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.