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!