo

4. Barbecued Black Beans and Tofu Burritos

5. Savory Vegetable Cobbler - which I will most likely make tomorrow because of the complexity of the recipe as well as the anticipated coolest day yet.

Tonight, we had the 6th [unlisted] dinner:  Savory Sausage and Peppers on brown rice.

Although the entire first section of the book provides recipes on making ingredients you might pay handsomely for at the market - for example, veggie pepperoni, sausage, hummus, etc.  I did not make my own sausage, however, because two of the reasons I chose this recipe were sitting on the bottom shelf of my fridge, hoping to be eaten rather than forgotten.  I grabbed a potato from a bin marked with "Local red potatoes."  They looked like regular reds to me, but when I sliced it open at home, I found that it was red through and through!  In fact, after cooking, I was having a little trouble telling the difference between the tomatoes and potatoes!  I can honestly say that has never happened before.

To be even more honest, it was not as attractive or appetizing-looking as I wanted it to be.  It's a good thing I've learned that pretty food does not equal tasty food and the reverse, because although I wasn't all that excited to eat it, I couldn't put my fork down once I started.  The portion it made was perfect, too, which is fortunate since last night's dinner took up all the available leftover allotment in the fridge.

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to go to GreenFest Philly as long as it's not pouring.  If you're in the area, you should go, too!  It's a free street fest with food, demonstrations, clothes swaps and other vendors - see the website for a complete list. 

 See you there!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Italian Feast Friday

A lot of times, I like to mix things up - I dig the fusion cuisine.  I'm not terribly skilled at concocting fusion recipes just yet, but I love piecing together a side dish from here with an entree from there, so to speak.

Nevertheless, sometimes a completely unified dinner is fulfilling in a way I can only describe as peaceful.  It's as though all the components that make food into a meal come together and harmonize in such a way that you would have to be oblivious to the world around you not to pause mid-chew and appreciate how good your meal is.  I would say it's a zen-like experience, but that would introduce fusion language into a very coherent dinner.

Tonight, I welcomed a hard-earned weekend by making Clara's Pasta e Fagioli from The Urban Vegan.  From Dynise's description, I expected the results to be a lot soupier, but it was undeniably a pasta dish.  I suppose I could have added the cup of broth for flavor without interfering with the "pasta dish" aspect too much - I cannot fathom how one little cup of broth would have turned the monstrous portion (48oz of leftovers crammed into GladWare after we each had two helpings) into soup.  Don't get me wrong - the weather is becoming perfect for soup, but Mister has already made it clear that he is not ready for that yet.

Following Dynise's own method of eating this delightful bowl of pasta and beans, I ran out for fresh bread to turn into garlic bread and I was really quite thrilled with the results - I dare a restaurant to make a more attractive plate:

Well...okay, it would probably be a little prettier without that burnt edge there, but I'm not perfect for heaven's sake.

To round out the perfect Italian-ness of our dinner, I served up the last of the olives and poured myself a healthy, celebratory glass of Francis Coppola Diamond Malbec (AKA: Velvet).  Okay...the wine is Argentine, but that's really just a short swim from Italy anyway.  Regardless of geography, it could not have completed the flavors of our dinner tonight better if it was grown in the foothills of Tuscany.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

fire and ice, yin and yang

I really feel sometimes like my life is just a continuing sequence of dichotomies.  I suppose there are some days that are all good or mostly not-so-good, but then there are a surprising number of days like today.  It was the kind of day that just flipped and flopped back and forth between elation and despair.  Despite my affinity for wallowing in self-pity at times, I really am an optimist and I make a serious [if not strenuous, at times] effort to find the fabled silver lining.

The day started very well - I only required one of my two alarms to jolt me out of bed.  I got moving on time and out the door with plenty of time for relaxed and cheerful conversation with Kylie while she prepared my matcha tea.  I got into my car, started it, and headed to work with plenty of time to be early.  Actually, this is starting to sound a lot like my wedding day debacle, but that's another tale for another time.

Anyway, here's where the day started to go a little downhill.  Actually, that's probably an understatement.  About 5 blocks into my 30-mile commute, all the lights on my dashboard lit up as my car promptly stopped running with no warning.  I managed to pull to the side of the road so I could contemplate my situation without preventing people with functioning cars from getting to their gainful employment on time.  It seemed clear my car did not want to make the 30-mile voyage, so I tried to convince it to at least make the 10-block voyage to "the doctor." was not terribly interested in that course of action either, so we sat together on the side of the road and waited for the tow truck.

A little boy and his father came out of their home (in front of which my car sputtered and died) to look at the truck with all its flashing lights and fun.  Kind words from the father and the child's innocent happiness (unaware that tow trucks really are not what you want to see near your car) allowed me to look at things a bit differently.  For a few moments, I was able to deceive myself into thinking how fun it was that I got to sit in the big truck!  You know...the one dragging my lifeless and uncooperative car behind it.

Once I returned home, I decided to take advantage of the unexpected day off and called my dad to see if he wanted to have lunch.  Because he's such an awesome dad, not only did he meet me for lunch, but he went where I wanted to go and followed my foodie lead.  We lunched at the Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar in the Reading Terminal Market.  I ordered the Philly Steak, which was seitan, grilled with soy cheese and served in a whole-grain roll with marinated lettuce and tomato.  I have had the vegan steaks at Gianna's Grill (RIP) and the veggie cheesesteaks at Steve's Steaks, but I can honestly say, the one I ate today at Basic 4 was absolutely, hands-down, unarguably the best I've had (that's kind of a big thing here in Philly).  I was also thrilled with my father's food choice - a pizza veggie burger in a pita with fresh ginger beer.  For anyone unfamiliar with the Reading Terminal Market, it is a huge indoor market with at least two dozen food stands - my dear carnivorously-inclined father could very easily have skipped over to another vendor to get different food while mine was grilling.  He didn't and that made me so happy!  Even though I tried to warn him about the big bucket of fresh ginger sitting right next to the juicer, he was still quite shocked by the taste of the ginger beer.  I had a sip and I don't think I'll ever have sinus problems again.  I would love to know the ratio of fresh ginger juice to soda water.

Anyway, after a thoroughly enjoyable lunch in all aspects, we took a short walk and then I went home to ponder my fate.  This never goes well. 

I pored through several automotive sites, trying to find the affordable middle ground between fun and responsible, just in case that was the final death rattle of my poor car.  I examined how I would get around if I didn't actually replace my car right away (or ever).  I tried to force my generally black & white, this or that brain to "think outside the box" regarding my present methods of financing my, well, life.  The longer I pondered, the more anxious I felt, but finally, I at least nailed down how I planned to get to work tomorrow and was about the walk out the door to buy my train tickets when the phone rang. 

Although the repair to my car is relatively minor and costs peanuts compared to the thousands I've spent since May, it still broke my heart to have to approve more work (=more money) on a car that clearly doesn't have much life left in it.  It was at this point that I had nearly worked myself into a tizzy, but I got a hold of myself and managed to get my tickets and a box of hair-dye before I had a complete breakdown.

So, before we spiral down the hole of hopelessness, let's bring it back to the happy - a new recipe!

Easy Tuscan Linguini

jar of prepared marinara sauce - your choice (or make your own!)
8 oz linguini
1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/2" wide ribbons
14 oz can of white beans (like cannellini)
4 Tbsp olive oil
8-10 cloves of garlic, pressed
sea salt, to taste
vegan Parmesan, optional

Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and allow to sizzle for a moment, stirring, then reduce heat to the lowest setting.  Cook garlic, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic.  Add kale and stir to wilt.  Increase heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, 5-7 minutes, until the kale is deep green and reduced in volume.  Rinse the beans well under warm water and add to the kale mixture, stirring to combine.

By now, your pasta should be cooked.  Drain and add the linguini to the saute pan.  Reduce heat to low and cook a few minutes, allowing the pasta to absorb some of the garlic-infused oil.  Pour in just enough marinara to coat noodles and heat through.  Add salt, if you desire, and/or top with vegan Parmesan.

As always, please enjoy and let me know how it turns out for you!

the B*tch is back

I need to wrap up this review before my mother disowns me.

But first, Dinner!

I am ridiculously excited about tonight's dinner.  As you can probably surmise from the picture, we had Tomato Pie with Greens and Beans from The Urban Vegan - hold your brains inside your heads, folks, I know that must have been a shock!

I couldn't find pre-made focaccia bread and I have a thing against yeast breads on work nights, so I substituted a faithful standby: mediterranean flatbread.  It looks cleverly enough like a real pizza crust, though, doesn't it?

I also didn't feel like devoting over an hour to letting Dynise's special marinara sauce simmer while I wandered stupidly around my constricting apartment, so I slathered on a generous portion of Bertolli Fire-Roasted Tomato with Cabernet Sauvignon marinara sauce instead.  It was perhaps too generous a smear, or maybe I didn't really need to sprinkle Mediterranean sea salt blend and garlic powder over it, but it was pretty intense.  I also wish I'd been a little more artful in my basil-scattering.

I served it with mixed olives and the Greens and Beans, using my favorite green - Kale.

It was perfect - the kale brought a dark, almost bitter, earthy tone to the otherwise very bright dish, so it became quite natural for Mister and me to pile bites of our greens-n-beans on top of our tomato pies to complement and calm the bright acidity of the tomatoes.

There was another thing that played with the flavors on our tomato pies: our first ever experience with Vegan Parmesan 'cheese.'

It smelled just like the "real thing" but without all the fat, calories, sodium, cholesterol, morphine, and rocket fuel. 

Rocket fuel?

Yes.  Speaking of great segues....on with the show!  We'll pick up with...

Chapter 5: The Dairy Disaster - if shock is what the authors are going for, they definitely get your attention in the first paragraph of the chapter:  Go suck your mother's tits.  Go on.  Suck your mother's tits.  You think this is ridiculous? It is.  Get ready to use your head.

One of the reasons to eschew dairy which has made sense to me for years (even when I didn't make any active effort to avoid cheese and ice cream) is that cows' milk is for baby cows, just like human mothers nurse their young.  In fact, to put that spin on it, can you imagine the contempt and controversy a woman would drum up if she nursed an abandoned baby kitten until it was ready to wean?  It's really no different - we are the only species that drinks another species milk, as well as the only species that continues to drink milk after we are "weaned" as infants.  That is a relatively well-known fact in the veg-community, but it bears repeating.  Additionally, this may or may not be news, but lactose intolerance is actually the body's willful adaptation to the weaning process - you are supposed to be lactose intolerant because you aren't supposed to drink cow's milk when you're "all growns up."

In case that information doesn't speak to the "buy in" of why you wouldn't want to drink milk - AKA lacteal secretions of a cow - how about some health reasons?

Despite the lies we've been the milk industry...consuming milk not only does not prevent osteoporosis, it can actually cause it.  The nations with the highest incidence of the disease are also the nations with the highest dairy consumption.

Cows are milked by machines, not people.  Machines don't care if they chafe the udders and cause infection, nor do they stop milking once the pus begins to flow.  In an effort to filter out some of the pus (yes, you read that right - some), the milk is pasteurized, which effectively kills all of the good qualities the milk once had, while not completely ridding it of the pus and pesticides that found their way in during milking.

According to the FDA, "virtually 100% of the cheese products produced and sold in the U.S. has detectable pesticide residues."   

Chapter 6: You Are What You Eat - put your helmets on kids, because we're about to go on the most traumatic ride in the park.  I will spare you a great deal of this chapter because I can't bring myself to look at the graphic accounts of cruelty described by slaughterhouse workers, and because I don't operate like PETA - I don't think that helps matters, it just makes you look like a lunatic militant.

The majority of this chapter is devoted to tales of horror from the stunning, bleeding, defeathering, and slaughter of the once-living creatures that now decorate plates across the states to the filth and contamination rampant in meat processing plants.  I will only subject you to short accounts of a very long chapter.

Here is a direct quote from a worker in a poultry plant: I personally have seen rotten meat - you can tell by the odor.  This rotten meat is mixed with the fresh meat and sold for baby food [seriously???].  We are asked to mix it with the fresh food, and this is the way it is sold.  You can see the worms inside the meat.  How much trust can you really put in an industry that is trying to give your babies salmonella?

The real "a-ha" moment, though is that after they describe all of this - the cruelty, the horror and grief felt by the animals as they're led to slaughter, the infected, pesticide-ridden, hormonally-altered "meat" - they play a game of pretend: Let's make believe that all the animals killed for human consumption are healthy, happy, free of antibiotics, steroids, and pesticides and are humanely raised and slaughtered.  Pretend you are eating 'perfect meat.'  Great.  But what exactly are you eating?  "Meat" is the decomposing, decaying, rotting flesh of a dead animal.  No matter how fresh your little package of Perdue looks and no matter what lies have been spread about "fresh" meat, please remember that with all creatures, the moment a being dies, it begins to break down and return to the earth.

Chapter 7: The Myths and Lies About Protein - This chapter is the longest, best answer ever to the perennial [and boring and offensive] question, "But where do you get your protein??"  Do you know who is suffering from protein deficiency?  People who are literally starving.  That's it.  Seriously.  According to the American Dietetic Association, a vegetarian diet still provides twice as much protein as a person needs in a day.  How much is that, you ask?  From as little as 18 grams to as many as 60 grams.  There is actually much more evidence pointing to the ill effects of diets that are overloaded with protein - for one thing, it can interfere with the absorption of calcium, leading to osteoporosis...because it is actually leaching calcium from your bones. 

Chapter 8: Pooping - This chapter provides a more tangible illustration of balancing calories in with calories out.  It makes sense, though - pooping is your body's way of expelling what's left after it picks out all the good parts of what you eat.  If you aren't pooping adequately, what's "left over" is just rotting inside your intestines until it can make its getaway.  How does waste escape?  By binding with fiber - if you're overdosing on protein at the expense of fiber, you run the risk of stopping yourself up, which isn't comfortable and isn't conducive to the healthy body you surely desire.

Chapter 9: Have No Faith: Government Agencies Don't Give a Sh*t About Your Health - I really think the title says it all, but if you've been following the thread of the book, I hope you're wondering exactly why the authors would say that.

More or less, they "connect the dots" where the dots are the people who are in charge of the milk industry, the meat industry, the sugar industry, etc, and are also the people in charge of the USDA and FDA.  There are tons of conflicts of interest going on, but the real reason you, the consumer, should not trust these people with your health and safety is this: The U.S. Department of Agriculture was not created for your interests; it was created to protect farmers.  It is their best interest in which the USDA is invested and their interests and yours may not coincide.

For example, if a farmer should volunteer to have their livestock tested for epidemic diseases like Avian Flu or Mad Cows Disease, that animal would be one of the .0005714% of food-animals tested in this country.  By way of comparison, Japan tests every slaughterhouse-bound animal.

When I was in high school, rumor had it that someone had seen the big cartons of meat delivered to the cafeteria kitchen, and they were marked "Grade F but Edible."  Apparently dog food is Grade D.  That may have actually be true, however, since the government uses our money to purchase surplus/unwanted meat from the various industries and then feed that meat to America's children through the "virtuous" National School Lunch Program.

P.S. We are the only industrialized nation that allows for the use of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) in our dairy supply.

Did you forget about the Rocket Fuel?  I didn't - because of various government tests through the decades, a certain amount of rocket fuel has infiltrated the ground and feed of the animals milked and killed for human consumption.  According to the Environmental Working Group's research, every sample tested in Texas (in 1999) came up positive for rocket fuel, and most milk in California had 5 times the amount considered "safe" by the EPA.

Chapter 10: Don't Be a Pussy - despite the title of the chapter, this is actually a really long and very positive pep talk, meant to motivate and inspire the readers to take what they've learned and let it change their lives.  It also touches on fasting as a great way to distance yourself from previous vices and detox your body from the damage you've inadvertently done.  There are tips spread throughout the chapter to help the reader make a move and stay strong.  The chapter concludes with a comprehensive but accessible list of essential vitamins and how to make sure you have them in your diet.

Chapter 11: Let's Eat - as you might expect, the entire chapter is devoted to lists of "acceptable" grocery items as well as a very helpful 4 week guide to becoming a happier, healthier, and yes, skinnier you.

Chapter 12: FYI - a good umbrella for miscellaneous tips and tidbits about living the good life.

Chapter 13: Use Your Head - another peptalk, this one is less about building up your self-esteem and making you feel good about the choices you have presumably made to live a different life and more about empowering you to become everything you ever wanted to be.  This is like self-esteem on performance enhancing drugs (like juice...freshly pressed).

Thus finally ends my book review/tirade.  I will leave you with the same words our authors chose:
The preface from Old MacDonald's Factory Farm by C. David Coats:
Isn't man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife by the millions in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed.  Then he kills domestic animals by the billions and eat them.  This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer.  So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.  Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.  Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year sends out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

we interrupt your regularly scheduled B*tch session... bring you a few pictures of delectable food and the upcoming week's menu, so you know what I'll be doing when I'm not trying to convince the people of the world to spend 12 hours of their precious time reading Skinny Bitch.

On Friday night, I made Moroccan Mishmash, and it was just as fun and savory as I remembered it.  I nearly added some mint, just to see what would happen, but at the last minute I chickened out.  Tofu-ed out?  Seitan-ed out?  Anyway, I served it atop salt-n-(white)pepper rice, which complemented the flavors perfectly, drawing out the more umami notes, which I always love in dinner.

Saturday night, Mister didn't feel much like eating, so I made a quick pitstop up to SuperFresh so I could make myself a little veggie-tofu bowl with the tofu I had left over from....well, I don't quite remember, but it was earlier in the week (which should be enough of a hint about my lack of memory).  I came back with this sucker:

I'm not a big fan of frozen broccoli...or carrots, but I allowed myself to be fooled into thinking that "Perfectly Cooks in the Bag!" meant that it would taste fresher than "ordinary" mixed frozen veggies.  I was horribly mistaken.  Although the light seasoning was tasty and the vegetables probably maintained at least 50% of their original nutrients through the freezing, bagging, and microwaving process, they maintained absolutely none of their characteristic crunch.  Once I remembered they were frozen veggies I "steamed" in a bag in my microwave, I didn't feel so bad about the whole situation.  Besides, the tofu (braised in a blend of apple juice, olive oil, tamari, and garlic powder) was divine.

Last night, we had Thai Pineapple Stir-Fried Rice from Vegan Express.  As I was preparing everything, it dawned on me how Way-Too-Much-For-Two-People the recipe would make if I used the full cup and a half of rice called for in the recipe (remember kids, rice multiplies its size by three when cooked!), I cut it down to one cup without even bothering to think that I should also reduce the amount of coconut milk I added at the end.  As a result, it was a little brothy, but fortunately, Mister decided I had actually made a pineapple curry, so I just let it go at that.

Tonight, I reprised Granada Paella from The Urban Vegan, because we both just love that dish so much - I've mentioned before that it's the only paella recipe I have that actually cooks the rice in fewer than two hours.  It never looks any different, though, so if you want a pretty picture, click the link :)

Following my heart through the pages of The Urban Vegan, I felt compelled to welcome September (one of my favorite months) with its signature fruit, cleverly disguised as dessert (rather than breakfast).  I made Double Apple Cake and it was moist and a little dense and each little cube of apple was a pleasure to bite into.  There was an unexpected shock of ginger with each bite of apple, since the little cubes were coated with powdered ginger, cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice.  I'm considering baking my way through the alphabet this fall...thoughts?

Speaking of thinking, we'll be back to my in-depth "book report" tomorrow, but for now, feast your minds and eyes on this week's menu:

1. Curried Bulghur Casserole with Garbanzo Beans from The Complete Vegan Cookbook.  I've made it before and felt it wasn't quite noteworthy "as-is," so I'll be embellishing a bit this time around.

2. Tomato Pie with Beans and Greens, both from The Urban Vegan.  I'm altering the recipe for the tomato pie so significantly, it will barely follow the author's notes, but I wanted to give her credit for inspiring me.

3. Clara's Pasta e Fagioli, also from The Urban Vegan.

So, there you have it - short week, short menu.  Stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming, returning tomorrow night with another B*tch session!