Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jellybean, BOOM!

There are still a couple days left to enter to win a copy of The Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook!  C'mon, you can't tell me you don't want to make Caramelized Onion and Garlic Waffles.  Of course you do!  Find out how to enter here.

This past Saturday was my 30th birthday.  I hate having a December birthday, people are always too busy to properly dote on me and buy me drinks.  There are way too many competing events.  Sometimes I think about just pretending I have a different birthday, living a lie.  But I'm seriously the worst liar; I hate having to remember different versions of reality.  Just one reality is difficult enough to remember. 

This time, though, my birthday was on a Saturday, plus I'm moving out of town really soon.  When I left Phoenixville, my friend Morgan threw me a huge party and there were so many people there and it was incredibly fun and flattering.  Pittsburgh is kind of an insular city, though, and although I certainly did make friends here, I didn't make enough to have a giant shindig in the busy month of December to celebrate/mourn my making like a tree and getting out of here.  Still, it seemed appropriate to have a small group of friends come over and eat food I cooked.  I had about 15 friends over.

Maybe you're not supposed to cook for your own birthday, I don't know.  I think you're supposed to let someone else bring you a cake at least.  But screw that!  I love to cook and, furthermore, I have a ton of food at my apartment that I'm trying to use up.  In my freezer, I had pesto I made this summer, two loaves of bread, and more diced tomatoes from my garden than I knew what to do with.  Plus, I have lots of Mori-Nu tofu and Earth Balance.  Can you see where this is going?  To me, this all points in one clear direction: grilled cheese with pesto along with tomato soup!

The grilled cheese comes more or less from Julie Hasson's book Vegan Diner.  I probably used her pesto recipe.  It's my favorite because it has spinach along with basil, and baby spinach is something I just keep around for salads and scrambled tofu and whatever else, so it's convenient.  The cheese is her Great Smoky Mountain Cheeze (the recipe is here), which is just perfect for grilled cheese.  It tastes so freaking good, and it's made from Mori-Nu tofu, and you can slice it and then spread it onto the bread.  The last time I made this, I thought it was so great, I went just a little bit crazy!  My friends loved it.  I had to send Bill out to buy some more bread.  Bill also took this next picture.  Isn't Bill helpful?
And the tomato soup, let's talk about that, shall we?  I've made every tomato soup recipe pretty much, but the one I go back to always is in Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman's book 500 Vegan Recipes.  Even though I made fat free sour cream out of tofu instead of using their sour cream recipe that contained cashews (my friend Mary is allergic to most nuts, and I wanted her to be able to eat it), the Creamy Tomato Soup was still top friggin' notch (the recipe is here). 

For dessert, sorry, no birthday cake.  Instead, pie time!
I actually took that picture of myself the day after my birthday while unshowered and hungover to post to Facebook after I got so sick of fighting with people who honestly believe that their love of guns is a worthy tradeoff for the destruction of life guns cause.  I say, find something more awesome to love than guns, people.  Like pie, for instance!  Other good candidates include: vitamins, the Wu-Tang Clan, sandy beaches, Netflix, and funny hats.  Seriously, get over your love of guns, it makes you look like an a**hole.  OK, rant done.  Onto pie!

Another thing I have a lot of in my kitchen is raw cashews.  I bought, like, 10 pounds of them soon after the release of Miyoko Schinner's Artisan Vegan Cheese.  I've gone through a lot, but 10 is really a lot of pounds of cashews!  So I thought I'd make her cream cheese (recipe is here), which is so easy to make and much better than Tofutti, in my opinion.  Also, ever since I went to her book release party and she served her recipes, I knew I had to make some of her complete recipes and not JUST the cheeses from the book, because that woman has mad skillz.  She has a number of cheesecake recipes in the book, but I chose to try the Fluffy No-Bake Cheesecake (sorry, couldn't find a recipe to link) because it has a raw crust, which I love, and it uses whipped coconut cream and you know what else I have a lot of?  Cans of coconut milk.  I've also had this random can of cherry topping on my shelf, like, forever.
It's torture to look at that and not eat it, don't you think?  I don't have to suffer as much as you do because I still have some in my fridge.  I'm so sorry about that.

Remember I said that my friend Mary is allergic to cashews and other nuts?  She couldn't eat that cashew cheese-based cheesecake with the raw almond-based crust, obviously.  But I wouldn't let a friend go without dessert!  So I also made a Key Lime Pie, this one from the newest of the Moskowitz/Romero dessert bibles, Vegan Pie In the Sky (recipe here).
This was just perfect.  It was only my third pie from this book, and it was my third big giant success.  I still felt bad that Mary didn't get to have the cheesecake, but it's cool, this was by no means suffering.

So, that was my birthday feast!  Every single thing involved my food processor: the sandwich cheese, the pesto, the sour cream for the soup, both pie crusts, and both pie fillings.  There was a lot of rinsing going on the day before my birthday.  And, oh yeah, I've only gotten MORE obsessed with hummus, so I made some that was 1/3 black beans and 2/3 chickpeas the day before, which also involved the food processor.  It got a little dry overnight, but trust me when I say it was so good that after I ran out of carrots the next day, I ate the hummus with a spoon at first, and then with my fingers.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Trick Your Omni Friends (and Your Vegan Ones, You Meanie) with Beyond Meat

I got a tip-off that Beyond Meat's chicken-style strips are now available at the Whole Foods in Pittsburgh, as well as at Whole Foods stores across the country.

Have you heard about Beyond Meat?  I first read about it in the article Fake Meat So Good It Will Freak You Out on and I remember thinking that, although I was not really in the market for vegetarian meat (I've never tried Gardein or Tofurky, for instance), I was intrigued. A lot of people, especially vegetarians or other folks trying to reduce their consumption of animals, rely on vegetarian meat.  And it's often useful when cooking for people who insist upon eating meat all the time. 

You find it in Whole Foods' prepared food section, and it's sold by weight.

I'm going to post a second picture so you can see what it actually looks like, since I failed to take a picture of it after I'd bought some.  It's down in the bottom center.
Weird, it looks like grilled chicken, right?  I feel like meat eaters probably buy this by accident sometimes.  I'm not one of these people who gets grossed out at the idea of eating something that resembles meat, but I've been cooking vegan long enough that I don't actually have a lot of recipes that require a meat imitation.  That said, I think Beyond Meat is a really great alternative for people who don't make their own seitan, choosing instead to buy it from the store, or for someone who avoids gluten.

It tastes really plain, not unlike, well, unseasoned chicken.  This is made for you to put into other dishes, not eat alone.  It feels and looks like chicken, and I do believe that, put into a recipe, you can completely fool a meat eater (or freak out a vegan).  I'll admit, though, I didn't buy much of it.  I just wanted to try it.  Before I move, I'm trying to use up what I have on hand, buying only fresh veggies.  I have way too much stuff to use up, you have no idea.  And also, the prepared food section at Whole Foods is kind of expensive.  Certainly not more expensive than buying pre-made seitan, but more expensive (by weight) than, say, a container of tofu.

I decided to throw together a curry.  I had a couple potatoes leftover still from Thanksgiving (umm, this was over two weeks ago).  Then I also have a few cans of Maesri Curry Paste, which is really the key to making restaurant-quality curries. 

Plus, I have still just lots and lots of frozen diced tomatoes from my garden this summer and cans upon cans of organic coconut milk.  It's really easy to make restaurant quality curry!  I peeled and cubed my potatoes, then boiled them until they were soft.  Then, I sauted some onion, garlic, and ginger with a little water (I chose to not put any MORE fat into this by using oil) in my large saucepan, added the potatoes, an entire can of red curry paste, a can of coconut milk, 1.5 cups (1 can) cooked chickpeas, and 1.5 cups diced tomatoes from my freezer.  I also put lots of frozen peas in and some kale because I had some and although it's not what is normally in a curry, who cares?  There really wasn't enough liquid, so I added a bunch of coconut milk beverage (Trader Joe's brand), although any non-dairy milk will work.

Then, you guessed it, I added the Beyond Meat diced really small.  It would have been better with more of it in larger pieces, but I didn't have a lot, so I cut it tiny.    I added just a bit of salt and, viola!
This would have been great with or without the Beyond Meat, but I must admit, it was pretty excellent when I'd get a little piece of it in the curry.  It would be better with more--I'm aware it's not even visible in the picture.  At the same time, I think this would also be great with, well, you know, tofu.  Tofu is a friend of curries.  But you're sure not going to trick any meat eaters with tofu like you can with the Beyond Meat!  It's definitely something to try in place of seitan or in place of chicken.  I'd actually love to dice it tiny and make chicken salad with it.  Not that I ate chicken salad before I was a vegan (I've always been skeeved by mayonnaise), but somehow it sounds good to me to make a vegan version.

Hey, don't forget to go over to this entry here and leave a comment if you want to enter to win a copy of The Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook, which is totally worth owning just for the savory sauce recipes alone!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cookbook Giveaway (and Big News)

I've been putting off blogging for longer than usual even though I have a lot of food stuff I'm excited to share, but it just is hard for me to make it official--both to the people I know personally and the bunches of people I don't know who read this blog--that I'm moving away from Pittsburgh in January.  I'm going to the San Francisco Bay area.  For a lot of reasons, but mostly because I like it there and it's something I can do.  Not to be all YOLO or anything, but you really do only live once, right?

What's really weird is that I'm going to have to change the name of this blog.  Again.  This will have been the second time I've changed the blog's name due to relocation.  First, it was Food and Loathing in Phoenixville, now it's Food and Loathing in the Steel City, and it's starting to be clear to me that it might be unwise to keep attaching the blog's name to the place I live.

Here's the thing: I've got the domain name, and I like it, although it does kind of sound like it might be about having an eating disorder, not about joyfully preparing healthy vegan food and vegan comfort foods.  Maybe I should abandon loathing in general.  I don't feel like I really spend much time loathing, but I do feel that I've got a natural darkness about me, and having "loathing" in the title, along with the literary "I'm smart, you're smart too!" pretentiousness of playing off the Hunter S. Thompson book title (though I'm not, in fact, a particular fan of that book) was kinda good and clever.

I thought, maybe, Food and Loathing in Las Vegan, but I also kind of feel like that's soooo corny.  Maybe it's not, though?  I really would like people's opinion about this, and I'm going to actually tie it into a cookbook givaway, so let's get to that!

Remember in the entry I wrote about going to Zenith in Pittsburgh, I mentioned that my friends and I were joined by a random vegan named Dave?  Well, that guy is Dave Wheitner, and he has a cookbook called The Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook, and he's been throwing vegan waffle parties for years.  When he first mentioned about it, it didn't sound that interesting to me because waffles are kind of a hassle, and they're a fancy breakfast food, and they're gluten-filled and heavy.  But then I found out that many of the recipes are for savory waffles with savory sauces, there are a lot of gluten-free recipes in it, it's OK to make pancakes with a waffle recipe, and, hey, the Amazon reviewers really like it!

Also, Dave is a really intelligent, cool guy.  I strongly encourage you to read something he wrote called Imperfect & Aspiring Vegan, Total Vegetarian, or Conscious Consumer.  It is some of the most thoughtful, reasonable, and non-judgmental writing that I've ever read on the topic of the trade-offs compassionate people who aim for sustainability in their practices must make in order to live in a way that that is consistent with our values.  I strongly encourage everyone to take a little time out to read it.

Anyway, he gave me a copy of The Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook and it is way better than I expected.  On the sweet side, recipes like Generously Ginger-Lemon-Chocolate Waffles and Chai Spice Waffles are damn appealing to me.  On the savory side, well, get a load of this: Some Awesome Samosa Waffles? Kale-idoscopic WafflesSpanakowafflita??  Not only are those names clever as hell, but also, DAMN.  I want to eat those things, don't you?  And then there are sauce/syrup/toppings recipes and ice cream recipes!  Like Espresso-Maple-Walnut Syrup and Cilantro-Lime Tahini Sauce and Southwestern Beans & Greens.  Of course, there is a suggested topping for each waffle.

So, I threw a miniature waffle dinner party of my own!  I do have a waffle maker, after all.  I made Umami Mama Waffles along with the Savory Cashew-Mushroom Sauce to top them with.  These waffles have, among other things, Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, miso, garlic, and savory spices like oregano and cayenne.  The sauce was great on it, but I do want to say that the recipe is easily doubled and you should at least double it to top the amount of waffles one recipe makes.

And, oh yeah, this is a waffle PARTY, right?  I invited my friends Andrew and Steph over to chow down in an uncivilized manner, as we're not the types to sit at kitchen tables.  Sometimes I wonder why I even HAVE a kitchen table.

Dave gave me an extra copy of the book to give out to one of you!  I'll give you a couple ways you can enter to win:
1.  Like Food and Loathing in the Steel City on facebook.  You'll get an EXTRA entry if you write something on my wall.
2.  Follow me on Twitter @FoodAndLoathing and just retweet the tweet I'm about to write about entering the giveaway.  That is, retweet any tweet I have up that links to this entry.
3.  Add me on Google Friend Connect (it's on the right of the screen.  Umm, yeah, scroll down.  Keep scrolling).
4.  Leave a comment here about anything!  BUT, if you leave a comment with a suggestion or something else related to what you think I should call this blog after I've relocated, you get an EXTRA entry!

You will get an entry for each of the things you do!  So do a bunch?  Cool.  There are lots of ways to put your name in the proverbial hat (OK, it will actually be one of those random internet number generating things).

I will pick a winner on Sunday the 23rd of December, 2012.  Why then?  I don't know.  So I don't have to worry about it during my birthday weekend, I guess?  And so you'll know in time for Christmas, and even if you don't celebrate Christmas you will have something to celebrate?  So I can send it on Christmas eve and you will get it by New Years morning and you can celebrate the new year with waffles?  Anyway, I appreciate you entering.  It's a really good cookbook, I think whoever gets it will like it, unless the person who gets it only likes things that suck for some reason.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Post-Thanksgiving Potluck Feast

There’s a vegan Meetup group here in Pittsburgh, and this past Sunday they had a little post-Thanksgiving potluck feast, held at the First Methodist church on the Bloomfield edge of Shadyside.  I hadn't been to a Meetup-organized event before and it seemed like, Hey!  Vegan potluck!  Each of those two words are great, but put together, they're pretty much the best thing in the history of the universe.

A lot of the time, I make cookies for potlucks because, to me, the easiest thing to do is bake cookies.  My kitchen is stocked, so I can choose from any number of cookie recipes to whip up quickly without going shopping.  For some reason, though, I didn't want to do that this time because I find that desserts are often overrepresented at potlucks.  Instead, I whipped up the simplest mac and nutritional yeast-cheese recipe ever, which is the Mac and Sleaze from 500 Vegan Recipes.  It's uber-simple, and it's one of those things I always have all the ingredients on hand if I want to whip it up in a snap, and I think it tastes good.  Plus, I find that vegans tend to appreciate homemade vegan mac and cheeze, even if it's not a fancy one made from raw cashews.  You can find the very simple recipe here.
What's weird, though, is that this time, there weren't many desserts, and cookies would have been perfect. A couple of the baked items were not even vegan.  All kinds of people get invited to these things, and many of them are older vegetarians who truly did not really know what "vegan" meant.  On the Facebook page for the event earlier in the day, there were some people posting things like, "Is sushi vegetarian (enough)? Some of the pieces have crab I think" and "I'll fix some muffins and bring them but I'm afraid they will be vegetarian rather then [sic] vegan as all of my recipes call for eggs" and "Just a question, is [sic] mozeralla [sic] cheese fall under vegan?" And these were the nice folks who thought to bring their questions to Facebook and let us explain how they can make their food vegan!  I know for a fact that the man who asked about mozzarella cheese ended up getting Daiya and making truly amazing enchiladas. The man who posted about the muffins bought some Ener-G Egg Replacer and used that.  Still, there were other confused people who didn't make it to Facebook, and someone brought a cake labeled "dairy free," which I knew really meant "this contains eggs."  Someone else brought a store-bought pie in a box.  I checked out the ingredients printed on the side and guess what.  Milk.  I'm positive that quite a few vegans accidentally ate animal products, tripped up at a vegan Meetup event of all places.   Not the end of the world, but I find it annoying.

There WAS a system to label things, but almost no one actually did it, and also, it was assumed that everything at least would be vegan; there was no sticker to indicate the use of animal products.

There were a bunch of cool people there and I met some folks I liked a lot!  But it was also kind-of hippie-dippy for my tastes.  Man, I feel guilty writing that.  I know that many people who I respect immensely and who have a seemingly-limitless capacity for empathy and compassion are people who also hold beliefs that I would describe as "spirtism," which is a word I made up (although it does actually mean something else already) to describe when people believe in all kinds of unprovable stuff relating to the spirit or soul and cosmic connections and so forth.  

Before we were allowed to eat, the young adults who ran the event had us stand around and join hands and they read a boring poem.  It was made extra-boring by the fact that I couldn't hear most of it, as it was being read quietly across the circle from me.  The whole thing felt pointless and like it took a long time and like the food was getting colder and, also, it felt like I'd been forced to pray at a friend's house before dinner, except it took longer and I couldn't even hear it.  Yes, I was very hungry, so it might have felt longer than it was.  Maybe only other diabetics will understand this, but if you allow your blood sugar to drop in anticipation of an expected meal but the meal is withheld for over an hour after that, it makes you so hungry you're ready to knock people over to get to food. 
The poem said stuff about, like, "Grandmother moon" and other things where nature was your family, and, look.  I understand what people are getting at with this stuff.  The moon IS amazing.  Science and nature gets me all hot and bothered, believe me.  If it had been a poem about how, when the moon is not full, we're able to look at the sky and observe the shadow of everyone in the entire world, that would have gotten my "happy to be part of everything" juices flowing!  Think about it: everything we've ever encountered in our entire lives, everything we've ever known to exist in the history of Earth, we can just look at the moon and see the shadow of it all.  That's magnificent!  It's beautiful!  But calling the moon my grandmother, I don't know.  It doesn't do much for me.  And then they had us do a series of "Om"s.  Ummm, cool?
To each his or her own, I truly mean that.  Oms don't do it for me, at least not currently.  But lemme at that food!

Yeah, NOW we're talking!  Food!  Grumble grumble, it would have been better if we'd eaten it while it was warm, grumble grumble.  It's possible that I might have pushed a little to be one of the first up, but I swear, my blood sugar made me do it.

I can't really tell you what everything pictured above was, but I'll be happy to show you more pictures of it, which I took before we ate and these bowls of food just sat around, peering lustily at me.
Cranberry salad?  Don't mind if I do!

There were a number of curries and I don't remember which was the really good one, but it's possible that this was it.

 Some kind of a pasta/vegan cheese/nut/greens thing.  I don't remember if it tasted good or not, but I do remember eagerly shoving it into my face.

What's this?  No idea.  I don't think I managed to ever get this item onto my plate.

There was a lot more food I never got to take pictures of.  They also had So Delicious brand coconut milk beverage in eggnog flavor and chocolate flavor.  I have no eggnog experience, so I tasted it and decided to combine it with the chocolate one.  I, for one, would call that combination a delicious holiday drink!

All in all, people were very kind and friendly, many folks who are not used to cooking vegan dishes had a reason to try their hand at some vegan cooking, and I ate a heck of a lot more food than I did on Thanksgiving.  I hope that my complaining about hippie-dippiness hasn't hurt anyone's feelings.  Especially since, you know, the hippie-dippy people there were, well, actually hippies.  There's nothing wrong with that.

They seem pretty content making these plant structures.  Hanging out.  I think I saw a lot of the people who were at this event at Occupy Pittsburgh.  That's good, someone had to camp out in front the of the banks here during the Occupy protests.  I'm glad they were willing to do it, that takes a serious, principled commitment.

Spirit bless us, one and all!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Healthy Thanksgiving in Review, Warts and All

Thanksgiving was stressful for me.  I think that goes for a lot of people, but it particularly goes for vegans who live almost 300 miles from their family and who have a family who are guaranteed to not make or have a single thing that is vegan, including the rolls, which contained both milk and eggs.  Ridiculous.

I was really organized, though.  I made my pumpkin pie ahead of time, ready to eat upon arrival.  I made the crust of the raw apple pie ahead of time and did the rest when I arrived at my dad's house on Wednesday night.  My spinach-chickpea tart was all prepared, ready to pop in the oven and the gravy was already made, placed in a plastic Tupperware container.  I had the potatoes all cut up with half of them peeled in a plastic bag, ready for boiling, and my cauliflower cut up and coated with oil for roasting, with the additions measured in a baggie to put on it already.  The butternut squash cheese for my mac and cheeze was made and the kale all cut up -- all I had to do was boil the pasta, saute the kale, and put all three together.

My recipes this year came from the internet, at least mostly.  I had some in books, but I ended up referring to the versions I found on the internet.  The pumpkin pie, which was the easiest thing I made, came from the blog Fat Free Vegan, and it's Susan Voisin's Impossible Pumpkin Pie (the recipe is here).
As she explains on her blog, this is based off the "impossible" recipes using Bisquick that formed a crust on the outside when cooked despite not making an actual separate crust.  She figured out how to make it both vegan and gluten free and I thought it sounded like just the thing for a healthier Thanksgiving dessert.  I give it both of my thumbs up!  My family would barely try my food (wtf, man), but one uncle who tried it said he thought it had too much ginger, but I disagree.  It tasted pitch perfect to me, and it was really easy to throw together. 

Then I also made this raw apple pie that is based off the recipe from Raw Food: A Complete Guide to Every Meal of the Day, but when I looked for a version online for easier reference away from home, I found a version (it's here) on a site called Kayley Hoddick Photography that was more tailored to people like me who would be using dried dates instead of fresh ones, because I have never seen a fresh date in the store, have you?  I ended up using that recipe, although I changed a few things: I added some vanilla and cinnamon extract to the crust and I used less cinnamon in the between-layer mush.  It looks like a lovely flower when you put it together.

In my opinion, it was perfect.  I mean, OK, it's not apple pie like you're used to, but it's delicious, and healthy enough to eat for breakfast for a few days.  Oh, by the way, I also added some fresh lemon juice to both the middle layer with pureed apple and banana and to the raw apple laid on top, and I must say, it kept extremely well. I was shocked about that.  The following picture was taken three days after I made it.

Do you guys want to see a picture of me wearing the crazy Wonder Woman apron that my friend Sara gave to me and holding both my pies?  Of course you do.

But I didn't just eat dessert, oh no!  I also made Dreena Burton's Festive Chickpea Tart from Let Them Eat Vegan as my main dish, but I kinda screwed it up.  I just took some frozen spinach from my freezer and didn't look at the size, but mine was 16 oz, and she actually only calls for 10 oz.  The additional spinach really does make a negative difference, but it's still pretty good with lots of gravy.  Sadly, though, (really, I literally cried), on Wednesday night, I went out to hang with some of my old friends in Phoenixville and someone at my house spilled my gravy container out of the fridge.  Nice, leave the lone vegan without the gravy she'd worked to hard to make a double recipe of.  Boo hiss.  Still, mixed into everything, this was fine.  It was not the best, but it was pretty good.  You can find the NOT messed up version of the recipe right here.
You know, it's hard to say what you'd do differently next time for a recipe you already made a major mistake on, but I did also think it was a bit too walnutty.  I think I'd just use fewer walnuts next time, and also the right amount of spinach, and also have plenty of gravy.

I really wanted to make some mac and cheeze, but next year, I think I'll stick to a simple one that gets baked in the oven.  This year, though, overcome with Thanksgiving cheer, I made the Smokey Butternut Mac and Cheese from Manifest Vegan (recipe here) because the squash is nice and seasonal and I had the opportunity to veg up my mac, which is of course awesome.  The cheeze tasted absolutely amazing when I made it, but I could also tell that I'd really made it too lemony.  See, I always wash my lemons well before zesting them, and normally I'd make damn sure it was dry before zesting, but the days leading up to Thanksgiving were busy for me, and I prematurely zested my lemon and ended up with a very generous teaspoon of zest.  It was a big mistake, but the fresh squash in the cheeze tasted so good, I figured it wouldn't be a big deal.
That lemon did end up being a big deal, though.  Over time, the squash taste became less intense and the lemon taste intensified.  It really wasn't great, which is a true shame.  Live and learn, though, live and learn.  Next time, it'll be perfect, and I'll never zest another wet lemon again.

I did finally win the people of my family over with one of my dishes: the mashed potatoes.  They agreed that, next year, they'd at least leave the mashed-making to me, because mine was better than theirs with cream and butter, and it was far lower-calorie because I made cauliflower mashed potatoes.  What I did was roast a head of cauliflower with almonds and nutritional yeast, as directed by Dreena Burton once again, on this here recipe.  Then, I boiled my potatoes and put the two together and used an immersion blender to mix the two things, along with a good bit of Trader Joe's unsweetened coconut milk beverage and a little bit of olive oil and a little bit of Earth Balance.  It was utter deliciousness, and although it's too boring to take a picture of mashed potatoes by themselves, they do appear on my overall dinner plate.  You also get to see a bit of the gravy that managed to get saved from the Thanksgiving eve fridge disaster.

You can see here that there were three other things that were vegan that I did not make.  My aunt brought some terrific string beans that really made everything better, my uncle bought some sort of carrot thing from an Indian store that was tasty, but out of place on the Thanksgiving table because it had a curry taste, and my step-mother's cranberry sauce, at least, contained no animal products.

The truth is, this was my first vegan Thanksgiving.  It used to be that, although I cooked vegan at home, I had very little care about what was fed to me by others.  That's because it was environmental sustainability that made me cook and eat vegan for myself, so it didn't seem to matter if I ate what was already prepared elsewhere.  Once it became also about health, it mattered to me to never consume animal products.  And after that happened, I could finally open my eyes to the humanitarian reasons to be vegan.  It's weird.  I love animals more now.  I really got down with my dad's dog Brisket during this trip home.  I mean, I always liked Brisket, but this time, we chilled.  He did the thing where he walks between my legs, which is only something he does with people he wants to show affection for, and it made me feel so nice.  Now I want a dog.  You can see me in all my only-at-home, makeup-free glory with my little sister and Brisket here:

He's such a sweet puppy!  Now I'm back in Pittsburgh with my cat, though.  She missed me so much.  She's actually sitting on top of my extended legs right now because the laptop is on my actual lap.  Sweetest. Cat. Ever.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Cure to Seasonal Affective Disorder and Comedy in Pittsburgh

I seriously love being vegan, it makes me so happy.  Sometimes after I cook and enjoy a meal, I feel sorry for all the people who don't realize that they could be eating a wider variety of food that tastes way better than what they used to eat, and they'd be healthier and skinnier and full of energy if they did (ummm, not to mention they'd never suffer constipation again).  Just to show off, I'm going to do something I don't normally do, and that's start with dessert.

It's no secret that I've done my fair share of vegan baking in my day.  But, in an attempt to eat more healthfully, I've recently been trying to satisfy my sweet tooth with recipes that don't have cane sugar or flour.  It's been really fun and I've been absolutely floored by the sweet recipes in Practically Raw.  For instance, here is a fantastically delicious Caramel-Fudge Brownie.
If you check out the recipe here, you'll see that this is made mostly out of nuts, as well as some cocao powder and dates and agave and coconut oil.  But the version of the recipe that's on that site was the original one.  The version that appears in the book is simpler.  For instance, it does not call for lacuma powder, whatever that is; instead, the book version calls for 3 tablespoons of coconut palm sugar, which is easily found at Whole Foods.  Also, I don't have cocao butter, do you?  The book lets you know that you can just use more coconut oil instead.  And, you know, if you don't want to spring for cocao powder, you can just use good, old-fashioned cocoa powder.  I friggin' love this book!  It just gives you so many options to make delicious food even if you can't hunt down obscure ingredients.

Oh, by the way, I know strawberries are not in season, but when they WERE in season, I froze a lot of them, and that's where that strawberry came from.

Speaking of the strawberries I froze during the summer, sometimes when the weather gets cold, my body feels like it still wants a summer fruit infusion.  In fact, I do believe I've found the cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it's this Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Smoothie, again from Practically Raw.
I wish this recipe was on the internet for me to link, but, alas, it's not.  I think you should probably just buy the book because it's amazing.

Onto the savory!  From The Blooming Platter Cookbook, I made Tunisian Couscous Salad with Cumin-Pomegranate Vinaigrette (again, sorry, the recipe is not available online).
I chose this recipe for two reasons.  One, because The Blooming Platter Cookbook conveniently has either a flower, sun, maple leaf, or snowflake printed on the top corner of each recipe so you can flip through and look only at the ones that contain ingredients that are currently in-season.  Rad, right?  I think so.  This recipe has a maple leaf, and it also (reason #2) calls for pomegranate molasses, an ingredient I have on my shelf that I barely get to use.

It's a tasty salad, but the instructions were a little confusing.  In step 1, it says to "gently fold in the olives and cucumbers," but in step 3, it tells you to "surround each mound [of couscous] with an equal portion of cucumbers and sprinkle each with pistachios."  Make up your mind, will you??  Here's what I really think about this, if you want to know.  If the whole thing is going to get eaten in one day by your family or at a potluck or something, I'd say mix those olives and cucumbers in, pour the dressing on top, and serve it warm.  But if you're single like me and you'll be eating leftovers, I'd say put the dressing on the couscous but leave the cucumbers and olives in a different container so you can microwave the couscous and mix the cool ingredients in afterward.  Does that make sense?

So, what was good in Pittsburgh this past week?  Yesterday, on Saturday, I went to see my friend Davon Magwood headline a comedy show at Club Cafe on Pittsburgh's South Side.  It was packed to the gills in there!  Sold out, I do believe, but he was kind enough to put me on the guest list.
I hate most stand-up comedy, but I thought Davon was funny!  I've seen him do shows a couple times, and so much of it seems to be off-the-cuff, or made up in just the few days prior.  I've very rarely seen him repeat jokes.  Plus, unlike some of the other people doing comedy that night, he didn't have any animal cruelty jokes.  It's interesting, I never used to be much of an animal compassion person.  I went vegan BEFORE I started to become sensitive to the plight of non-human animals.  But I guess clearing my body of toxic effects of consuming animal protein also cleared my brain for greater compassion, and now I feel sensitive even to jokes about hurting animals.  Also, I find cute animal pics on the internet to be CUTER THAN EVER.  Especially this one:
Please stop it, this is killing me.
The very first comedian who went on (Solomon something?) was also funny, I thought, and he even joked about how he's a vegetarian now because he can't afford meat.  You know, I do believe that brings this post full circle, to one of the other huge benefits of plant-based diets!  Yeah, this:
Oh, hey, awesome vegan musician Ted Leo will be at the Mr. Roboto Project on Tuesday, and he won't even have to go hungry because Spak Brothers is right across the street!  See yinz there?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend Review: Pinball and Zenith

My friend Heather and I stopped by the Lawrenceville Pinball Classic on Saturday night.  How cool is this?  It was a fun/serious pinball tournament for some, and a one-day-only, pop-up arcade for the rest.  Free admission, DJ's, and, as the chalkboard outside proclaimed, "Very Attractive People Inside."  I mean, Heather and I were there, so that sign's got to be right!
Heather works at Essential Pittsburgh, a locally-produced and broadcast Monday through Friday radio show on Pittsburgh's (relatively new) NPR-member station, WESA, so sometimes when we start talking to people, she gets her professional newsperson ears on and she'll ask all kinds of questions about the event.  This guy was tending bar (we're talking soda pops, this was a BYOB event) but he also was apparently still alive in the tournament, and he would be called up again to play at any moment.
It was all-ages too.  A young man plopped down next to me at the bar, looking bored to tears, like his hipster parents took him here and now he just wanted to go home and play video games or whatever.  I asked if I could take his picture, and he started to smile, and I said, "You have to keep being bored, though, you can't smile"  He laughed, and sunk right back down into it.  He really seemed like an awfully good-natured youngster.
Heather and I both played pinball.  That game is hard!  The machines really vary, though.  It was definitely worth it to try to seek out a more fun table for your two quarters.  Just like in a real arcade, sometimes the machines would go out of order.  The organizer(s) already had "out of order" signs printed up because these are folks who know their machines.  They love pinball.

Concentrate, Heather...
How does the ball keep slipping past my aggressive button pushing?
The Franktuary food truck was there, so even if you were vegan, you didn't have to go hungry, because they've got veggie dogs.

And, oh hey, check it out, some ladies decided to dance in the window a while.  It wasn't wild and crazy, it was just in good fun.

On Sunday morning, I went to brunch at Zenith with my friends Kate and Ali, as well as another random vegan named Dave.  Neither Kate nor I had been to Zenith in a really long time, but neither of us had much cared for it the last time we were there.  We wanted to try it again.

The thing about Zenith is that it's actually an antiques store, and it's got plenty of cool stuff everywhere, with large sections of it for sale.  It's a bit hard to resist because it's super-cute and weird.  Like, here's the view from the toilet:

But then, for some reason, there's also this vegetarian/vegan cafe in the back.  I've only ever been there for brunch, and I'd love to try out lunch or dinner some time, but brunch costs only $10 and includes coffee.  You pick something off a menu that has some things that feel more like breakfast and some that feel more like lunch, and then you get to eat as much as you like of the many, many buffet sides and desserts they have, all vegan.  Here is just one portion of one buffet side table:

Many of the sides are quite good and, really, they're the best part, even though nothing jumps out as being particularly delicious either.  I did like the green beans you can see on Kate's plate here:

The main dishes this time were good, I thought, but, again, nothing amazing.  Ali, Dave, and I all ordered the same thing, the white bean wrap with tomatoes, zucchini, bell pepper and spinach.
The truth is, I didn't observe any peppers or zucchini in this, but, nevertheless, it was pretty good.  I mean, the white bean hummus made me think, "Hmmm, I should start making white bean hummus instead of always chickpeas!"  That's not a bad endorsement from me.  Kate ordered the portobello fajitas.  I didn't try them, but I'd say they look... acceptable.

The desserts look really pretty on their table.  It's all these thinly-sliced round cakes.  Sadly, I didn't take a picture of it (I feel like SUCH a vegan cliche taking pictures of the food at a veggie restaurant!), but, if it makes you feel any better, they really aren't good.  They look good but they don't taste good.  It's OK, though, because I was full before dessert.

Ten bucks is a really low price for pretty much unlimited food.  It's not very good food, no, but it's got vegetables.  I really feel terrible saying that, but here's the thing.  Everyone already knows this about Zenith.  Every person I came with said they'd eaten at Zenith and didn't much care for it.  One vegan woman stopped over to say hello to us but left without eating because she wasn't a fan.  And yet, the place was PACKED.  We waited almost an hour for a seat.  The food is fine -- it's not bad (well, except the desserts), but it's not great.  I think that a lot of it is the ultra-casual, very arty ambiance of the place that makes it this packed:

I mean, even if your stomach was unsatisfied, you always get to feast your eyes, and that's worthwhile in a different important way.

They're obviously doing something right.  By the time we left, this sign had appeared on the door:
Does that bode well or poorly for Zenith?  Probably well, I'd say.  If they started making really great food, they'd never be able to keep that kitchen stocked!  Also, I know there is expense involved in cooking well, but it doesn't have to be expensive to bake better cakes!  I can show them!  God, I'm cocky, I'm sorry.  But I can't help but to, once again, think about how much better I cook at home.  There are a lot of really inexpensive and tasty things to make in large batches!  I guess I just worry that having one of the few Pittsburgh veggie restaurants be not great makes veganism look bad.  And we can't have that, can we?  The whole key to our proselytizing is the amazing food we eat all the time!  It's really the ace up our sleeves.
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