Sunday, November 29, 2009
Let me back up a bit. I was going to make the Lime Cocounut cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World--which I have made before with great success--but all of my books have been shipped off ahead of me to San Francisco with the rest of my tangible life. Fortunately, my Mom continues to surprise me; she produced a crisp copy of VwaV that she recently got off amazon.com. (I don't know if any other vegans out there have a hard time eating with their families, but I'm grateful that I don't.) She then expressed her faith in my ability to create anything edible by recommending that I simply grab a baguette and a jar of bruschetta sauce from Stop 'n' Shop.
I believe that the nature of the things that you create is affected by the energy that you put into making them. If you put a lot of effort into creating something, the results will usually reflect that effort in some way. The creation may be flawed, or ugly, but it will have a soul. A supermarket baguette and a jar of sauce do not have souls.
Similarly, I believe that the effort you put into a potluck contribution reflects your respect for your fellow guests. If I throw down a dozen Dunkin' Donuts on the potluck table, I may as well turn around and piss in the punchbowl. Also, protocol dictates that you arrive with your creation in-hand, offer it to the host, and then mingle with everyone else, mutually admiring the contributions peripherally while focusing on interpersonal interaction. You shouldn't destroy your host's kitchen by making your contribution on-site, while the party is in full-swing. That's what I did.
I had spent the day helping my hosts clean their apartment and fetching party supplies and groceries. I also drove all over Fairfield county looking for a sifter, an electric beater, and a pastry bag. I had planned to have the cupcakes done before the guests started arriving, but I had barely got the batter into liners when they started to roll in. An hour later I was struggling with a separating ganache while loud people were tearing apart a chicken carcass beside me. (Rabbitt is vegetarian, so his thoughtful in-laws saw it fit to bring a roasted chicken to his potluck.)
In the end, I succeeded. The sink was filled with messy flour and frosting and filling, but it was impossible to do the dishes in their crowded kitchen. From that wasteland I emerged holding the fruit of my scrutinized labor aloft on a cutting board, and in a final flourish of drama, spilled three of them onto the floor.
Whatever. They were good, if ugly. Best of all, they didn't seem to have absorbed any of my stress, frustration, or self-consciousness.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
I was immediately suspicious of the stuff, largely because I had never heard of it (I'm the vegan in the family for chrissakes), but also because I couldn't believe that Oprah was pushing a thoroughly vegan product to every white American woman over the age of 55. So I did a little Googling and clicked through the gratuitous Flash pages on www.gardein.com and determined that, sure enough, the stuff was legit. So when my mom asked me if she should make the chick'n scallopini recipe featured on the show, I consented. (Now, a lot of vegan bloggers would have taken the reins at this point, dutifully making the dish for their mothers. But, as I've said before, I'm lazy. And my mom claims to love cooking for me, so it's win-win.)
So off we went to the closest Whole Foods to procure the ingredients, packing enough food, water, blankets, and ammunition to ensure a safe journey. When we finally made it to the store we were met with two obstacles: they had a small selection of Gardein's broad product line, which didn't include the "chick'n fillets" nor the "scallopini" described in the recipe; and they didn't have udon noodle cakes, whatever those are. So we got the "santa fe good stuff" and regular udon noodles, hoping for the best.
The best turned out pretty good. My mom put four piles of udon noodles into separate ramekins after cooking them, to give them a cake-like shape that held together pretty well in the pan. The stuffing in the "santa fe good stuff" did clash with the Asian tone of the recipe, but it was easy to forgive. The texture of the Gardein was disturbingly close to what I remember of actual chicken, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Surprisingly, the most delicious part of the recipe was the pea shoots. Frickin' delicous.
While I feel that this product came out of nowhere on a rocket-fueled marketing sled, I'm pleased that its sights are set on the mainstream; I can see it giving a lot of on-the-fence omnivores the motivation they need to eat less meat. I'm certainly not in the crossover market that Gardein is targeting, so its similarity to the "real thing" isn't a selling point for me. Nonetheless, I'll gladly try their other flavors, if for no other reason than to expand my options for easy protein. Thanks again, Mom.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I do have a blog entry stuck in the buffer that's worth flushing. Back in the middle of October, I visited my parents, who live a mere 9 miles outside of the geographical center of Connecticut. This is not a vegan-friendly region. The closest vegetarian restaurant, It's Only Natural, is 20 miles away. The closest Whole Foods is 20 miles away in a different direction. Fortunately, the bigger supermarkets have "Natural Foods" aisles, offering tofu, soy milk, soy margarine, etc. But it's just not as easy being vegan in central Connecticut as it is in New York City.
While driving to my parents' house from Brooklyn, I called my Mom up to let her know when I'd arrive. She told me that she was preparing a "special sandwich" for me. This was interesting; I had grown accustomed to the six or so types of dishes that she had prepared for me since I became vegan--adaptations from her eastern European repertoire and a couple recipes she'd found in magazines. So a "special sandwich" was intriguing.
When I finally arrived she presented me with a Mexican Torta and a side of fries. I was thrilled that she was expanding the menu, and asked her what inspired her. She handed me a printout of this VeganMoFo blog page, which I recognized immediately. "Wow, Mom, how did you find out about VeganMoFo?" I asked. "It was in the newspaper," she replied.
The newspaper? In central Connecticut? My mom then handed me the Food section from the October 8th edition of the Hartford Courant, featuring an article titled, "Turn Over A New Leaf: Vegan Diets Are Moving More Solidly Into Mainstream." (Note that the link is to the Google cache; for some reason, the original article is no longer on www.courant.com, nor on the Chicago Tribune page that it redirects to. Conspiracy theories activate! UPDATE: It disappeared from the Google cache, so I have updated the link to the only remaining digital copy I can find in under 20 minutes.)
I read the article as I devoured the delicious and messy torta, amazed at the positive treatment of the vegan lifestyle in what I had always considered to be a little, backwater rag. And I was heartened to learn that there are vegan cooking classes in West Hartford. I even learned where the word "vegan" came from:
Convinced that a diet completely free of animal products, including dairy and eggs, was the "beginning and end" of a true vegetarian lifestyle, [Donald] Watson coined the term "vegan" in 1944, using the first two and last three letters of the word "vegetarian."(Maybe I had learned this a long time ago, but, embarrassingly, it seemed like news to me.)
And then there was the sidebar, discussing VeganMoFo III, and a link which my mother typed into her computer to find the torta recipe. I felt like some kind of universal alignment had just occurred, casting enlightening energies upon central Connecticut, my Mom's kitchen, and me.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
All of their sandwiches are served in pita pockets, as their name suggests. You can pick one of two pitas: regular or whole wheat. The whole wheat pitas fall apart easily, so be sure to grab a fork if that's your preference. Or you can screw the pita altogether and get the "platter," which is a salad version, but more copiously appointed and a couple bucks more expensive. Whatever route you go, you're sure to be stuffed by the end of your journey.
They have a wide selection of toppings: hummus, tahini, cucumbers, tomatoes, cucumber and tomato salad, red cabbage, pickles, tabouli, fried eggplant, and hot sauce. I hate eggplant, but they season and deep-fry theirs in such a way that I was able to tolerate it in my first few sandwiches. After that, the novelty of its preparation wore off and I stopped adding it.
If there's one thing I've learned in my brief blogging-about-food career, it's that I'm really good at making food look less appetizing than it really is.The above photo is no exception. Don't let it turn you off; Pick a Pita delivers a solid falafel sandwich that I've returned to more times than I can count.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Pukk is another "pan Asian" vegetarian restaurant, like Zen Palate or Gobo, but with an emphasis on actual vegetables over meat analogues, in a Thai style. They offer $6 lunch specials which come with "vegetable clear soup" and your choice of an appetizer and an entree. I chose Spicy Spring Rolls for my appetizer, and Pepper Garlic Chicken for my entree. The spring rolls are fried, and wrapped in eggless egg roll wrappers. The Pepper Garlic Chicken has a few chunks of fake chicken and a good helping of vegetables. The "vegetable clear soup" is much tastier than it sounds, and saltier than one would expect. All-in-all, it was a filling and tasty lunch, but nothing amazing. It was better than Zen Palate, and cheaper.
Our pal Ravi ordered Pad See-Ew Duck, which he claimed tasted very duck-like in both flavor and texture. (We were a little concerned about Ravi's familiarity with authentic duck cuisine.) It even came with a surprise chunk of metal that looked like a twisted stainless steel suture. When he brought this to the attention of our waitress, she said something vaguely apologetic and retreated to the kitchen for more information. She eventually returned and assured Ravi that the metal was nothing to worry about, and mumbled something about a free dessert, should he be interested. We eventually pressed her further on that point and he got a free chocolate cheesecake mousse, which he shared with all of us. It was delicious and metal-free.
The bill for all five of us was around $73, gratuity included. I would definitely go back, but would scrutinize my dish for foreign matter.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
So I went to my all-time favorite weekday lunch spot, Green Symphony, to throw together "the usual:" collard greens, broccoli, couscous with hummus, and a chubby little samosa. All that, a Vitamin Water, and a bag of Stonewall's for under $15. After putting that together I go up to the counter and the proprietor (who always asks my co-worker if he's vegetarian, but who doesn't give a shit about my superior veganism) pulls out a golden, ornate picture frame and plops it down in front of me. It's a promotional photo of Daniel Craig, autographed. The proprietor then waited patiently for my reaction.
Having been to Green Symphony a dozen times already, I've become familiar with the wall of fame in the tiny dining area: about 20 framed, autographed headshots of actors and musicians of varying degrees of notoriety.
"Oh!" it dawned on me. "Was he in here earlier today?" I would have said, "Hey! Daniel Craig came in!" except I couldn't remember the actor's name and had to later ask a friend who plays the new James Bond.
"He's the second most popular person," he said, proudly, in broken English, gesturing over his shoulder toward the Wall. "Just under Billy Joel."
"Oh, well that's great!" I said, somewhat genuinely. "It's great that all these people come here to eat."
I nodded as if to say, "I'll be damned," brows raised and all.
And, indeed, people come to Green Symphony to be healthy. In addition to the buffet (which is mostly vegetarian), Green Symphony also offers custom smoothies, herbal supplements, healthy sandwiches and salads, lots of vegan and gluten-free baked goods, and a broad spectrum of pre-packaged, vegetarian-friendly nutrition bars and snacks. And coffee and tea and stuff, too.
My lunch was delicious, as usual. But I never figured out a way of closing this blog entry with a clever reference to Daniel Craig or James Bond.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Wow, I'll post anything!
Inspired by supercarrot's comment on my previous jerky post, here's a very orange and yellow review of Primal Strips' (hopefully) experimental packaging.
Maybe someday I'll figure out how to use Final Cut's color correction capabilities. Or move out of this basement.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
The recipe is basically Vegan with a Vengeance's "Scrambled Tofu," to which I added cayenne pepper and broccoli. The English muffins are spelt, from Rudi's Organic Bakery.
OK, you can go back to bed now.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
(After I took the picture, I defiled its beauty with a fistful of nutritional yeast.)
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Some VeganMoFo bloggers are spending a lot of time and effort to make wonderful, delicious food themselves. I'm not. I've become lazy living in New York; it's easy to get vegan food made by someone else, quickly. Though it is expensive. If I knew how money worked, the expense of pre-prepared food might motivate me to cook for myself more often.
So, my blog thus far has been filled with stuff that other people have made, and which I, in turn, have eaten. Today's post does not challenge convention: Quinoa Salad and Black Bean Soup, from S'nice on 5th Ave at 3rd St., in Brooklyn. (I hiked this stuff back to my dungeon-like apartment to take pictures of it privately.)
The quinoa salad was great. It had black beans, slices of avocado, tomato chunks, onions, greens, avocado dressing, tortilla strips, and of course lots of quinoa. I cursed my feeble spoon for not being a shovel. But there was so much of it that I could only eat half--the rest is in the fridge should I ever get hungry again. (I think I got substantially more by taking it "to go," than I would have had I eaten it there.) The thin black bean soup started off nicely, but seemed to get saltier as I ate it. So I offered it to my roommate, Thisbe, who thought it was delicious.
I strongly recommend S'nice if you're ever in my neighborhood, or proximal to their West Village counterpart. They've got all kinds of stuff, the best of which, I believe, is their vegan tofu panini.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Green Symphony. I was thrilled. I scooped up a half dozen bags from the bottom-most shelf of their prepackaged food display, plopped them on the counter, brushed off the dust, removed the expired bags, and then purchased the remaining four. Delicious stuff. Recommended. You, too, can get it online at amazon.com. Just click the image to the right, disgorge some credit card numbers, and wait patiently for the postperson to bring it to you.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Here's the recipe straight out of the book, republished here with permission from the author:
Classic Pesto1/2 cup walnuts
3 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Toast the walnuts in a toaster oven at 350 degrees F for 5 minutes or on a baking sheet in a conventional oven for 10 minutes, turning once.
Combine the walnuts, basil, garlic, and salt in a food processor or blender and process while you add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the nutritional yeast and lemon juice, and pulse to combine. The sauce should be the consistency of a slightly grainy paste, not a puree.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Today my camera and I took a long lunch down at Washington Square Park, to get one of my favorite meals in the city: a dosa from the NY Dosa cart at West 4th St. and Sullivan. I got to the cart at 2:45 PM, well before the dosa guy usually sells out, which is around 4 PM. But today must have been busy; when I ordered my customary pondicherry, he laughed and said he was all out of pondicherry and dosa filling. But he told me that he could throw together a few things to make a "meal" for me, including extra lentil soup. "OK," I said, and stepped aside to wait.
But the thing is, the consolation dosa wasn't nearly as good as the chubby, potato and veggie-filled pondicherry I'd grown accustomed to. The meal was filling, and the lentil soup was excellent, as usual. But it just wasn't the same thing. The "drumstick," by the way, is a gluten-based chicken leg analog on a wooden stick (exactly the same as the one served by V-Spot in Brooklyn). I appreciated his improvising with what he had, and giving me a break on the price. But I'll have to go back again soon to get the real experience.