Monday, August 25, 2008

Random veganish newsish stuff

Just wanted to direct all y'alls attention to this awesome as heck LJ post detailing a vegan miniature foods party, and the many pictures of the many many teeny tiny vegan delicacies (omg the apple pies!) they enjoyed.

I heart it. I wish I were as cool as those folks. I'm totally thieving their idea.

Also: Josh Hooten calls people bigots, and I agree with him (though I didn't before I read the article). A must for anyone in the movement. Basic premise: don't be unnecessarily a dick to people, and that includes the wee ones. It's rude and ageist.

Much to Kelly's bento-making glee, the 2nd edition of Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann is finally out!

And much to my AND Kelly's glee, we bought tickets for the Vegan à Go Go Book Bash in San Francisco in October! I've been promised root beer floats. I await with bated breath.

In other news: I'm employed! So after I pay rent and buy a bus pass, I'll be able to support my organic foods/vegan cookbooks/random baking tools/fancy ingredients habit more substantially. *eyes glint* Mua ha ha ha ha...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The best apple ever

Gravenstein apple 1
Fresh-picked naturey perfection

I grew up in northern Sonoma county in northern California, and was lucky enough to spend a lot of time during my formative years at my grandparents' house near the town of Sonoma. They have a bit of property out in the country, which includes an amazing garden and orchard full of fruit trees. I was also lucky enough to have a mother and grandmother who cook and bake exceptionally well (though perhaps my teenage angst over my weight wouldn't agree with me...), so I grew up with Gravenstein apple pie, apple sauce, apple strudel, and apple kuchen, as well as a bounty of other local, home-grown fruit desserts. Gravenstein apples, however, are something...a little special (imagine some sort of cheesy TV special pause there...oh yeah, we keep it classy here).

The Gravenstein apple, named for the German translation of the region in Denmark from which it originated, was introduced to the western coast of the U.S. by Russian fur traders in 1820 at Fort Ross (which, incidentally, is an awesome place for a picnic). The heirloom Gravenstein variety is now grown in only a select few areas in the world: Denmark, Austria, and the U.S., particularly near the little town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County, California. They're pale green which gets streaked with red as they ripen, and are sweet-tart, squat, crisp little beauties, and the taste of a Gravenstein instantly brings a flood of memories of summer, loamy Sonoma dirt heated by hot Sonoma sun, and the smells of my grandma's kitchen. (Yes, some of my childhood was indeed very idyllic.)

Gravensteins are apples the way apples should be: not mushy but not tooth-achingly hard to bite into, tart but not puckery, sweet but not cloying, small enough for a snack but large enough to satisfy. Even if you're not an apple fan, if you have a chance, try a Gravenstein.

Gravenstein apple 2
Plump little beauties

Gravensteins used to be part a major source of income in Sonoma county, but unfortunately, because of the rapid (and short-sighted, but that's a different entry) expansion of the wine industry in Sonoma during the last century, vineyards have come to dominate the valley landscape and the Gravenstein is now in danger of going extinct. It doesn't help that Gravensteins are notoriously delicate and perish quickly...not exactly an ideal candidate for supermarkets that are across the country and want their fruit to travel well. The short harvest season (late July to early August) also make them difficult to grow commercially. This is why you won't find them in most grocery stores, even in and around Sonoma. Because of all these factors, according to Slow Food USA, "Sonoma county's Gravenstein orchards have declined by almost 7,000 acres and are currently down to 960 acres. There are only six commercial growers remaining in Sonoma County." I've RARELY seen Gravensteins anywhere outside of Sonoma county, and only once outside of California. Which is a shame, because they're so damn good, I wish everyone everywhere could enjoy them. These apples are, I shit you not, one of the reasons I was most excited to move back to California. Just another reason to support your local farmers, people.

Really the only way to get this apple outside of Sonoma is as sauce. They make the most lovely homemade applesauce, tart and slightly green tinted and smooth, nothing like the pulpy, over-sweetened dreck you get in jars at the supermarket. Happily, Trader Joe's has a really good unsweetened Gravenstein applesauce that's pretty damn good, and it works excellently in baking recipes that call for applesauce (such as the Applesauce-Oat Bran Muffins from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, or German Apple Cake from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick Goudreau). I used my grandma's applesauce to make the Apple-Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes from FatFree Vegan Kitchen, which were delicious, and they rocked my world hardcore this morning. You can also use applesauce as a fat replacer in many baking recipes. If you are lucky enough to be living in the Bay Area, farmer's markets as well as some locally-owned grocery stores (such as Monterey Market on Hopkins in Berkeley) sell Gravensteins.

Anyway, what else does one use these cutie-patooties for? Gravensteins are an excellent apple for pretty much any kind of cooking or baking. On page 147 of The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau there's a neat chart of "Apples and Their Uses" and Gravensteins rate as "very good" or "excellent" in everything except "Baking (whole)", in which they rate only "Good." And the pie, oh dear god, the pie is simply heaven in a crispy crust. The apples are smallish so they make great pie-sized slices, and taste divine with all that cinnamon and nutmeg. They hold their form well during baking so you still have structure and texture intact. They are the apples of my eye.

My grandma gave me apples upon apples when I moved back, so here's what I did with them:

Fruit salad

Gravenstein apple pie with WW crust
Apple pie (Joy of Vegan Baking, 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes)
(Yes I realize it's a bit burnt, it was good anyway)

Rustic apple tart
Cheater's rustic apple tart (Joy of Vegan Baking, 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes)

Apple Cobber (JoVB)
Apple cobbler (Joy of Vegan Baking)

Convinced yet that Gravensteins are the best ever? If not, what's wrong with you?

Check back soon for my and Kelly's recent endeavor to pop our collective seitan-making cherries!


The Joy of Vegan Bakingy by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Gleegans to go!

Nope, I'm not dead! Mark and I just returned from our glorious Gleegan (JP's awesome name for Gluten-free Vegans) retreat at Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, CA! We had three purposes for our trip. One, to work on some scripts and comics. Two, to exercise and hike and bike and do all of those healthy outdoorsy type things. Thirdly, and most importantly, to prove that you can eat vegan AND gluten-free without a murderous effort, all the while being on vacation with no Whole Foods in sight (hissss!).

I'm going to point out first that we did a lot of eating in our room. We brought a microwave with us to our room at the Railroad Park Resort (they gave us permission to bring it) which worked out pretty well. We stocked up at G&G Market before we left on various snacks and Indian and Thai dishes that were GF and Vegan, so half the time we ate in. Once we arrived, we stocked up on produce and snacks (and the occasional Carrot Cake Frozen Dessert) at Berryvale Grocery in Mount Shasta City, a tiny tiny natural foods store with possibly the coolest veg and GF spread I've seen anywhere.

As for eating out, we managed to find Gleegan food everywhere we went (except, ironically, the restaurant at the resort where we were staying...). The best advice we can give you regarding being a Gleegan on the road is tolook at the menu in advance. Seriously, even if it isn't posted online or outside the restaurant, suck it up and go inside and ask. Also, if you're celiac, try to be able to recognize foods that look as if they have flour in them. Not all foodservice employees possess this knowledge, as it turns out (that's a fun story...).

Anyway, here are all the places we went to...

Lily's - a gardeny hodgepodge of salads and various cuisines with a good seven or eight vegetarian entrees that can be modified. The salads are delicious and unboring.
Lalo's Mexican Food - The Yelpers sure don't seem to be a big fan of this place, but it was listed on HappyCow so we gave it a try. The menu is full of hundreds of meaty things but we had a great time with our vegetable fajitas, and had so much that we had the rest for a picnic lunch later.
The Fat Burrito - This place is actually in Redding, we hit it on our way up. Straying off the beaten path just a few miles can turn up some gems. Just remember to get black beans and ask them to hold the cheese and sour cream!
McCloud River Mercantile - Between the candy shop, Sasparilla sodas and the diner at the end of the row, there's some great munchins in McCloud. I can't seem to find the name of the diner, but their apple walnut salad with orange sesame dressing was amaaazingly nomable.
Stage Door Cabaret - I believe there is another coffee shop that has some vegan pastries, but they were not open as late, so Mark and I did not make it there - but we did stop into Stage Door, which has nice internet access and anything can be made with soymilk.

This trip was possibly one of the most enjoyable vacations I've ever had. The fact that we ate Gleegan successfully for five days goes to show that it's possible to be Vegan and Gluten-free on the go. (It also made me appreciate how incredibly easy it is to be vegan!) I have gained a better understanding of what it's like to try and be vegan when you have a food allergy. If you put in a little effort into finding foods that are safe for you to eat, it'll be worth it to be cruelty free. Although, barley in soymilk? Wtf?

Monday, August 11, 2008

What does an unemployed vegan do?

Cooks and bakes to her heart's content!

Well that, and does reading for the actual enjoyment of it, rather than for class.

And jobhunts.

Anyway, foodporn! I've been making enough vegan yumminess lately that I thought I'd sidetrack from my schedule of stuff I had planned to post about and just show you the pretties instead:

Lentils & rice with caramelized onions and spiced pita crisps (Vcon)
Lentils & rice with caramelized onions with spiced pita crisps (VegaNOMNOMNOMicon, heh)

I made the pita crisps with garam masala sprinkled on top. First time trying it - I have decided it is the best spice blend EVER invented. We're BFFs now. Also this meal = HEAVEN. The smell of roasting vidalia onions stayed in my house for hours, and both JP and I were salivating buckets when the first whiffs came out of the oven. The onions end up so sweet and juicy and with delightful caramelized crispity bits that made my tastebuds sing. Wonderful Indian comfort food. I made it with green lentils because that was what I had, I'd like to try again with red, which are more creamy when cooked.

Herb-roasted potatoes (VwaV)
Herb roasted potatoes (Vegan with a Vengeance)

Basically a much smaller batch of the potatoes that Kelly makes for breakfast all the time. Very yum. Purple potatoes have a lovely earthy flavor that roasting complements. Yummy with chipotle hot sauce and Follow Your Heart sour cream.

Zucchini muffins (JoVB)
Zucchini muffins (Joy of Vegan Baking)

Best thing about moving back to California = being near to my grandma's and mom's gardens! The zucchini are packed with flavor, and make these already yummy muffins taste even better. I added a full cup of raisins instead of raisins AND nuts. Not healthy at all, but oh so good. I think we both ate like three in one hour's time.

Pureed chickpea pasta sauce with fresh herbs
Pureed chickpea pasta with fresh herbs (Vive le Vegan!)

Yummy creamy basic pasta sauce, which we dressed up with finely chopped kale and red pepper flakes one night, and fresh tomato slices another. Delicious.

Mac Daddy (Vcon)
Mac daddy (Veganomicon)

Pretty much the best vegan mac n cheese recipe I've tried yet (yes, I have a list, and I'm working on it). We did the mac n greens variation and added kale ("KAAAALE!" says the hippie gourmet from PBS). SO GOOD. Wonderful for eating while sitting on the couch and wearing sweatpants, drinking a beer, and watching Time Bandits.

Next up: all about the Gravenstein apple, and why it rocks my world hardcore.

Oh and by the way, the other sisterly half of the blog has returned from vacation so you'll be seeing less of my ugly mug and more of her cute one soon. :3 In addition to this, Kelly and I now live about half an hour away from each other, so you'll see a lot more collaberative cooking fun! Yaaaaay, says the internet!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Being vegan while visiting friends

So one of the reasons I decided to go to Germany again was because I have some friends there who I hadn't seen in two years: Joey, who was an exchange student at my high school my senior year (my fellow female-playing-a-male actress in The Crucible...yes I was a drama dork), and Kadda, a floormate from the Studentenwohnheim (dorm) I lived in during my Austauschjahr (exchange year) in college. (Sidenote: Did I mention I graduated? Woo!)

I miss them very much when I'm in the states. Both of them are the kind of friend that you can just pick up a conversation where it left off years ago and start talking again.

Both Joey and Kadda were kind enough to invite me to stay with them for a few days during my last week in 'Schland. I was VERY excited to see them but a little nervous, as last time I'd been in the country, I was the very antithesis of veganism. So how do I do the whole food thing without being a pain in the ass, I wondered?

Here's how you do it, Holmes:

1. Tell your guests in advance. In this case I didn't have to because I broadcast it enough here and on Facebook and such, but if your guests don't know, then they'll probably feel weird and/or slighted. Which relates to number 2...

2. Offer to cook! I brought veganism up (just in case) like this: "Oh by the way in case I hadn't mentioned it before, I'm vegan, and I'd LOVE to cook for you while I'm there, if that's alright!" Both nights that I cooked for people (in both cases it turned out to be a group!), I made the Chili Sin Carne Al Mole (or a loose version of) from Vegan With a Vengeance (which I've made so many times now I can do it with my eyes closed), because it's "American" (well North American anyway) and I wanted to share something that German folks perhaps didn't eat that often. Both batches got rave reviews from omnis, even with the tofu! Joey and I wanted to make something for dessert that wasn't too time-consuming, so we bought a box of Dr. Oetker brownie mix that was vegan, and used mashed banana as an egg substitute. The brownies were a bit banana-y, but the tops were nice and browned and they were chewy on the inside, and one friend of Joey's even said that it was as good as the egg version!

If you offer to cook...

3. Offer to pay for at least half the ingredients. I know, I know, we're all poor and shit, but you're eating too, and it's worth it for the chance to talk about veganism with people who might otherwise never have encountered it. Also, it's polite, especially if you're making something that uses ingredients that the people you're cooking for wouldn't normally buy. If they're good friends, they'll cook for you someday. :)

4. Answer all questions about veganism politely and honestly, whether from the host, friends, parents, etc. Surprisingly, the most common question I received while in the 'Schland wasn't "Where do you get your protein? You iz gonna die rite?" or "But why aren't you skinny?" (grr), but "Do you feel healthier?" and "So why are you vegan?" The disparity between the immediate judgement I get from strangers in the states vs. the curiosity I got from strangers in Germany is fascinating to me. Why do you think that is? Maybe it's because veganism isn't as popular in Germany and it's kind of weird/exotic rather than interesting, but either way, cool beans.

I had the most random conversation with a friend of Kadda's who was (a) a carnivore and (b) a hunter. We definitely had COMPLETELY different views, but it was still interesting (keep in mind all of this was in German!). And he said I didn't come off as a crazy psycho vegan like some do, which made me feel good. I always try to answer questions as patiently as possible, because if someone had answered rudely the stupid questions I asked in the beginning, I would have been completely turned off to the whole idea of being vegan.

I've always really enjoyed Colleen's wonderful advice to "speak your truth" when talking about veganism. What moves people isn't always the latest scientific facts or the health studies or statistics - it's what veganism has done for you as an individual. I tell people, truthfully and sincerely, that veganism has made me healthier, happier, more compassionate, more in touch with animals (both nonhuman AND human), more joyful, more willing to consider the plight of others, and more open. And a pretty savvy cook/baker. ;)

5. And last but not least, keep an open mind! Surprises come where you least expect it. Kadda's mom made us lunch one day, and I was kind of nervous because I hadn't really talked about vegan food with her, but Kadda had, and lunch was this really yummy potato, mushroom, onion, garlic and zucchini stir fry with soy sauce and black pepper. It was amazing and I can't wait to try to replicate it! Kadda and I also went out to dinner at a Southwest-style restaurant. I requested the salad with a different, non-dairy-based salad dressing and without the shrimp. Many people would have simply left the meat off, but our waitress suggested that the chef replace them with yummy sauteed mushrooms! Mmm!

The take-home lesson is, people can be wonderful and accomodating if you just give them the chance, and be friendly and accomodating yourself. This doesn't mean you have to compromise your veganism at all; just be NICE! Remember, humans are animals too...everyone just wants to be happy. :)

Now, off to look for a job...anyone in Berkeley hiring?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Being vegan in 'Schland

And we're back!

Hi folks! Real life (moving to another state, trying to find a job, continuing problems with internet) caught up with me, and hence my post about being vegan for 5 weeks in the big D (aka Deutschland, aka D-land, aka 'Schland, aka Germany) has been delayed until now. But, JP and I are almost completely settled into our new apartment in Berkeley and we're getting on our feet. I'm unfortunately jobless at the mo', but hopefully that will change soon!

Happy shite: I celebrated my 1-year Veganniversary on the 26th of July! Yaaaaay me! I celebrated by cooking a ton of food for my and JP's going away party, and unfortunately forgot to take any pictures. In my defense, I had been in the country less than 24 hours - I blame jetlag!.

So on to the 'Schland. I'll admit, I was apprehensive about traveling abroad as a vegan for the first time, especially in a meat-and-potatoes-centered food culture like Germany. There is a Metzgerei (butcher's shop) on every corner. The ubiquitous bakeries are full of beautiful but dairy-laden baked goods. Even the foreign food is meat-based: döner kebap, the most popular fast food in Germany, is basically a pita pocket full of dead sheep with veggies and a dairy-based sauce. I was optimistic but cautious.

My purpose in going to Germany was to work on an archaeological dig sponsored by the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. We were located about an hour south of Leipzig, which was cool for me because my year abroad in 2005-2006 was almost entirely spent in southwest 'Schland. I was excited to see what if any cultural differences existed and to hear other dialects (I'm used to Schwäbisch, which in my opinion is the best dialect EVAH: "'n bissle!").

The great thing about this is that I was staying with a bunch of people and we had a budget with which to buy groceries and make our own food, so there was no time when I was forced to go to a cafeteria or eat pre-prepared food or had to go hungry. Grocery lists were communally drawn up and everyone was responsible for his or her own breakfast and lunch. Dinners were eaten together every night, with two people responsible for cooking.

I was living with 15 people, and eating with 15-20 people depending on how many of the scientists were staying for dinner. Luckily, there was another vegan in addition to me (from Belgium), a vegetarian (from England), and a lactose intolerant pescatarian (from the Netherlands), so with 1/4-1/3 of us being veg, that was enough of a crowd to ensure one of the two entrees would be vegan. The downside to living and eating with 11-15 omnis is that we had two fridges basically STUFFED with lunchmeat and cheese. The amount of animals and animal products that people ate on a daily basis was fucking disgusting. It made me a bit ashamed to remember that I, too, had eaten that way (or worse) for the first 22 years of my life. However, it served as a good reminder of the many reasons why I'm vegan.

It was easy enough to find vegan food in normal German grocery stores. We went to Plus, Aldi, or Kaufland, and once or twice we went to Edeka or Lidl. When I visited the fabulous Mihl of Seitan Is My Motor, she also mentioned that DM has lots of vegan food AND household and bodycare products, too. I stuck to veggies (Gemüse), fruit (Obst), beans (Bohnen), bread (Brot), tofu (Tofu), grains (Getreidekorn), soymilk (Sojamilch), soy yogurt (Sojajoghurt), muesli (Muesli - make sure it doesn't have honey!), soy pudding (Sojapudding), chocolate (Schokolade), chips (Chips), soy-based margarine (pflanzliches Margarine), jam (Marmelade), and tea (Tee). I also went to a Reformhaus (health food store) in a nearby town and bought some 'specialty' items: vegan cookies (veganische Kekse), vegan hot dogs (Wurst), vegan Nutella (Soja Schokoladeaufstrich), and vegetable-based bread spread (Brotaufstrich).

Breakfast (except for those weekends when I made vegan pancakes for the lucky few who woke up early) was always soy yogurt and muesli and a piece of fruit, and sometimes a piece of bread with jam. On weekends when I was staying there I sometimes made tofu scramble with mushrooms, leeks, onions, and red pepper. Lunch had to be portable, as it was eaten out at the site. It usually consisted of some sort of sandwich or two (veggies, veg and tofu, PB&J, or PB & vegan nutella & banana), fruit, sometimes a carrot, chips (usually red bell pepper, or paprika, Pringles), and either vegan cookies or vegan chocolate. And either water or Vita Cola (also known in some circles as 'Commie Cola' or 'God'). I dressed the sandwiches up with paprika and cayenne and salt and pepper - spices take up little to no room in a bag and are superlight.

Unrelated to veganism: while on my trip, I acquired der Brothass (breadhate), which is a word I made up to describe the fiery rage that surged up from my tummy whenever I saw a piece of toast. I had bread at two meals a day if not three and sometimes as a snack, and by the last week I was fucking sick of it. And I was apparently eating the bare minimum; the Dutch and Belgian folks ate twice that!! I don't really eat that much bread at home unless I get a PB and banana craving. I felt STUFFED to the gills with breadiness. I developed an irrational hatred for it and would do anything to avoid eating bread. It got to the point where I was bringing leftovers from dinner in a plastic container and leaving it on the truck in the sun to warm up.


Dinner was an interesting affair, depending on who was cooking. There were some very excellent meals. I cooked three times while I was there, and made awesome chili twice, and teriaki tofu/veggie kabobs once. Siglinde made an amazing Moroccan tagine, Jess and Nick made lovely baked balsamic veggies with pasta, and tomato curry over spiced rice, Uli and Coen made tomato basil spaghetti, Freya and Sander made lasagna (the vegan version was AMAZING, and the white sauce was made with COCONUT MILK...sounds weird, but tasted SOOOO GOOD!), the Romanian girls made stew...there was never a night where I went hungry. Sander (the other vegan) and I were clear about what we could and could not eat. Most people were respectful of our wishes, even if they didn't completely 'get' veganism. Many of them began to come around after I made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies on the last weekend. ;) I had some interesting discussions with folks, some of which I'll be touching on in a later entry.

I didn't get a chance to go to many vegan restaurants while there, sadly. I was lucky enough to dine twice at Zest, a vegan restaurant in Leipzig, which Mihl recommended. HO MEINE GUTE! I am so sad I do not live nearby, because the food there was amazing. The first time I had a BYOB burger with tempeh, the BEST potato salad I've ever had in my life, amazing red pepper hummus with pita, and a yummy lemon ginger drink. The second time I have a BYOB burger with grilled tofu, these amazing jalepeno and cream cheese tamales with roasted corn salad...


...and a strawberry basil smoothie.



The food was very fresh, very creative, very flavorful, amazing presentation. Sander, Jess (the vegetarian) and Nick (an omni) all raved about their food as well. Sander got this amazing chocolate cake that looked as if it was pure chocolatey goodness, and tasted that way too! (I got a teensy bite :3) Not eating out a lot definitely helped me save money though. For quick food at train stations and such, falafel (sans yogurt sauce, if applicable) was easy in a pinch.

I also had the pleasure of visiting Mihl in Dresden and eating her wonderful amazing food! You can read all about and see the enormous delicious spread she cooked herself (a friend and I helped chop veggies, and I frosted the cake, yay!) here at her blog. Everything was amazing but my favorite was the curry burry soup and the mocha devastation cake from My Sweet Vegan! She sent me home with leftovers, and I was the envy of the archaeological dig team the next day. I gave an omni friend a taste of the cake, and she liked it so much that she wants the recipe! Many MANY thanks to Mihl for inviting me and feeding me such lovely fare!

So I managed to stay vegan in Germany for five weeks, aside from a cookie mix-up that wasn't my fault. What worked best for me was buying most of my food from grocery stores and cooking myself. Even the hostel I stayed at in Berlin during my last week had a kitchen. Yeah, some of the meals I had (especially some of those lunches at the dig) were kind of boring, but it was just one meal out of my life. And some of the meals I had were amazing (I'm still dreaming about that lasagna...). If you don't have access to a kitchen while traveling, I found that buying bread, tofu salami (or not), veggies, margarine, and mustard and making myself sandwiches suited me just fine.

I'll be surprised if anyone is still reading after all that! Next entry will be about being vegan and visiting friends and how to cook together, as well as discussions about hunting, sheep, and European veganism. Also I promise more food porn and less musing (eventually).