Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guess What I Wear as a Hat? A Lentil.

The title of this post is inspired by a hilarious stop motion animated film about Marcel the Shell (credit to director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer/actress Jenny Slate). Marcel is a shell with shoes on, and she has a lot of great qualities, as you can see:

The lentil meal I just cooked was inspired by Amanda Ehrman and Isis Krause at GOOD. They've been posting delicious vegetarian lunch recipes every Tuesday and Thursday in 2011. They find soup and salad recipes, prepare them, then photograph and rate their results based on taste, cost, and prep time. It's a great idea, and really helpful for aspiring healthful eaters like me! I was excited about the recipe they posted for lunch today, Really Easy Lentil Soup, especially the "really easy" part.

I love lentil soup (my Nonna used to make killer lentil soup for me when I was little). So far in my vegan life, I've been pretty satisfied with heating up a can of Trader Joe's Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup. But the homemade version of things is usually better, so I decided to give this recipe a try. I had to make a trip to the Isla Vista Coop for some of the ingredients, but it was a gorgeous day out so I wanted an excuse to go on a walk anyway.

I changed the recipe posted by Amanda and Isis at GOOD in three ways. First, I had green garlic from the Community Supported Agriculture box, so I wanted to use that instead of purchasing cloves of garlic. Second, tomatoes are not in season here so I didn't want to purchase them (and I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes in soup, anyway). And third, I don't really like leeks, so I left those out.

I halved the recipe (because who needs 12 servings of lentil soup?) and ended up with:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk green garlic, minced
1/2 pound lentils, rinsed
1 quart vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt and pepper

I accidentally cooked it all in my wok (by accidentally, I mean I wasn't thinking and I'm inexperienced) but luckily, it all fit. I got thrown off by the first instruction, to "sauté" the onion and garlic in olive oil (obviously, I used my wok). Then the rest of the instructions just keep telling me to "add" things... so things got added to the wok. If you're making the full recipe, you should start by sautéing things in a pot that's big enough for all the soup to fit! After simmering for ten minutes, my soup looked like this:

It made me nervous that the lentils weren't really absorbing the vegetable broth, but they still had another 20 minutes left to get their absorb on. I was rooting for them, and I even nudged them around a bit to get them going (not too much, though, because I didn't want my wok to overflow!). I ended up letting things simmer for about an hour total, because (as mentioned before), my stove is weak and it wasn't doing that great of a job simmering. Here's what I ended up with:

It was less like a soup and more like... a pile. A big pile of cooked lentils. In the future, I'll use more vegetable broth and learn how to simmer properly. But it still tastes delicious, thank goodness! And now I can have lentil soup whenever I want it, for the next year or so.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Über Smüthie

German class is very meat-oriented. Basically all we do is talk about Wiener schnitzel and how lecker we find Schweinefleische. I have to assume that, aside from the airport, Germany has got to be the least vegan-friendly place in the world (if I ever find myself at an airport in Germany - and I actually hope that happens soon - I will make sure I'm carrying some CLIF bars). Anyway, spring quarter just started and this morning I went to the first meeting of my new German class. I knew that when I got home, I'd want to get excited about being a vegan again. So I decided to invent a recipe.

I don't often have real cravings for a certain type of food. The only items I can remember ever having cravings for are peanut butter toast (but that goes without saying), 100% pure maple syrup, and smoothies. For the past few days, I have had smoothies on the brain, and I've been searching around online for a vegan smoothie recipe. After collecting some ideas, I decided to invent my own. Here it is! It's very simple, I know, but give me a break. It's the first recipe I've ever invented.

The Über Smüthie:
(Makes 4 servings)

1 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup chopped pineapple
2 bananas
1 cup almond milk
1 tsp ground flax seed
1/4 cup organic blue agave sweetener

I added the flax seed because, according to Wikipedia, flax seed has high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Since I'm not eating fish or eggs anymore, I need to stock up on that stuff however I can. While I was on Wikipedia, I decided to do a little research for an academic paper that's due in less than an hour. Just kidding! That would be ridiculous. (Note to my students... ahem.)

Back to the delicious smoothie I just made. My roommate Emily had the brilliant idea to freeze the fruit overnight, so I wouldn't have to use ice this morning. Ice can make a smoothie taste more like a slushie, so I decided to freeze the fruit and skip the ice. Another option would be to use bags of frozen fruit. Here's my fruit all cut up and looking delicious, pre-freeze:

When I took it out of the freezer in the morning, it had all congealed into one big strawberry-banana-pineapple chunk:

Yum, right? I had to break it apart with my hands to stuff it into the food processor, so in the future I think I'll try freezing the fruit in an ice cube tray. That way it will be in manageable little frozen pieces and much more food processor friendly. The finished product looked like this:

There was a lot more smoothie where that came from, so I put it in the refrigerator for later. I could really taste the agave syrup - non-vegans could use honey as a substitute - and it added a sweet kick. The smoothie was a little thick, though, so I had to use a spoon. In the future, if I want to make a smoothie I can drink with a straw, I'll use more almond milk.

And in the spirit of German class, here's a recipe I found on for Austrian apple strudel: Vegan Apfel Strudel.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Killer TOFU!

This post takes its title from the classic song by The Beets featured on the Nicktoon (for a time in the 1990s, this is what cartoons on Nickelodeon called themselves) Doug. Don't remember it? Here you go:

I don't think Nicktoon lyrics ever surpassed the genius of, "I eat my sugar cereal, but it makes my teeth bacterial."

Anyway, if you remember, I used to think tofu was food for zombies (or Hannibal Lecter). But I needed some protein, so today I purchased a package of extra firm organic sprouted tofu at Trader Joe's. My roommates and I also went to Fairview Farms to pick up our Community Supported Agriculture box, so I had fresh kale, rainbow chard, lettuce, turnips, radishes, carrots, green garlic, and oranges. I also had some spinach from my last trip to Trader Joe's. For dinner, I decided to mix all the green stuff together with the brainish stuff (that's the tofu) and eat it with polenta. Here's what I started with:

I made the mistake of not cooking the tofu separately from the greens. In the future, I'll brown the tofu evenly, then remove it from the wok while I stir fry the veggies, then add it back in. This time, I just stir fried everything together, and the result was some pretty unevenly browned tofu. That seemed to be just an aesthetic problem, though, since the tofu was cooked through. Here's everything getting all cooked and yummy in olive oil:
That's the polenta in the back. In hindsight, I guess polenta doesn't really go with the rest of this meal. But I had just purchased some, and I was all excited to cook, so I wanted to cook everything. The texture combination of polenta and tofu was strange, though. In the end, I burned some of the tofu to the wok (it didn't take too long to scrape off, thank goodness) and the rainbow chard got a little nasty and wilted. But the tofu didn't eat me, so I count it as a win:

Sometimes real food blogs (by real, I mean food blogs in which people with cooking skills explain to people like me how to cook properly) use natural lighting and pleasant backdrops to make pictures of food look delicious. But I think that's a bit dishonest. Anyway, I think the food looks pretty this way, like a sunrise over a landscape of leafy brain chunks.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The (Not So) Skinny on Sweets

Last night, after a yummy vegan-friendly meal at a friend's house, I had to turn down dessert. And it's not because I'm counting calories. My friend Emma trotted out a strawberry shortcake she had baked for the occasion (I scooped up some strawberries to snack on), and my friend Vince produced a Hershey's "paradise pie," which I know to be insanely delicious. A week ago, I would have happily served myself a slice of each. But last night, as I watched everyone else indulging in the deliciousness of dessert, I thought to myself, "Aha! This is why vegans are so skinny."

Well, not me.

I have been sick for a couple of days, so I did not go to campus today. In addition to sleeping and getting work done, I decided to try my hand at baking. Since I never bake, I had to make a trip to the Isla Vista Coop for vegan ingredients (I seriously never bake, so I didn't even have any of the basics like flour or baking powder). I also picked up some powdered sugar to roll my strawberries around in for extra calories (if I'm going to avoid being a skinny vegan, I need to calorie-up my fruit, obviously).

After Googling around for vegan cookie recipes, I chose this one: Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

I chose it mainly because of the silly ladies in the video that plays automatically when you click the link. I imagine their names would be Pat (for the blond one) and Jill (for the frumpy brunette). Basically, the video is a big advertisement for the butter substitute Earth Balance. I am too poor to shop at Whole Foods, and I had just seen a pretty convincing commercial on Hulu starring Kim Cattrall for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, so I went with that. Pat and Jill say to use ENER-G Egg Replacer, but I used my roommate Emily's wholeground flaxseed meal. It says on the package that one teaspoon of flaxseed + three teaspoons of water = one egg. Emily was kind enough to point out to me that this substitution would only work in baking situations, not, for instance, for scrambled or sunny-side up eggs. Thanks, Emily.
I should have listened to what Pat and Jill were saying, though, because I forgot that when you're following a recipe, you need to look below the "Ingredients" list to the "Instructions." Whoops. I just dumped all the ingredients in a big bowl without thinking. I ended up with a depressingly powdery batter. It would have been impossible to scoop onto a cookie sheet, so I added a little bit of water at a time until it was manageable.

Then I followed Pat and Jill's directions to bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes (I went with 10 because my oven is ghetto and weak) and cooled them for a couple of minutes. And hooray! They are delicious-looking and kind of delicious-tasting, too. They are a bit more cake-textured than regular-people cookies. Now I have a lot of cookies, so if you live nearby and want to try one, come on over.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Do Vegan Zombies Eat? Grrraiinnzzz.

I had read on that one of my favorite coffee shops in LA, Groundwork, has lots of vegan options, so I swung by their Venice location this morning before making the drive back to Santa Barbara. The woman at the counter said she was a vegan, too, and that she loved their tofu scramble with bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, and spinach. I got it wrapped in a burrito so I could eat it while driving, and I was totally satisfied! I generally only like firm tofu, because I think squishy tofu has the type of texture only a brain-nomming zombie could appreciate. But this squishy tofu was a lot like scrambled eggs, texture-wise, so I zombied out on that burrito. My large coffee with almond milk was also delicious. I love Groundwork.

On to grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. I had done some preliminary research to come up with a game plan for reading labels. Step 1: Use my brrraiinnzzz. Ask myself if the thing I am holding is a carton of eggs. No? Is it a wheel of brie? No? Okay, move on to Step 2: Check for cholesterol. If it's there, the product is not vegan. No cholesterol? Move on to Step 3: Check for helpful little heads-ups included on a lot of labels after the ingredients list, like "Contains: milk, eggs." Not there? Step 4: Check for sneaky little animal products in the ingredients like gelatin, casein, whey, pepsin, and rennet. Nobody should really want to eat those things on their own (especially pepsin, which is made from hogs' stomachs), but they get mixed up in many otherwise vegan-seeming foods.

My roommates and I are members of a Community Supported Agriculture farm, Fairview Farms, which provides us with a nice variety of vegetables and fruits weekly, so I just picked up some spinach and strawberries to hold me over until we pick up our farm share on Tuesday. I was pleased to discover that my favorite bread, Milton's Whole-grain Plus, is vegan. So is my favorite peanut butter! Anyone who knows me knows that I love peanut butter toast. "Love" might even be an understatement. A word doesn't even exist for this level of commitment. So obviously, I was pleased to find that I wouldn't have to change anything about my current combo. I picked up some Dr. Praeger's California Veggie Burgers to try, and some Vitamin B-12 that I'm going to start taking every day. Overall, I was surprised to discover that I didn't need to change my grocery shopping list that much at all. A lot of the products I already enjoy are vegan-friendly, even if they're not marketed as specifically vegan.

I got home to a lovely Facebook message from Parisa, a friend of a friend whom I haven't seen in years. She recommends a few healthy living blogs:

These seem like they'll be great sources of inspiration, as well as recipes! The most recent post on ohsheglows is about juices - it makes me wish I had stocked up on more fruit at Trader Joe's. I think I'll walk down to the Isla Vista Cooperative tonight to do some more grocery shopping (that place is the hippie-dippie capital of the world, so they'll have lots of things I can eat).

Also on my to-do list: make an appointment with a nutritionist.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Being a Veg(h)an: Day 1

I decided to become a vegan last night. It was not great timing, since I am traveling. Airports might be the least vegan-friendly places in the world. I picked up some bake-dried pears (which turned out to be unpleasantly rubbery - who would have thought?) and a bag of "California medley" trail mix at a news stand, and I think it will be enough to hold me over. If not, I'll just pilfer packets of peanuts on the plane (and I will feel clever because I am so alliterative). I know this is not a great start. But I had a pleasant experience earlier today involving a dairy-free strawberry and banana smoothie that really boosted my vegan morale.

Why did I decide to be a vegan? Because I discovered that CLIF bars are vegan. Seriously. That was the icing on the proverbial (eggless) cake. I started considering a vegan lifestyle after seeing Food, Inc. a few years ago (as do, I'm sure, most people who see Food, Inc.). Then I started practicing yoga pretty seriously and talking to a lot of people at my studio who are vegetarians or vegans for spiritual reasons. But my dreams of a vegan lifestyle were always outweighed by my nightmares of starving. Once I realized that I can just carry around a few CLIF bars as emergency meals, there was nothing stopping me.

Well, almost nothing. I do have a few concerns about my future as a vegan.

First, I am generally cautious about restrictive diets. For a couple of years in college, I suffered from a pretty severe eating disorder. I was eating like, three strawberries a day and then throwing them up. It was gross. Since then, I have thought a lot about my relationship with food, and I've reached a mental state in which I can eat when I'm hungry (and, of course, when I'm not really that hungry but I see a yummy-looking treat) without getting anxious. I'm not one of those people who make awkward jokes about how they might as well tape that brownie to their thighs because that's where it's going anyway! I like food now. That's why I think I can mentally and emotionally handle being a vegan. But I will be keeping close tabs on my attitude toward the food I eat, just in case.

Second, eating out will probably not be as fun. I hardly ever eat out at home in Santa Barbara, but my boyfriend and I often go out to restaurants in LA, and it's an experience I really enjoy. I especially love ordering tapas and sharing them with him. I'm going to look into vegan restaurants (I'm sure there are a few of them in LA), but I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot of choosy eating at regular-people restaurants, and that the tapas-sharing days are over.

Third (and this is also tied to the experience of eating out), I don't want to be that annoying girl who picks at a salad and talks about the abuses farm animals suffer while her friends start to feel guilty about the hamburgers they used to be enjoying. So I have decided to be a vegan without an agenda. I am just going to be a vegan for my own health and for the general health of the world, doing my best not to make other people uncomfortable.

And I'm going to blog about it, mostly to hold myself accountable. I'll also post yummy vegan recipes (and detail my cooking efforts - that might be entertaining) and restaurants as I discover them. Other than that, there won't be much exciting news on this blog, unless you find "Today I did not drink milk! Or eat eggs!" exciting. But I like writing (especially about myself) almost as much as I like a challenge. And I appreciate your support!