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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Joblessness, Not Foodlessness (Yet)

It's a really odd thing for me to not have a job to go to in the mornings.

I've never been unemployed in my life, and there's a part of me that knows that I could get another job at a law firm through a temp agency as soon as I decided to do that, but there's another part of me that really believes I should try for something different.  I would get paid less, but I do think I'm better off trying to cook for a living, or doing something else that would involve vegan food, health promotion, and/or diabetes education. I could go in a lot of different directions at this point.

I also realize that I need not stay in Pittsburgh to do those things.  I'm free, I can go anywhere I want to go.  That's an interesting feeling.  It's not that I want to leave Pittsburgh, it's just that I cannot say I wouldn't leave if there seemed to be something worth leaving for.  So I'm keeping my eyes and ears open.  I'm the kind of person who learns so quickly and without struggle, who can pick up almost any kind of skill with just a bit of effort, and who thinks about complex problems and quickly comes up with workable solutions to them.  I think there's a lot I could do out there.  I'm open to suggestions, people!

In the meantime, I'm just basically writing articles to get started freelancing and eating simple food.  I've made plans to move to a two-bedroom apartment with my friend Mary so we can both save money in February.  And I've done some hanging out, too, which has been great!   I'm excited for when I have a regular schedule again, but it's been great to have time off. 

My friend Morgan and I even hit up the vegetarian dinner special at Brillo Box last Sunday!  Here is the gemelli with kale and walnut pesto from last week.

When I ordered it, I asked if it was vegan, and the bartender said it could be made vegan.  So I asked what they change to make it vegan, because I didn't know really what sort of a dish it was going to be yet, and there are other vegan options at Brillo I can choose from if I think that it sounds like a crappy substitution.  The bartender answered me, "Ummm, a lot of vegans come here."  Ha!  Well, OK, rude awesome cool bartender.  So I said, "I'm just trying to figure out, like, do you just not sprinkle cheese on it, or what."  And he said, "Yeah."  Way to be info-tastic, bartender.  Turned out, mine had some nooch on it, which is completely unnecessary, as far as I'm concerned, but, hey vitamins are cool, so it's fine, but maybe he could have just said, "The vegan version has nutritional yeast sprinkled on it instead of cheese" -- is that really so difficult? 

It tasted pretty good, but I thought it needed a little something.  I liked that it had kale in it, but I would have liked more.  Of course, I'm one of those healthy, veggie-heavy vegans these days, so OF COURSE I wanted more kale.  When I took the leftovers home and reheated them, though, I didn't add more kale, opting instead for some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and I have to tell you, it really took this dish to the next level.

Man, if I had a restaurant, I'd make sure everything was as delicious as possible, especially if it just took a small change or addition.  And that my bartenders weren't being weirdly rude.  Ahhh, whatever, grumble grumble grumble loathing loathing loathing.

Hey, remember I said I've been eating simple food?  My friends Eli and Lisa went apple picking and gave me a whole bunch of apples, so I've been making the Apple Pie Smoothie from Practically Raw a whole lot (the complete recipe is here).  And I've been using the suggested variation of adding spinach to make it a green Apple Pie Smoothie.  Epic.
This is just delish.  My walnuts never get fully blended into it, but I love the occasional walnut chunk.  And the spinach cannot be tasted in it at all.

Also, I love to make my own trail mixes because, first of all, I never buy salted nuts.  I can't believe I EVER bought salted nuts.  Especially, say, pistachios.  They simply do not need salt.  Trail mixes you buy have too much salt, and also, they tend to have whole almonds.  I prefer sliced almonds so that I get a bit in every bite.  Here is a very simple, off-my-shelf trail mix with peanuts, chocolate chips (that have a bit of whiteness to them because I keep them in the fridge), sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, and cherries.  I sprinkled just a tiny bit of salt on them.

Trail mix is a wonderful thing, is it not?  This is as simple as it gets, but it's more fun if you have, like, wasabi peas and sesame sticks and all kinds of other stuff.  But this one is good and inexpensive and satisfying for me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pittsburgh Love: We've Got Random Vegans and Hilarious Karaoke DJs

So, I'm a big fan of karaoke.  I just love it, it makes me feel good!  I used to be a music snob, poo-pooing all kinds of songs I thought were "bad," but karaoke actually broke me of this.  It made me understand that different people love different music in all kinds of different ways, and who the hell am I to judge any of it?  OK, sure, I do get sick of a couple songs that people always sing, and always sing badly, but I don't mind if it's sung well!  I also don't actually mind if you are not a good singer.  Thing is, you have a right to sing no matter what!  These songs are a part of our shared culture, and since we don't have folk songs passed down through generations anymore to sing together sociably, now we must get together and sing pop songs.  The pop songs belong to us all for singing at karaoke.

In Pittsburgh, my favorite karaoke night is Fridays at Del's with DJ extraordinaire Mike Moats.  Del's is kind of an odd space with a giant bar and not that much room for people to hang out and do karaoke, and yet, somehow, it works.  Also, although the restaurant itself is over 50 years old and something of a Bloomfield-neighborhood tradition, it's most famous these days for having been on Restaurant Impossible and, I've heard, not actually changing their food as a result of it.  Of course, I don't eat there because I'm a vegan and Del's is an Italian restaurant, but they pour a mean rum and diet Coke, so I'm down. 

So, anyway, I'm at karaoke at Del's and I hear tell that a woman across the bar from me has brought a vegan carrot cake.  OMG, what???  Vegans are everywhere, even in Pittsburgh, even at Del's!  It was true, one Suzanne Ferguson was having a birthday, and she'd brought a vegan carrot cake to karaoke with her girlfriends to celebrate.  If you check out the link I put on her name, it takes you to her web site that is about her "Spiritual Mastery" business.  The card she gave me says, "Leadership coaching for effective alignment."  Hey, I don't know about all that, but the fact that she's vegan does lead me to trust her ability to master spiritual realms more than some hypocrite who spouts feel-good stuff on one hand but continues to practice violence in his or her food choices on the other hand.
I got to eat some and it was delicious.  She had walnuts with her to sprinkle on top also, but she'd left them off for her walnut-hating daughter.  I asked if she made it from a recipe, and I think she said that she ordered a mix off the internet and then changed it a bit.  I'm always too lazy to make carrot cake myself -- all that carrot shredding!  When I was a kid, my mom loved carrot cake and we used to get Entenmann's brand a lot. This tasted identical to me, so, yum.
Happy birthday, Suzanne, random Pittsburgh vegan I met!  She made my night.

Also, remember I mentioned above about karaoke DJ extraordinaire Mike Moats?  He's a really funny, creative guy, and he'll do the harmonies on your song if you want him to (thank you, Mike, neither The Who's "I Can See for Miles and Miles" nor Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" would be even close to as good if I did them without your harmonies).  But Mike made his own version of Jay-Z's song "Empire State of Mind" about Pittsburgh instead of New York, and it's freaking hilarious, and sometimes when his friend who does the Alicia Keys part is at karaoke, they'll do the karaoke version that he also made himself.  I took some video of it last night so you can see how damn funny it is and how much people love it. 

Also, you just HAVE to watch the entire video he made of this song.  OK, if you're not familiar with Pittsburgh, you may have to Google some of the references, but this video is still golden and it makes every Pittsburgher, natives and transplants alike, lol so hard.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween in Pittsburgh and How to Properly Donate to Food Drives

Halloween was on a Wednesday last night, but that didn't stop Pittsburgh from partying!  I went to this show of all cover bands at Brillo Box, although I missed most of the Neil Young and Crazy Horse set.
I never listened to the Mummies or Pentagram before in my life, but I gotta say, although it was way too crowded to dance really, I rocked the heck out.  I mean, I guess I was a little shameless about more-or-less headbanging all the way through both the Pentagram and Mummies sets.  It felt really, really good.  Here's a picture that, although dark, sort of shows the crowded energy of the upstairs at Brillo last night.
And were people in costumes?  OH YES THEY WERE.
Here are my friends Dan as a Mexican wrestler, Mary as Gucci Mane (part 2 of that costume coming up), Craig as Willie Nelson (QUITE convincingly, I'd say), and some guy I don't know as something I don't know (maybe not anything, actually).
Mary as Gucci Mane, part two.  YOU GUYS KNOW I LOVE PUNS, RIGHT?
And here is Geoff as something freaky, I don't know what exactly.  Maybe the Joker, almost?  That might explain the facial expression.

I was dressed up also, but I think I'm going to be the same thing next year only better, so I prefer not to publicize it at this point.

I think Mary and I will come back on Sunday to try out Brillo's Sunday Vegetarian Dinner, which I'm ashamed I've never attended before.
That gemelli with kale and walnut pesto sounds vegan, doesn't it?  I mean, WALNUT pesto.  That just screams purposefully vegan.  Plus, Brillo is one of the best places in the city of Pittsburgh to get some vegan eats, which is why I totally heart it, and also, I can walk there from my apartment and I hate driving.


Now that Halloween is over, it's getting to be the time that people collect for food drives.

When I was at Giant Eagle Market District on Monday, I observed a young woman with a child who I'd guess was about 10 years old who were buying about 100 canned items for a food drive.  I was listening in on them, and the young woman was feeling very happy with herself for allowing this kid to be, like, the hero of the food drive or whatever.  And, OK, it's so cool that you donate to a food drive, and I support that fully.  BUT, let's be honest.  Canned food?  Canned soups and crappy veggies?  No.  You shouldn't donate things to a food drive that you wouldn't want to use yourself.

Like many vegans, I think a lot about food insecurity and how so many people have no choice but to eat unhealthy food.  For that reason, I have generated a list of what I believe are appropriate things to give to a food drive that are better for the recipients to have the ability to prepare meals:

1.  Grains, especially rice.  Couscous and quinoa are also great, but many people are not as familiar with them.  Also pastas are great!  Pick whole wheat ones, and maybe some gluten free!
2.  Oils, especially olive oil and canola.
3.  Canned items that you actually would use, especially beans.  Also good are canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and even coconut milk.
4.  Multivitamins, especially the chewable kind for children.
5.  Spices, especially commonly-used ones.  This includes both salt and pepper, which people will always need.
6.  Peanut butter.  If someone is allergic, he or she will not claim it from the pantry, but someone else won't be allergic and will appreciate it.
7.  Nuts of any sort.
8.  Raisins and other dried fruits.
9.  Flour, especially white whole wheat flour.  It's helpful to actually attach a note to it that says that it can be used interchangeably with all-purpose flour.
10.  Sugar for baking.
11.  Extracts, especially vanilla.
12.  Boxed mixes.  I love to give those super-easy vegan boxed mixes most grocery stores sell in their specialty aisles, especially the falafel ones.
13.  Cookbooks.  I've given a bargain copy of the book Supermarket Vegan, and I don't own this one yet, but I think Vegan on the Cheap would be ideal to give. Eat Vegan on $4 a Day sounds good also. 
14.  The unrefrigerated kinds of boxed milk.  Rice milk may be ideal.  I find people are resistant to soy or coconut or other kinds of non-dairy milk, but they're cool with rice.
15.  Veggie bouillon cubes.
16.  Toiletries, toiletries, toiletries.  I'm talking toilet paper, dish washing soup, regular bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, Band-Aids, and, ESPECIALLY, pads and tampons.  Seriously.  These things are very, very much appreciated at food pantries.
17.  Just donate money.

You may think that these things, especially the vegan cookbooks, are being too pushy about what I believe is the healthiest way to eat.  You may be right, and if it makes you uncomfortable, you need not take that direction.  But I have done quite a bit of food pantry volunteering and I know that there are too many crappy canned goods that come in but that the most-valuable things are actually OTHER non-perishable items that, for some reason, it does not occur to many people to donate.  Just think of your own pantry and what you like to use out of it, and that will help you think of what others would like and need.

But even if you give crappy canned veggies, it's better than nothing.  When I was a kid, my favorite thing was baby peas from a can.  So don't be too hard on yourselves about this.
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