Sunday, November 29, 2009

Faux pas-stess Cupcakes

I made 12 cupcakes for a potluck/house-warming party. Making cupcakes isn't supposed to give you a heart attack.  It's supposed to be pleasant, contemplative, and therapeutic.  When I chose to make Fauxstess Cupcakes from the lovely Ms. Moskowitz's Vegan With A Vengeance, I didn't know that I was choosing to make the most complicated cupcake of my life in front of an audience of 30 curious, omniverous, alcohol-drinking party guests.

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  (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

WTF is Gardein?

The last time I visited my folks, my mom busted out the Mexican torta she learned about on her own, after harnessing the yin and yang of local print media and the Word Wide Web. This time, she introduced me to Gardein, the "garden protein," which she learned about on Oprah.

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 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

Veganism Invades Central Connecticut

I really dropped the ball on VeganMoFo III. But here I am on November 3 with a new post! So I'll just pipe all criticism--internal and external--to /dev/null and get on with it.

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, 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

Pick A Pita

What is up with the names of falfel shops in New York City? Pita Hut, Pita Pan, Pita Like a Racehorse... There's a falafel/shawarma place on 8th Ave. between 39th and 40th that makes a pretty good falafel for $6. Pick A Pita. (Why they didn't call themselves Pita Picked a Peppa, I don't know. Maybe the sign would be too expensive.) They're kosher, so they don't put any dairy in their toppings, which might adorn something off the the rotating meat column as easily as they would a few falafel balls. If you're vegan, that's great, because the vegan and non-vegan stuff are well segregated.

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

It's Just a Chunk of Metal

A group of vegan and vegetarian friends and I go out to lunch once a month. We call ourselves The Veggie Five. We're like super heroes, but without special powers, and we don't fight crime. We just get together occasionally and eat vegetarian food. Today we ate at Pukk in the East Village.

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

Her Majesty's Secret Symphony

Ok, that's a shitty title. But it's staying because if I spend any time thinking up something better I'm not going to get my daily VeganMoFo entry done before the deadline.

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."

He thumped an open hand on his aproned chest and said, "They take care of themselves. They're healthy." He pointed at the photo of Mr. Craig sitting beside my cash, "He's healthy too. Egg whites!"

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

Video: Primal Pain In The Ass

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

Scrambled Tofu

I dropped the ball Friday, missing a weekday of VeganMoFo blogging. To make up for it, I took a picture of my brunch. Well, my lunch, really. I just don't think it qualifies as a "brunch," as I made it myself in the privacy of my own dungeon-like apartment. And I didn't make mimosas.

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

I made something!

Well, "threw some shit together" might be more accurate. But it was delicious: Barilla whole grain spaghetti, grilled Field Roast Italian sausage, steamed broccoli, and homemade vegan pesto. Minimal effort for maximum satisfaction. I'd buy it, if I could.

(After I took the picture, I defiled its beauty with a fistful of nutritional yeast.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I'm a Lazy Vegan

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


When I lived in San Francisco, it seemed that you could buy Stonewall's Jerquee from anyone. Dudes offering you great deals on expensive watches down at United Nations Plaza would whip out a consolation bag or two of Stonewall's when you declined their initial offers. Midas mechanics would find ways to work Stonewall's Jerquee into the bill for your catalytic converter replacement. You couldn't check out of the UCSF's emergency room without signing an agreement that you would consume several bags of the stuff during your recovery period.

When I moved to Boston, Jerquee was no longer accessible through conventional means; I had to order it online. Even when I moved to New York City, I didn't find Jerquee until I'd been there for several months and came across it at a West Village deli. Today, I found Jerquee at my current favorite lunch spot: 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 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

Video: Vegan Pesto

I produced my first "cooking" video over the weekend: making Isa Moskowitz's "Classic Pesto" from Vegan with a Vengeance. It was a clumsy effort, but it accomplished its goal: eliminating the surplus of basil from my herb garden.

Here's the recipe straight out of the book, republished here with permission from the author:

Classic Pesto

1/2 cup walnuts
3 cups packed basil leaves
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.

I learned a lot about DIY cooking video production. Some key lessons being: don't mix wildly different cameras in multi-camera shooting; don't bang shit around so much; keep your whining, over-heating laptop as far from the microphone as possible; don't say "um" so much; and rehearse before shooting.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I Guess It's Kinda Like A Dosa

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.

He ended up giving me a "veggie stick" (some egg roll type fried thing) in a dosa wrapper, a "drumstick" in a moderate pool of barbecue sauce, and two cups of lentil soup. All for $5! A bottle of water and a $2 tip and I was out a mere $7.

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.

On the way back to work I grabbed a coffee and, feeling a little unsatisfied by my consolation lunch, swung by Green Symphony on 43rd St. between 7th and 8th for a snack. Green Symphony is a great little buffet/deli that offers a surprising amount of vegan food. They have a lot of homemade bars and cookies, almost none of which can be metabolized for under 600 calories. I got a "BMW" bar, the name of which is an acronym, but for what I can't remember. Maybe "Body, Mind, Wellness?" I don't know. It's filled with walnuts and apple chunks and raisins. It's mushy and filling. It may very well be gluten free. It tastes like it looks. I don't recommend it, unless you're starving and have few other choices.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

VeganMoFo, Day One

I am not a good blogger. Like many people, I get excited about a blog idea, post a half dozen entries within the course of a month, and then let the blog stagnate until the domain name expires. But this time is different. Right?

I think it is different this time. I created this blog to participate in this year's VeganMoFo III, along with hundreds of other vegans who are trying to be good bloggers. We're all trying to blog about vegan food every weekday for the month of October. I'm motivated by knowing that there are so many other people trying to do the exact same thing. However, I'm made apprehensive by the fact that--aside from IMs to co-workers ("Wanna get lunch?") and jotting down shopping lists--I've never written about food before. And I'm not a prolific recipesmith. But I'm vegan, and I spend a lot of time and money on eating. So there must be something to write about.

Let's start with what I ate for lunch today. I work in Manhattan, in the southwest corner of Times Square, just east of Hell's Kitchen. There's not a lot to eat for a vegan in that neighborhood, but over the past year I have discovered about a half dozen places that offer decent vegan food options, all within a few minutes' walk from work. Today, I went to Zen Palate, on 9th Ave. at West 46th St.

Zen Palate is dependable. Their lunch specials are ordinary and invariable. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say, "Gosh. The Sweet and Sour Sensation isn't that good today." It's like the Groundhog Day of vegetarian restaurants.

Here's an example. Being a noob food blogger, I forgot to take my camera to lunch with me today. So I was going to draw what I ordered: Tofu Delight. It would have been a horrible drawing, but I was going to do it anyway, because it would have been funny. But, on a whim, I thought I'd Google for an image of the dish and save myself the trouble. All I did was search for "zen palate" at, and the first result was a photograph of my lunch. It looked exactly the same as what I ingested a few hours ago. The only difference is that it was actually served to some girl from Los Angles over a year ago (thanks for the photo, quarrygirl).

Actually, there's another difference. I always substitute the moo-shu roles for the deep fried taro rolls that come with the lunch specials. They're not that detail-oriented about their vegan friendliness at Zen Palate, and they don't answer detail-oriented questions about their ingredients with a level of confidence that I trust. So I suspect that the taro rolls use conventional egg rolls for their wrappers. They might not, but for some reason I don't trust them on this issue.

How was it? It was edible, it stimulated my taste buds, and it was vegan. The moo-shu rolls were the highlight; I could eat those suckers all day long. After eating around 30 Zen Palate lunch specials over the past year, I just can't get too excited about it. But it's the only vegetarian restaurant within a reasonable distance from my workplace; for that, I will always love them. Oh, how much did it cost? $15 with tip. Not too bad in this city.

This blogging business isn't too difficult. While I'm at it, why don't I tell you what I had for dinner, too? A small soy cheese pizza with vegan pepperoni, mushrooms, and olives from Pizza Plus in Park Slope, Brooklyn. When I first moved to this neighborhood, I was thrilled when Google Maps told me there was hit for "vegan pizza" just a few blocks away.
Pizza Plus uses Follow Your Heart "Vegan Gourmet" mozzarella cheese and vegan fake pepperoni. (Yes, "fake" is redundant, but I like saying it. Fake meat. Fake cheese, etc.) Their crust and tomato sauce are delicious. My only complaint is that, as the cheese cools, it starts to take on the texture of mashed potatoes. Fortunately, mashed potatoes are also delicious.
PIzza Plus's vegan pies are among the top three vegan pizzas I've eaten, excluding those that I've made myself. This small pizza was about $15 (with no tip... c'mon, they just passed it across the counter to me). Their staff is always super-friendly, and if you're not a misanthrope, you might enjoy their outdoor seating in pleasant weather.