Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vegan Home Brew: Part 1, The Wort

I got my shit together and completed the first step of my first batch of home-brewed beer. As I mentioned in an earlier post, several of my dearest friends got together and bought me an avalanche of beer brewing equipment. The only missing ingredient was... ingredients. For that, I went to the closest home brewing supply shop, San Francisco Brew Craft. The place was smaller than I expected, and I instantly found myself in front of the hirsute dude working behind the counter. He greeted me with, "hey, what's up?" and before I finished explaining that I needed ingredients he'd already started filling out a hot pink "Beer Recipe and Brewing Instructions" sheet. I told him I was thinking about a pale ale a little less hoppy than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He scribbled a couple more things on the sheet and started shoveling ingredients from bulk containers around the shop. This was a pleasant surprise, as I had expected to be handed a dense box of pre-selected ingredients. Instead, I was getting a customized set of ingredients and brewing instructions! I was out of there in under 15 minutes, a mere $42 poorer.

I had prepared for Brew Day by reading SF Brewcraft's brewing instructions and the first chapter of "How To Brew," which came with my brewing supplies. I also watched Homebrew Heaven's awesome "Getting Started Homebrewing" DVD, wherein Chris and Don demonstrate the rudiments of brewing and bottling your own beer. (I watched this video repeatedly, mostly for my fascination of the cheap porn production quality.) Finally, I talked to my good friend and brewing veteran Dave for reinforcement.

Despite all this preparation, the whole process seemed to take all day. It took forever to heat the wort, and then to bring it to a boil after adding the malt extract. Then it took forever to cool it down to "pitching" temperature, which was a little higher than ideal due to my impatience. Consequently, I rehydrated my yeast about an hour too soon, but assured myself that yeast is a hearty little organism and wouldn't mind waiting for all the delicious sugar I was about to feed it. When I pounded the lid on the fermenter and stuck the airlock into its hole I really had no idea if I had succeeded. I had to wait for a couple days to know for sure.

And man, did I succeed! The airlock was bubbling along happily in the second and third days (see the video!), and calmed down toward the end of the week. The beginning of the week enjoyed ridiculously hot weather (high 70s!), so the beer didn't hit ideal fermenting temperatures for a couple days. I left it near an open window with a temperature-activated fan to keep things between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm pretty confident that this is going to turn out well.

Next episode: Secondary Fermentation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Made Chocolate Chip Cookies

There was no soy milk, so I ate them with beer.
I finally made something with my own two hands for VeganMoFo 2011.  I decided to cease posting boring, every-day fast food simply for the sake of posting something.  The rest of my October posts will discuss stuff that I made myself.  (Exceptional exceptions excepted.) Consequently, this is my last October post.  JUST KIDDING.  Probably.

So, back to cookies. I used to make chocolate chip cookies all the time throughout my adolescence. While my peers were playing sports and making out, I was getting high and chubby on cookies. My parents got a microwave/convection oven back in the late 80s and we all thought that it was the shit.  It came with a cookbook that showcased some of the amazing things you could do with this cutting-edge technology.  One of the recipes therein was an ordinary chocolate chip cookie recipe that exploited none of this technology.  It was a straight-up, dependable recipe that I used to pump out hundreds of perfect chocolate chip cookies.  (By "pump out," I mean, "pump through my digestive system.")  Then, one day, I grew up and became vegan.

Since being vegan, I've made chocolate chip cookies about three times.   The first time, I adapted that wonderful recipe from my youth.  The results were disappointing.  I tried a couple vegan-ready recipes after that.  Shrugworthy.  Finally, I tried the recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking.  Oh, em, gee.  They turned out so well.  They were lightly crunchy on their perimeters, chewy at their epicenters.  I shaved a minute off the bake time with each of the three batches and the last one was the best.

I was curious about the Internet's opinion of this recipe, so I did an image search.  It's certainly popular.  But I'm surprised by their wild variation.  Mine definitely turned out darker than others'.  Maybe that's because I used golden brown sugar instead of light brown. Well, I don't care;  I'm just glad that I can resume pumping chocolate cookies through my digestive system.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Herbivore's Grilled Soy Chicken Sandwich on Focaccia

Did you know that Ansel Adams was a failed
food photographer?
Yes, another fricking sandwich. Hey, it's what I ate.  I'm just being honest.

The thing about living a couple blocks away from Herbivore for most my vegetarian life is that I have eaten almost everything on their menu.  That's bad because the menu no longer holds delightful surprises.  It's good because I have confidently isolated three menu items that rarely disappoint me: the Southwestern Scrambled Tofu, the Sandwich Featured In The Title Of This Blog Post, and a Third Item To Be Disclosed In A Future Blog Post.  This sandwich makes the list simply because the soy chicken is tangy.  It's coated in a delicious garlic-lemon sauce, and it's perfect.  It even comes with Herbivore's signature Absurdly Copious Side Salad!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Another Hand-held Meal

Tonight I made a variation on Eastern Capital Sandwich.  It's a real lazy person's home-cooked meal; all you really have to do is assemble some simple things in the right order and, before you know it, you're looking at a sloppy pile of delicious.  My secondary neighborhood rip-off health food store's green peppers looked like crap today, so I used red peppers and jalapeƱos instead. I grilled some Alvarado St. Sprouted Rye in place of a roll.  The fries were frozen Cascadian Farms; nothing special there.  It was very difficult to eat using conventional sandwich techniques, so I fell-back on a fork and knife.  Still delicious.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Plant Cafe's Beety Burger

For lunch today I got a Plant Burger to go from The Plant Cafe at 101 California. The Plant Cafe has three locations in San Francisco, but for as long as I can remember Google has not acknowledged this one. Try for yourself: go to and search for "plant cafe san francisco." You'll get the other two locations only. This is very frustrating, because I stopped remembering numbers, names, and places several years ago when I got my first iPhone. A rare alignment of luck and miracle helped me find it today, and the reward was significant; The Plant Burger is delicious. It's hearty in flavor, but light in matter. You could probably eat two and still be able to walk back to work fully upright. There's a bunch of other vegan stuff on their menu but I didn't really pay much attention; this is the go-to to go item. (Oh, and don't worry--that undocumented dollop of white stuff is Veganaise.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Vegan, Pre-packaged Starbucks Food?

Photo stolen from
A few months ago I noticed a new product in the Starbucks display case, a "Sesame Noodles Bistro Box." There were other "bistro boxes" from this new product line in the case, but this one grabbed my attention because it wasn't obviously vegan-hostile.  It threw a wrench into my daily routine.

Typically, I peek in the Starbucks on 2nd Street to see if it's ridiculously crowded.  If it is, I walk a diagonal block to the Starbucks on New Montgomery.  I usually stand in line for about 2 and a half minutes at the lesser-crowded franchise.  I play some Words with Friends while I'm at the tail of the line, but I gradually lose my tenuous connection to the AT&T network as the shortening line draws me deeper inside.  When my phone is rendered useless, I turn my attention to the broad array of vegan-hostile baked goods, sandwiches, and pre-packaged nonsense in the display case.  This exercise keeps my contempt for Starbucks at a healthy level. It reminds me that I have no affinity for the Starbucks "brand;" it's simply the most efficient source of caffeine available to me in the monotonous system that defines my professional existence.

Then there's this new "bento box."  I actually reached into the display case and withdrew the product for closer examination.  I scrutinized the ingredients.  It looked pretty damn vegan, though the "sesame peanuts" were questionable.  You can list sesame seeds as an ingredient, or you can list peanuts as an ingredient.  But "sesame peanuts" is suspicious.  What's adhering the sesame seeds to the peanuts, exactly? Dried cane sugar solution?  Kangaroo lactate?  Fortunately, Starbucks lists the complete ingredients on their site:
sesame ginger noodle salad (water, broccoli, semolina durum flour [niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], cucumbers, sugar snap peas, roasted peanuts, carrots, lettuce, red bell pepper, sprouted soybeans, sugar, 2% or less of: cabbage, soybeans, whole wheat, sesame seeds, salt, nigari [magnesium chloride (a natural firming agent), calcium sulfate], wheat flour, sesame oil, ginger, modified cornstarch, xanthan gum, lactic acid, spices, jalapeno peppers, green onions, cilantro, garlic, dried onion, tomato paste, cornstarch, rice vinegar, brown rice syrup, rice wine, vegetable oil [sunflower, palm and/or canola], lime juice, dried orange pulp, extract of mushroom, alcohol [to preserve freshness], sodium benzoate [preservative], guar gum). dark chocolate bar (cacao beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin [an emulsifier], vanilla). 
Yet I still haven't tried this product, after all this time.  I think that, subconsciously, eating a pre-packaged Starbucks food would be a sort of communion.  I would be taking Starbucks inside me in a different way.  I'm not sure that I'm ready for that kind of relationship with such a big, powerful corporation.  On the other hand, I feel obligated to vote for this product with my consumer dollar.

Ok, I'll try it, and I'll post the experience here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Little Chihuahua

Photo stolen from
VeganMoFo founder Isa Moskowitz once told me that she preferred the taste of burritos from some joint in my 'hood named "The Little Chihuahua," over those from world-famous Papalote.  I was skeptical.  I couldn't believe that this respected and prolific cookbook author had such poor taste in burritos.  Papalote smacked-down that insolent Bobby Flay, for chrissakes.  Their roasted tomato salsa is so popular that it has its own Web site! How could some poorly-named hole-in-the-wall compete with perfection? I concluded that it wasn't fair of me to judge Isa so harshly, especially when I had never stepped foot inside The Little Chihuahua myself*. So tonight I went to check it out.

I skipped burrito photography class.
I was immediately surprised by the large number of happily chattering customers stuffed into the tiny restaurant.  The interior was warm and welcoming on a gray, drizzling San Francisco night.  I ordered a regular chile verde tofu burrito with black beans and guacamole on a tomato-chile tortilla, to go.  I then spent 10 minutes bobbing and weaving my way around the salsa bar until they called my name.  I remained skeptical that this burrito was going to be anything special, right up until I got it home and stuffed it into my mouth.  Holy shit.  It was good.  The tortilla was toasted.  There was delicious pickled cabbage inside.  The tofu was tangy. The beans were flavorful. Two bites, three bites... It was really good.  But was it better than Papalote? I can't believe I'm saying it, but... maybe. I'll have to do some more research to be certain.  For now, I'm relived that Isa does indeed have excellent taste in burritos.

* I had eaten several burritos from the previous taqueria at 292 Divisadero St., and they were all poor to mediocre.  Does anyone know what it was called?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vegan Beer Brewing

A few of my forthcoming blog entries for VeganMoFo 2011 will document my attempt to brew some beer.  I've been muttering about brewing beer for several years, but I never seemed to get around to doing it.  Many of my beloved friends grew weary of these mutterings and collectively shipped me a home brewery for my birthday this year.  It is now time for me to stop muttering and to start brewing.

The first thing I need to do is to figure out what's vegan and what's not.  Most beer, in general, is vegan.  There are many beers that use animal products in their clarification and filtering processes, but your average home brewer is not going to employ them.  (If you're curious about the vegan-friendliness of your favorite mass-produced beers, check out  So far, my home brewery contains two questionable products: BTF Iodophor and Super Grunge Remover (sodium carbonate).  My cursory Web research suggests that both of these products are pretty simple chemicals with no obvious animal origin, but I e-mailed the manufacturers for the final word.  If they turn out to be non-vegan, I can fall back Five Star Star San. Here's an e-mail exchange I had with the manufacturer:

I'm interested in using your Star San product for home brewing. However, I prefer to use products that are:

100% cruelty free (not tested on animals)
100% free of animal by-products (no animal-derived ingredients of any kind)

Can you confirm that this product meets my criteria? 

Thank you!
To which Jon Herskovits responded via his iPhone: 
All the ingredients in star San are on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list. This means they don't need bunny testing. You are good to use all five star products.

Jon Herskovits

Sent from my iPhone
"Bunny testing" sounded a little patronizing, so I thought I would press for more information:
Thank you very much, Jon, for your response.  Could you also respond explicitly to my other question, about whether your products (Star San specifically) contain animal-derived ingredients?  (I intend to share this information with readers of my blog, by the way.)

I really appreciate your time,
To which I finally got a satisfactory, if terse, response:
No they are not animal derived.

Sent from my iPhone
 Thank you, Jon!  I feel bad about pestering him while he's on the go, but it's worth it to move forward with confidence in this long-overdue endeavor.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I ran a half marathon!

I can't say that it was easy, but it was a lot less impossible than I imagined.  The first two miles made it clear just how long the race was.  "I only have to do this six and a half more times," I  thought.  But one mile bled into the next and eventually I passed the halfway point.  I was grateful for the pacer groups, who were clusters of runners with times posted on their backs like "3:00" and "2:45."  If you ran with them you would finish close to their posted times.  I passed 3:00 pretty early on, but I didn't see 2:45 until the very end. The last three miles were by far the most difficult, as my quads were numb and my heart rate was over 190 bpm.  (Is that even possible, by the way?  I wonder if my monitor is accurate.)

I'm proud that I raised $740 to combat animal abuse.  I'm also proud that I finished my first half marathon. And while I didn't enter the race with any competitive aspirations, I'm proud of my performance:

  • Finish time: 2:42:23
  • Placement: 7338 (out of around 12,000) 
How does a vegan celebrate finishing his first half marathon?  He eats a mushroom, olive, and broccoli stuffed vegan pie from Paxti's, accompanied by some delicious Sierra Nevada Tumbler Ale.  And then he takes a 16 hour nap.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I'm going to run a half marathon!

I believe that, as a vegan, I should appear to be healthy. I would love to sit on my couch all day and drink beer and eat chips, but should I ever shamble out of my womb-like dungeon and into daylight, people on the streets would point a me and shout, "Look at that soft and pasty vegan! See? Vegans are so unhealthy!" In reality, I would be unhealthy simply because I'm lazy. But I doubt that I would be able to explain this to my tormentors, so it's easiest to just be healthy.

I have discovered one old weird trick to appearing healthy: being physically fit. Once very couple of years I string together a series physical activities that I call "exercising," and I try to incorporate these activities into my life's patterns. Invariably, my laziness will prevail and I will end up back on the couch with my friends Beer and Chips. About four months ago, as another period of exercise was looming on my horizon, I passed by the PeTA booth at the San Francisco Green Festival.  A friendly representative was promoting the Bay Area PeTA Pack, a group of people who were going to raise money for PeTA's undercover and rescue operations by running the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  This seemed like the perfect way for me to get off my ass and help some animals out at the same time.

I have been running ever since, and the Half Marathon is tomorrow. Franky, I'm terrified. I ramped up my training slowly to avoid injuring myself, and never ran more than about 5 1/2 miles in a single session. I'll have to run more than twice that tomorrow. Fortunately I can always walk a bit if I need to. All I have to do is make it to the starting line by 8AM, and cross the finish line by noon. I think I can do that, especially because I know that my friends and family support me, and that the money we raised will help some animals.