Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Father and the Crockpot

It sounds like a musical, doesn't it?

I'm thinking about my father this morning, and have been thinking about him a lot lately. Every person I know seems to have a favorite dish that her mom made. (I do too; that's where thai curry comes from.) But it seems like dads hardly ever get cited as the creators of childhood food favorites.

This is kind of weird to me, because both my dad and my stepdad (and even my grandfather, who I lived with when I was little) have had huge impact on my food preference to roughly the same extent that my mother (and my crazy grandmother, who mostly ruined foods for me) has. My stepdad's largely responsible for introducing me to restaurant food. He grew up in New York City, the child of a famous photographer and an opera singer. He was exposed to a LOT of good restaurants at an early age, and I think that gave him a lifelong hunger for more. We lived in a town with very, very, very few restaurant options, but he would drive hours away to try something new. Despite my vegetarianism*, I was STILL considered the least picky/most adventurous/least whiny of my siblings foodwise, so I often got to go along with him and my mother on these restaurant quests. And so he passed on the love of restaurants (and even more importantly, the love of trying new foods) to me, and I'm thankful for that.

Also, like my mother, my stepdad cooked in restaurants and bars throughout my childhood and helped expose me to the kitchen life. He's where I learned most of what I know about kitchen knives from, and also responsible for teaching me how to put out grease fires. (In fact, I think it was the second or third time I met him that he taught me to put out grease fires. That would've made me... eight?) And I credit his and my mother's smoking with turning me into a pepperhead... their dulled taste buds meant that everything was super super hot. I grew up eat sriracha out of the bottle... and here I am now. So, yeah, pretty clearly formative.

My dad's a very different case. At first glance, you might wonder how on earth he's had any food-related effect on me. He doesn't particularly like to cook, I don't think. He likes to eat, but no more so than the next person. His interest in ethnic foods is extremely limited... I know he likes Korean food a lot and that he'll eat ANY kind of sea food, but other than that, he's a strictly sweet'n'sour pork kinda guy. He loves takeout food and generally dislikes going out to eat immensely, especially to places he's never been before. He is hands down one of the most repetitive eaters that I know, and likes to have a sort of schedule of eating. For instance, when I was little, he would take my sister and I to MacDonald's on Friday nights. Sunday nights, we got pizza. We could NEVER have pizza on Friday and MacDonald's on Sunday. Later, when I was in high school, we'd get hoagies from the local pizza place on Tuesdays, sure as anything.

In some ways, we're polar food opposites. You know me, I'll eat anything, provided that it's not made of animal products or lima beans. (Actually, I'd eat lima beans if someone other than my grandmother cooked them.) I love ethnic food of all varieties, and I love eating new things at new places. I cook for fun, and I love food more than roughly anything else.

On the other hand, I often fall into repetitive food patterns. (See: the amount of toast I've eaten over the past few months, the bagel I always order at the local bagel place, etc.) I like having a sort of food schedule. I love takeout food (though I prefer delivery, which more or less doesn't exist in Santa Cruz).

But we share something that goes beyond any of this. We are both intensely lazy about food. Okay, let me explain on my dad's behalf... overall, he's not a lazy guy whatsoever. Dude works overtime basically every day. He goes to work at 4 or 5 in the morning and comes home around 6 at night. He goes to work on Saturday mornings and occasionally on Sundays too. He never misses work for anything except for the anniversary of his father's death. (They were very close, and it hits him really hard every year.) He is an extremely hard worker.

Which's why, I think, he wants to do NOTHING when he gets home. Insofar as I can surmise, his ideal post-work evening involves sitting in his comfy chair, reading a book, drinking a beer, and watching the Daily Show. (This is actually disturbingly close to my ideal evening.) Eating is almost an annoyance... it's just something that has to get done so he can enjoy the rest of his evening relaxing. Which's not to say he wants to eat something he doesn't like for dinner... he doesn't want to. But he also doesn't want to put much effort into what he eats.

During the school year, I feel exactly the same way about 90% of the time. I'm so freaking stressed out from working all the time that I just want food to BE THERE. I wish I had a magic food fairy who would make it for me, but I don't, so I tend to default to eating whatever is around that involves little or no effort, just like Dad!

This brings us, finally, to the crockpot. As you might guess from my description of him, my dad didn't cook for us a whole lot when we were kids. He only saw us one or two days a week (Friday and Sunday nights for awhile, then Friday night and all day Sunday, then sometimes all day Saturday and Sunday) until we moved in with him**. We mostly got takeout food or had sandwiches or something. But sometimes he would cook, and when he did, it almost always involved the crockpot.

Oh, man. You know, I don't miss meat at all and never have. But I miss my dad's barbeque pork from the crockpot. It was so... not even recognizable as meat. Just thick, rich, onion-y barbeque sauce smothering super soft, tender bits of stuff that fell apart and almost melted magically in the mouth. We'd eat it with slices of bread with margarine and maybe some potato chips (give my dad sour cream and onion or give him DEATH) and it was, oh, all I'd ever wanted in food. When I think about crockpots, that's what I think of... this magical transmutation of food I don't particularly like on its own (onions, which I could only eat if they're cooked so far as to be unrecognizable as onions... I'm a bit better now, but still can't eat them raw; pork, which I didn't like; barbeque sauce, to which I was and still am largely indifferent) into the most delicious and comforting food ever.

Did I mention he sometimes made sandwiches out of this stuff? Oh yes. After 10 or 12 hours in the crock pot, the barbeque was hot enough that you could just slap it on bread and put a piece of cheese over and the cheese would melt beautifully without any further effort.

Really, I think I still think of this simple act of crockpot cooking as a sort of magic. I remembering wondering why the hell no one else I knew cooked stuff in a crockpot, and I remember wishing that we could go to dad's more often on crockpot days. I'm sure he must have made something other than that barbeque in the thing as he used it ALL THE TIME, but I can't remember what.

Anyway, anyway. Back to the present day. I've been longing for a crockpot lately, as lazy food is what I need right now and magically delicious lazy food is really superior to toast. I saw 4 qt one the other day for 15 bucks and was like SCORE! I'm kind of in love with the thing... so far I've had sloppy lentils and black bean soup in it. Today I'm embarking on barbeque tofu. While it's necessarily going to be pretty different than my dad's version, I'm still very excited about it... almost too excited. It's an experimental recipe, so who knows if it will even be any good. Oh, who am I kidding? EVERYTHING from the crockpot is good.

This one definitely goes out to my dad, though, tofu or no. Maybe I'll call him tonight after it's done. I'm feeling all sentimental about that cuddly old curmudgeon.

Slow Cooked Marginally Korean Barbecue Tofu
serves 2-4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger root, peeled and minced
1 persimmon, chopped
1 bottle vegan Korean barbecue sauce, such as Wonnie's
1 14.5oz can of crushed tomatoes
20oz super firm tofu, cut into 16 wedges***

1. Turn the crockpot up to high and add the tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onion. Stir to coat. Put the lid on and cook for 20 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, ginger, and persimmon, stir to coat (again). Put the lid on and cook for another 15 minutes. At this point, everything should be softened a bit.
3. Now add everything else (barbecue sauce, tomatoes, and tofu) and stir again so that it's all coated. Reduce the heat to low and replace the lid.
4. Cook for 6-8 hours.

*Though my stepdad's a staunch meat eater (and the only person I know who has even been truly HAPPY on Atkins), he's always been willing to try vegetarian food... and anything else. Dude just loves food.

**My sister moved in with him when she was 14, then I followed suit when I was 14. Then she moved back out a yearish later, and I stayed.)

***For me, this is one package... for most brands of tofu, this is about a package and a half... also, just plain firm is fine, but press that bad boy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cornish Pasties: A Love Letter

Amazing how much good food will make me forget.

Tonight I made vegan cornish pasties from the Vegan Lunchbox cookbook. We're talking awesome whole wheat pastry wrapped around a savory filling of vegan sausages, shallots, turnips, and potatoes, seasoned with a bit of Marmite (?! I am AMAZED to find a context in which this is edible) and lots and lots and lots of black pepper. Oh man, SO GOOD.

That I love food like this probably points to my heritage-- I'm half Irish, a quarter German, and a quarter mystery. (Really, my grandmother on my father's side was found in a field in Canada when she was a baby. Who KNOWS what she might be?) It's really not surprising that I utterly adore such ridiculously western European foods as pasties. Of course, my bizarre American food habits instruct the actual preparation of such foods...

I sometimes think about my ancestors and what they'd think if they could see me now. Consider that as recently as the 50s, big supermarkets like Safeway were a sort of MARVEL to normal people. Imagine! You could have tomatoes ANY time of year! Etcetera. Definitely a dream come true... I feel like those people must be sad now to read about us hippies who only want to eat in-season tomatoes from local farms. But of course, I can't help what I am...

Veganism and vegetarianism used to be things you HAD to go through for one reason or another: it was war time, you were poor, your teeth weren't good enough to chew meat, etcetera. In a way, it is pretty incredible that we are privileged enough to choose this lifestyle.

Anyway, I'm rambling. All I wanted to get at, really, is that I LOVE these pasties.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oh, rosemary

Hello! It seems like it's been forever since I posted. School has been beating the life out of me three ways from Thursday and I have mostly either been not eating or eating broiled tofu or eating toast. Mostly toast. Toast accounts for seriously like 65% of what I've eaten in the month of November, though.) So much for breaking that habit via MoFo, eh? :/

Tonight I am actually making pasta. I think my first MoFo post was about my red sauce that isn't much like your typical red sauce at all. I'm making another variant of it this evening, which made me think to post. But what really got me here to write was rosemary.

Oh, rosemary. Fresh rosemary. How I love you! I really feel like rosemary may be my favorite herb. (Tarragon, too, but I haven't had fresh tarragon in years.) It seems like most vegans are all about thyme, but I really feel pretty ambivalent about old thyme. It just can't compare to my rosemary.... sweet, pungent, delightful, beautiful rosemary.

It's supposed to be more or less impossible to kill rosemary. I've found the stuff growing wild on the tops of Californian mountains in zones of 110 degree full sunlight.

Inspired by this and my love for the herb, I tried to grow it over the summer. It flourished nicely for about a month and then abruptly took a turn for the worse. All the needles turned brown and fell off. Such misery.

But tonight I have several stalks of lovely fresh rosemary from my CSA. I've probably put way too much of it in my sauce... as if there could be too much rosemary. I ate some on toast with tomatoes this morning. Nom nom nom.

The timer's going off, and I've forgotten where exactly I was going with the rosemary thing, so it's off to eat. Yay!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 28: Sick (again?!)... Plus Oatmeal!

Okay, these things are in reverse order in the title... this morning I woke up and had the most fabulous bowl of oatmeal. Oh, okay, every bowl of oatmeal is the most fabulous one, right? But this one was really pretty exquisite... and delightfully simple and quick to put together. Seemed like a really decadent thing to eat for breakfast when I had like 20 minutes to get it all done with.

Oh yeah, contents: steel cut oats, unsweetened almond breeze, a dash of grey sea salt, and seven chopped figs. I love figs so much. So very, very much.

This is a brief post because my brain and body are both kind of fried. I got home from a horrible midterm at about 2:30 and became suddenly violently ill around 4. My whole body aches from it, but especially my poor stomach. As a result, I had a gentle dinner of toast, followed a few hours later by some mild lentil soup. Very comforting, but I still feel nasty.

Going to go sleep it off. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. It will be farmer's market day, so this is almost guaranteed!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 27: Tomatillo Soup and Lentils

Ah! It saddens me to realize that we are in the home stretch of MoFo. I feel like I've gotten very little done! But then again, I shudder to think how little real food I might have eaten this month without MoFo as a guiding force.

Tonight's dinner was a good one. No, it was great. I spent all morning studying (really! over 3 hours straight! without even like checking my email or anything) and basically got everything I needed to do for the day wrapped up by 3 or 4 p.m. So then I thought I'd cook something... something delicious... something lazy... something deliciously lazy.

As I may have mentioned, I made a LOT of broth the other day. Here are pictures of the two stock pots I used:

Mmmm broth!

Even more broth!

So it seemed only natural to make soup. I cast about the kitchen, looking for a soupable vegetable that needed using, and spied a bunch of tomatillos from last week's CSA box. Oh, man. Do I ever love tomatillos! My favorite thing to do with them is just slice them up and eat them raw and plain... or with a tiny bit of salt. There's nothing in the world that tastes quite like a raw fresh tomatillo. Mmm.

But, hey, soup sounded good too! So I knocked together a tomatillo soup. Then I decided it needed something to go with it and cooked some lentils in broth. And then at the very last minute, I crumbled some of the mature white cheddar Cheezly on top. My husband liked the Cheezly in the soup so much that when he went for a second bowl, he got the Cheezly out and put that on instead of getting out his dairy cheese. If that's not success, I don't know what is. Bless you, Cheezly!

Anyway, I took some lovely soup pictures but am too lazy to get the card reader out tonight. Tomorrow, maybe. In the meantime, please enjoy the soup recipe. Mmm. Recipe.

Tomatillo Soup with Lentils
serves 2-4 people (depending on just how hungry you are)

1 1/3c brown lentils, rinsed
3c vegetable broth

1/2c vegetable broth
5 shallots, sliced as thin as you can
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large hot pepper (such as jalapeno), de-seeded and chopped
10 medium-small tomatillos (maybe a pound?), chopped
2 small tomatoes, chopped
5c vegetable broth (in addition to earlier broth)
salt and pepper to taste

1/8th wheel of Cheezly mature white cheddar

1. Start cooking the lentils in the 3c of broth. I like to cook my lentils in my rice cooker, but lots of people think this is nuts. Cook them however you see fit... start them now, though, because the rest of this is going to come together pretty quickly.
2. Heat 1/3c broth in a non-stick pan, then add the shallots and garlic. Sautee, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until shallots are soft.
3. Transfer the shallots/garlic to a sauce pan, deglazing the pan with a little extra broth.
4. Add the rest of the vegetables (hot pepper, tomatillos, tomatoes) to the sauce pan, along with the 5c vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes or until tomatillos are very soft.
5. Use a food processor (or immersion blender if you have one, you lucky duck, you... mine broke a while back) to puree the soup. Return soup to sauce pan, taste and add salt/pepper as needed, and then keep on the stove on low until the lentils are done.
6. When the lentils are done, scoop about a cup and a half of lentils into each bowl. Press it down so that it sort of forms a crust on the bottom of the bowl. Pour soup over lentils until bowl is comfortably full.
7. Finally, crumble a bit of Cheezly over each serving. Nom nom nom.

Very very delicious soup. I ate a bowl of it and the dude had two, and it's all gone now. Good stuff.

Tomorrow: a midterm is going to kick my butt in the morning. Afterwards, swiss chard? Wait and see!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 26: Persimmon Cookies

This post goes out to my friend Sam. She's not a vegan but is interested in vegan food, and wondered if I could veganize her great grandmother's persimmon cookie recipe. It turned out to be very simple-- it's an awesome recipe to start and all vegan except for two eggs. And of course, I can replace eggs!

As the recipe has a lot of nuts and fruit in it, I decided to try out ground flax seeds in place of the eggs. This time last year, I experimented with flax seeds for the first time, with great great trepidation... but the chocolate chocolate chip cookies in Veganomicon convinced me that flax seeds aren't the tool of the devil, and that in fact, they make for an absolutely wonderful cookie texture. I know they don't work in everything (everything is overrated anyway) but just had a feeling they'd work here...

And they did. The cookies turned out AMAZINGLY good. Photographic evidence:

The texture is delightful... soft and light, yet pleasingly chewy. The flavor is quite excellent. My husband says they remind him a lot of gingerbread... that's not too far off. They taste kind of like pie, too. Delicious spicy persimmon pie. I'm in love.

The ONLY thing I'll change next time I do this is the nuts-- I only had cashews on hand, so that's what I used. But, as Sam told me when she gave me the recipe, these would be bitchin' with walnuts.

Here's the recipe! Make them OR ELSE! (Unless you don't have persimmons. Then you're excused.)

Someone Else's Great-Grandma's Persimmon Cookies
makes 3-4 dozen

1c pure unrefined cane sugar
1c vegan margarine such as Earth Balance, or vegetable shortening
1c chopped nuts
1c chopped figs, or raisins, or dates, or Craisins (I used figs)
3 persimmons, peeled
2 tbsps ground flax seeds
6 tbsps water
1 tsp baking soda
2 c light whole wheat flour
1 tsp each - cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream the cane sugar and vegan margarine together.
3. Mix the nuts and figs into the sugar-margarine mixture.
4. Puree the persimmons in a food processor. This should yield around 1c puree.
5. Add the ground flax seeds and water to the puree and process again.
6. Now add the baking soda to the puree and stir well. Leave it for a few minutes, then marvel at how radically the texture has changed.
7. Mix the puree and the remaining dry ingredients (flour, spices) into the sugar-margarine mixture.
8. Drop the batter (like it's hot) by the tablespoonfull onto the prepared cookie sheets.
9. Bake for 13 minutes. They should be fairly dark in color once they're done, but they'll still feel a little soft... don't worry, they'll firm up when they cool.
10. Cool on wire racks (or whatever) for about 10 minutes, then eat the hell out of these.

If you don't love some permutation of these cookies, you probably do not have a heart. Sorry, but those're the facts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vegan MoFo Days 24 & 25 - The Great Cheeze Off, Part 2

Another missed day... man, I am not doing so hot. What's the stated MoFo goal? 20 posts in October? I can still make that if I don't miss any more days.

Yesterday was basically a day full of suck, spent writhing around in a world of hurt and kind of hating my reproductive system for failing to reproduce anything except giants amounts of pain. On the upside, I tried the bacon cheddar Cheezly and um, it's love. That stuff is eat on crackers good. My non-vegan but lactose intolerant vegetarian husband tried it and agreed that it's really quite good. He then scoured the internet trying to find somewhere nearby that sells it, so that we don't have to order it through Vegan Essentials and do the fast shipping thing again. No luck on that front so far, though. Sadness.

I also tried cooking with the Sheese last night, which was semi-disastrous. I mixed chopped up bits of it with chopped tomatoes, vegan sausage, and shallots, and sauteed the whole lot in some of the delicious broth I made the other day. Everything in the dish was really good except the Sheesh... the Sheesh rendered it uneatable for me. It didn't really melt so much as just get kinda gross. The dude liked it okay, but ugh, not me. Sorry Sheese.

Which brings us around to the Cheeze Off! At last! So, after the first round where I fought against my instincts and made myself eat uncooked vegan cheeze, I baked some of each type of cheeze into this cheeze muffin recipe from the Joy of Cooking. (The JoC is in the other room, but maybe I'll type up my version later.) This used to be one of my favorite cooked cheeze recipes in my pregan days, and I hadn't made it in years, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The original recipe calls for American cheese, and I figured that if vegan cheeze can't live up to American cheese, then it's all for naught and we may as well go back to eating twigs and berries like proper vegans.

The Teese muffins looked the best and had the best overall muffin texture. Teese seems to have very high moisture content compared to the other two, and this made the muffins softer and moister. But remember how I said Teese cheddar tasted like Handisnacks + blue cheese uncooked? Well, the blue cheese flavor worsened after baking. I can usually forgive a taste I don't like for an awesome texture, but I really couldn't do it with the Teese and ended up throwing out the last Teese muffin.

The Sheese muffins were very good. They were medium-dense, fairly moist, and looked okay. Sheese melted okay, though not quite as well as Teese. The strong soy aftertaste that I noticed when Sheese was uncooked went away, which was great. But the cooked Sheese tasted SO SALTY. I love salt generally, but the Sheese muffins were a little too far on the salty side.

The Cheezly muffins... I have to tell you, I was really worried about them going into this. They were much smaller than the Teese and Sheese muffins, and the Cheezly didn't seem to melt a whole lot during its time in the oven. The muffins seemed heavy and dense when I picked them up, and I was not expecting much. As in the two previous cases, however, I was surprised by the Cheezly muffins. They RULED. The minor texture problems I had with the uncooked Cheezly went away (no more spongy cheeze) and the flavor stayed about the same. The muffins were a little more dense than the others, but they were dense with deliciousness. The texture was uncannily similar to how I remember the American cheese version of these things being.

Verdict: Cheezly has totally won my heart. I hereby proclaim it the winner of this Vegan Cheeze Off.


Yes, I really bought all of this vegan cheeze. I am insane.

Uncooked cheddars on a plate.

Muffins! From left to right, we've got Sheese, Teese, and Cheezly.

And my grilled Teese. I wanted to take a picture of this cut in half to showcase a gooey Teesey center, but I could not cut it in half and just ended up getting Teese everywhere. It was sad.

PS: I have no idea how to make my pictures not be cut in half here, so uh, sorry about that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 23: Grilled Teese

Okay, I'm NOT doing part two of the Great Vegan Cheeze Off tonight. In short, I had a crappy day full of being busy and being morose, and I'm only just now starting to feel a little better... just in time to go to sleep.

Tomorrow though, for realsies.

In the meantime, a teaser post about Teese: unlike FYH's cheddar, Teese's cheddar is actually something you can make a grilled cheeze out of. I had to slice it very thin-- I actually put a really thin slice on one half of the bread and a thicker slice on the other half, and the thicker slice took many many many minutes longer to melt. Still, it DID melt without me having to do anything particularly bizarre to it.

In the context of a grilled cheeze, the Teese was at worst inoffensive and at best kinda good. I'm not a Teese convert at this point (again, I don't get what the big deal about melty cheeze is) but I feel less inclined to slander it on the interwubs now.

On a separate note, it's CSA day and I made salsa out of fresh tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, and hot peppers as soon as we got home. (I know, how is it even possible that I spent most of my evening depressed after THAT?!)

More of consequence tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 22: The Great Cheeze Off, Initial Thoughts

Okay, okay, today I had the Great Cheeze Off, but I'm only going to post my initial thoughts. What gives?! Well, it's more or less that my brain is totally fried from school and I'm also too lazy to find my card reader and take the pictures off, and it can't be a Cheeze Off proper without photographs. But I promise that tomorrow, I will really make the Cheeze Off happen.

Today I'll introduce the subject. Someone on the PPK posted about cheddar Teese, and this caused me (for some reason still unknown) to go on some sort of VEGAN CHEEZE BENDER. I ordered two flavors each of Teese (cheddar and mozzarella), Sheese (strong cheddar and smoked cheddar), and Cheezly (mature white cheddar and cheddar with vegan bacon bits, I am so not joking).

Since there's no clear way to compare mozzarella with smoked cheddar or smoked cheddar with cheddar with bacon bits, etcetera, I decided to stick to just comparing the three cheddars on hand. My methodology was very simple: first I examined each cheeze visually and um... what's the word for smellingly? with my nose, in any case... and I looked at the texture of each cheeze. Then I sampled a small piece of each cheeze plain and uncooked, along with a bite of pretzel. (I don't have any crackers on hand.) Finally, I cooked a bit of each cheeze into cheeze muffins, where they got a chance to spend about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven and get their melt on.

It's a well known fact that most vegan cheezes are geared towards the melted stage. I don't know why this is. Back when I ate dairy cheese, I rarely ate it melted. You know what cheese I used for melting? American cheese. Or, horseradish cheddar. Good cheeses don't NEED to be melted, they're good on their own. But for some reason, vegan cheeze producers have this intense focus on melted cheeze, as if I didn't know how to make a delicious vegan pizza without some sort of cheeze substance on it.

Anyway, I went into the initial phase of my cheeze testing prepared for disappointment. I'm actually fairly surprised and pleased with the results of round one. Here are my notes!

Sheese - "Strong Cheddar" - claylike texture. Has a somewhat stinky but very cheeselike smell. It comes in a resealable container, which I really like. Eaten raw, it has a flavor that almost goes cheesy, but there's a STRONG taste of soy in there. It is reminding me of Soyatoo whipped cream. I never thought Soyatoo tasted very soy-like... until I ate this Sheesh. I can't think of why Sheesh tastes like Soyatoo if it's not the soy. Anyway, I'm a little disconcerted by the touch of soy flavor. The texture is really great, though, and does remind me of actual cheese.

Teese - "Cheddar" - I don't know where to begin with this stuff. I've been hearing rumors about how awesome Teese is. Teese is what inspired this whole adventure! But let me tell you, Teese is not meant to be eaten raw. Teese comes in a log form. That's the first thing that's wrong with it. It smells VERY cheesy-- to the extent where I'm actually almost nauseated by it. (Dairy cheese makes me feel kind of gross when I smell it these days.) There's no convenient way to open the package, so I just sliced one end off and hoped for the best. The Teese that came out was... uninspiring at best. It has more or less exactly the same texture as the Velveeta that comes in the long rectangular box. Yuckers. It's also bright orange, unlike our other two contenders. I had a bite of it and wanted to make my mouth belong to some other person. To me, it tastes like the cheese in Handisnacks... which is quite all right, I loved Handisnacks back in the day... with a strong after taste of bleu cheese. What? What the hell, Teese? NO! Between the bad texture and the bad taste, I would not not not recommend this as an eating out of the package cheeze.

Cheezly - "Mature White Cheddar" - it sounds like a singles ad, right? Mature White Cheddar (vegan) seeks Vegan Lady for love and affection. Something like that. Initially, I felt trepidation re: Cheezly. It looks almost identical to Sheesh, but its texture is radically different. When I went to cut it, I discovered that it is all crumblylike. Nooo! The packaging is okay and very similar to Sheesh, but it's not resealable! Noooo! Damn you, Cheezly. On the other hand, maybe they expect you to eat it all at once. I think that maybe I could. Cheezly actually TASTES GOOD directly out of the package. I like it, it has a really cheddary flavor. It reminds me of the time that my husband made cheddar a couple of years ago, before I was vegan. I can't give Cheezly a million stars here or anything, though, because while I adore the flavor, the uncooked texture is W-E-I-R-D. It's SPONGY. Cheeze should not be spongy. That's just... strange.

How did I like these all cooked? Gasp! You'll have to tune in tomorrow to find out!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vegan MoFo Days 19-21: ATEN'T DEAD YET

... but almost. Sheesh. Remember back when I proposed to make my MoFo about quick and lazy foods, I said that my academic life was probably going to swallow me whole and make me eat nothing but crap? Well, it's happened. I don't know quite where the tipping point was. For once, it wasn't the dishes! The dishes haven't been that bad! The table really hasn't been awful either... I've got some piles of stuff but I've been rotating them around and finding space when I need to.

But I've just been like soul-crushingly busy. Consider today. I got up at way too early o'clock. It was either 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. but as both of those are times that make no sense to my brain now that I'm in grad school, I don't know which it was. I did homework for a couple of hours before going to class from 10-2. Then I had a quick lunch with the dude and came home and wrote a paper. That took me until, uh, fifteen minutes ago. It's 8:40something now.

When I say I worked on a paper that whole time, I really did. I didn't go to the bathroom or check my email or read the PPK or anything. I didn't even realize that the UPS guy didn't bring me my big package of TEESE!

SIDEQUEST: Someone on the PPK posted about the cheddar flavor of Teese and then someone else started talking about it being on Vegan Essentials and it was all downhill from there. I ended up placing a huge order for various vegan cheezes through VE-- both types of Teese and some Sheese and even a little Cheezly. I've never had any of them!

Personally, I think the Follow Your Heart cheezes are okay in certain situations. For instance, a LITTLE bit of FYH mozarella grated up and put on pizza is just swell. (I always have to broil it to get it to melt, though.) Pizza places that pile on the FYH and then melt it with some sort of blow torch or something so that it's a huge goopy mess make me want to cry.

I've heard that Teese blows the non-wool socks off of FYH, so I'm pretty excited. And the Sheesh and the Cheezly... I don't know, it just kind of happened. When I get them (tomorrow?) I am going to design some sort of CHEEZE OFF to determine which I like the most. Hopefully I will like one of them. Otherwise, I just bought a lot of vegan cheeze for nothin'.

Anyway, back to business: I'm not giving up on MoFo, but there's no saying what I'll actually cover from here on out if my life continues on like this.

I DO have some great caramel pictures to post, but need to resize and upload them first and you know how that is. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

In conclusion, here are a few things I ate this week: a vegan breakfast burrito which I promptly got ill after (oh yeah, that's why I wasn't here yesterday-- sick again), another salad (?!), though this one was pretty much iceberg (ugh) and tomatoes (yay) and none of the dressings at the thing were vegan so I just poured a little tahini on instead, whole bagel with tofutti and tomato (not quite as good as salt), pretzels, No Chicken Noodle soup, some plain tomatoes, some Tofurky straight out of the package. My mouth weeps at the injustice of it all, and demands real food.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vegan MoFo Days 17 & 18: Caramel Take Two and I Suddenly Like Salad

No post yesterday! Aaah! I guess Wednesday and Friday are my Saturday and Sunday. Either that or I'm just lame. No great excuse for yesterday, except that I really didn't eat anything of note... I had a bagel for breakfast (with tofutti and tomato) and exactly nine of the Trader Joe's not chicken nuggets for dinner (with sriracha and agave nectar for dipping). And of course, I skipped lunch. I spent the day doing homework and avoiding doing homework (very mentally intensive) and the afternoon/early evening making caramel again (to send to a friend) and the evening drinking wine and reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

For the second take on the caramel, I decided to try vanilla sugar made out of vanilla beans and unprocessed cane sugar instead of vanilla extract and brown sugar. The resulting flavor is very, very different-- the vanilla flavor is much more noticeable and tasty, and the sugar flavor is much less molasses-y and much more burnt. My husband likes this version much better, but I actually liked the first one more. The additional vanilla flavor is rather yummy, but ultimately I think it gets a little lost amidst the strong caramel flavors. And the burnt flavor of the cane sugar just doesn't do as much for me as the velvety, buttery, tongue teasing melted molasses flavor I got from the brown sugar. Maybe next time I'll make vanilla sugar out of brown sugar and use that for the ULTIMATE CARAMEL.

Two things that were really great about this batch, though: the texture is much better, because I cooked them all the way up to 245 this time. At room temperature, they're perfect... chewy, but not tooth shattering. Refridgerated, they're pretty hard, but perfect for letting melt in your mouth. Excellent! The other thing I definitely did right this time was adding flavorings at the end-- I added a bit of coarse grey sea salt to half the batch and lime zest to the other half. Both toppings kind of sunk into the caramel, because it was still warm... however, the lime flavor is still really noticeable and good. The salt flavor kind of disappeared, so I sprinkled a bit more salt on those ones after they cooled all the way. Still pretty tasty.

There's something I did terribly wrong this time, though! I'll share my mistake with you so that you never ever make it yourself. Something no one precisely says to you ever is that making caramel takes FOREVER. Like literally close to two hours. The caramel gets to about 200 degrees very very quickly... in maybe 5 minutes or so. But don't get hopeful, the next 45 degrees are going to take a million zillion years. At one point, I thought perhaps I would turn the heat up somewhat (from medium low to just plain medium) to help things along... I reasoned that making the stove top hotter would mean that heat would enter the caramel more quickly.

While I expect I'm right about how that heat transfer works, I did not anticipate the effect it would have on the caramel physically. Yeah... it caused the caramel to expand VERY quickly, aaand I was washing the microplane at the time and yeah, the caramel boiled and got all over EVERYTHING. I caught it before anything bad happened (no caramel fire) and moved the caramel to another un-goopy burner fast enough that I didn't have to throw it out and start over... but it was still a pretty big pain to clean up. Burning caramel smells really, really good though.

Anyway, this is probably not a huge problem if you use a big enough pot, but as I don't have a pot that is the right size, this will always be a problem for me. Whee.

In other news: I've been out to eat twice this week. Both times were at very vegan friendly establishments. And yet, both times, I felt compelled to order SALAD. Typically, I hate salad. This is something that distances me from the vegan stereotypes, but this is not why I do it. I just don't like salad. I genuinely feel like lettuce is the least worthwhile vegetable in existence. It is only good for two things: putting in sandwiches and feeding to my guinea pigs. (Iceberg lettuce is not even good for either of these things.) So, it naturally follows that salad is anathema to me.

But I ordered it and super enjoyed it twice this week! To be fair, the Wednesday night salad was a spinach salad, which is sort of like cheating. Spinach is like what lettuce would be if you took all of the things that suck out of lettuce and put good things into it instead. It has actual nutritional value... and a flavor. It is fun to chew and does not just leave you with a mouth full of water. Oh man, I love spinach. That salad was great overall: warmed (but not mushy or wilted) spinach topped with walnuts and fried scallions and tempeh bits on top of a bed of lightly stewed tomatoes and mushrooms. It made me really want to make baco bits out of tempeh... really really badly.

The salad today was a genuine lettuce salad, but equally delicious: romaine lettuce, black beans, a little salsa, corn, some crispy taco shell bits, and a bit of griller patty all atop a small pool of cilantro lime dressing. Other than lettuce, the thing I really hate about salad is salad dressing. It's not that I hate the flavor of most salad dressings... it's that I hate the quantity. Basically any time I order a salad anywhere and don't get dressing on the side, I get salad suspended in an ocean of lettuce. This is gross, especially if it's a lettuce salad, because sitting in a big old bucket of dressing makes lettuce mushy and even more disgusting than usual. Also, I want to taste the individual bits of the salad! If everything is soaked in dressing, then all I will taste is the dressing, and if all I taste is the dressing, then I don't understand the point of the exercise.

Anyway, like I said, this salad was on TOP of the dressing. At first I thought they had forgotten the dressing, but then I found it on the bottom. This is wonderful as far as I'm concerned. I had enough dressing that if I WANTED to drag every piece of lettuce through it and eat a bunch of soggy messes, I could have. And yet, being that the salad was on top of it, I could also abstain from dressing as much as I wanted to. And I didn't even have to feel like an ass for asking the waiter to give me dressing on the side! Perfect!

Have I become a salad lover? Probably not. I really do feed all of the lettuce I get from the CSA to the piggies, because they love lettuce desperately. They hate spinach, though, so next time that comes around, you can bet I'll eat the heck out of it in salad form.

Tomorrow: I may make soup! And I may also take photographs off of my camera at long last because I have got a new card reader for it. Hooray! You can see the beauty that is my caramel and maybe some other things too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vegan MoFo Days 15 & 16: Out Sick! And Just Plain Out

No post yesterday-- I'd meant to do one in the evening but ended puking my guts out for like two hours instead, so I went to bed really early. No idea why I got so sick... I didn't eat anything particularly weird and didn't drink any booze. Must have been watching John McCain for an hour and a half. (Oh snap!) Anyway, I feel fine today.

What I would've posted if I'd been in any position to do so last night: I made debate themed-food. Okay, one debate themed food item. I made an American flag out of red, white, and blue tortilla chips. Awesome! Delicious! The red ones were jalapeno flavored, the white (actually yellow) ones were "buffalo" flavored (vegan though!), and the blue ones were just normal ol' blue corn chips. Tortilla chips are way too big to make stripes for the flag out of, though... I ended up only having five stripes as opposed to the traditional 13. And uh, no stars, of course. My husband still thought it was hilarious, though, and said it was one of those "sports wives things."

We ate the chips along with three homemade scoopable foods: guacamole, cheezy fake meat crumbles, and spicy black beans. All tasty! I'll post the recipe for the black beans at the end, because they were my favorite part (and everyone reading this probably knows how to make guacamole).

Tonight, we're going out. Jeez! My third social call in a week! And I'm probably going out tomorrow night too. It's nice to see people, but my introvert side is starting to want a break... aaand the huge pile of academic work that needs to get done is screaming at me too. So, probably a mellow and homework filled weekend up ahead.

Introversion and academia aside, I'm very excited to be going out tonight, because we're going with a big group of Josh's co-workers to one of my faaaavorite Santa Cruz restaurants: Malabar Cafe. Malabar used to be Malabar at night and Asian Rose by day, but as far as we can tell, it's all Malabar all the time now. That's okay, because I love Malabar to little itty bitty pieces. Everything on the menu is either vegetarian or vegan, with most of it being vegan! And the food is GOOD! They just classify themselves as "asian fusion", but I think most of their dishes come from the triangle of deliciousness that is India-Sri Lanka-Malaysia. Oh asian countries, why are you so good at food?

I digress! Malabar is yummy. So yummy! Almost every time I've been there, I've had the tempeh goreng, which is really good and perfectly seasoned. (Also, I hate tempeh about 50% of the time, so these guys are really doing something right here.) Everything else is good too, though! And if you go on Sundays, they have four course vegan dinners where you pay what you want to at the end of the meal. I keep meaning to get there, but haven't yet.

The restaurant's a little small and cramped, the prices are a bit high (though not for Santa Cruz) and the service varies a bit, but I like the food enough that I'm absolutely delighted to be going there tonight.

After eating at Malabar, the group will probably mosey over to the Poet and the Patriot to drink beers and stuff. I've never been to the Poet, so I've got no idea what to expect in terms of veganness. But a lot of people I know really like it, so I'm hopeful.

So: that's my food life right now! Woot!

[b]Spicy black beans of laziness[/b]
serves 2

2 tsps olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tsps paprika
1 tsp garlic salt (or garlic powder, if you like stuff less salty)
2 tsps cayenne powder
2 tsps cumin
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1/2 bottle beer

1. Heat the olive oil in the pan over medium-low.
2. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until shallots are soft.
3. Now add all of the spices to the shallots and stir everything together. Let the spices cook together with the shallots for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add the black beans, the cilantro, and the beer, and mix well.
5. Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to cook until most of the beer has cooked off, about 7 minutes.

Next time I might add just a couple of drops of liquid smoke. I really liked this as is, but it wasn't so compelling that I needed to eat the entire bowl of it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 14: Veganism Helps Me Be Fat, Also Pumpkins and Beer

Hello! Sorry about missing the day yesterday-- I had a craptacular day of non-stop homework and then I went out and visited a friend and drowned my sorrows in pumpkin beer. (More on that later.) There was no new food to blog about... all I ate were several more of those apple caramel oatmeal bars and three handfuls of Tings.

Oh boy, those apple caramel oatmeal bars. They set up perfectly after I let them cool all the way. (Amazing!) Very easy to hold in the palm of the hand.... verrrry very easy to eat. I'll definitely be making those again, but I'm going to try and save them for a holiday at least (maybe Thanksgiving?) because, wow, I'm not joking when I say that's all I ate yesterday and I still felt totally full at the end of the day. They're intense!

Tonight's sort of a half post as well, because I went out again to see another friend. (Two social calls in two days! This is rare for me.) No pumpkin beers this time, because I went to see my pregnant lady friend. We went out clothes shopping, and more specifically, pants shopping. Pants shopping makes me want to die. Pants shopping made me want to die when I was a size 5 and my bones all poked out funny. Pants shopping made me want to die when I was a very happy and healthy size 7-9. Pants shopping really makes me want to die now that, thanks to the 25lbs I've packed on since starting grad school, I'm back to a size 12-14. UGH.

It's hard to buy pants and not get sucked into the huge whirlpool of self hate I've spent way too much of my life wallowing already. I came home from the store (Ross, a.k.a. the cheapest place that isn't Goodwill) with 8 pairs of pants, fully expecting to have maybe 1 of them fit me. I was prepared for an epic assault on my self esteem. Happily, all but three of the pairs of pants fit me, and actually one of the other three fits but they're forking skinny jeans (which I hate within an inch of my life), but tell my brain that... by the end of trying these pants on at home in the comfort and solace of my bedroom, I was STILL staring in the mirror grabbing my tummy fat and thinking how freaking gross I look without my clothes on. I know it's ridiculous and I'll probably feel better tomorrow... this is just how these things go with me.

It wasn't always that I would've been so laid back about it, though. A couple of years ago, I'd still be in my bedroom sobbing about this and thinking about never leaving the house again because I was such a horrible whale thing. Though I think my mental shift away from this sort of hysteria probably helps me stay fat, I still think it's mostly for the better. And I think that it's due at least in part to the going vegan.

What? What does veganism have to do with being fat? Well, nothing really. (I ate plenty of baked goods before I was vegan, I can't use that excuse. Of course, there is vegenaise to blame...) But it has plenty to do with body acceptance.

For me, part of going vegan has been meeting and interacting with a whole lot of other vegans online. These people have taught me lots of things... how to cook tofu so that it doesn't taste/feel like ass, how to like eating greens, how to eat a cherimoya (maybe wikipedia taught me that), how to put garlic in your... nevermind. They've taught me a lot of things related to produce, anyway. But I think another thing that they've really shown me is how totally different people's bodies are.

Vegans come in all sizes and shapes: short, tall, malnourished, overnourished, totally normal looking, soft in all the right places, soft in all the places, etcetera, etcetera. Large vegans are large for all different reasons. (Vegenaise accounts for a lot of us, though. Seriously, I am breaking up with vegenaise as soon as this jar is done.) And large vegans are still awesome people, and generally pretty hot as well. They give me hope that I too can be a super hot BBV.

I also think (and this is snotty of me, but please, haven't I earned just a little bit of snobbery? I am so good about not being a snotty vegan most of the time) that I feel a little better about my size because I KNOW I'm not just eating crap all the time. Okay, maybe my pants give me a muffin top. But at least my muffin top isn't made out of chicken wings and cheez whiz. While I am doing my body no favors by being overweight, I'm still treating it as kindly as I can in the situation, giving it real food and nutritious food as often as possible.

And heck, if you are what you eat, then I am DELICIOUS.

Okay, moving on. Veganism has helped me not hate my body in a real and genuine way. That's great, right, but I know you're really here for the food. (That's what I'm here for!)

The friend I went to see last night is crazy about pumpkin beer. Crazy, I tell you. I like a good pumpkin beer maybe twice a year if that... I don't hate pumpkin beer, but it's not an everyday thing. We've tried a few together (of questionable veganness; I have been basically unable to find documentation on vegan pumpkin beers) recently, because she's looking for one to replace a beer that you apparently can't get anywhere on this coast. This got me thinking about combining pumpkins and beer, and I'm also thinking about reducing my chub, so I decided to do a lower fat version of the pumpkin sage cream sauce that I did last week.

Here's the recipe, though it's still cooking and I've no idea if it's going to be good or not. (The chunk of pumpkin I just ate was fabulous.) I'll try to post tomorrow about how it went.

Pumpkin Sage Beer Sauce
makes a LOT of sauce... maybe 4 1/4 cups?

2 tsps olive oil
20 fresh sage leaves, or a bunch of dried powdered sage
1 medium-small pumpkin, or 2 tiny pumpkins, peeled and cut into 1'' cubes
2/3 bottle of vegan beer
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low.
2. When the oil is heated, add the sage leaves and fry, stirring constantly, for about a minute.
3. Add the pumpkin chunks and toss to coat them lightly with oil.
4. Pour in 2/3 of a bottle of beer. This shouldn't cover the pumpkin, but should come up maybe halfway to the top of it.
5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, covered.
6. Remove the lid and, if the pumpkin is nice and soft, raise the heat to boil off most of the leftover beer.
7. Puree in the food processor (or with an immersion blender or a masher) and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta or grain of your choice.

Edited to add: I think both my spouse and I liked this, but we didn't love it the way we loved the pumpkin cream sauce last week. One big problem: I put whole sage leaves in, and the food processor didn't break them down entirely, so there are sort of twigs in the sauce. Yuckers. Definitely cut the leafy parts off of your sage! Also, I personally felt like there was something lacking with the texture... the flavor was spot on, but the texture was... grainy? Maybe next time I'll do half beer, half coconut milk for the liquid. That could work.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 12: Caramel Apple Oatmeal Bars

Yes, I know I'm not doing too well with the whole concept of a lazy food blog. I've had a surprisingly large amount of time to be not lazy this week, despite being insanely busy. There are just so many wonderful things to eat at this time of year! Eee!

Something wonderful that showed up in our CSA this week is a bunch of apples from a neighboring farm. I don't eat apples plain very often, because I have to chop them up first. (If I bite into them directly, the hard skin cuts my gums open and I bleed all over the place. Yes, my mouth is really that wussy.) Chopping them up entails effort, and effort directly opposes my laziness campaign. So, yeah, I don't eat them plain very often.

But I do love to bake with them. Once I've decided I'm going to bake, I've already made a commitment to being less than 100% lazy for the day, so I may as well go ahead and do things like chop apples. This evening I was struck by a minor bolt of inspiration, and figured out exactly how I wanted to combine the leftover vegan caramels (which I'd been too lazy to wrap and had put in the freezer, which somehow caused them to sort of melt (in the freezer?!) and coagulate into one gigantic caramel) with the apples for an awesome fall delight.

The resulting recipe for Apple Caramel Oatmeal Bars (which appears at the end of the post) is certainly not health food by any means, but it's better than a lot of baked goods by merit of all that fiber. So much fiber! My digestive system is thanking me already. My mouth is thanking me too, by the way... these things are AWESOME. They turned out a little more crumbly than I wanted (though they're not fully cooled yet, so who knows) so I'm eating them with a fork instead of my bare hands. Oh well, I'll cope.

Today I didn't just eat junk food, by the way. I actually got out of bed and made a tofu scramble that totally ruled. Won't go into recipe-like details about it, but I will list the contents: extra firm tofu (crumbled), paquillo peppers (broiled for ten minutes, but not peeled), tomatoes, shallots, lots and lots of fresh basil, a little bit of fresh thyme, and a bit of salt and pepper. Easy, uncomplicated, and DELICIOUS.

Okay, back to baked goods. Here's that recipe. I came up with it on the fly. Like I said, the crust part is a little more crumbly than anticipated-- it's not falling all over itself crumbly, but it's also not hold this bar with your hands solid. Not sure how to fix that, but I don't know if I'd bother trying-- it is SO delicious as is, and the texture feels perfect in my mouth.

Caramel Apple Oatmeal Bars
makes 16 bars

1c steel cut oats
1c whole wheat flour (light colored or otherwise)
1/2c dark brown sugar
1/2c Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
3 medium sized apples, chopped into very small pieces
1/2 recipe of my vegan caramel from Day 4, or an equivalent amount of vegan caramels from another recipe (1.5-2 cs of caramel)

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Line a 9x9 square pan with parchment paper. (Or grease it, whatever you're into.)
2. Mix the oats, flour, and sugar together in a bowl.
3. Cut the Earth Balance into the oat/flour/sugar mixture using two knives or more advanced tools if you've got 'em.
4. Once there are no longer huge chunks of Earth Balance in your oats/etc mixture, dump the bowl into the square pan. Using your bare and hopefully clean hands, press the dough into pan so that it forms one even and unbroken layer.
5. Pop the pan into the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, heat the caramels over very low heat (we're talking mark 2, max) while stirring frequently, until you've got pot of melted caramel goo.
7. When the crust is finished baking, take it out (DON'T turn the oven off!) and spread a layer of apple chunks on top of it.
8. Pour the caramel over the apples and crust. Try to distribute it evenly, but don't worry if there are some naked patches... the caramel will run all around as it bakes anyway, you're fine.
9. Put the whole thing back in the oven and bake at 375 (as before) for 30 minutes.
10. Let it cool for at least half an hour* before trying to eat it. After it's cooled, cut it into bars and eat. You may need a fork.

Tastes surprisingly good with beer. (Really, who knew?) I ate two within minutes after they finished cooling, and then I had to put the rest away because seriously, even though I know my blood sugar will kill me if I eat these all, I could probably knock back a LOT of them before I went. SO GOOD. It's breaking my heart to realize that I don't know where my camera cable is, so I can't show you pictures of these things yet.

*I let mine cool for half an hour, then put it in the freezer for ten minutes to speed up the process, and it was still very very warm and gooey... delicious, sure, but it made it a little harder to cut.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 11: In Which Our Protagonist Eats Nothing But a Burrito

Ho, boy. Where is my appetite lately? With my rampant meal skipping (sorry, lunch, but it's not like you didn't already know that you're my least favorite meal) over the past week or two, my blood sugar ought to be wacky enough to drive me to eating whatever's around. Bizarrely, it has been calm and stable... almost... too calm and too stable.

Today I ate what is probably my second favorite breakfast that doesn't come out of my house: a vegan breakfast burrito from the Saturn Cafe in Santa Cruz. You know, I sometimes harp on and on about how Santa Cruz's good restaurants are few in number. What I rarely ever rant about is that the couple of places that serve vegan stuff that appeals to me at all (which is basically anything vegan) are all really very good. Yeah, okay, the goodness of a restaurant isn't really rant worthy material I guess. Sorry, I'll try to keep my rants more posi in the future.

Anyway, the Saturn Cafe: excellent vegan junk food. I grew up in south east Pennsylvania, which is basically the land of diners. More or less everyone in my family (myself very much included) has worked at a diner at one point or another. Diners are the only places that exist in the town I lived in during middle and high school to eat at other than fast food. (Really, the town I lived in is in the Guiness Book for having the most fast food restaurants in a square mile. There are NO non-diner restaurants there... just fast food and pizza places.) When I was a busboy (busgirl, I guess) at one diner, I'd always spend my free meal of the day on the same thing: a bagel, not toasted, with cream cheese, and an order of cheese fries. Those days are long, long behind me now, of course-- even if I still ate dairy, there's no way my body could hack that many carbohydrates at the same time. Alas.

I really thought that my diner days were over until I met the Saturn. The Saturn delivers all the same things to me that traditional diners ever did (other than a salad bar) and yet they still accomodate my veganness. How is that not perfect? It's perfect.

It seems like they've cut back on their vegan options some since I started going there, which bums me out; however, after I asked to get their awesome, awesome nacho fries (half order, please... a whole order is the size of my torso, and my torso is not small) vegan about seventeen times, they put them as vegan on request on the menu. Score!

As of a couple of weeks ago, you can ALWAYS get breakfast there. This fills me with a warm fuzzy feeling, because my favorite thing to eat there is definitely the vegan breakfast burrito. They're simple enough: large tortilla filled with soyrizo, home fries, and tofu, with salsa, guacamole, tofu sour cream, and a couple of slices of orange on the side. It's not fancy, but that's exactly the point. It's just filling and good. I have NEVER managed to eat an entire one of these bad boys in one sitting. Usually I get halfway through this beast (c'mon, homefries AND soyrizo AND tofu, my stomach kind of curls up into a frightened ball just thinking about it) and then have to take the other half home for lunch.

And that's exactly what happened today, except that it's 9 p.m. and I've only had about two (awesome) bites of the other half. I have got to get motivated and finish this thing!

Moral of the story: vegans like junk food as much as the next person.

Oh man, that reminds me of one last thing: my favorite damn dirty hippie store in town has stopped selling normal Tings. They ONLY sell the baked ones now. I like the baked ones, don't get me wrong, but sometimes you sit down with a bag of Tings fully intending to use it as your sole source of caloric intake for the day and with baked Tings, the numbers just don't add up. Agh!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 10: Breakfast Should Always Include Salt and Tomatoes

So I originally typed the title of this post as "Breakfast Should Always Include Santa and Tomatoes." Not exactly what I was going for.

Tonight I am nauseous as all hell, so even though I beat back the hoardes of dishes earlier today (not motivated by desire to cook, actually... I lost my wedding ring on Tuesday and have been looking EVERYWHERE for it, including the sink full of dirty dishes) I didn't cook dinner tonight. I'd planned on making something because I went to a very mellow party at the house of one of the guys in my research group, and I kinda knew ahead of time that there wasn't going to be anything vegan there. But I broke the number one rule of veganism: ALWAYS bring something! And instead I just brought myself. And then I drank like three glasses of Diet Coke on an empty stomach. This may be part of why I feel so awful now.

Point being: no dinner tonight, so I'll tell you a little about my breakfast instead. These days, my very, very favorite thing to have for breakfast is a salt bagel with Tofutti cream cheese and sliced tomatoes on it, courtesy of The Bagelry in Santa Cruz. Some times I make up excuses to take the bus into town in the morning just so I can really get one of these bad boys for breakfast.

But on most days, I am lacking in time (it takes about 30 minutes round trip on a really good day, because that is just how the bus system goes) or energy or money or excuses and I can't get down there for a bagel.

Well, the other day, I found out that my favorite dirty hippie store* carries freshly baked Bagelry bagels! Not the salt variety, but that's okay... I grabbed a couple of whatever was there and brought them home and NOM NOM NOM. I love bagels so much, but seriously, the majority of bagels in MA and CA suck suck suck. The Bagelry bagels RULE, though.

When I ate the first of these delightful take home bagels, I very nearly put Earth Balance on it. Then I remembered that I had a container of Tofutti cream cheese kicking around from when I made tiramisu cupcakes for these awesome Japanese exchange students who I worked with over the summer. I was sure it would've gone bad, but no, it was still fresh and beautiful. So I slapped that on the bagel, lightly dusted the surface with kosher salt, and added some slices of tomatoes from my CSA.


I ate the same thing for dinner that day and breakfast the next morning. Man, do I ever love bagels.

Sadly, this meant I was suddenly out of bagels and that I had to eat something else. Then this morning I realized that I could do the same thing... wait for it... wait for it....


Man, this is what they pay me for. Thinking outside of the box has never tasted so good!** I have super yummy multigrain bread from a local bakery (Kelly's, where nothing is vegan except the bread, but the bread is so good that it's still worth going there) and I toasted that up and used it. Delightful! All in all not quite as good as a bagel, but definitely wonderful in a pinch.

It's going to be hard for me not to get into a rut of eating this for breakfast every morning now that I've figured it out... I have so many tomatoes from the CSA and I will seriously just eat them like candy if I don't use them for something like this. And salt? Oh, salt. Salt and I are very close. And toast? Toast is in my top ten foods of all time. Actually, if you ordered food by the frequency with which I eat it, toast is probably the number one thing I eat. Perfect breakfast!

Okay, that's my story about breakfast. I've been enjoying adding recipes to these posts, so I'm going to stick one in for something I made the other day. Someone on the PPK posted about making pumpkin sage cream sauce. Such was my enthusiasm that I didn't even read the entire thread to find out what she'd put in her version... I just turned the interwubs off and was like TIME TO COOK! My sauce turned out amazingly well all the same, and tasted very good served over soba.

Pumpkin Sage Cream Sauce
makes about 3 cups!

2 tiny pumpkins (Jack Be Little variety are exactly the right size) or 1.5c pumpkin puree from another source
1 can of coconut milk (~14 oz.)
20 leaves fresh sage, or about 1tbsp dried ground sage (vastly inferior)

1. If using real pumpkins, skin those puppies and pull out the guts and seeds. Cut the remaining flesh into chunks no bigger than 1'' cubed.
2. Steam the pumpkin chunks until soft, about 7 minutes. It's preferable to have them slightly too mushy than slightly too hard... if they're still hard at all, the pumpkin is undercooked and is not going to taste awesome.
3. Once the pumpkin is soft, put it in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.
4. Put sauce on the stove on medium low until it heats up a bit. Put on pasta or other sauce carrier of your choice. Hooray!

You should admire my restraint because I did not put shallots in this sauce. I put shallots in EVERYTHING.

*Aka health food store, I guess. Santa Cruz is home to at least three excellent local dirty hippie stores, and I love them all. I can't really think of them as health food stores, since they're the only place I buy food other than the farmer's market.

**Actually it has.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vegan MoFo Days 6-9: This is Not a Spam Blog

Hello again internet! Sorry it's been so long. I haven't given up on Mofo... not one bit! For some reason that still hasn't been explained, my blog got flagged as a potential spam blog on Monday. I haven't been able to post since then. Today I tried my darndest to email Blogger's tech support about this... however, they do an amazing job of obscuring how to actually contact them. I eventually found a post on their help forum with a link to a way to report my flagged blog a SECOND time in a totally different manner than how they originally instructed me to report it... and I did that... and here we are now. Strange, but I'm glad to be back all the same.

What have I been up to the past couple of days? Well, a lot, actually. Here are some awesome things I've cooked this week:

Monday: quinoa sushi rolls. One roll of steamed eggplant, Smart Bacon (or whatever it's called... the one without eggs in), and roasted tomato mayo, and one roll of beer braised tofu with cilantro. Nom nom nom.

Tuesday: DEBATE NIGHT! The debaters may not have satisfied me, but the food did. We had fresh guacamole with tomatoes (have I mentioned that I love tomatoes? because I do) and cilantro from the CSA, and we had salsa from a jar which I don't think I even touched. And beer... lots of delicious vegan beer.

Wednesday: STUFFING! Yes, you'll notice from the capitalization that stuffing is on par with debates in terms of excitement in my life. Dude, I haven't had stuffing in like forever. Someone I know on a non-PPK message board mentioned that she was in the market for a vegan stuffing recipe this Thanksgiving, and was kind of pissed that she couldn't find a boxed brand that's vegan. Actually, there are a lot of vegan brands in a box/bag... but not, of course, that holy grail of bad for you yet delicious prepared stuffings, Stovetop. Anyway, I digress. Point being, she got my brain on the stuffing train, and I carried on from there. Fortunately, we had a loaf (an entire loaf! this is why we only ever buy ONE loaf of bread when we go shopping) of stale sourdough on hand, and I got sage from the farmer's market... ah jeez, it was so good.

Tonight: Pizza! There's no vegan delivery pizza here in Santa Cruz, but there IS totally awesome vegan takeout pizza from Engfer's Pizzaworks. If I could afford the time and money to acquire and consume this pizza every day, I WOULD. They don't pull any sort of shenanigans like drowning the pie in FYH cheeze (for which there is a time and a place, in moderation) or anything... they have an awesome awesome tofu ricotta that I wish I could replicate that they use instead. Their crust is probably the best I've had since leaving Pennsylvania. (That's right, the state I lived in between PA and CA, Massachusetts (what is it with me and the consonant-A states?), had uniformly shitty pizza crusts... though honorable mention goes to Blue Jeans Pizza in Worcester for having the most buttery pastry... PIElike... pizza crust I've ever had... so not vegan! At least, I don't think so.) And their toppings always taste fresh and good. Man, I love Engfer's. Unfortunately, they are a million billion miles away from me... two bus lines or about an hour and a half out from where I'm at. (Maybe 15 minutes in the car, but the car is faster than the bus... I don't personally drive at all, though.) Ah, well.

What else? Well, I've been trying to think of lazy foods to eat. The quinoa sushi was pretty lazy... couple of minutes for steaming the eggplant, couple of minutes for broiling the tomatoes and tofu, couple of minutes of active work in getting the quinoa ready and in making the rolls. But lots and lots of inactive work... and lots of dishes. Damn. I wish I could afford (timewise) to eat quinoa sushi all the day... it is SO filling and SO good. Seriously, fork rice sushi.

I've been falling back into a bad habit that takes a big toll on my blood sugar and general health: eating a minimal breakfast, skipping lunch entirely, then eating something nonsensical for dinner. I mean, stuffing is delicious, don't get me wrong. But nutritionally speaking... what's that got for me? Not a whole lot. Stuffing is sort of a side dish for a reason-- because it's not terribly worthwhile on its own. And yet, despite eating nothing but a piece of toast yesterday morning, I had a BURNING PASSION for eating stuffing for dinner that could not be sated for something else. I tried to sate it by putting in vegan sausage chunks, but they were so freaking salty (and I like my salt, I really do) that I picked them out. Yuckers. So that was nothing but a pile of carbohydrates for me.

Anyway. I need to find time to think about what I'm eating from a nutritional point of view... not just a deliciousness stance... or even just in terms of speed. Ughughughugh. THINKING HURT BRAIN. But nothing's going to change if I don't put the effort into changing it...

Here are two of this week's recipes, in any case:

Broiled Tomato Mayo
2 large tomatoes
1/2c Vegennaise or other vegan mayo
a couple (really, just a few) cilantro leaves

1. Heat the broiler. If you're using a toaster oven, this takes about 30 seconds... but a real oven, you're going to want to turn the broiler on and leave it for at least five minutes first.
2. Slice the tops off of the tomatoes and put them sliced side down in some sort of baking dish. A cookie sheet works well. Lightly brush the outside of said tomatoes with a little olive oil.
3. Put the tomatoes in the oven and broil for 7-10 minutes. You don't want the tomatoes blackened, but their skin should be sort of bubbling when you take them out.
4. Slap the tomatoes in a food processor with the vegennaise and cilantro. Puree.
5. EAT.

You really want just a tiny bit of cilantro here... the flavor travels through the vegennaise verrrrrry strongly, and if you have more than a couple of cilantro leaves in here, the cilantro will overpower the delicious broiled tomatoes.

Sourdough Stuffing
4 1/2 c sourdough bread cubes (about 1 loaf cut into 1 inch cubes)
1/2c Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
6 medium shallots
20-40 fresh sage leaves, chopped
4-8 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1c almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
vegan sausage (optional)
pepper (black or otherwise) to taste

1. Melt the Earth Balance over medium-low heat.
2. Slice the shallots as thin as you're able to. Chop the slices up so that you have little teeny bits. Toss these bits into the Earth Balance AND the sage AND the thyme and cook until soft, about 7 minutes.
3. If using the sausage, add to the pan now and cook for 3 minutes or so while stirring occasionally, so that sausage is browned on all sides.
4. Turn off the head and add the bread. Stir until bread is coated in Earth Balance.
5. Add the almond milk and pepper. Stir again until everything is coated.
6. Turn the heat back on at low. Cover the pan and let everything simmer for 3-5 minutes. When you take the lid off, everything should be delightfully soft and chewy, but not yet mushy. EAT!

What about the rest of this week/this weekend? Well, I've got a plethora of pumpkins just waiting for cooking. I'm also thinking about some sort of dessert with caramel, oatmeal, and apples... drool. And I've got some bok choy that needs eating that would go wonderfully with some lentils... mmmm, lentils. (Vegans do like some stereotypical foods. At least, some vegans do.) The dishes are piled HIGH in the sink despite my best efforts to fight them back, though. Will the dishes win? Or will I bask in deliciousness? Only time will tell!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 5: Lazy Foods #1 - Thai curry

Last night, I got this lazy vegan cooking party started right with my all time favorite food, curry. More specifically, I whipped up a batch of Thai style red curry.

Oh, Thai curry. How I love you. When I was little, my mother cooked very good, very spicy Asian food all the time. At the time, she and my stepfather were heavy, heavy smokers. I theorize that their love for super hot Asian food came from a need for something super flavorful to tickle their dulled down tastebuds. Me, I was a kid... my tastebuds were fresh and new... and I still grew up eating that stuff. And that's why I do things like eat sriracha right out of the squeezy bottle to this day.

Naturally, my favorite type of curry is green curry... delicious hot green curry. Mmm. My husband doesn't particularly like spicy things, and his favorite is the sweet Massaman curry. Unless I am really, really in the mood for it, Massaman just tastes like candy to me. So, last night we compromised and went for a middle of the road red curry.

Curry is wonderful because it is only as complex as you feel like making it. All one really needs to make curry is curry paste (canned or fresh) and a can of coconut milk. Everything else is optional... delicious, but optional. I've made ten minute curries that were nothing but curry sauce and tofu, and I loved them. I've made curries that took me hours to prep for that contained fresh ginger, scallions, garlic, all sorts of peeling intensive vegetables... curries that I spent long minutes tweaking the seasoning on... and I loved them. And I've eaten basically every kind of curry in between. Seriously, you can't go wrong with curry.

I think that some people are under this wrong impression that if you want vegan curry, you have to make your own curry paste. Making your own curry paste is not very hard, but it's also not necessary in most cases. Canned curry paste is excellent, cheap, and non-perishable. And best of all, most of it's vegan. I'm all about Maesri paste*. I've also heard that Thai Gourmet makes decidedly vegan paste. And these dudes in Australia, Blue Kitchen, make specifically vegan paste that sounds pretty good to me.

Did I mention that I like curry in part because it's cheap? Unless you're buying fancy ass Australian curry paste, you shouldn't be paying more than maybe 79 cents a can. If anyone ever asks you for like $3 for 4oz of curry paste, shiv them and run.

Okay, on to coconut milk. From a vegan perspective, brand doesn't matter a whole lot for coconut milk. You'd have to be pretty wacky to put something non-vegan in coconut milk. Though, on that note, I have seen powdered coconut milk with casein in it. Save yourself the worry and don't buy the powdered crap, it's weird anyway. Flavorwise and (more importantly) consistency wise, brands do differ. My favorite is Chaokoh, the one pictured in the middle of this picture. I've never had trouble finding it on the east or the west coast, though it's worth mentioning that I'm generally looking in, y'know, asian groceries, and not in Safeway.

Oh yeah, and on that note, Safeway has the Thai Gourmet coconut milk if nothing else, but it's overpriced and always seems watery to me.

Much as with curry paste, coconut milk shouldn't be expensive. We're talking maybe $1/per. You're going to want some sort of grain along with it, of course, and maybe some tofu at the very least... but even with those additions, you can have a totally satisfying curry meal for two people for < $5. Mmm. The delicious taste of cheapness.

If you want to go fancier but are stuck for ideas, here's the rough recipe for the curry I made last night.

Thai Red Curry with Eggplant

1 tbsp oil of your choosing
2 medium shallots, sliced very thin and then chopped
4oz vegan red curry paste
1 full-sized (14oz) can of coconut milk, preferrably not light
1 large black eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
1c chopped fresh basil
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 baby bok choys, chopped
1 stalk of broccoli, chopped

1. Heat the oil over medium-low, then add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
2. Add the curry paste in 1oz increments. After each increment, add a small amount of the coconut milk and mix well. (The point is to make sure your curry isn't full of lumps of paste at the end.) Add all of the remaining coconut milk once all of the paste is in and stir again.
3. Then add the eggplant and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until eggplant is soft enough to pierce with a gentle fork poke.
4. Finally, add all of the other ingredients and simmer uncovered until your accompanying grain is ready to eat. If you're eating the curry alone or something, make sure you simmer for at least 5 minutes so that the tomatoes and bok choy aren't totally raw.

Eat on top of brown rice, white rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, soba, udon, toast, or whatever other grain tickles your fancy. Me, I even like curry on lentils. Mmm. Curry lentils.

*A note on Maesri curry pastes: some online sources list them all as having shrimp paste in them, including the red and the green. I'm more inclined to trust what's on the can than what's on the internet, especially since the can's been telling me the same thing for the past 10+ years. One thing to watch out for when buying Maesri curry pastes at a store is that they look VERY similar to Mae Ploy brand curry pastes... as far as I can tell, Mae Ploy DOES put shrimp paste in almost all of their stuff. Also, some curry pastes (sour curry, especially) always contain fish... so yeah, read carefully.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 4: CARAMEL!

Okay, so, I need to deviate slightly from my plan of discovering lazy yet nutritious vegan foods for a couple of minutes here. A couple of weeks ago, I was tipped off on this
vegan caramel recipe
by someone who probably wants me dead* via the world's happiest death... death by vegan caramel. Mmm. Caramel.

I haven't had corn syrup in house for about a billion years, and I realized that I was out of white sugar just as I started making the caramels, so I just subbed in light agave nectar and brown sugar. Also, I doubled the salt (mmm salty caramels) and decreased the EB by a tablespoon in order to try to avoid the oil on top that the original poster mentions. And then I doubled the whole recipe. So, summing that up, I actually used:

2 c coconut milk
2 c brown sugar
1 c light agave nectar
1 tsp grey sea salt
6 tbsp Earth Balance
1 tsp vanilla

I followed the same method as the original poster, mixing everything but the EB and vanilla together over medium heat, then adding the EB and mixing until it melted, then leaving the whole thing alone until it hit 243, then stirring in the vanilla and pouring the mix out to cool on parchment paper.

It's been about forty minutes since I set the caramel out to cool, and it doesn't seem to be hardening too much. Dude, I totally tested for the soft ball stage! It was making soft balls! But I think I should've gone a little bit higher... it's too mushy to cut still. I stuck a test piece into the freezer to see if it'll get hard enough to cut without getting weird that way.

Even if it doesn't harden, I am PSYCHED. It tastes one hundred percent like caramel. To my pleasant surprise, it actually has no detectable coconut flavor. It just tastes like rich, sweet, buttery caramel.

It is so freaking good.

I really need it to harden so that I can wrap it up and put it away before I gorge myself silly on it and all of my teeth fall out and I go into like hypoglycemic shock. Vegan caramel may be my new arch nemesis... sweet, sweet nemesis.

*I have reactive hypoglycemia, which is sort of like backwards diabetes in that high GI foods make my blood sugar drop drastically instead of making it rise drastically. Functionally, I have to avoid more or less the same foods as diabetics do.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 3: Staving off Starvation

Have I mentioned yet that I'm a grad student? I am. I'm meandering ever slowly towards a phD in Computer Engineering. Or at least, I have been. Today, that pace got kicked up to a brisk trot. All at once, my advisors told me to get to work on a monstrous application for an incredibly competitive fellowship AND to start writing a paper to submit for publication about nine days after the fellowship application is due. Combine that with a class in which I'm literally doing 2 hours of reading before each session in order to keep up and a class where the professor expects me to do something like 160 hours of work on the class project alone... and you've got a recipe for my life over the next month and a half.

What the hell does this have to do with food? you think. Answer: EVERYTHING.

Being a lofty academic (or at least aspiring to be one), I spend maybe half of my waking life engaged in the real world. That's a generous estimate, too. The rest of the time, I'm lost somewhere under the salty seas of academia, either going to classes, working on projects, going to research group meetings, working on work, thinking about work, thinking about projects on which to work... you get the idea. Necessarily, the busier my intellectual life gets, the more immersed I am in my mental world... and the less attached I am to my physical surroundings. This becomes very evident very quickly.

The first thing that happens is that I'll stop clearing things from whatever area I do my work in. A friend of mine dubbed the debris that collects around my workspace "the homework circle". Books, papers, calculators, pens, pencils, notebooks, printouts of all descriptions... it gets pretty built up.

The second thing to go is the dishes. I hate doing the dishes to start with, and confronted with a semi-plausible excuse not to do them ("but I'm so busy!") I will just stop.

The third thing is food. I'll stop actively engaging in feeding myself.

The three things go together, actually-- I can't put food on the kitchen table because it's covered in homework. Even if I could, I couldn't cook anything because there are too many dishes in the sink and I need to get to the sink to cook. (And I guess I need dishes to eat off of, right.) And... ah, screw it, might as well not cook. Hell, might as well just not eat! I'll have time for food later!

So why am I not some sort of sad, emaciated little creature? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is that I have a totally awesome husband. When I played rugby, a lot of the girls I knew said they didn't have time to have a boyfriend... I was like, seriously, I haven't got time to NOT have a boyfriend. Who feeds you in these situations if not your significant other? Sheesh!

The other two things that have always gotten me through these periods before are delivery food and microwaveable food.

But wait a sec! Holy shit! I'm a vegan now. I live in a town with almost no delivery options whatsoever and only one vegan delivery option that I'm aware of. (Incredibly, incredibly bad Chinese food.) AND I DON'T OWN A MICROWAVE ANYMORE!

Ah jeez, I'm going to die, aren't I? They'll find my skeleton years from now, hunched over a laptop, fingerbones still tightly squeezing my TI-86. And they'll probably attribute it to veganism. "CRAAAAAZY VEGAN grad student starves to death!" I can see it now. They'll probably sue my spouse for not feeding me some beef or something.

Of all the unsolicited reasons people give me for why they're not vegan, I've never heard anyone say "because it's too much of a time commitment." And yet, here I am. The only thing I can think of that really meets my laziness and nutritional needs are things I put in my rice cooker and ignore until they're ready to eat... rice (naturally), quinoa, lentils.

So I'm thinking that maybe my focus for the rest of MoFo will be to collect and test a number of vegan recipes that fit my insane and stressful lifestyle while also giving me the nutrients I need to survive through said life. It seems like a pretty good use for October.

Tonight, though... tonight we're getting takeout Sri Lankan food. Hello, vegan coconut roti. Hello, coconut and kale. Hello lentils! Hoo boy, I am going to eat the heck out of this meal. All this thinkin', I've worked up a powerful appetite.

PS: the kaffir lime vodka I mentioned yesterday is pretty close to unbelievably good. They've managed to capture the kaffir lime flavor perfectly... I'd forgotten just how different kaffir limes taste from normal limes. But the delicious punch in the teeth that is this vodka has reminded me in a wonderful, wonderful way.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 2: Debates, Drinking

Now here's an interesting correlation: during my first year as a vegan, I've become about 300% more interested in politics. I'm not sure if there's a causal relationship here, but it seems possible. Almost all vegans I know (on the internet or off of it) are politically engaged if not downright politically active. Perhaps they're rubbing off on me.

Or it could be that moving to the liberal cesspool that is Santa Cruz (the perfect nest for me to lay/hatch my hardcore liberal vegan eggs!) has just made it harder for me to ignore politics. Maybe, just maybe, it's that I'm finally transitioning into full on adulthood and coming to realize that all of this actually matters in my life-- that the administration that you* and I vote into the White House will directly affect whether or not I'll ever be able to buy a house... whether or not I can get the reproductive care that is appropriate for me... whether or not my little brother will ever be afforded the rights of marriage and have them protected by the government, etcetera. Hell, maybe it's just that I'm finally angry enough, that I've finally reached the critical point where I can no longer calmly ignore politics and bank on other people arguing it out for me.

But look, for the sake of this post and vegan MoFo, let's say it's the veganism.

What the hell does food have to do with politics? Why on earth would someone's EATING HABITS affect her political views and actions? Well, there are the obvious things. For instance, many vegans here in California have been working hard to get people to vote for Proposition 2. For those outside the state or those who just don't know: Prop 2 mandates humane treatment for farm animals, including those raised on** factory farms. You can read one opinion on it here. My guess is that the majority of people with non-veg lifestyles either a) don't know much about Prop 2 or b) don't have strong feelings on it one way or another. I don't know if I would have known about it a year ago, despite my 14ish years of vegetarianism. When I crossed over into veganism, though, I suddenly knew a huge contingent of people who knew and cared about Prop 2, and helped me understand why I should care about it too. A lot of us are vegan because we're not into animal exploitation, and while ensuring that animals aren't treated like shit before they're cacked and eaten is a far cry from, y'know, the disappearance of the meat industry, it's certainly a step in the right direction. It makes sense that we're all abuzz about things like Prop 2.

But the caring doesn't stop there, generally. Maybe it's that animal rights is like, a gateway issue. Once you gain the confidence to start engaging people in dialogue about AR, maybe some of that confidence carries over and helps you talk about other issues, too. For me, I guess it's kind of like I already know that some sizable fraction of the population already thinks I'm freaking insane because of my dietary choices the reasons behind them... may as well go out on a ledge and openly support things like gay marriage, free healthcare for poor kids, funding research on alternative energy, etc.

I don't know. I'm sort of thinking out loud here. All I'm trying to say is that I feel like being vegan has helped ease me into politics proper. My increased political awareness means, among other things, that I am following the presidential campaign coverage like it's my business. I'm not quite to the point of having Google email me every time a new Palin/Obama/Biden/etc story pops up, but... it's close.

So of COURSE I'm watching the debate tonight! Yes, all of that above was just meant to lead into debate talk. Unlike many of my vegan compatriots, I am not having a debate party. However, my dude and I WILL be playing the Biden/Palin drinking game. He'll be drinking the very delicious and very vegan Fat Tire ale, while I will be rocking vodka tonics made with Hangar One kaffir lime infused vodka. (Lordy, do I wish I had some arugula to eat! Maybe I'll get some before the next presidential debate. By the way, if you're hosting a McCain/Palin party, the ONLY appropriate foods to serve are moose and moose related things. I would say that moose tracks ice cream is valid.)

Whether or not we vegans know how to eat is a topic for another day: however, it's clear that we know how to drink!

Along with the booze, we'll be eating fancy pants tortilla chips (have to find the name of this brand... they're lightly seasoned with something and extremely freaking good) and nacho cheezy sauce. Maybe chili cheezy sauce, if I'm not too lazy to open a can of vegan chili as well.

We're still formulating the drinking game rules, by the way. So far, I've got this.

Drink if someone uses one of these phrases:
"gotcha" journalism
first dude
Main Street vs Wall Street
thanks but no thanks
middle class America

Drink if one of these things happens:
someone refers to the VP as being "a heartbeat away from the presidency"
Palin references her gay friend
Biden refers to McCain as his friend
Palin is unable to name an example of something most Americans could easily name dozens of (say, magazines she's ever read)
Biden makes a joke in poor taste
Palin contradicts herself...
... in the same sentence (drink twice)
... ... multiple times in the same sentence (drink thrice)

Very much a work in progress, still, and we're open to suggestions!

*Unless you're a furriner, of course. Or a felon.
**Is it on or in? You're raised on a farm, but things are made in a factory.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vegan MoFo: Day 1!

Today is the first day of Vegan MoFo, the vegan month of FOOD.  Hooray!  To celebrate, I am cooking up a veritable storm of delicious things.

See, initially I'd planned on making lasagna.  Yesterday I roasted a bunch of peppers that were taking up too much space in my fridge, so I figured that today I'd combine them with the tomatoes and fennel I have left from last week's CSA and have some sauce.  Thoughts of sauce led me to thoughts of noodles.  Thoughts of noodles led me to thoughts of lasagna.  Thoughts of lasagna led me to...

The farmer's market!  When I started down the lasagna path, I rummaged my pantry and discovered that I'm almost out of lasagna noodles.  I also realized I had far fewer tomatoes than I thought.  (Tomatoes... I have a problem with them.  I consider them to be snack food and eat them raw all the time.  They just don't last in my house.)  And I hadn't been to the local farmer's market in a while, because during the CSA season, I'm too lazy/already set on produce.  Plus, I just got paid yesterday AND got the great news that a huge chunk of my fellowship money will be coming my way very soon.  What the hell, I thought, and jumped on the first bus downtown.

Maybe it's just that I'm from the east coast, where produce is expensive and crappy and often comes from far away.  But to me, Santa Cruz's farmer's market is the physical manifestation of paradise.  There were SO many wonderful things today... and with prices being exceptionally good as always and my pockets being relatively full of cash, I was only limited by the amount of stuff I could cram into my very large blue bag.

Alas, the fresh noodle lady didn't have lasagna noodles, and the nearby hippie store that I usually shop at is closed for remodeling until next week.  I wandered around looking for something else to put sauce on and had all but given up when I saw them.

Eggplants.  Beautiful, bulging black eggplants.  Oh, I do love eggplants.  Now that I only buy/eat local produce, I have to go for long stretches of time without eggplants.  During these sad, sad months, I often dream about eggplants.  In one recurring dream, I wake up to find that my kitchen is full of eggplants.  They're on the counters, on the table, in the sink, in the fridge, in the hanging produce baskets... and I'm ecstatic, raving to anyone who comes near in my dreams about all the great things I'm going to cook with them.

Mild obsession aside, the eggplants were only 1.50 per today for rather large eggies.  Joy!  I scooped up four and went on my merry way.

Other stuff I snagged at the market:  some shallots, a bunch of basil, a bag of mission figs, a quince, a large yellow melon, and some more tomatoes.  Nom nom nom.  I've never had quince before... more on that tomorrow, I think.

When I got home, I started cooking various components and ended up with a sort of multi-layer eggplant bake.  From the bottom up, the layers are:

tofu ricotta
garlicky kale
tofu ricotta

Or something like that.  All of this is very straightforward, except for the sauce.  

See, I lived with my grandparents when I was little.  My grandmother, who is not the world's most stellar cook, managed to ruin a lot of foods for me.  Spaghetti is very close to the top of the list, and with it goes red sauce.  After spending my formative years being force fed oceans crappy jarred sauce (sorry, Ragu lovers, I'm not with you) on overcooked spaghetti, I can't stand traditional red sauces at all.  In fact, I only started eating tomato sauce again last year, when I couldn't think of anything else to do with the tomatoes from my CSA.

Thanks to my bias against traditional red sauce, my tomato sauce is pretty weird.  I love it, though, and make it all the damn time.  There are a million variations of it, but I'm including the recipe for what I did today at the end of this post.

I'm not sure how this'll turn out... everything's still baking.  It's starting to smell awfully good, though, so... I am revving my vegan eating engine and getting ready for awesome!

Not Spaghetti Sauce:

six medium shallots
1 tbsp olive oil
a large bulb of fennel
ten fist sized tomatoes
1c roasted peppers
3/4c fresh basil, shredded
1/2c liquid... this can be water, red wine, broth, etcetera.  (Wine's my favorite, but today I used water.)
salt and pepper

Put a non-stick frying pan on the stove on medium low heat.  (Notch 3 for me.)  After the pan's warmed up for like thirty seconds, put the tablespoon of oil in, give the pan a shake, and then leave it there to warm.

Slice the shallots as thin as you can get them.  If you have a mandoline (yay!) slice 'em on the thinnest setting.  Toss them into the pan, give it a shake, and set a timer for seven minutes.  Every couple of minutes, give the pan another shake to make sure the shallots aren't defying your pan and sticking.

In between pan shakes, slice up the fennel.  I don't think it's possible to make a mandoline cut an uncooked bulb of fennel on the thinnest setting... my mandoline can't do it, anyway.  Whatever, use the thinnest setting you can.  After you've sliced up the bulb, chop the resulting rings coarsely.

When the timer goes off, put the fennel in, shake, and let the fennel/shallot combination cook for another five minutes or so.  Again, check periodically to make sure the shallots aren't sticking or worse, burning.

Using a bread knife, slice up the tomatoes.  Discard tops and bottoms, but keep all of the rest of the tomatoes.  That's right, seeds and peels and all.  Coarsely chop the slices to the best of your ability.  Don't worry if they don't chop nicely, it's not going to matter in the end.

Add the tomatoes, the peppers, and the basil to the pan.  Mix well, then add whatever liquid you're using.  Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and let that baby cook for 30 minutes. 

Now the fun part!  Uncover and examine how liquidy your sauce is.  It's almost definitely too thin at this point, so you need to cook it down.  Crank the heat to medium high and let it bubble away to the desired thickness, stirring every couple of minutes to make sure it's not thicker than you thought.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and you're done!