Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meghan Goes to France

I'm leaving tonight to spend 17 days in France with the UCSB Chamber Choir. We're performing at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and at other venues in Tours, Loches, Nanclars, and St-Amand-de-Boixe. It's going to be a great experience and a ton of fun, but unfortunately I won't have much time to write blog posts.

I'll be back in the country July 8th. Until then, be well!

Me at the Chateau de Chenonceau

The Veggie Virgin

A few days ago, I discovered some troubling news about my friend Scott. He and his roommate had stopped by my apartment to eat some failed vegan cookies I had made using Frosted Flakes (unfortunately, they’re GR-R-ROSS!). They told me that they were on their way to the Isla Vista Co-op for the first time. Obviously, I wanted to accompany them so I could give them a little tour.

While we were walking through the produce section, I noticed Scott giving the vegetables a wide berth. If they had eyes, he would have been avoiding eye contact with them at all cost. “What’s wrong, Scott?” I asked. “This is just some fresh kale – and spinach – and look at all the different kinds of onions!”

His face blanched when I mentioned onions. “I hate onions,” he said. “They make me sick.” Fair enough, but what about all the other delicious-looking vegetables? “I’ve never… you know… eaten vegetables,” he explained. “It just never happened for me. Recently, I’ve started eating some cooked vegetables, like carrots, but I still can’t handle raw vegetables.”

How could somebody reach the age of twenty-eight and still be a veggie virgin? But somehow, Scott had managed to avoid eating vegetables his whole life, and he had even developed a repulsion for their raw texture. At first, I was speechless. Then I wouldn’t shut up – I spent the rest of the time we were on our errand lecturing Scott about how he needed to change his eating habits and pointing out how much healthier he would be if he became a vegan like me.

When we got back to our apartment complex, he spoke up. “I have a challenge for you,” he said. “I challenge you to come up with a vegan meal for me that is enjoyable, filling, and inexpensive. Maybe you can change my mind about vegetables.”

I felt like I was in one of those teen movies where a group of friends plots and schemes to help one of their buddies finally lose his virginity. Only there was much more at stake in the case of Scott’s veggie virginity - like his health. Of course I accepted the challenge.

Later that evening, he sent me an email with the parameters for the vegan meal I was tasked to find for him:

1) I dislike most raw vegetables, except for the occasional dark leafy greens
2) No onions
3) No celery
4) No peas.

After much consideration, I settled on pizza. I’d heard lots of good things about Pizza Guru on upper State Street but I’d never been there myself. They have wheat and gluten-free crusts options, a whole column on their menu labeled “veggie pizzas” with a note that everything can be made vegan if necessary, a special vegan white garlic sauce, and Daiya vegan cheese. I figured pizza was familiar, so it wouldn’t be too overwhelming for Scott – even when it was piled high with cooked vegetables.

We ordered the Pizza Nirvana: eggplant, roasted zucchini and mushrooms, bell pepper, onion, garlic cloves, greek feta cheese, vine tomatoes, and fresh basil. Of course we substituted Daiya for the feta cheese, and we asked for onions only on one half:


So did I successfully complete the challenge?

Yes! Scott ate his entire half of the pizza and reported being full and satisfied with the way it tasted. It will probably take him a while to get completely comfortable with vegetables, but this was an important first step. And it only took 15 minutes!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Colbert on Breast Milk

Photo: Healthfreedoms.org
Just a quick post to point out Stephen Colbert's awesome response to the news that Chinese scientists have successfully inserted the human breast milk gene into a cow embryo and then implanted it into a surrogate cow. There are now over 300 of these cows living on a farm in suburban Beijing.

This cow-surrogate human breast milk is 80% the same as human breast milk, according to the project's director and lead researcher Li Ning. It could replace baby formula in China within three years. I'm worried about the health risk for the cows and I'm wary of genetic modification in general.

Colbert's response? First, feigned nausea. Then: "Science, stop trying to reverse the normal order of things! We aren't supposed to drink human milk! We're supposed to drink the emulsion of fat globules secreted from domesticated cattle that are artificially inseminated, hooked up to an industrial-strength vacuum, and forced to lactate nonstop. Mmmm! My taste-buds are lactating nonstop."

Now that's nauseating.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vegan Sausage Fest

When Andrew suggested we get dinner at a place called SteingartenLA the other night, I thought he was joking. Everyone knows Germans hate vegans, and a quick look at the SteingartenLA menu revealed that it was mostly a listing of different types of sausages. If there’s one thing I’ll never be invited to, it’s a sausage fest.

But then we watched the inspiring promotional video on their website. The whole message of the video is that they are dedicated to giving each customer the experience he or she wants. The video ends with the line, “No is not an answer, ever.”

Oh, really, Steingarten LA? No is not an answer… ever? I agreed to go there for dinner, but only because my obnoxious side was excited about trying to get my server to answer “no” to something.

After we got our drinks, I pretended to peruse the menu for a while, sipping my delicious Belgian beer and doing my best to look pompous. When the server returned to take our order, I kept a straight face as I asked, “So… the smoked BBQ pulled pork sliders. Are they vegan?” Andrew scooted down in his seat to try to hide behind his menu.

“No,” she answered. Well, that was easy. I opened my mouth to complain that their promotional video had incorrectly boasted that "no" was not an answer ever, but she went on to describe the vegan options they did have and how I could alter some dishes to make them vegan-friendly.

Then I just felt like a jerk. I was about to order the apple and sage sausage, but then the server offered too much information: “I think it’s the Field Roast brand, you know, that you can get at places like Whole Foods.”

Well, if I could get it myself at a grocery store, no way was I paying $7 for it at a restaurant. So I went with the Vegetarian Choice sandwich (Portobello mushroom, roasted bell peppers, herb roasted tomatoes, and green herbal sauce - no jack cheese). It came with fries, and both items were quite yummy.

The atmosphere at SteingartenLA is appealing, too, especially the outdoor patio area with Christmas lights, a fountain, and a fire pit. All in all, it was a great experience, just like the promotional video had promised.

Inspired by SteingartenLA, yesterday I went to the Isla Vista Co-op to pick up some Field Roast apple sage sausages for myself. They’re made of filtered water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed safflower oil, non-sulphered dried apples, yukon gold potatoes, naturally flavored yeast extract, onion powder, barley malt, garlic, natural hickory smoke flavor with torula yeast, sea salt, spices and rubbed sage.

I put one in a pan on the stovetop with some olive oil, but it looked kind of lonely on its own. If this was going to be a vegan sausage fest, I was going to have to eat more than one single sausage. So I cut off another link and put it next to the first one. Unfortunately, I got distracted by reruns of The Soup and ended up burning them on one side. It didn’t matter, though – they still tasted great in my quinoa:


Was it a true sausage fest? No. Do I even know what a true sausage fest is? No, and I probably don’t want to. But I do know that SteingartenLA gets props for being a German sausage place with vegan options. Even if “no” has to be an answer sometimes.

Dating and Diet

Photo: GOOD.is
Can a meat-eater and a vegan be happy together? I think so! Read my piece on GOOD.is here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

In Defense of the Feelings of Non-Vegans


In a recent piece on HuffingtonPost.com, Christina Pirello asks why veganism makes non-vegans so angry. She considers the possibility that it is a "collective guilt" about damaging the environment and killing animals. Or maybe it's a denial that a diet that doesn't include animal products can be healthy.

She comes to the conclusion that "the derision and ire evoked by articles about veganism is simply a reaction to expressing an opinion that differs from the mainstream. I believe these reactions will continue to proliferate as long as we keep being told that meat is a necessary component of human health."

It's a thought-provoking article, and the responses from vegans and non-vegans alike do much to prove that it was necessary to write. But as much as veganism in general seems to make non-vegans angry, I can see why this article might do the same.

You see, Pirello assumes that not only are non-vegans made angry by veganism - a premise that is not true across the board - but that all non-vegans are inherently the same in their reasons for being angry. I don't think one reason for their anger (if they have it at all) can be identified. Some non-vegans might feel self-conscious about their personal eating choices and become angry at successful vegans out of defensiveness. Some might think vegans are annoying, like "Jehovah's witnesses," as one commenter on the post puts it. Some might not care at all.

By lumping all non-vegans together and trying to get to the bottom of their supposedly shared anger, Pirello inadvertently implies that they comprise the "huddled masses," so to speak, while vegans are separate, thoughtful, somehow superior people.

It is true that being a vegan requires making a deliberate decision and sticking to it, while most non-vegans don't need to put as much effort into their food choices. But just as vegans have different reasons for choosing their lifestyle, non-vegans have different reasons for being angry (or not).

At the risk of upsetting any Jehovah's witnesses, I would say the key difference between religious missionaries of any kind and vegans is that religion is inherently personal. Your religious belief or lack thereof doesn't need to affect anyone else. In contrast, your food choices affect not only your own health, but that of the planet and by extension, everyone who lives on it. Cord Jefferson at GOOD explores those effects, especially with regard to factory farming, here.

Obviously, this is a discussion that needs to be had. It needs to be thoughtful and respectful. But it doesn't need to be angry.

See this post on ThisDishIsVeg.com.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Smash You, Cashew!

Yesterday evening I walked down to the bluffs to have my yoga practice in the sun and near the waves. When I was done weirding out passersby with my yoga moves, it was dinnertime and I was starving. Having dedicated the previous hour to acting like a hippie stereotype, I decided to continue the trend and make my own cashew butter.

I had a ton of cashews left over from my soy frozen yogurt experiment and unfortunately, I don’t like to snack on cashews. Almonds or peanuts, yes. Cashews, weird. I thought they might be good as a spreadable butter, though, so I looked up a recipe online and got to work.

The obvious obstacle was my lack of a food processer, since Emily took hers with her when she moved out last weekend. I had no choice but to go Girl Scout on those cashews and use my bare hands to crush them to a pulp.

Well, maybe not a pulp. After about fifteen minutes of using the back of a spoon to crush the cashews inside a plastic bag, I decided this was just going to be extra chunky cashew butter.

I performed the task of hand-crushing the cashews while watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from the night before on Hulu. I felt a bit ridiculous, but I figured it was a more appropriate activity than what Congressman Anthony Wiener apparently does while watching The Daily Show.

When I was thoroughly bored of smashing the cashews, I added the following ingredients:

1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tbsp. orange juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. agave syrup
(3/4 cup cashews)

After mixing them all together, I realized the whole “butter” aspect was not coming together as planned. It would be, apparently, impossible for me to make any kind of spreadable thing without a food processor.


But I didn’t want my concoction to go to waste, so I got creative. I heated up some kale and spinach in my wok with olive oil, and when it was ready to eat, I dumped the smashed cashew mixture on top of it. It looked like this:


And it tasted great. I liked my cashew mixture so much that I decided to put it on top of my leftover rotini pasta, too. The little cashew bits got all up in the ridges of the rotini and made it a lot less boring.

It might not have been spreadable, but I decided to pretend that I wasn't trying to make butter in the first place. I invented a new cashew concoction on purpose. And it's delicious.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This Little Vegan Went to Market

I spend as much time at farmers markets as I can. They tend to provide an awesome combination of good food, good energy, and samples I can actually eat. What happens when you throw in live music, pony rides, and a bunch of celebrities with babies strapped to their chests in one of those hippie baby-carrier things? You get the Santa Monica farmers market.

It’s (kind of) within walking distance of Andrew’s house, so this past weekend we decided to head over. The farmers market has a free bike valet system (seriously!), but I didn’t have my bike. It was a lovely walk, and by the time we got there we had definitely worked up an appetite for brunch.

I love the experience of perusing booths, especially when the sellers have a connection to their product. People selling the produce they farmed with their own hands are generally pretty friendly and motivated to convince you of their food’s deliciousness.

As I perused, I was impressed by all the raw food options. I've had only one raw experience in the past, so I wanted to see if I could put together a raw brunch.

I decided to make myself a little variety plate at the Planet Raw booth. (Side note: check out their website. It has an intense techno soundtrack.) I got a slice of apple pie with “kream” (it was spelled with a k on the menu for obvious reasons, but I don’t approve), two sushi bites, and a falafel ball with tahini sauce.


As I popped the sushi rolls in my mouth, I wondered aloud to Andrew what could be in them. “Rice isn’t raw, so that’s why they’re wrapped in seaweed. It tastes like cabbage, avocado, cucumber, and something fishy-tasting… I wonder what they used for fish flavor.”

Andrew stared at me for a moment and then answered, “Fish. Raw fish.”

Duh. Of course “raw food” is not necessarily vegan, so there was no reason why there shouldn’t be fish inside the sushi rolls I had just happily consumed. I groaned. I felt like a horrible vegan. And on top of that, I was still hungry.

So I hit up the Eupohoria Loves RAWvolution booth, mostly because I was intrigued by the name. RAWvolution is a food delivery system that will bring a box of raw goodies to your door each week, and Euphoria Loves RAWvolution is their restaurant in Santa Monica. The man at the booth gave me a free sample of the “egg” mixture, and I was sold. The burrito included oregano “cheese,” coconut jerky, walnut “meat,” mango salsa, and avocado.

Don’t ask me what walnut meat is.


All in all, it was a successful trip to the farmers market. I just have to remember that “raw” and “vegan” aren’t synonymous to avoid future slip-ups!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Gettin' Real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot


Just a little mini-post to share this brilliant, ironic hip-hop video. The best part? It's filmed at the Venice Whole Foods, my favorite one!


The lyrics are clever (and accurate). My favorite verse:

This buster's on his iPhone talking to his friends,
Picking up some cayenne pepper for his master cleanse.
You're the most annoying dude I've ever seen brah...
Could you please move? You're right in front of the quinoa.

Mmmm... this makes me want to hit up Whole Foods for dinner. Check out the guys' website here.

Get Adama Dreams (and into My Belly)

I recently read about Adama, an all-vegan restaurant that opened a short while ago in downtown Santa Barbara, in the Santa Barbara News-Press. So when my friend Micah recommended it to me at my roommate Emily's birthday picnic, it moved right to the top of my to-visit list. He said Adama (pronounced Ah-dahm-AH) offered fancy but not prohibitively expensive vegan comfort food.

Vegan comfort food? Say no more. Actually… please say a little bit more. In my experience, vegan food (especially in the presence of other, non-vegan food) makes most people rather uncomfortable. But I was curious. So I convinced Amy and Emily to go out to a lunch at Adama after their graduation ceremony the next day with a couple of other friends.

The first surprise was that Adama is right next door to Alchemy Arts CafĂ©, another vegan joint (although “joint” might not be the right word – both restaurants are pretty classy). That seemed like risky business planning to me. Sure, it’s awesome for all the vegans in the neighborhood… but why are two of the only vegan restaurants in Santa Barbara directly next to each other? Talk about some healthy competition (am I right?).

The second surprise was that Micah was there with his family. For some reason, he didn’t look pleased to see us. I think he was embarrassed of us. He shouldn’t have been, because we were the best customers ever. We were all thrilled with the ambiance of the place and wandered around, marveling at how cute it was and asking questions. The food was good, too.

I went with the pumpkin pecan pancakes (or “pe-pump cakes,” as Emily and I quite maturely nicknamed them). The pancakes were incredible, but here’s the best part: the pitcher of 100% pure maple syrup. Adama is the only restaurant I have ever been to where you get an entire pitcher of pure maple syrup for free. Usually restaurants charge you at least a dollar extra for it, and you get a tiny little bit that’s enough for half a pancake. Here’s what my meal looked like:


Everyone was delighted with their meals. Here are some pictures of the other dishes we got:

Rihanna's soy-free grilled "cheese" sandwich

Amy's grilled veggie wrap
Right now, Adama is only open for breakfast and lunch. But they’re planning to start serving dinner soon in a couple of weeks, and I can’t wait to see (well, taste) what they offer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Epic Kale or Epic Fail?

Raw kale has always made me a bit nervous, because apparently it’s difficult to digest. My stomach doesn’t need an excuse to be difficult, so usually I braise my kale or just stir fry it in olive oil it with other greens.

But recently I heard through my friend Bonnie that our other friend Julie had an epic kale recipe. I’m not sure if she actually used the word “epic,” but I prefer that word to nearly every other adjective, so in my memory she used it.

This epic kale recipe involved “massaging” raw kale. Obviously I was skeptical. What kind of person massages a leafy green vegetable?

This recipe was clearly at risk of becoming an epic fail (as is, to be fair, every recipe I attempt to make). Here's what Bonnie sent me:

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 bunches kale, stems and ribs removed, leaves very finely chopped.
salt to taste
splash of orange juice
drizzle of honey
pinch cayenne
dried cranberries or other dried fruits
slivered almonds

I didn't have any kale this week because our CSA membership is over for the season. My roommates have graduated and moved out and I’m only around for another week and a half, so it looks like I’ll be buying my veggies at a grocery store or a farmers market until I leave. For this recipe, I purchased a bag of washed kale from Trader Joe's.

Let me tell you, this kale looked like it could use a massage. Especially after I chopped it up in little pieces. I didn’t have any lemon juice, so I massaged it with just the olive oil and salt. I imagined that to the kale, it felt like an exfoliating body scrub.

When the kale was looking satisfied and relaxed, I added a “splash” of orange juice and a “drizzle” of agave syrup (which I was substituting for the honey). Whoever indicates that you should use a "splash" or a "drizzle" of something in a recipe obviously has never cooked with me. What do these measurements mean? I am so confused by them. I sighed and did taste tests of the kale (which, by the way, was positively glowing after its massage) until it tasted about right.

I absolutely did not add the cayenne. I was already taking a risk by asking my stomach to digest raw kale – there was no way I was going to throw cayenne into the mix.

I stirred everything together, then tossed in some dried golden raisins and slivered almonds. Here’s what it looked like:

I shared it with Amy and we both agreed: it was delicious! The combination of olive oil, orange juice, and salt made the salad taste fresh and summery.

I waited a few hours to decide whether this recipe was epic kale or an epic fail - I wanted to give my stomach time to prove it could digest the raw kale. Then I forgot what I was waiting for because nothing happened.

Epic kale!

Friday, June 10, 2011

When I Dip You Dip We Dip

Last night, I attended a '90s-themed party at Old Town Tavern in Goleta. As I busted an awkward move on the dance floor to Freak Nasty's 1997 classic "Da Dip," I thought about two things. First, I thought about what an amazing dancer I am. This thought - though certainly untrue - often occurs to me after a few drinks. Second, I thought about how the title of the song adequately expressed the universal deliciousness of the black bean dip I had made earlier in the day.


I first tried a version of this bean dip at an end-of-quarter party at my Professor's house on Tuesday night. My friend Emma brought it. Emma is one of those people whose name is always the answer to the question, "This tastes a-maz-ing! Who made this?" (In contrast, I am one of those people whose name is always the answer to the question, "That person on the dance floor looks ri-di-culous! Who is that?")

I strive to cook like Emma, so I asked her to email me the recipe for the bean dip. She did, but I forgot to bring it with me when I went shopping for the ingredients at Trader Joe's. So I winged it, and it worked out pretty well. Here's what I used:

1 can organic black beans
1 can chunky salsa
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 avocado
2 tsp. cumin
1 green onion, diced

I decided to cook the black beans before adding them to the dip so they would be squishy and easier to eat. The avocado I used was not terribly ripe, but that just meant it stayed nice and green overnight in the refrigerator. We had gotten it in our CSA share the week before and I was getting impatient with it.

The above recipe makes a lot of bean dip. And it probably shouldn't be called "bean dip" since the ratio of red bell pepper to actual black beans ended up being pretty high. I think in the future, I'll just use half of a bell pepper.

But it was a hit! I brought it to my roommate Emily's birthday picnic on the beach and everyone liked it, vegans (me) and non-vegans like. Here it is, ready to be enjoyed with some pita triangles:


I was worried that I'd be serving it to the tune of, "When I Dip I Dip I Dip and Nobody Else Dips." But in this analogy, everyone at the picnic was glad to join in with my awkward dance moves and the dip got lots of compliments.

Someone even asked, "This tastes a-maz-ing! Who made this?" I DID! I made it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Feathers Are for the Birds: Why I Removed My Feather Hair Extension

The last time I had used the phrase, “But everybody’s doing it!” to justify a hair-fashion decision was in high school, when an ill-advised straightening treatment ended with a chemical burn on my forehead. A couple of weeks ago I used the phrase again, and I left the salon with a bright yellow feather hair extension.

Out here in southern California, it really does seem like everybody’s doing it. My feather looks pretty cool, and it definitely marks me as a trendy California girl – at a wedding I attended in Philadelphia last weekend, nobody knew what was going on with my extension. One of my girlfriends stared at it for a while before exclaiming, “Oh! That’s on purpose!”

In fact, most of the conversations I had at the wedding started with a comment about either my veganism or my feather extension. But as it turns out, those two things aren’t compatible.

The feathers have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually the rear end back of an unfortunate rooster. Until recently, these “saddle feathers” were used almost exclusively by fly fishermen. Now, rooster farms have to harvest up to 1,500 birds per week to keep up with all the business they're getting from hair salons. And according to Jesse L. Bonner at the Associated Press, most roosters don’t survive the plucking. (Update: roosters are actually put down first, then skinned to remove their feathers.)

Who’s to blame for this feather craze? Ke$ha, of course. In fact, tons of celebrities have been sporting this look, from Miley Cyrus to Rosanne Barr. Everybody’s doing it – but not me.

I’m getting my feather hair extension removed, just a couple of weeks after putting it in. Yes, it was a waste of $40. But as a vegan, I don’t support the exploitation of animals for food. So how could I support the killing of roosters for goofy hair accessories?

Let’s recognize the rooster-butt-feather-in-your-hair thing for what it is: as ridiculous as it sounds.

See this post on ThisDishIsVeg.com.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ravioli Vegan(i): I'm a Bad Italian

You wouldn’t guess it from looking at me, but my mother is 100% Italian. Growing up, I spent many a summer on Cape Cod grumpily smearing 50 SPF sunscreen all over my body, including inside my ears, and then crowding under a beach umbrella with my white-as-rice Irish father to watch the rest of my family (whom genetics had blessed with olive-colored, sun-resistant skin) frolic in the waves. Venturing out from under the umbrella meant burning like the proverbial roof, which is, if you recall, on fire.

Nevertheless, I got to embrace my Italian roots by enjoying my Nonna’s cooking every time we went to visit my mom’s parents in Winthrop. My Nonna was the kindest woman in the world, about four and half feet tall and no more than 90 pounds, but that lady could wield a wooden spoon. She’d playfully threaten to spank us with it and tell us to go make trouble somewhere else whenever we got in the way in the kitchen. She never actually hit us with it - we were her "little dah-lins," after all, and besides, the spoon was usually covered in tomato sauce.

For anyone who has never experienced Italian cooking, don’t take my word for it: go out and find yourself a little Italian Nonna and convince her to serve you some homemade ravioli. It won’t be hard – just tell her you’ve lost a lot of weight recently and you can’t figure out why. You won't even get to finish your sentence before the Nonna will be forcibly stuffing ravioli in your mouth and mumbling in Italian about how you need to learn to eat.

Now, I’ve spent three summers living and performing in Italy, I’ve been blatantly hit on by a few dozen Italian men, and I even speak the language. Despite all this, I feel like the worst Italian ever. Because recently, I vegan-ized ravioli.

I purchased a box of frozen vegan ravioli from Rising Moon Organics at Lazy Acres a few weeks ago. I couldn't bring myself to commit the blasphemy of making vegan ravioli by hand - a process that would involve fake cheese - so I went for frozen ravioli with a butternut squash filling instead. The pasta was made without eggs (unbleached wheat flour, water, semolina flour, and tumeric) and the ravioli were stuffed with butternut squash, dried cane syrup, potato flakes, onion, garlic, black pepper, nutmeg (all organic) and sea salt.

It totally baffled me that on the side of the box of vegan ravioli there was a recipe for a non-vegan cream sauce. Did the people at Rising Moon Organics honestly think that if I ate cream, I'd be purchasing their product? Because I wouldn't. I would be too busy devouring real ravioli filled with real cheese to have time to betray my Italian heritage.

I decided to use the non-vegan recipe on the box as a guideline and invent my own sauce. Here's what I used:

2 tsp Earth Balance (fake butter)
1 cup almond milk
2 tsp agave syrup
pinch sea salt

I heated it up in a pot while I microwaved the frozen ravioli. The combination of almond milk, agave, and butternut squash was heavenly:


You can't really see the sauce, but trust me that it was there and it tasted good.

If my Nonna were alive, I'm sure she'd chase me down with her wooden spoon and spank me for being a bad Italian. But these ravioli actually tasted pretty good, and it's the first time I've invented a vegan pasta sauce. I call it Ravioli Vegan(i): senza uova e senza formaggio. 

Buon appetito!
(E a tutte le nonne italiane: mi dispiace per voi tradire.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

This Is Why You're Fat: A Study

If you're like me, you get pretty unfriendly and cranky when you're hungry. Blame it on ghrelin, the gut peptide or "hunger hormone" that gets released to the brain when you need food now. Ghrelin levels decrease as you satisfy your hunger, and you start to feel full.

Photo: DiabesityDigest.com
In a recent study entitled "Mind Over Milkshakes," clinical psychologists at Yale tested whether ghrelin levels are affected by the mindset we're in when we consume food. (Click here for a nice summary at The Body Odd.) Lead researcher Alia Crum and her colleagues told 46 average-to-chubby volunteers they'd be taste-testing two new milkshakes, one that had 620 calories and was high in fat (labeled the "indulgent" shake), and one that had only 140 calories and no fat (labeled the "sensi-shake.")

First of all - seriously? The "sensi-shake"? Who came up with that name? I just got a great idea for a combination weight-loss tool: The Sensi-Shake-Weight. It's like a shake weight, but filled with a milkshake that you can suck through a straw every time the shake weight gets near your face. And you thought the shake weight couldn't get any more phallic.

Anyway, the trick was that both shakes were actually exactly the same, just packaged differently. The researchers predicted that participants would experience greater reduction in ghrelin levels after drinking the "sensi-shake," since they went into it feeling good about their healthful choice.

But as it turned out, the participants' ghrelin levels were flat or just slightly higher while tasting the "sensi-shake" - pretty boring. In contrast, their ghrelin levels sharply increased right before tasting the "indulgent," terrible-for-you shake, then plummeted after drinking it - this means they craved it like crazy before tasting it and were totally satisfied afterward.

The takeaway is bad news for dieters: if you think of your eating experience as "restricted" or "sensible," you're not going to be as excited about it, nor are you going to feel satisfied when you're done eating. The trick is to convince yourself the food you're about to consume is a delicious treat, rather than sulking about how you're forcing yourself to eat a tasteless cardboard substitute for real food.

The same goes for being a successful vegan. I love being a vegan because I get excited about food I can eat, rather than bemoaning everything I can't. It's fun to have a bit of restriction so I can build fun recipes around vegan ingredients and try restaurants I'd probably never have checked out otherwise.

Of course, I'd have totally ruined this study by refusing to drink either milkshake. But for all the non-vegans out there: steer clear of anything that calls itself a "sensi-shake." It's not - they're tricking you.

See this post on ThisDishIsVeg.com.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chillin' Out, Maxin', Relaxin' All Cool in Philadelphia

I arrived in Philadelphia tired, hungry, and looking like a mad woman. I had taken the red-eye from LAX for my friends' wedding the following day, and I had made the mistake of not packing enough Clif bars. I had thought to bring instant oatmeal (with extra fiber!), but what good is a packet of instant oatmeal with no hot water and nothing to eat it out of? No good at all. I needed food if I was going to be any fun at the wedding festivities.

After checking in early at the Hilton Garden Inn, I booked it upstairs to the hotel restaurant. The host told me they were still serving brunch (it was 9:30am), and that it was an all-you-can-eat buffet. He got excited just telling me about it, listing all the yummy brunch offerings with relish: bacon, eggs any way you like them, sausage, omelettes, French toast... as he went on, it dawned on me that at this all-you-can-eat buffet, all-I-could-eat would be the breakfast potatoes, if they weren't roasted in butter.

I got embarrassed all of a sudden. I didn't want this over-eager hotel restaurant host to be disappointed that I didn't want anything to do with his all-you-can-eat brunch. So I lied. "My - uh - my... boyfriend is over there" - I gestured vaguely in the direction of the hallway - "so I'll just go get him and be, um, right back," I stammered with wild eyes. Then I ran away.

I felt hot and shaky on the elevator ride to my hotel room. It had been a while since I got all awkward about being a vegan - and why the stupid lie? I haven't lied about my boyfriend being "right over there" since fending off lecherous Italian men in Florence last summer. I was ashamed of being ashamed (and of having lied).

And I was still hungry. So instant oatmeal it was. I made the ridiculous decision to call the front desk to ask for a spoon to be delivered (because I was too embarrassed to face the restaurant host again myself), heated up some water in the coffee maker, and ate the oatmeal out of a coffee mug.

After such an absurd breakfast experience, I wanted lunch to be awesome. I was still on my own - the girlfriends I was rooming with weren't arriving until the afternoon - so I decided to take a long, leisurely walk to Govinda's restaurant.

Govinda's is a gem. I told the guys working there that I have a blog, and they encouraged me to take pictures and ask questions. Their suggestion for a classic Philly meal: a vegan chicken cheesesteak with soy chicken, veganaise, soy cheddar, and green peppers. More fake meat, I know, ugh. But Philly cheesesteaks are famous, so I wanted to try the closest thing I could get to one while I was there. Here's Mike grilling the soy chicken with green peppers:


And here's what my meal looked like:


It was quite tasty. But I couldn't leave without taking a slice of oreo chocolate cake to go. When Mike told me every dessert in this case was vegan, I literally felt my mouth start to water. It was probably awkward for him.


The coolest part about Govinda's was the crowd. As a blog-writing, yoga-pants-wearing student from southern California with a freaking feather extension in my hair, I was the only stereotypical vegan in the place. There was a group of black teenagers wearing sports jerseys, a couple of plump construction workers, and a businessman in a suit, all enjoying vegan takes on Philly staples. It was refreshing.

The wedding itself was on Saturday evening. It was a moving, inter-faith ceremony followed by a classy-raucous reception (with impromptu singing) and the whole thing was a total blast. The bride, Caroline (who is one of the kindest, most considerate people I know), had emailed me a few days before to give me a heads up that the reception dinner probably wouldn't be vegan-friendly, so I should plan to eat a big lunch beforehand. So I did! In fact, I ate a lot the entire time I was in Philly, planning around the wedding. (See pictures of meal highlights below.)

So what's the takeaway from my vegan adventure in Philly? It was fun to check out the vegan dining scene in a new city that's so different from Santa Barbara or LA. I'm grateful to have so many thoughtful, accommodating friends. Everyone was interested in talking about my blog and my veganism (whether or not they thought it was a crazy idea).

And it was weird to discover that, when it comes to turning down breakfast buffets, I'm still cripplingly awkward.

Vegetarian Keerma at Rangoon, a Burmese Restaurant. It's potatoes, carrots, string beans, snow peas, and eggplant in an omelette.
Tofu scramble at Marathon Grill.
Eggplant and tofu in black bean sauce at New Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Extra! Extra! Read All About It (For Free)!

Free news is like free dinner on a third date with someone you're just not that into. You want to take it, but you really should pay for it.

I think it's a shame that a lot of trained, talented reporters can't find a job (at least not a paid job) because we've started taking free news on the internet for granted. I'll gladly pay to read my 21st article on the New York Times' website; measures like paywalls are necessary if news sources are going to keep paying their reporters. (The previous link is to the Huffington Post, so you won't waste one of your 20 monthly article views at the New York Times reading about the paywall!).

Photo: Chan Lowe http://blogs.trb.com/news/opinion/chanlowe/blog/
But even though I believe in the necessity of paying for quality news, I was still kind of bummed when I tried to read an article about veganism in the Santa Barbara News-Press, recommended to me by my friend Paul, and found myself thwarted by a membership fee. I didn't want to pay $60 for a yearly membership, I just wanted to read that one article!

Well, it meant that I had to purchase a print version of the paper for 82 cents. Totally worth it. I've been frustrated with the lack of vegan options in Santa Barbara - which is quite disproportionate to the number of hippie granola-eaters here - so I was thrilled to see the whole food section was dedicated to veganism!

I decided to summarize it here so that people who aren't as dedicated to getting their hands on vegan news will be able to "read all about it" without actually paying to read "it."

First of all, Dave Mason reviews three vegan restaurants: Alchemy Arts Cafe, Adama, and Vegan Mario's.

I've been to Alchemy Arts Cafe - last week after morning yoga, I was so hungry I couldn't wait to get home to make breakfast. To my delight, I saw a chalkboard on the sidewalk advertising "Vegan Breakfast!" Say no more, Chalkboard! I'm sold. The cafe is attached to a wellness center, and the whole place was much too fancy-looking for me in my sweaty T-shirt and stretch pants:


The executive chef, Kai Mueller, took my order and served me. He was quite friendly and helped me put together a delicious bowl of granola, flax seed, blueberries, apples, raisins, almonds, and extra almond milk. A little part of my thrifty identity died when I paid $12 for it, but it was delicious and huge. I got so full that I couldn't finish all that granola-y goodness.

In addition to restaurant reviews, the article in the Santa Barbara News-Press includes a little section on Kathy Freston's book Veganist. She is quoted as saying of veganism, "It's no longer just hippies eating granola and not shaving their legs." As I read that, my heaping spoonful of granola froze halfway to my lips. I self-consciously tucked my week-old-stubbly legs up under me so nobody would see them. Some of us vegans don't have it together yet, Kathy! Sheesh.

The next section I read cheered me up. J.M. Hirsch writes a piece called "Meatless burgers that don't mimic meat," in which he provides a recipe for Miso Chickpea Sliders. Hooray! I disapprove of non-meat things trying to be meat, and Hirsch feels the same: "Thing is, if I want the flavor and texture of meat, I'll do something crazy. Like eat meat." Well, I won't. But I will attempt to cook these falafel-inspired sliders at some point.

Another recipe I'm definitely going to try is for Vegan Cheese Grits. According to the author of the piece, Ellen Kanner, Daiya is a vegan cheese that "tastes like the real thing." I disagree - there's just no way something that is dairy-, lactose-, casein-, gluten-, soy-, preservative-, and cholesterol-free can compare to something that got pumped out of a cow's udder. But I'm going to try this recipe anyway, since I have a lot of Daiya fake cheese left over from my experiment with the Libido Burrito, and it's not like I'm going to snack on it by the handful.

Finally, there's a piece called "Oh! Soy Good!" by Niesha Lofing, but I didn't get past the title. Is it supposed to be a twist on "Oh! So Good!"? As in, "Oh! This food I made with soy is so yummy!"? Or is it supposed to be Spanish for "Oh! I'm Good!"? As in, "Oh! I'm doing well, thank you, since I became a Spanish vegan!"? I was too baffled to keep reading, but I bet it's just a piece about how tofu doesn't really taste like brains.