Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Love Cafe

Quite a while ago, John and I stopped by One Love Cafe, a vegan-friendly restaurant here in Worcester.  I dutifully took pictures and made notes, and then never blogged about it. So I figured, why not remedy that now?

We started with the fried plantains.  We first had fried plantains last year when we went to New Orleans Jazz Fest, and one of the tents was serving them with a side of jama-jama, a deliciously simple spinach dish.  John fell totally in love with them, so they seemed like a great appetizer choice.  I don't generally use oil much at home, so this was also a bit of a treat for that reason.  The plantains were cooked perfectly.  John said he would rather eat them than French fries, and for him, there is practically no higher praise!

For my entree, I chose the Rasta Pasta, a tricolor pasta dish with veggies and a cheezy, spicy tomato sauce (sprinkled with Daiya).  It was creamy, fresh and delicious!

John chose a tofu vegetable curry dish with rice.  As you can see it was saucy, and it was spicy without being too hot.  We both cleaned our plates, and washed everything down with a pitcher of water flavored with a watermelon slice.

The service at One Love was outstanding, the food authentic, and the price was great as well.  The small cafe could probably get crowded at certain times of day (we went in the afternoon and it was empty), and the food does take a while to come out (it is cooked to order and there was only one person working when we were there), so if you choose to visit, be sure that you can let yourself give in to the relaxed atmosphere.  Listen to the Jamaican music, smell the spice in the air, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vegan Georgia on the Road: Mississippi Trip Pt. 2

Well, I didn't quite reach my goal of finishing up talking about my now-ancient vacation back in April/May.  Life kind of just got really crazy in the last two weeks.  Not just a little, but A LOT.  Something that has been brewing for a while finally became real, and there has been a lot for John and I to discuss.  It has to do with my job, and I can't say a lot about it here (not that I really want to; my blog is about my life outside work, and that is the way I like it), but suffice it to say, I'm going to be going through a large change within the next few months.  I will be leaving my current job at the end of July due to a reorganization (my choice, although it might not have been if I waited for a few months), and it's very likely that we will be relocating as well.  More on that as it develops.

But instead of focusing on the future, I'm going to share what I did in the past.  Specifically, my visit to my grandmother on Easter this year.  My grandmother has always loved to cook big dinners for family visits on holidays, but she has had some health issues recently and many of us have gotten dietary restrictions, it's become a lot harder to feed us all.  Since my mom and I were going vegan, we decided to bring our own food for the Easter get-together.  We brought a green salad with goddess dressing, Hoppin' John salad, and a lemon pie.  I was having a crazy craving for lemon pie, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make a satisfactory vegan version, since the one I used to make was definitely egg- and dairy-laden, but it was a case of Fatfree Vegan to the rescue.  I adapted this recipe, making it a little bit less fat free by using Earth Balance in my graham cracker crust and lite coconut milk to create a sweet drizzle.  The taste was just what I was looking for!  It made a perfect light spring/summer dessert.

Beyond the great meal that we had, we also got the chance to visit with my grandmother, aunt, uncle and my cousin's daughter for the entire afternoon.  The dishes that we brought also opened up a really interesting conversation about food, and it turns out the rest of the family is pretty interested in eating more healthfully as well.  We talked a lot about saturated fat, and about how my grandparents' longevity (my grandfather died at 95 and my grandmother will be 90 in December) and my grandmother's relatively good health into old age is probably attributable to diet.  My grandmother in particular was a vegetarian for all intents and purposes for a number of years due to stomach problems, and she, unlike many others of her age, has not had to deal with extreme heart disease and other diet-related issues that plague most of the population.

I'll leave you with this picture of three generations.  Yes, that is my hot mom on the left, looking like my slightly older sister, and that is my awesome grandma in the middle!  More to come soon, as I still haven't even gotten to the New Orleans part yet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Easy Lunch Ideas for Working Vegans

This is the second part of my meal plans based on the awesome development of my mom and stepdad adopting a primarily plant-based diet.  See my breakfast post here: Vegan Breakfasts

I love lunch.  I am one of those people that needs to have a real lunch every day.  That doesn't mean I want to down a calorie-bomb sandwich necessarily, and it doesn't exclude things like soup or salad.  But when I see someone eating a bag of Fritos or sadly trying to make eating a yogurt last thirty minutes, I just feel depressed.  That being said, I am always running late in the morning, and like many working people, I only have half an hour to prepare and eat my lunch, and that is on a slow day.  I am fortunate to work in a place where I have a microwave, toaster, and refrigerator at my disposal, and I definitely take advantage of that.  For those people who aren't as fortunate, I expect lunch can be a much more difficult meal to deal with.  My mom, who I'm providing ideas for, is in basically the same situation as me, except she gets a full lunch hour.  She is busy, so speed of preparation is of the essence, and also like me, she wants a meal she can look forward to all morning that will keep her going through the afternoon when five o'clock seems way too far away.  Up front I will say, these ideas aren't going to blow the doors off of how you think about lunch.  I am going to talk a lot about salad, soup, and sandwiches.  But since I went through it for my mom, I wanted to share it on the blog as well, in the hope that it might be interesting for other folks as well. 

Tofu "Egg" Salad Sandwich

1.  Salads
  • Start with a whole lot of greens and then go crazy with vegetables.  Add whatever you like best, or whatever seasonal items looked great at the grocery store.  My favorite salad ingredients include carrots, onions, radishes, snowpeas, bell peppers, avocado and tomatoes.  (Other people would probably add cucumbers and celery to that list as well, but I hate them and I refuse to support cucumbers unless they have done the right thing and become pickles.)  Add nuts or seeds for crunchy texture and healthy whole-food fat.  Add beans (chickpeas are great!) or baked tofu/crumbled tempeh/soy chick'n for a protein boost.  When it comes to dressing, homemade beats storebought every time.  Maple syrup and mustard with pepper and garlic powder is a simple, quick and tasty honey mustard sub with no oil.  Flavored vinegars make a good dressing on their own, and silken tofu is a good base to make creamy dressings.
2.  Soups
  • Non-dairy milks and pureed vegetables make great bases for creamy soups.  Real milk and cream are easy to replace, so you aren't missing anything.
  • Vegetable broth-based soups with veggies and noodles
  • Bean or lentil soups
3.  Sandwiches:  I am a sandwich girl through and through.  I usually start my lunch plan with a sandwich and build around it.  These are very minimalist suggestions, easily elevated or simplified by choice of bread, condiments, etc.
  • Tempeh BLT = awesome. 
  • Hummus and veggie sandwich
  • Baked tofu sandwich with veggies
  • Vegan "tuna" salad (recipe here: click for deliciousness )
  • Vegan "egg" salad
  • Grilled cheeze or simple quesadillas
  • Veggie "lunchmeat" (if you're into that sort of thing, and sometimes I am)
  • PB&J or a variation
4.  Dinner Leftovers:  I don't usually have leftovers, because I live with a guy who doesn't really eat all day, so usually what I cook for dinner gets eaten.  But I will sometimes cook a simple second dinner just to create leftovers for lunch, if I have the time and stovetop space.
  • Pasta with sauce (could run the gamut from marinara to mac & cheeze)
  • Rice and beans
  • Chili
  • Stew
  • Stir fry vegetables with rice
  • Burritos
  • Baked potatoes (cook a few extra the night before and eat with your favorite toppings.  Ideas would include:  broccoli & cheeze sauce, vegan sour cream and veggie bacon, chili, salsa.)
5.  Snack Plates:  This is not something I do much on weekdays; I tend to go for it more as a light lunch on weekends when I have eaten a bigger breakfast, but it could definitely be a work lunch too. 
  • Dips:  Black bean salsa dip (simply a can of beans and a jar of salsa mixed up in the food processor); Hummus; Mexican layered dip (refried beans, vegan sour cream, guac and salsa)
  • Things to dip:  Crudites, pita, tortilla chips

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vegan "Meat" and Potatoes

When I think about it, I have to say that it is nothing short of a miracle that John and I became vegans and stayed that way for any amount of time.  With me, the biggest issue was dairy products--the more unhealthy, the better was my philosophy.  I loved cheese and ice cream, and even after knowing how much better I felt without them, and after knowing how many problems I had to go through in my detox process, I craved them for a long time.

For John, the problem is a little bit different.  It's not just a certain food that he "misses" or craves.  It's more like the idea of hearty comfort food-style dinners, which for him have always been based around meat and starch.  Even now when I ask John if he has any requests or suggestions for dinner, he asks for something like meat and potatoes.  He's always asking for chicken parmesan and potatoes, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  He has been working non-stop with acting jobs lately, so when he asked for something meat and potatoes this time, I turned to Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia Simpson to find a way to fulfill that request.  I used both the meatloaf recipe and the mushroom gravy recipe, adapted out some of the oil in the meatloaf, and made a delicious, fairly healthy, extremely filling comfort food meal.

The "meat"loaf is made out of TVP, and the green beans are canned (which is the only way I like them, since I grew up eating), but there is hardly any added fat in this meal, aside from the gravy, which is roux-based.  Most importantly, John loved it.  It made him feel like he wasn't missing anything at all.  Vegan eating does not have to be about what is not on your plate, and I think that is something that people who haven't tried it don't realize.  I certainly didn't!  I've said it a million times, and I'll say it a million more--I knew nothing about food before I left animal products behind, and becoming vegan is the best decision I ever made!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vegan Georgia on the Road: Mississippi Trip Part 1

Hi everyone!  It's been a while.  I went on vacation and then ended up somehow missing out on May entirely, it seems.  I am always the kind of person who needs a vacation after the vacation, and this time was no different.  We had such a great time on our visit down south, and we got to spend a ton of time with friends and family, but by the time we got back to Massachusetts, I was pooped!  Also, when we got home, spring was in full swing, and my allergies knocked me out.  I'm not normally such a sickly person, but I guess the freakish weather (from the crazy snow over the winter, to the pollen explosion, to tornadoes last week) is affecting me this year.  The allergies turned into bronchitis and I just didn't feel like thinking or talking about food for quite a while.  But I'm back now, and I think I'm ready to return from hiatus for at least a little while.  I am going to be working with Worcester Shakespeare Company again this year, and that makes my summer a lot busier.  I love it, but the time commitment doesn't leave me time for much else!

One of the best things about the trip to visit my family was helping my mom learn about being vegan.  Before we even went home from the airport, we visited a number of grocery stores to stock up and go over the basics.  It was great!  I was also very pleasantly surprised to note that while the health food store in Jackson, Mississippi, is stocked as well as could be expected, the "regular" grocery store has a great deal of vegan-friendly food (like dairy substitutes) as well.  In fact, it's better than my local non-health food store, because there are vegan cheeses available!  So she could potentially have one-stop shopping, which is an advantage over what I have here in Worcester.  It's also good, since she actually lives about 1.5 hours away from Jackson.  She has been shopping there anyway though, just because the prices and selection is so much better, and she's down there for work fairly often.

The first night, my mom requested that I make a dish I had made when she and I met for a weekend trip to St. Simon's Island, Georgia, when I had just been vegan for a few months. We stayed in a small vacation cottage, and bought groceries and made our own food, which is what I generally like to do for longer trips.  We didn't have pantry items though, so I had to buy everything we were going to need, which calls for simplicity in the recipe choice.  I made bean tacos, and it turns out my mom has been talking about them to my stepdad ever since, so they wanted me to reprise that recipe for them at home.  I changed it up a little, since I could, and it was even better than it had been the first time I made it.

Three Bean Chili Tacos        

Corn tortillas

Chili filling:
One onion, diced
One red bell pepper, diced
One green bell pepper, diced
Two cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
One can pinto beans
One can black beans
One can red kidney beans
1/2 cup TVP (optional)
Chile powder, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, & salt to taste

Shredded green cabbage
Diced tomato
Fresh cilantro, chopped
                                                                                  Vegan cheese (optional)

Begin by preparing chili filling.  Saute onion & pepper in cooking spray or water over medium heat.

I may teaching my mom something about cooking vegan, but she still has the superior knife skills.  Check out that dice!

In a separate stock pot, add tomatoes and beans with liquid from cans.  Bring to a simmer. Add spices, and onion/pepper mixture.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add TVP and cover to rehydrate.  

In the meantime, heat tortillas according to package directions, and prepare toppings. When TVP is fully rehydrated (at least five minutes), build tacos as desired, using a slotted spoon for the chili.

It's been quite a while since I wrote down a recipe, so I apologize if I missed anything.  I'm much more of a suggester than a demander when it comes to recipes anyway, so feel free to adjust and adapt as you wish.

As you can see, I've named this post "Part 1."  There is plenty more to tell about my trip, so stay tuned!  I've set a goal to finish recapping my Mississippi/Louisiana adventure by the end of the week.  I hope you all had a wonderful month of May, and I'm glad to be back with you for June!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vacation, YAY!

Hi Bloggy buddies,

I just wanted to drop in and say that I probably won't be around for at least a week and a half, which sadly is not that big of a deal since I haven't been blogging much lately.  But this time, I have a good reason, because I am going to Mississippi to visit my family for a little over a week.  I'm going to see my dad, sisters, nieces, nephew(s? May only see one of them, sniffles), and assorted other relatives, go to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and coincidentally see my college BFF who is down there for a teachers' conference, and I will also get to help my mom buy groceries and give her the lowdown with some hands-on vegan cooking tips, which I am totally psyched about, like the big nerd I am.  And I'm not sure if I'll have access to a computer or if I'd want to use it even if I did :)

Have a great rest of April, and I'll see you back here in May.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Worcester VegFest 2011

Today was the second annual Worcester VegFest at Worcester State University.  John and I went fairly early, saw a few friends, ate some food, took a break from the (significant) crowd, and then went back for a little more food and a cooking demo by Terry Hope Romero.  

There were three levels where activities were taking place, and when we arrived around 12:30, the whole place was hopping.  We made our way into the second level and immediately grabbed a couple of small bowls of vegan chili, which was provided by the university, and took a seat to assess the rest of the offerings.  

It was free and was also served with some brown rice, but I didn't have any because I wanted to save room for the many other food options that were available.    While we were eating, my friend Pam ran into us with her family in tow, and let us know there was falafel on the first level, which is of course important information for me to have.  We scarfed the rest of the chili down and decided to brave the extremely crowded first level.

It was a decidedly un-vegan-like cattle call downstairs.  We did manage to get a couple of falafel patties (minus the not-vegan tzatziki sauce), and they were unfortunately kind of cold.  They were made by Falafel Republic, and I had actually bought them in a package before at a local health food store.  I would have to say that to my discerning falafel-loving palate, they were just okay, but considering the crowd, I think we were pretty lucky to even get them at all.  Seriously, I think there were a lot of people who showed up just for the free food, and not as much for the vegetarianness of it all, and it started to wear thin on both John and me pretty quickly.  

We made our way around the "track," as it were, and ended up buying a veggie patty and veggie roti from the One Love Cafe table.  One Love is a vegan-friendly restaurant right here in Worcester that we ate at recently but I have yet to review.  The food was nicely curry-ish with cauliflower, carrots, and green beans, and was thankfully able to be eaten out of hand, since tables were scarce.     

Veggie Roti in waxed paper

Veggie patty

John attempting to enjoy his veggie patty without elbowing someone in the head (on accident.  Or not.)

At the other end of the room from One Love, there was a very busy table for X's and O's Bakery from the Albany, NY area.  I bought a brownie and got John a chocolate chip cookie from them.  I had bought a few things from X's and O's when I had to go to Albany for work before (vegan twinkies, woot!), so I was pretty happy to enjoy more of their sugary deliciousness.

My super-fudgy brownie

After escaping from the first level, we did a quick walkthrough of the third level to see what was there.  Peace o' Pie of Boston was there, but we have had their food before and were also thinking about pacing ourselves, so we decided to leave for an hour and then come back in time to grab some vegan soft serve and catch Terry Hope Romero's demo.

When we got back, we jumped in the looooooooong line in front of the Like No Udder dairy-free ice cream truck.  Understandably, there had pretty much been an all-day run on the business, so the machine needed to take a short break, but we stuck around to wait for it, since we had half an hour until the cooking demo.  It took almost that whole time, but holy wow, it was worth it!

John's chocolate/vanilla twist and my vanilla with a cone

They also usually do shakes, and usually serve the ice cream in the cone, but their poor machine was getting stretched to the limit.  The folks working there were really nice and apologetic about the wait, but they really didn't need to be.  I'm sure that there will be at least one time this summer when I drive to Providence to stalk the Like No Udder truck. Soft serve ice cream is something I have been missing pretty desperately!

We made our way into the building again and buzzed up to the conference area on the third level to get seats for the cooking demo.  Terry Hope Romero talked vegan-ness, cooked Seitan Potato Tacos from Viva Vegan! and answered a ton of questions, and was generally very sweet, funny, and all-around awesome.  

My semi-terrible picture of Terry Hope Romero

After the demo we decided to do one last run-through to make sure we felt like we saw everything we wanted to see and decided to hit the road.  It was about 4 PM, and things had calmed down significantly, and many of the tables had shut down for the day.  It started out rainy and kind of gross today, but by the time we left, it was beautiful and sunny.  

Me in my only message t-shirt with my new short hair*

Overall, it was a really good experience to visit VegFest.  I will say that what we ate was only a small portion of the food that was available at VegFest, so they definitely had the food covered, which I think had been a problem last year.  Our biggest issue was the crowd, which was extremely out of hand when we first arrived.  With the number of people who came, it would have been better to hold the event in an auditorium or even outdoors, but I know that the kind of preparation that would go into selecting a venue and coordinating is a Herculean task, and VegWorcester did an excellent job with their limited resources.   So I will quit making a fuss, because the vendors (both of food and of information -- there were tons of tables with information about various vegan-like causes) were very high-quality, and drawing a massive crowd is a really good thing, because it means more people are being exposed to the vegan lifestyle.  The event definitely reminded me that it's a very good time to be vegan, because it's becoming a lot harder to dismiss it as a passing fad.

I have SO MUCH to blog about, so I'll hopefully get on at least once more this week to share a restaurant review at the very least, but starting with my visit to Mississippi/Louisiana next week, things are shaping up for a very busy summer.  It seems strange to be thinking about summer with temperatures still hanging out in the 40's, but the older I get, the more I realize that time really sneaks up on ya.  Enjoy your week!

*I went and cut 18 inches of hair off my head and didn't even blog about it for two weeks.  

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Calling all Northeast Vegans....


Just dropping in to let everyone know about an exciting event that's coming to Worcester next weekend.  On Sunday, April 17, from 12 PM to 5 PM, at Worcester State University, VegWorcester is hosting Worcester VegFest 2011.  It's a free festival celebrating vegan-ness.  Free vegan food, live music, speakers (including a cooking demo and book-signing by Terry Hope Romero -- awesome!!), as well as a change to meet and mingle with like-minded folks from central Mass and elsewhere.

More detailed information and directions are available on the event website:  Worcester VegFest 2011.  There was even a blurb about the festival in this week's email newsletter from VegNews, yay Worcester!  It should be a great time; I'm totally there and I hope that some of you might be as well.  Happy Saturday!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cassie's German Blender Pancakes

Meet my friend Cassie.

You know when you meet a person, and she is just good at everything?  She's unbelievably smart, beautiful, and talented, to the point where you just want to say, enough already?  She sings, she's a great actress, she can dance.  Ugh.  But then it also turns out that she is hilariously funny and sweet, and gives you no choice but to instantly want to be her friend?  That is Cassie all over.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to get back to my educational roots by working with Worcester Shakespeare Company as the Production Stage Manager.  I don't know if I've discussed this, but even though I work at the fabulously glamorous electric company in customer service, I actually started out as an English major studying Shakespeare.  I have a Masters in English and wrote a crazy long comparative literature-style thesis where I talked about Eastern religious themes in King Lear, because that's how I roll--putting things together that have no business being together :)  Anyhoodles, I have been out of school for quite a while now, but Shakespeare is still my first love.  So when I finally crawled out from under a rock and realized that there was a summer Shakespeare company here in Worcester, I was thrilled to be able to get involved.

One of the most unexpected and wonderful things about working on the play was that I ended up meeting such an excellent and eclectic group of people, of whom Cassie was one.  We did Taming of the Shrew, with Cassie in the title role.  And although I've seen probably a dozen different productions of that play, I can very honestly say I don't think I've seen a better Kate.  Cassie perfectly managed to capture rage-Kate while at the same time showing the vulnerability within, and she did it with a sense of humor.  And that is probably because her own greatest quality is her ability to know that you don't always have to take yourself seriously.  For as many Facebook pictures as she has like the beautiful one above, there is always something like this one to balance it out:     

And as if all that wasn't enough, she gives me super-cool vegan recipes and doesn't yell at me for not posting them for three months!

Cassie's German Blender Pancakes

1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 medium banana; overripe is best)
4 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
3/4 cup non-dairy milk

Combine ingredients in your blender and run until well mixed.  The mixture should be very thin--almost runny.  Allow mixture to sit for a few minutes until frothiness subsides.  In the meantime, heat up a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  (If your skillet still tends to stick, you should use a small amount of cooking spray before each pancake.)  Once the skillet is hot, pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and rotate the pan to allow the batter to spread.  You are looking for a thin, crepe-like pancake about 8-10 inches across.  Cook until the edges are golden brown, resisting the urge to flip too early.  When the edges are golden brown, use a spatula to gingerly lift the pancake and flip it.  (A good tip would be to tilt the pan vertically and slide your spatula underneath.)  Cook the other side for a few additional minutes until it is browned.  Repeat the process to make an additional 3-4 pancakes.  Keep cooked cakes warm on a plate in a 200 degree oven. 

These would be amazing on their own, but when you roll them up around strawberry jam and drizzle with a little maple syrup, they become absolutely gourmet.  Cassie also reports that she (and her equally phenomenal boyfriend Dan, who also deserves effusive praise for being an all-around awesome, super-talented dude) consider this recipe one of their staples not only for breakfast, but also for dessert, by replacing the jam with Nutella.  Nutella is sadly not vegan (although you can find or make a vegan version without too much trouble), but I do think these pancakes would like to be introduced to cashew cream or a vegan chocolatey spread to become a dessert course made in heaven.  And if all that isn't good enough, remember that this is an oil-free recipe, unless you have to use a tiny bit of cooking spray to make sure your pancakes don't stick.  I have made this with all purpose flour and with whole wheat pastry flour, and it works just as well either way, so you don't have to sacrifice health quality for flavor.  And why should you have to?  As Cassie proves, it's always a good idea to balance out your "serious" with a healthy dose of "silly."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Road Trip Restaurant Review: Mango Mango in Amherst, MA

We love Sunday drives, and this past Sunday, we were blessed with a beautiful, sunny, almost warm day.  We decided to take a quick little drive and ended up meandering all the way out to Amherst.  It was almost 2 PM by the time we got there, and our usual western Mass stop, Cafe Evolution, closes up shop at 2 after serving brunch on Sunday.  (And what a brunch it is.  Their bread alone is worth the trip, and someday I will take pictures and share them.)  So we found ourselves looking into other choices.  Mango Mango showed up on our iPhone app VegOut, but it had no reviews, so we weren't sure how it would be, but we decided to be brave and try it anyway.  And boy are we glad we did!

Mango Mango is a counter-service type place, where you go up front and order from the big board, pay, and sit down, and they bring out the food when it's ready.  A group of folks left right when we came in (I can't tell you if it's because I was wearing sweatpants or because they had finished their meal), leaving us with the whole place to ourselves.  The restaurant does serve meat, but there are a large number of vegetarian items available, as well as a respectable number of vegan options and gluten-free choices, all clearly marked.  

Instead of engaging in a fist fight over who would order the tempeh taco, John was the better person and let me get it.  It came with either chips or a side salad, and being that I have been pigging out on chips lately like the emotional eater that I am, I went for the side salad.  We had a seat with our drinks (John got a soda and I opted for a Hibiscus Cooler, which was noted as one of their house-brewed teas), and only waited for maybe ten minutes before the food came out, which was a pleasant surprise.

John has been on a curry kick lately, which you will see when I post another restaurant review this week, and he opted for the West Coast Curry with tempeh.  It was served over short grain brown rice.  The flavor and spice on this dish was excellent, and it had potatoes and haricot verts, which I thought was interesting and unique and made this stand out from a regular curry.

Meanwhile, my salad and tempeh taco.  Ho. ly. Wow.  This was so good, I am going to have trouble verbalizing.  First, the salad was delicious and fresh, with what tasted like a ginger-sesame dressing that was wonderfully light.  I could probably have eaten a much larger portion of just the salad alone.  The taco is actually these giant tempeh chunks with what I would describe as a teriyaki-type sauce, with guacamole, lettuce, and tomato wrapped in a soft naan-like bread.  It was so great, I see myself wanting to go back weekly to get one.

In addition to the pretty great selection of options, I have to give this place major kudos for what they do with tempeh.   John has never been much of a fan, and I have had mixed responses to tempeh, but we went to Whole Foods after we ate and bought a couple packages because we fell so much in love with this tempeh.  (Now I just have to figure out how to make it taste that good at home.)  Combining that tempeh deliciousness with the speed of service, I have to think that they have a magic wand back in the kitchen that they are making the food with.

Mango Mango serves lunch and dinner, but if these are the portion sizes for both meals, I think it's probably more of a lunch place.  The price was fabulous, only $22 for both our meals and drinks, and it's BYOB, if you are into that sort of thing, which I am but only when I don't have to drive home.  One other nitpick, which shows how spoiled I am by the number of vegan-friendly places in my area, was that they didn't have a non-dairy milk or creamer for coffee, so I hope that they will consider adding that in the future.  Otherwise, this is a definite recommend!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Moodiness and Meal Plans

So here I am, after a month of not posting, trying to come up with some sort of excuse for myself, but the truth is, I really don't have a good one, and making one up seems a bit like pandering.  I guess I've just been in a bit of a brown study.  I like that expression because it implies examination of your crap mood.  (I don't tend to be very accepting of my periodic depression; I prefer to badger it into non-existence.)  The current world events are bringing me down (along with everyone else I am sure).  The situation in Japan is heartbreaking, and the Libya thing has my peacenik panties in a twist.  On the personal front, I haven't felt particularly inspired to cook anything, which kind of puts a dent in the food blogging.  The produce in the store is just so wilted and depressing, it's not really exciting me that much. Beyond that, my ongoing sinus issues are making it so that even when I do decide to cook something, I can't figure out what it is that I want.  We have been eating out quite often (especially during the three week stretch when I didn't do the dishes at all), and although mostly we were sticking with tried & true foods, this weekend, we went to a couple of new places, one that was very good and one that was killer-awesome, so I'll be writing about those soon.  So I guess I did come up with a few excuses there, after all.

The good news is, spring is springing.  Most of the snow has dissolved, except for a few dirty icebergs in the parking lots, and we've had quite a bit of sun this last week, as well as a day when it was over 60 degrees.  I have seen enough people in shorts on the 30 degree days that followed to realize that it's not just me that is ready to say goodbye and good riddance to Old Man Winter this year.  It's like we got a taste of the good weather and we refuse to give it up!  That means the local farmers' markets will be coming soon.  I've done a CSA in the past, but I think I'm going to skip it again this year.  It's kind of hard to tell what you will get, and I don't want to see another giant bag of beets.  I think CSA shares are a great idea for some people, but for me, nothing beats actually seeing the selection and choosing for yourself.  Plus, I'm a control freak.  (John nods.)

The last bit of fantastic, amazing, super-awesome news, which is probably the number one thing that inspired me to get back on my blog is that (drumrolllllllll.......) my mom and stepdad have decided to go vegetarian!  Yay!  Cartwheels!  My mom is a bit of a reluctant meat-eater to begin with, and she has always been right on board with the way John & I eat, but my stepdad, who never met a pork product he wouldn't love to grill up, is the shock of the century, and it was actually his idea.  They are young (early/mid-50's) and in excellent shape, but in the last year or so, I guess they have been having some stomach issues and generally feeling kind of not great.  When John & I visited last year, our appearances and moods really made an impression on stepdad James, and apparently made him start thinking about what we are doing and why it might be a really good thing. Hearing this really made me feel so happy, because I try very hard not to be a vegangelical, but I do want to help people make the right choices (for themselves, the animals, and the world).  I guess I can't do any better than Mahatma Gandhi:  "Be the change you want to see in the world."  (I even have that quote on a t-shirt.)  I am always open to discussing my diet and life choices with anyone who is interested, but I think because I don't look like a typical vegan stereotype that other people want to look like, I'm not sure that my message gets across that well.  People don't usually want to give up a lot of their favorite foods and still be fat.  But this made me realize that the people who know me do see a big difference in me, and they want to know what the secret is.  Probably all of this sounds a little self-important, and for that, I apologize, but I am trying to be very honest, whether it's good or bad.

Understandably, my mom has a lot of questions and is looking for some advice on how to make this lifestyle change.  I've managed to bully her into giving up dairy in addition to meat, since I think dairy and digestive systems are mortal enemies (especially for my family), and she will be trying a few weeks gluten-free as well to clear out her system and then reintroduce later to find out if there is an issue there for her.  At the moment, she may keep eggs in her diet, as she gets them from her own chickens, and they may eat fish once in a while as well.  In addition to those concerns, she works a full-time job and weekdays mean quick and packable breakfast, lunch and snacks, and mostly quick and easy dinners.  James is a truck driver and is really only home a couple days a week on average, so he presents even more challenges and I'm honestly going to admit, I'm not sure how to handle that yet.  If anyone has any advice or ideas, I'd be happy to hear it. With their challenges in mind, I came up with some general advice as well as a quick & dirty meal plan that I think will be helpful to them, but also to anyone who wants to try eating low-fat vegan and feels overwhelmed.   I am going to include my general advice and post my meal plans in segments here on the blog, and I'd love to hear any additional suggestions that people may have, especially for those of you who may be vegans who live in the boonies and don't have easy access to a big, well-stocked supermarket.

General Advice
  1. Get a reference book that gives you the science behind the diet.  There are a number of books that were very informative to me in this regard, including The China Study, Eat to Live, and even Skinny Bitch.  If you are worried about your ability to meet nutritional requirements, Becoming Vegan is a good choice, but I didn't read it until after I already had some experience with eating as a vegan.  (Just as a disclaimer, I'm not making any money off of recommending these books.)
  2. Use the internet!  Vegan blogs are insanely awesome in showing you what you are gaining rather than what you are giving up, and you can get a lot of good information on making the transition to vegan by reading how others have handled it.  Both the ups and the downs.  You do have to be somewhat selective in your choices and have the ability to not believe everything you read.  But there is at least as much good as bad out there.  
  3. Don't be an all or nothing person.  If you end up eating something that you had decided you weren't going to include in your diet, don't beat yourself up.  Use it as a learning experience.  How did it make your body feel?  Did you notice a difference in your digestion?  Your skin?  Your fatigue level?  Maybe you didn't.  Maybe you did. Either way, you just found something out about yourself, and there is no reason to feel guilty. 
  4. Get a good all purpose vegan cookbook that uses ingredients that are familiar and easy to find, at least for the most part.  Once you are good and ready, there are a ton of great cookbooks on the market, but if you can start with something that gives a good overview of the basics, you will feel more comfortable with your transition.  I am not trying to play favorites because I love all my cookbooks, but if I had to choose a couple that fit this category well, they would be How It All Vegan, The Happy Herbivore Cookbook, or Veganomicon (my mom bought Happy Herbivore, which I do think is the best choice for her based on her location and her particular needs, and again, I made no money recommending these).  
Simple Breakfast Plan

Disclaimer:  I am not a nutritionist, and all I know about nutrition is what I've learned from eating vegan and reading about eating vegan.  This plan is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor or to cure or treat any disease.  It's meant to be a simple guide to make meal-planning easier for a new vegan, and I wrote it as off-the-cuff as I could to preserve simplicity.  Please note that as she is going to be going gluten-free for several weeks, she will be choosing gluten-free options based on my suggestions, which are not gluten-free in and of themselves.

  • Lowfat granola or other cereal with non-dairy milk (almond, hemp, coconut, or soy)
  • Oatmeal made with water or non-dairy milk (may include mix-ins like nuts/nut butter, maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit, applesauce, non-dairy chocolate chips)
  • Toast with fruit spread, nut butter and fruit
  • Breakfast burrito/wrap (a tortilla filled with leftover tofu/veggie scramble, or nut butter and banana, or non-dairy cream cheese and jam or berries)
  • Fresh fruit or fruit salad
  • Non-dairy yogurt parfait (coconut or soy yogurt layered with fresh fruit and granola)
  • Tofu scramble (include lots of veggies for extra nutrition)
  • Tofu frittata
  • Non-dairy, egg-free waffles, pancakes or crepes
  • Breakfast potatoes (with onions, peppers, and mushrooms if you like)
So, taking into account my mom's likes, which I am fairly familiar with, those are my recommendations for vegan breakfasts, especially for a beginner.  And now that I've written a completely picture-free wall of text, which I expect will have multiple comments of TL;DR, I am going to sign off, with the promise that at the very least, I will come back soon to post lunch and dinner ideas.  If you read all the way to the end, thank you.  The cookies are in the mail.  :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Night Out at The Pulse Cafe - Somerville, MA

Oops, I did it again!  Obligatory self-explanation paragraph.  My last blog post, where I was explaining how stressed and busy I was, should have been an indication to me that I needed to slow down before I made myself sick, but I didn't figure it out until too late.  Last Friday, I left work early for some R&R, but within 3 hours I had a fever and chills and felt generally terrible.  I got smacked down by a flu/evil sinus infection combo that had me completely out of commission for four days.  Then John got it too, but only the flu part. He's better for the most part, but I'm still having some sinus symptoms.  Needless to say, I didn't eat much worth writing about last week.  Lots of Gardein Crispy Tenders and noodle soup bowls.  But last night, we had tickets to see comedians JB Smoove and Richard Lewis in Boston.  The tickets were one of my Christmas gifts to John, so there was no way we were missing it.  Smoove & Lewis, who are cast members in the wonderfully ridiculous HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm," are two of the funniest people ever to both John and me.

Before the show, we decided to try grabbing some dinner.  We've tried a number of the places in & around Boston, but the relatively new Pulse Cafe in Somerville is a place we've missed so far.  I checked out the menu on their website beforehand, and it looked like a good place to fall off the healthy vegan food wagon for a night of indulging, so we went for it.  We were able to find free street parking a block or so away, which was both miraculous and probably illegal.  The restaurant is 100% vegan, which is also miraculous (and thankfully not illegal).  I do think it's a great thing to go out to not 100% vegan places to ask for vegan options so that vegan-ness becomes more mainstream, but I will also say, there is something so fantastic about not having to worry about whether or not I can trust the restaurant staff to understand what "no animal products" means.  Behold the easy way to be a fat vegan:

Vanilla & Chocolate Milkshakes

This coconut milk-based shake was definitely Georgia-approved.


Appetizer - Loaded Fries - French fries with cheezy sauce, sour "cream", and tempeh bacon

Bacon Cheeseburger - House made patty, cheeze, tempeh bacon, garlic aioli, & veggies on a multigrain bun

Philly Cheeze Steak - Peppers, onions, seitan "steak", and Daiya mozzarella on flatbread

I ordered the burger and John ordered the cheesesteak, but we ended up swapping, because his sandwich was too cheezy.  It was supposed to come on a sub roll, which would have balanced out the cheeze better, but they had run out.  I loved it, but the lack of bread did make it a bit rich.  The burger was very tasty, if a little small.  I would probably get a side salad with it next time to round out the meal.  The loaded fries were just as delicious as they look; in fact, I wish I had some now!  They had a number of dessert options, but since we were in a bit of a hurry at that point, we ended up grabbing two of their homemade glazed doughnuts to go.  They were made to order and warm.  I was totally in love!  They were very doughy and not very sweet, but that was okay to me, because I am a bread maniac, but John wasn't that impressed.  I think he would have gone for the apple crisp with ice cream if we hadn't already had milkshakes.  

With tip, it was $50, which is definitely on the pricey side for an appetizer, two sandwiches, a couple of milkshakes and a couple of small doughnuts, but it's about what should probably be expected for dinner in Boston.  The portion sizes were on the smaller side as well, but considering that the food is rich, that's probably a good thing.  We would check this place out again sometime when we are in the Boston area for a night out, and they do brunch on the weekends as well, which would be worth a try.

John's out on an acting job tonight so I'm flying solo.  I went to the movies once already (saw The Rite - it was okay - standard demon possession stuff with the added bonus of creeptastic Anthony Hopkins), and I might go again later after I work on our short film editing project for a while, if I can work up the nerve to go back out again in the cold & wind tonight.  Quite a few things to post this week, and I'm hoping I can get to them.  Right now, I think I'm going to head into the kitchen and find something to eat.  I ran out of Gardein, so I might be in trouble!  :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Slow Cooker Vegetable Stew

Hi, I'm back!  I want to apologize for disappearing for a week.  It wasn't necessarily because I wanted to, but more because I've been going non-stop since last week.  I almost always have quite a few irons in the fire, but this last week, it's all converged to make me a little nuts.  Besides the blog and the full time plus job, John & I have a film production company business as well, in addition to him being an actor (and me driving him to auditions so he doesn't have to pay to park in Boston or Providence -- and he got the Providence job by the way, hooray!).  We work in non-fiction and fiction both, and depending on the project we could be handling everything from writing to pre-production to packaging and selling an end product.  Right now, we are also interested in getting into some freelance video editing.  So over the last week, I've been on the road a lot while also working and trying to stick to my every day exercise program and eating halfway decently and maybe getting at least 6 hours of sleep.  So no big deal, right?

The good news is, I have plenty of things to post, so provided I have time and can shut up about my life long enough to talk about food, I should be able to jump on a few times this week to share some of the recipes I've had lately.  The most thematically appropriate for this post seems to be this one, which uses my most neglected kitchen appliance, the slow cooker.  I don't know what it is about me and the slow cooker, but it's just not something I think of using very often.  I know how easy and convenient it is, but I guess I tend to be more hands-on with cooking.  The only meal I tend to think of as a definite crock-pot dish is stew.  I used to make beef stew a few times each winter, so I decided to make it without the beef (or seitan or another meat substitute) this time and see what happened.  What happened?  A hearty, healthy and delicious vegetable stew!  It's also oil free, so I think it would fit in with Eat to Live and McDougall followers.

Chunky Vegetable Stew

3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut on the bias
6 small potatoes (Yukon gold), peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
1 cup cooked lima beans
1 can green beans, drained
1 large can diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
Garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except spices in slow cooker.  If necessary, add water to make sure vegetables are mostly covered.  Cook on low for 6 hours, stirring occasionally if possible.  In last 30 minutes, add spices, stir, and simmer.  A light touch with the salt is best.    

I almost never eat corn or lima beans but when I had them in this stew I remembered how much I love them.  They taste so good with tomato for some reason!  I almost always am saying in my recipes to adapt based on what you have on hand, and that is no different here, but I will also say that something about this combo is particularly tasty.  This would probably be pretty great with cornbread, but we just ate it as is.

We managed to make it through Tuesday without a full-on blizzard, which is more than I could have said for the last two weeks, and the sun was actually still out when I left work today, so that has me in a better frame of mind.  Hope the same holds true for the rest of you!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Almost Homemade Vegan Dinners

Tonight, central Massachusetts is experiencing a brief respite between massive snowstorms.  I am in a hotel room about a mile away from my office so that I could minimize my driving time.  My Hyundai Accent is a great little car, but it's not a snow plow, and I'm hoping that by the time my workday is over tomorrow, a lot of the 2 feet plus of snow will be fallen and pushed out of the way so that I can get home without too much trouble.

Needless to say, these are the times when being vegan can be really difficult.  I didn't know the extent of the snow we were getting until this morning, and when I saw that it could be in the 25 inches range, I threw together a suitcase hoping I would be able to spend the night closer to work.  (I'm only about a 20 minute drive away on a normal day, but that has stretched into over an hour when we get snow like this.)  I also threw two days worth of breakfast and lunch into a bag (English muffins with Smart Bacon and vegan "egg" for brekky sandwiches, a tofu "egg" salad sandwich, an apple, and some leftover pizza--yes, sad food, I know--I was in a big hurry), and grabbed a few dollars worth of quarters for vending machines in case of emergency.  Tonight, I got capellini pomodoro from Olive Garden right next to my hotel.  Vegan?  Yes.  Blog-worthy?  No.  But at least I got a hot meal and a big (dry) salad.  Plus John talked me into bringing my laptop so I can post a couple of the things I've been sitting on for a while.

Both of these meals are homemade except for one convenient ingredient each.  In both cases, it was something I had sitting around for a night when I was short on time but still wanted to make sure I got something healthful and veggie-packed.

Vegan Chorizo Potato Hash

5 medium potatoes (Yukon golds are good in this), uniformly diced, peeled if not organic
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium to large green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms (button or cremini)
1/2 tomato, diced
1 package soy chorizo (sold at Trader Joe's and other well-stocked supermarkets)

Parboil potatoes in a large saucepan over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until slightly yielding but still holding shape.  In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, saute onions and peppers in small amount of water until onions are beginning to soften.  Add drained potatoes and stir fry for a few minutes.  Add mushrooms and continue to stir fry until potatoes and mushrooms are beginning to brown.    Add chorizo and continue to stir fry.  When chorizo is heated through, add tomatoes and stir fry for several minutes until tomatoes begin to lose shape.  At this point, onions and pepper should be tender crisp, potatoes cooked through, mushrooms browned and chorizo starting to brown.  Makes about 5 servings.

It's not the most attractive meal, but it's tasty and filling, and it's one of the first vegan meals I ever thought up.  John is a "meat" and potatoes kind of guy, so it's something he really enjoys and always wants an extra serving of.  Interestingly, the package of soyrizo I used this time had a similar recipe printed right on the package.  

Cauliflower Chickpea Curry

1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1/2 head of cauliflower
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 jar of vegan curry simmer sauce (I used Trader Joe's brand, but Seeds of Change makes a few truly excellent varieties as well)
Cooked brown rice

Saute onions and peppers in water over medium heat until slightly softened.  Add cauliflower, chickpeas, and simmer sauce.  Mix well and lower heat to low.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower has softened to tender crisp.  If mixture becomes too thick, add water and stir.  Once cauliflower reaches desired texture, serve mixture over cooked brown rice.  Makes 4-5 servings.

John & I both love Indian food, and I got an Indian vegan cookbook for Christmas, but I haven't had a chance to really get involved with it yet.  Right now, with the amount of snow we have on the ground, even the simplest trip to the grocery store takes more than twice as long as it should  Maybe when all this snow finally subsides I'll be able to get to one of the nearby Indian groceries and pick up a few ingredients to experiment with.  For the time being though, with how busy I have been, and how little I care to leave the house, this will definitely do!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Vegan-niversary to Me!

Today marks the end of my second year as a vegan!  I drove John down to an audition in Providence tonight, and we decided to get a couple of vegan pizzas from Nice Slice.  It's a pizza & sandwich place right near Brown University.  It's not 100% vegan, but they can make practically everything on their menu vegan.

We went with the Phoni Roni and the Philly Cheez Steak.

After the ride back from Rhode Island, the pizza was a little chilly, but it was still very good.  I love to cook pizza at home, but it's also great to be able to get takeout on a busy night when we feel like celebrating.  Being able to get vegan brick oven pizza also reminds me that I'm not missing a single thing without dairy and meat!

Our favorite omni food was pizza, and when we initially went vegetarian, we were eating cheese pizza more than anything else.  It was kind of ironic, since I had initially intended to go veg for health reasons, and there are only a few things less healthy than cheese, especially for lactose-intolerant me.  We decided to give up dairy for a month to see how we responded.  As it turned out, it was the best decision I ever made.  I lost about 35 pounds within the month!  It took longer to completely detoxify, and it was really difficult.  I had an outbreak on my face, not just of pimples but also cold sores and even a boil.  I also got a terrible ear infection that wouldn't respond to treatment.  After three months, I was finally rid of all the terrible effects of a dairy-filled diet, and I have never looked back.  Much like my initial transition to vegetarianism, my transition to veganism started out selfish; I just wanted to improve my health and give myself a little edge over the cardiovascular disease that runs in my family.  But what kept me from backsliding wasn't thinking about myself; it was thinking about animals.  I finally made myself confront what it really means to eat meat or to ingest dairy products and eggs, and once I did that, it became impossible to go back.  There are so many common sense reasons to go vegan, and now that I have 2 years under my belt, I couldn't imagine living my life any other way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Alfredos

A food that I almost never ate as an omnivore that I have ironically embraced in its vegan form is alfredo.  (Another is mayonnaise.  I guess I am a silken tofu junkie!)  I had fettucine alfredo a few times, always just heated up out of a jar, never made from scratch.  For some reason, after being vegan for about six months, I got a huge craving for this creamy comfort food.  I tried a number of different recipes, but none of them quite hit the spot, and one of them was downright nasty.  So I gave up for a while.  Then, for Christmas 2010, I got the book Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia Simpson  and thought, what the heck, I'll try again.  She has two recipes, and I tried the easier one.  And it was heaven.  Creamy, cheesy, fatty heaven.  It's been our go-to alfredo recipe ever since, and while I don't think any other alfredo will taste quite as good, it's that fatty part that has me concerned.  The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of oil.  Since we usually end up eating half of the recipe each, that means 1/4 cup of oil just in my serving, and that's 400 calories of pure fat.  Now that I am tracking calories and attempting to cut down on added fat, this recipe just doesn't work for me every day.  Does that mean I will give it up completely?  Not on your life!  But maybe now I'll have it twice a year instead of once a month.

I prefer my alfredo sauce over rotini with a lot of pepper.

After making the smart decision to cut back on my alfredo consumption, I was hit with the realization that I would have a pretty hard time giving up on alfredo completely. Fortunately, I have Happy Herbivore's e-cookbook, which features a low fat, oil free alfredo.  I remembered trying it before and thinking it was okay, so I tried it again.  I must have had to adapt or leave out a few ingredients last time, because this time, it turned out to be great! It isn't completely traditional-tasting (one of the ingredients is nutmeg, which I think turned John off it completely), but I thought it was a very good low fat recipe for a creamy, cheesy pasta sauce.  It definitely satisfied my craving for creaminess and nutritional yeast (yes, I crave nutritional yeast; I love the taste!).  I'm not sure if this recipe appears in the new Happy Herbivore cookbook yet (my copy is not in my hands yet),  but there is a similar recipe on her website, if you google "Instant Vegan Alfredo."

Even less guilty with a green salad drizzled with homemade maple-mustard dressing!

The healthier eating and daily exercise is paying off pretty well so far, since I've lost about 6 pounds in a little over a week.  I am getting kind of fatigued with the calorie tracking, because between my job, tracking food, and blogging, I feel like I'm on the computer all day.  But it is definitely worth it to see the numbers on the scale going down, and feel my energy level bursting through the roof, since that is usually far from the case at this time of year when it's dark and cold.  

I'm going to sign off and get cozy for another big snowstorm tonight.  Hope you are all staying warm and enjoying your night!  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Four Fun Facts & Further Falafel

My title might not make much sense, but I had to go for it with the alliteration!

The fantastical Jenny of Vegan And So Forth tagged me with Four Fun Facts.  If you haven't clicked on her in my blog roll yet, please go ahead and do it.  You'll love everything about her and her adorable family.

So here we go!

Four TV Shows I Watch:

I don't watch much current TV, so I would have to take it to the DVD's/Netflix and say:

1.  Star Trek (original series & Next Gen)
2.  Real Time With Bill Maher
3.  True Blood
4.  Sketch comedy (Kids in the Hall, Monty Python, Mr. Show)

Four Things I'm Passionate About:

This is pretty tough to narrow down, because I think I'm a pretty passionate person; annoyingly so, in fact.  My friends are nodding right now...

1.  Veganism......of course!
2.  Traveling, especially to Hawaii or to explore a city I haven't visited yet (I've been to 47 states).
3.  Reading and writing, and Shakespeare
4. Music (listening to it, playing it, singing it, writing it, everything about it)

Four Words/Phrase I Use Too Much 

I had to consult John, and he couldn't think of anything.  I'm usually pretty conscientious about not overusing phrases, but if I fall into any traps, they would be:

1.  In my opinion
2.  Pretty Cool
3.  So.....
4.  Really?

Four Things I've Learned From The Past

1.  Be aware that some people will mistake your kindness for weakness.  Don't expect it from everyone, but understand how to interpret the signs and assert yourself so that you don't get lost.

2.  Most of the time, no one is really thinking about your mistakes as much as you are.  They are too wrapped up in their own.

3.  99% of the things on your to-do list are completely unimportant in comparison to sitting quietly with someone you love and feeling the sun on your face.

4.  The only thing that can stop you from living the life you want to live is you.  If you allow yourself to give up some of that control, you will slowly but surely coast onto the path you were meant to walk.

Four Things I'm Looking Forward To:

1.  SPRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2.  Vacation - even just the planning part, which often ends up being just as much fun as the trip itself
3.  Visiting my family in Mississippi this spring/summer
4.  Working on a new video production project with John

Four Things I Love About Winter

Wow, this is just a cruel and unusual question at the moment, considering the possible foot of snow headed toward me, that will be landing on what's already stacked up.

1.  It ends?  Maybe????????
2.  Christmas & my birthday
3.  Winter clothes, I like sweaters much more than t-shirts
4.  Vegan hot cocoa

So (Really?) I will be tagging a couple of other folks who I have been fortunate enough to meet since I started this blog a mere 24 days ago, who have been really supportive and friendly commenters on my blog:  Melody and Laloofah.  Ladies, in my opinion, you are pretty cool.

In other news, I wanted to let you know that I tried the falafel sandwich at Firewood Cafe, a new little restaurant that's only a few blocks from my house.  We were helping some friends move and needed to grab a quick lunch.  Instead of stopping and grabbing a horrendously overpriced sandwich to go from the local health food store, we decided to pop in and compare the Firewood's falafel to some of the others in town.  This restaurant is just getting started, but if their falafel sandwich is any indication, they should be in good shape.  The sandwich is not on the menu (the falafel mentioned is a salad), but they didn't bat an eye when I asked for it.  It's almost like a salad rolled up in a pita, because there's a ton of lettuce involved.  I found that to be a positive, since it was so crisp and fresh.  There's also red onion and tahini sauce, which is nicely not overpowering, as it can often be when people glop it on haphazardly.  The price is very nice, at less than $20 for two of us to have a sandwich, chips, and a soda.  At the moment, their drink and side selection is limited, but we were told that other options are on the way soon, including fries and a BYOB option.

I promise there is some falafel hiding in there somewhere!

This is only half of the sandwich, as I hoovered down the first half instantaneously.  Hey, we were helping people move!  Lots of stairs!  Heavy stuff!  10 degrees out!  Hahaha. Seriously though, totally recommended for an inexpensive, filling meal on a weekend afternoon.  Try it out!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cooking with What You Have

Today, even though I was standing downtown in the freezing cold for over an hour, I had one of the best, most rewarding experiences I've had in a while.  That's because John & I volunteered today with our local Food Not Bombs chapter to cook and serve free "rescued" food to anyone who wanted some.  The Food Not Bombs movement has independently run local chapters whose purpose is to gather vegan and vegetarian food that would otherwise be thrown away, prepare it, and serve it to the public.  John has always liked volunteering to feed people, and with how much I love to cook, it was a natural fit for me as well, but it was also a heck of a unique experience!

The Worcester group seems to have recently experienced a change in members, so it ended up that John and myself, along with the group leader Julia, were the whole group (at least today).  We showed up at noon to see what we had to cook with.  I sometimes cook at home based on what I have hanging around, especially when making a tofu scramble or a stir fry, but this was definitely my first experience with having such a specific and limited range of ingredients to work from, and my first time to make such a huge serving size.  I'm usually cooking just for two, and maybe making enough for four so I can have leftovers. We had about 8 eggplants, 10 yellow squash, a great deal of baby bok choy, a package of mushrooms, and some tomatoes.  Julia and her housemates also had a great variety of spices and other staples like oil and soy sauce to work with as well.  Based on what we had, we decided to do a stir fry.  I taught John how to chop squash, and he did a great job (seriously, he was a champ!) manning the two stir fry skillets.  We had to use a third pot since we had so many veggies, so I decided to add all the tomatoes to that pot and make a kind of curry soup.  (Sorry, iPhone pics again...)

Veggie Stir Fry - This started in two pans and cooked down to one

Curry Soup

Both dishes plus brown rice - pay no attention to the grilled cheese in the foreground -- not for us!

The curry soup started out as more of a riff on ratatouille, but about halfway through, after looking at the spices, I decided to go Indian instead.  It turned out to be a big hit with John, and I was happy we made a soup since it was so cold, and the people on the street were very excited about it.   The other challenge I didn't mention, which turned out to be my favorite thing of all, is that we cooked all of this on a wood-burning stove!  It was challenging, but so much fun to cook the old-fashioned way!  We also had bags of oranges and some bread that we gave out as well.

At the moment, the main challenge for Food Not Bombs Worcester is to get people out to eat the food.  Although we were able to serve quite a few meals (and we got rid of all our oranges and bread), we still had a good bit of soup and stir fry veggies left over.  However, with the cold today, we still considered it a great success.  John and I will definitely be volunteering again, and hopefully going forward we can get more consistent with when and where we serve food so that we can get more people out to eat.  If anyone in the Worcester area (of like the two of you who read my blog, haha) is interested in volunteering, let me know.  We plan to try to make and serve these meals every other Saturday, more than likely somewhere on Main Street until spring comes.  Next time, I will post as soon as I have more info so any of you who wants to can come on down and eat!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Snobby Joe Kind of Day

When I left the house to go to work this morning, I was pretty happy that the roads didn't look too terrible, considering we got freezing rain from yesterday afternoon until early this morning.  My driveway, on the other hand, was a different story.  It was a total ice rink! Fortunately, after a few tries, I was able to get the car out into the street, and I managed to do it without killing (or maiming) a pedestrian or causing an accident.  After the big storms that we've had two weeks in a row, with no melting time in between, the shoveled snow is piled up on either side of the driveway over 5 feet high.  Then I hear that we are supposed to get another foot of snow on Friday.  UGH.  I am not a winter person even when it's just cold and the ground is clear, but these types of winters, where you're taking your life into your hands every time you go to work, really do bad things to me.  I get the blahs something awful.

In addition, I'm team captain of a healthy eating/weight loss challenge at work, so I've been getting into a new routine with eating and exercising.  I guess since I'm the vegan, I'm a natural choice to lead the team toward healthier eating (and believe me, I'm pushing plant-based meals; I like to convert through delicious food since I don't want to bring politics to work--just wouldn't be a great idea at my job), but over the winter so far, I've been more of a baked goods and convenient, quick meals vegan than an oil-free whole foods vegan.  I know most people choose to make their dietary changes on New Year's Day, but since my birthday is on January 3, I like to postpone any food-related resolutions until later in the month.  So this challenge is well-timed for me in that respect, but in another way, it's not perfect, because with this kind of weather, all I want to do is eat cookies and curl up in bed, not work out and cook healthy meals.  So tonight, I tried to compromise.

I was definitely in a sandwich mood, and I was thinking about some type of burger-style food, but none of the recipes I was finding were appealing to me, so I decided to go with the Snobby Joes from Veganomicon, aka the vegan bible.  It seemed like a good choice, because it's comforting and super-delicious, and even better news for you, the recipe is online here:  So you can try it yourself!  I made a couple of changes, using brown lentils instead of green, and eliminating the oil to lower the calories & fat (by sauteeing the onion & pepper in water).  Otherwise, there's not much reason to change something that is working so well.

Those are some sexy sweet potatoes in the front, dry roasted with salt, pepper & garlic powder

Although this wasn't a dinner I could curl up in bed with (lentils in the bed doesn't sound like a good time, but I guess I have some friends who would disagree--you know who you are!), it certainly hit the spot.  It felt like a guilty pleasure, but there was nothing to be guilty about!

To those of you who are in the central Massachusetts area, stay warm and be safe on the road.  The life you save may be mine!  To those of you elsewhere, please be appreciative that you are elsewhere.  As for me, I'm going to keep exercising and trying to eat good mood food, because even I am getting tired of my miserable attitude!  ;-)