Thursday, May 31, 2007

The British Vegan Conspiracy

I couldn't help but laugh at some of the latest vegan-related media coming out of the UK. First up is a piece from, which straight away explains their bias. Here is a link to their article entitled, "Is There A Secret Vegan Plan?". It reveals that the British government has a secret plan to turn the nation vegan, largely in part due the climate impact of factory farming. They also report that the National Farmers' Union president stated that there may actually be benefits for the environment with more intensive farming of livestock. Huh? Not surprising given who he represents. He has also made calls to the British consumers to purchase more lamb and support increased meat prices. This week is 11th National Barbeque Week in Britain, which I think should be renamed "Mad Cow on the Barbi"....

Also, this week Heather Mills announced that she was vegan (thought she was already?), and she was slammed (for slamming factory farming) in this article. The reporter seems to have a bit of a sore spot for Heather....

Back on the homefront, last night I tried out a new recipe and an awesome sauce. John's love of mushrooms led me to Truffled Wild Mushroom on Whipped White Beans from the April 2007 issue of Vegetarian Times. I used portobello, shitake, and oyster mushrooms and subbed dried thyme for fresh (much less than the recipe called for). This dish led me to purchase truffle oil for the first time (have only tried it once before at a restaurant), which has a very distinctive, rich flavor. The whipped white beans were delicious and could have easily passed for a healthier version of mashed potatoes.

On the side we had some steamed kale with cashew cream sauce from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. The sauce was excellent, a perfect balance to the bitter kale. And luckily it made plenty of leftover sauce! I used the option of adding nutritional yeast. The ingredients sounded kind of funny to me, but trust me, you'll love it.

We also tried some ripe apriums, according to wikipedia a complex cross hybrid of plum(25%) and apricot (75%). You really can taste both plum and apricot! Finally, I had some yaya's coconut kream pie (raw and organic) that I purchased at the farmer's market. It was such a refreshing dessert on a warm evening. Plus I think their ingredients list is so cute!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The City of Roses

For Memorial Day weekend, John and I took a quick trip to Portland, Oregon to get away from the Texas heat (and as it turns out, a soggy weekend here in Houston). We were greeted with an amazing view of Mt. Hood as our four hour flight came to an end. Then we picked up our rental car, fitting that it was a green Prius in one of the nation's most "green" cities, and headed to our bed and breakfast on the northeast end of town, the Georgian House.

After dropping off our bags, we mustered up the energy to go out for a late dinner (10pm Houston time) at the Blue Moose Cafe. It was a hopping place, very cozy and casual, with a nice local feel. John ordered the tofu egg sandwich while I opted for a big burrito filled with rice, beans, veggies, and tofu chipotle sauce. His plate was more photogenic, and of course I tried a couple bites as well. We enjoyed the atmosphere as well as the food at this little cafe. On the way out I picked up a piece of vegan chocolate cake that I quickly gobbled up once we got back to the room before we both passed out on the bed.

Saturday morning came quickly, and we were up early because of the time change. This gave us a chance to take a walk around the neighborhood, admiring all the blooming rhododendron, roses, and many other flowers. We took a peek at some of the prices on a few homes for sale .... yikes! Makes me appreciate the reasonable cost of living down in Houston. After a light breakfast of fruit and toast (no vegan breakfast at this b&b), we drove into town to explore. Our first stop was VooDoo Donut where I got a chocolate covered vegan donut, mmmmm. Luckily we don't have vegan donuts here or I might eat them every day.

We made our way through Chinatown to the Classical Chinese Garden, one of the nicer Chinese gardens we have seen. As geologists, we marveled at the Tai Hu rocks (vuggy limestone) and the intricate stonework of the walkways. Fresh, blooming, brilliant-colored peonies filled one of the rooms with a lovely fragrance. I took this photo when I noticed the striking difference between the classical Chinese architecture and the modern skyscrapers of the city.

After the gardens, we strolled along the Willamette River down to the Saturday Market and browsed the selection of arts and crafts. Though it was still early, we made lunch our next stop at Veganopolis, a cute little cafeteria-style eatery in the heart of downtown Portland. John got the Seitan Pesto Sandwich and I had the Democracy Burger, both came with a side of slaw. My burger was quite tasty, I really liked the almond feta (must learn to make that). John's sandwich was also very good, after all, you can't go wrong with pesto, spinach, and a ciabatta roll. Our only complaint was that there was not enough seitan. Overall, a great place for lunch, and and it was also nice to feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of choices I had, which doesn't happen at too many restaurants I frequent.

For the afternoon we explored the Pearl District, downtown, and then headed west to Washington Park. Though not in full bloom, we visited the International Test Rose Garden and snapped some amazing close-ups. Finally, we visited the Japanese Gardens for a few moments of contemplation and meditation among the ponds, waterfall, gardens, and stones. The last stop before heading back to the room was Food Fight grocery store, a must-visit in Portland for every vegan! I was surprised at how small it was, given their wide selection of vegan goodies. I picked up some vegan energy bars, "beef" bouillon, vermints, a "Factory Farms are Mean and Nasty" sticker, Road's End Whole Wheat Mac and Chreese, a bright red Food Fight grocery bag, and a pecan sticky bun from Dovetail Bakery. Check out their online store if you haven't already and support an all-vegan grocery store!

After cleaning up a bit, we went out to dinner at Vege Thai in the hip Hawthorne neighborhood. We were happy to find out that we could bring in our own bottle of wine with no corkage fee (a very smooth Brooks pinot noir)! To start with, we tried the appetizer sampler with spring rolls, crispy wontons, bbq and fried tofu, and "chicken" nuggets. The plate was served with sweet and sour sauce and a yummy peanut sauce. For our entrees, I got the Pad Ki Mow noodles and John had the mixed vegetable stir fry. It was a ton of food, we enjoyed every bite we could stuff into ourselves. I must admit I was a little freaked out by the "beef" and couldn't eat it, but John loved it. We took the leftovers back to the b&b, finished a glass of wine on the veranda under some blankets, then headed to bed.

Sunday we got up early and drove up the Columbia River Gorge for a hike. I splurged and had my pecan sticky bun for breakfast along with a rice and soy milk blend. We decided on Dog Mountain (on the Washington side), a moderate length hike with a healthy dose of up and down (7 miles, 2800 vertical ft). Views of the gorge were spectacular (but a bit hazy) and we were in time to see the wildflowers in full bloom. Out of the cover of the forest, the wind was fierce and we only stayed on top long enough to enjoy some fresh sliced watermelon a nice family offered us (the dad brought the thing all the way up, he didn't want to carry it down too!) and snap a few more pictures. On the drive back we stopped at the Cathedral Ridge Winery for some wine tasting.

To celebrate John's birthday, we went to the Farm Cafe for dinner. Even though it was early, the charming Victorian house was packed with young hipsters enjoying fresh, seasonal dishes using local produce when possible. A reporter and cameraman from CNN were there doing a story on up-and-coming neighborhoods. After toasting his special day with a glass of wine (he had a merlot, me a sauvignon blanc), we both started off with salads, mine was strawberries and toasted almonds on greens (his was a green salad with crusted baked goat cheese). I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't jip you on the strawberries, I had plenty to go with every bite till the very end! Next up was the herb crusted tofu with mashed potatoes and mushrooms in a marsala sauce. It was very rich and I enjoyed the crispiness of the crusted tofu, the creaminess of the potatoes, and the earthy flavor of the mushrooms mixed together. John was also very impressed by his (non-vegan) meal of halibut and roasted asparagus on a bed of lentils. Overall, it was the perfect meal to end our weekend in Portland.

And not forgetting a birthday dessert, we had cupcakes waiting for us back at the b&b from Saint Cupcake. From left to right they are chocolate with vanilla frosting (vegan), vanilla dot with pistachio frosting (not vegan), and red velvet with vanilla frosting (vegan). I have never seen John enjoy dessert so much! These were amazing cupcakes and has inspired me to bake more of my own, but not until I recover from this weekend full of food!

Sadly, we left for the airport on Monday morning on what looked to be another gorgeous day in Portland (hard to believe it rains so much). We got lucky with an upgrade to first class, finally all those easy pass miles paid off! As we flew south, we said goodbye to the same views we were greeted with, Mt. Hood (this time with fewer clouds) as well as Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier. All good things must come to an end though, and we landed in water-logged Houston, and sat on the tarmac for over half an hour waiting for a gate.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Too Much Time in the Kitchen

This week I tried several new recipes, and also rediscovered some that were tried and true.

First up, last night we dined at a friend's house on homemade pizza and a yummy salad with fresh tomatoes and pecans. I brought along some Chocolate Mint Melties, a cookie recipe from Dreena Burton on the Everyday Dish Cooking DVD (which I'll review shortly I promise!). I am a huge fan of the mint and chocolate combination, if you are too, these cookies are for you! They are firm but moist at the same time and the melted mint chocolate on top is a special treat. These are perfect with a big glass of cold vanilla soy milk (I like Soy Dream). The best part is that we brought some cookies to dinner and I saved a few, so I have them for an afternoon snack at work today when I get my chocolate craving.

Tuesday night was Indian food (or my milder version, my boyfriend always seems to want it hotter no matter how much spice I add!). I love the tofu mattar recipe from vegweb. I usually serve it over brown rice, but not this time. I had forgotten to buy green chiles so instead I spiced it up curry powder and red pepper flakes. Also, be sure to add plenty of fresh ginger, it is so yum! The tofu was frozen and then browned in a little oil (not deep fried as the recipe suggests). Luckily this is a quick meal, because I totally underestimated how much time it would take to make the potato and edamame samosas from VWAV. It took several hours, which on a weeknight is never ideal. But on the brightside it made a ton of samosas which I popped in the freezer so it will be a quick addition to any meal. Couldn't have finished these without the help of my boyfriend, who came home from work and rolled out dough in a button-down shirt and tie! The samosas are really tasty though, a wonderfully aromatic blend of spices. My favorite bites are the ones when I got plenty of edamame, I will add more to the recipe next time. Also, the dough would be great for other fillings as well, since it is light and crispy. Fresh mango topped with toasted coconut complemented the meal nicely.

Monday night we had red peppers stuffed with grated zucchini and yellow squash, mushroom, spinach, pine nuts, and basil pesto. I just stuffed the filling in (no pre-cooking of veggies needed), poked a few holes in the bottom to release some of the moisture, and baked at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. On the side, we split the last of our Gardenburger riblets and had some sweet strawberries. I wish all dinners were this easy to throw together!

And finally, Sunday night we met my mom for Ethiopian food at the Blue Nile Restaurant in west Houston. After calling them and talking to several people about the vegan-ness of their injera bread, I felt comfortable enough to give it a shot (refer to my post on "A Vegan Nightmare"). Both my mom and I got the vegetable plate, which included a fresh salad, three different kinds of lentils, kale (pretty bitter, I've had much better sauteed kale), split peas, and a cabbage and potato salad. I enjoyed all the lentils, and it was kind of fun to scoop them up with the injera bread instead of a fork. The salad was a bit tougher without utensils. Overall it was a reasonable meal. Not sure we will be frequenting this restaurant often since it is a bit of a drive from our place and we have a zillion other restaurants on our list to try. But still, something fun and new is always welcomed!

We leave for Portland, Oregon for a quick weekend getaway tomorrow. I am so excited to try out some of the vegan eateries, visit the Food Fight grocery store, and see all the gardens and markets this "green" city has to offer! We also plan on hiking up along the Columbia River Gorge somewhere, hopefully the weather will cooperate. I'll return on Monday with a full report and pictures! Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and remember those that gave their lives serving our country as well as those that are fighting for it today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Death by Ignorance

If you haven't already, check out this op-ed from the New York Times entitles "Death by Veganism". Also check out other bloggers who have posted their response to the article, including urban vegan, vive le vegan, and lifestyles of the chic and vegan. I could hardly believe what Nina Planck, a self-proclaimed nutritionist, was writing about nutrients that are lacking in a vegan diet. She uses the line, "I used to be vegan..." as if that somehow qualifies her to make completely ignorant and emotional statements.
She points out protein deficiency as a danger for babies on a vegan diet, ignoring research that has shown that one can consume all the essential amino acids from plant foods, without combining proteins. Then she goes on to talk about vitamin B12 deficiencies, which are easily remedied by including a supplement, fortified soy products, and nutritional yeast in your diet. She then seems to say that babies need cholesterol in their diets, even though our bodies make plenty on their own. Maybe she wants to have babies get a jump start on developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other "diseases of affluence".
Sorry for my ranting/raving and sarcasm, but this article really angered me. I think I will take some time to write a less emotional reply to the NYTimes explaining how damaging it is to run these types of completely biased and un-researched articles that lack scientific evidence. I will post this later as an update!

**** UPDATE 05/23/07 ****

So it took several hours last night after a longer than anticipated cooking night (more about that tomorrow), but here is my letter to the editor. My boyfriend was extremely instrumental, so I must thank him for our discussion and his many suggestions. 150 words goes fast!!

The NYTimes did the public a great disservice by publishing Nina Planck’s op-ed piece entitled “Death by Veganism”. She has taken a tragic, heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect and turned it into a self promoting attack on a way of life that seeks to reduce suffering and promote compassion. It would be easy to refute the majority of claims Ms. Planck makes concerning vegan nutrition using the vast amount of available well-researched, scientific evidence. According to Ms. Planck’s personal website, she is a “food writer and entrepreneur” not a registered dietician.

I ask the editor, did you publish this piece in order to start an open dialogue on the merits of a vegan diet, or simply as a media stunt to promote Ms. Planck and her “entrepreneurial” efforts to monopolize on the coincidental timing of this most unfortunate incident and the release of her book in paperback edition?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Seven Random Things About Me

So here they are, in no particular order except that in which they popped into my mind over the course of a day.....

1. I am afraid of cutting/chopping new vegetables and fruits

I know this sounds strange coming from someone who posts picture of food, most of which includes a healthy dose of fruits and veggies. Before going vegan, my cooking experience included pouring cereal and milk into a bowl three times a day. When I first started cooking, I was very nervous about how to chop veggies and fruits. I was worried I would do it wrong. Things like butternut squash, onions, mango, and pineapple were up at the top of the list. I would slyly ask my boyfriend to chop things the first time so I could take mental notes as to what he was doing. Now I can proudly say though that I have mostly conquered this fear (except for large pumpkins, but I think that's more of a size issue)!

2. I think I am borderline obsessive/compulsive as documented by a series of obsessions throughout my life

For a period of maybe 4 years (maybe from 9 to 12 years old) I was obsessed with koalas. I knew everything about them, had about a zillion stuffed animals all with names, birthdates, and a record of the "immunizations" I had given them, and I had written the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Australia to tell them my plans for coming over there and working for them someday (they're probably wondering what happened!). Next came my political period, I was obsessed with the Kennedy assassination. I ready every book I could get my hands on including the very lengthy Warren Commission Report, had the blueprints of the fateful scene, and even convinced my parents to take me up to Dallas so I could take pictures from every angle on the Grassy Knoll to analyze the lone gunman theory. Following this I was convinced that I wanted to be president one day and figured that I was eligible in the 2016 election (so keep me in mind for the write in ballots). Other obsessions have included running, geology, pointy-toed shoes, and daydreaming about climbing the world's tallest mountains (right now I've only made it to the second highest in the contiguous US, Mt Elbert in Colorado). And my current obsession? I think it's safe to say it's veganism, although as I've gotten older I've found that now I tend not to toss my obsessions aside for new ones .... a good thing because I want to be excited about veganism for the rest of my life!

3. I used to be a vegetarian for all the wrong reasons

In high school, I decided to be a vegetarian, more of a flexitarian really. I was really using this as an excuse not to eat. This was understandably frustrating to my parents. When I decided to go vegan last August for ethical reasons, they were worried at first. But they now understand that I am eating much better than I ever used to and am more heathly because of it. It has even shown them that they can greatly reduce their animal product consumption with positive results for their health, the environment, and the animals.

4. I have a semi-photographic memory

This was always useful for test-taking. I could spend a few hours concentrating on notes and then be able to reproduce it in my mind during the exam. Not as useful anymore since I'm out of school.... but still kind of cool.

5. I always wait till the day taxes are due to send in my return

Strange thing is, I am not a procrastinator in any other way in my normal life.

6. I found myself by getting lost hiking solo in Switzerland

While spending a few months in Europe after finishing my masters degree, I spent about a week hiking around in the alps of Switzerland. On a day hike around the Matterhorn after a dusting of snow in Zermatt, which turned into more of a dusting where I hiked to, I lost the trail I was hoping to follow to get some great views of this magnificent peak. There was no one else to be seen and I felt more alone and isolated than I ever have. That was a soul-searching day, one that I will likely never forget

7. I want to change the world, no matter how impossible of a task it may often seem.

8. (I know the directions only said 7.....) I spent way too much time thinking about these. I need to work on this and just be more spontaneous.

So now I am tagging FoodEater from To Live and Eat in LA and Jess from Get Sconed! If you're interested, tell us 7 random things about yourself ..... and don't think too hard!

Lazy Weekend

Weekends go by way too fast. It is already Sunday morning and before I know it it'll be Sunday night and the weekend will be over. I love Sundays though. This morning I went on a solo long run (my boyfriend went kayaking) and came home to make pancakes, my second favorite breakfast food next to french toast. I splurged (maybe too much!) and added chocolate chips instead of pecans to the banana pecan pancakes recipe from La Dolce Vegan. It felt like eating a dessert pancake, but it was good. I sprinkled a few chocolate chips on top as well. Ate it alongside some Gardenburger Breakfast Sausage and some sliced organic strawberries.

Yesterday I volunteered for a cleanup at Buffalo Bayou, a place where I often run, walk, and bike. The city's drainage unfortunately dumps everything into that bayou, so there's always trash to be picked up. We spent most of the morning removing non-native invasive species (such as the giant ragweed) from a wetland area. It was kind of fun wearing rubber boots and walking around in the mud. The rest of the day was lazy. Made seitan fajitas for dinner and finished off the rest of my new favorite easy meal....tofu scramble. We've had it twice in the last two weeks now. This week I sauteed portobello mushrooms, green peppers, a canned chipotle pepper in adobe sauce, a Field Roast Chipotle Sausage, firm tofu, chile powder, and some turmeric. Served the scramble in a whole wheat tortilla with black beans, spinach, guacomole with plenty of cilantro, and salsa. I could eat these every day!

The rest of Sunday... I have a Society of PEACE meeting to attend at a mostly (95%, which is as good as it gets here in H-town) vegan restaurant, Pepper Tree, to discuss vegan outreach and activist opportunities in the community. Tonight my boyfriend and I are meeting my mom for dinner, considering trying out an Ethiopian restaurant in town if I'm able to confirm that their injera bread is vegan. Also I will be thinking about 7 random things about myself (requested by vko from Lifestyles of the Chic and Vegan), which I'll post by tomorrow if you're interested. Enjoy what's left of the weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Everybody Loves Cake

Last night we celebrated a friend's birthday with a dinner party and finished up with cake and plenty of wine and good conversation at our place. The friend is thinking more and more about veganism (she is very passionate about her two rescued dogs and helping any that she finds on the streets) so I thought, what better way to help her get a step closer than showing her that vegans can still enjoy traditional foods, such as the birthday cake! I made the Super Moist Chocolate Cake and topped it with Coconut Pecan Frosting, both from vegweb. They came highly recommended from the website so I wasn't nervous about it turning out bad. Now I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've iced a cake, so I'm a novice at best. Even though many said the recipe was enough for a two-layer cake, I didn't seem to have enough for the sides. Oh well .... I took the icing that remained and balled it up on top of the cake as a candle stand. The cake was deliciously moist and chocolatey, and how can you not love icing with pecans, coconut, and a not-so-healthy dose of sugar? I served the cake up with some So Delicious Vanilla soy ice cream. Everyone was impressed, the birthday girl even took some home (thank goodness! otherwise I would have eaten it all).

Prior to the cake, we dined at ones of my favorite non-vegan/vegetarian places in midtown Houston; Tafia. I have been there a handful of times, and the food has always been excellent. Last night I started off with a Champassion cocktail and a bowl of curried squash soup. The cocktail, as always, was excellent. The soup had a nice flavor (corn broth based), but it was mostly broth and not much squash, and I didn't even get a hint of spicy curry. It was quite busy last night, so between our appetizer and main course, there were mini-bread rolls that were unfortunately not vegan. Instead of going with my usual baked tofu and portobello mushroom entree (the mushroom is wonderful, the tofu mediocre) and a side, I decided that since there would be cake later, I would go light and eat two vegetable side dishes instead. I had curried cauliflower and pan-roasted carrots with dukkah. The cauliflower was good, but again, no hint of spicy curry and they were a little stingy on the cauliflower. The carrots were awesome, it was my second time having them there. I will be sad to see them leave the menu (it changes seasonally). Dukkah, in case you didn't know (I had to ask the first time) is an Egyptian spice blend. I found a recipe on the web that calls for sesame seeds, roasted chickpeas, hazelnuts, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt, and black peppercorn. I don't know if that's what they used but I'm definitely going to try it out at home. The atmosphere at Tafia is always upbeat and busy, which I enjoy. Plus they also value locally sourced ingredients. The downside to Tafia is that the menu is somewhat limited for vegans as far as entrees go. Although they change out the seasonal meat entrees, the standard tofu and mushrooms is always there. Their alcoholic beverages are also waaaayyyyy overpriced. I appreciate that they serve Texas wine and all, but c'mon, $9 a glass?!? If you're ever in the midtown area though, I do suggest trying it. I've never seen a dead restaurant there, so make reservations!

Earlier this week I used the eggplants and some squash from the farmer's market to make pitas stuffed with eggplant salad from Mediterranean Vegan. We also stuffed some fresh spinach and hummus into the pita. In the background are cherries (expensive but soooo good) and a piece of grilled sweet chili tofu from Whole Foods. A fresh, simple meal that made plenty of good leftovers for lunch.

Even Fruit Flies Have Free Will

Check out this article about fruit flies. Basically some researchers tested fruit flies (which is not vegan by the way) by placing them in a white box with no visual stimuli and recorded their flight movements. Complex mathematical modeling showed that the flight paths of the flies were not random, which implies that the fruit flies decided their own path based on free will. Pretty interesting I thought....

More later today on a simple dinner, a quick Houston-area restaurant review, and some yummy birthday cake!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Does Sex Sell Animal Welfare?

Attention all concerned parents! Cover your children's eyes, PeTA is coming to town! This afternoon PeTA representatives are here in Houston to lead a demonstration against Kentucky Fried Chicken wearing a skimpy yellow bikini and holding a sign that says "KFC tortures chicks" as part of their Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign. Several months ago, PeTA was also in Houston for their "Rather go naked than wear fur campaign", again with nearly naked women leading the way. Do I see a trend here? I know Houston is a hot place in the summer, but is it really necessary to keep taking your clothes off?

Okay so seriously .... I am certainly not the first person to question PeTA's tactics. Check out other blogs and websites such as The Starting Point , Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, and No Status Quo for a more in depth assessment. What strikes me is that PeTA is objectifying women much like big advertising agencies that sell soft drinks, alcohol, and cigarettes do. I simply don't understand why PeTA chooses to run such blatantly sexist campaigns. Now I'm not what I would call a feminist, that is not my agenda here. But I do find their demonstrations and ads offensive. Not only that, but more importantly for the sake of the animals, I find them ineffective. The animal rights movement (of which PeTA isn't even really a part of) should be appealing to people's hearts and minds, not other body parts. Check out PeTA's "State of the Union" address (warning: not suitable for those under 18), which is more like a striptease. For some reason it's hard to focus on the word's coming out of the young woman's mouth (mostly about the "victories" in reducing battery cages and sow crates, not promoting veganism) when she is busy taking off her clothes and the camera is zooming in and out on her breasts. Then of course they have celebrities starring in campaigns who are not even vegan themselves.

So, while PeTA protesters are getting baked in the Texas sun and honked at by dirty old men who could care less about animal welfare or rights, I will be holding my own form of demonstration.....telling people about veganism and how it is the only way to end animal suffering and ownership.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Yay for Moms and a Vegan Food Photo Montage

Happy Mother's Day to all (especially my wonderful mom)!! Last night my parents came over to our place for a mom's birthday/mom's day dinner. Dinner was wonderful and filling (we had mom's homemade bread, sweet potatoes, sauteed squash medley with pesto, spinach salad with mango, strawberry, and blueberries, and pecan crusted seitan), and we barely had room to try my first Vegan Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake, recipe courtesy of Urban Vegan. Although I don't think it would fool any omnivores, it was creamy and light and delicious! Plus I discovered the joys of using a springform pan....what fun!

Earlier on Saturday we went to the farmer's market and picked up plenty of fresh veggies, fruit, and some locally grown flowers for the dinner table. Here is a photo of the spread including: eggplant, cucumber, pattypan, zucchini, and yellow squash, peaches, green bell peppers, green beans, and blueberries.

And here's some more food photos from the past two weeks.....

Seitan and Mushroom Stroganoff from VWAV. I usually put in way more mushrooms and peas than the recipe calls for. It is creamy and way better than the stroganoff I remember from childhood (sorry mom!). My first time eating broccolini, very tasty!

Here's our quick dinner night (ironically we had this on a Sunday, when I actually do have time and energy to cook....) Gardenburger Grilled Chikn Burger with whole grain mustard and avocado. Sauteed some oyster mushrooms with parsley alongside my favorite spring-time vegetable, roasted asparagus (I could eat this every day, really).

This was a quick and tasty salad....Tantalizing Thai Slaw from Compassionate Cooks. Loved the crunchyness of the peanuts and cabbage. Quick and easy to make too. I left out the onions because I don't like raw onion breath.

And finally a Rainbow Vegetable Curry, modified from Vegan Chef, served over brown rice. I added kale and some red lentils, as well as a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Usually we don't eat our curries with coconut milk, but this time we splurged (with the light variety of course).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spring Cleaning and a Spring Salad

Since becoming a vegan, I have made every effort to eliminate the use of all animal products wherever possible (supposedly tires for your car and even books aren't truly vegan due to the glue they use in the binding!). The food has been the easiest part, I can't even count how many new recipes I've tried over the past 9 months since going vegan!
One thing that I have held on to a bit longer from my previously not-animal friendly life, are non-vegan clothing, shoes, and other random accessories. I only recently (~2 years) joined the business dress workforce, and when I did I went a little bit nuts on shopping. It was one of those times where I thought clothes would make me happier in what I thought to be a less than ideal situation (moving from Boulder, CO to Houston , TX was heartbreaking). Turns out I found my place here in Houston after all, but the result was a closet full of wool and silk pants and knit tops and plenty of leather pointed-toe heels, which now sadden me to think about the animals that had to suffer and die to produce them. After making the move to veganism, I tried to wear these clothes less and less and have slowly been trying to replace them. All the while though, they have been sitting in my closet.
Since it is "spring cleaning" season, and work was having a clothes drive today, I figured it was time to finally get rid of them. So, last night I packed up a few boxes of about 15 pairs of shoes, 25 tops, 10 pairs of pants, 4 skirts, and 2 handbags (the closet photo shows non-vegan work clothes separated on the right, please don't laugh at my fashion choices!). At times I was a little nostalgic, folding up my first real suit, or packing a pair of heels that I had especially loved. It's strange how you can get attached to your clothing (maybe this is more of a girl trait?). My more practical side also was a little frustrated at the money I had poured into purchasing these things, only to get rid of them a year or two later. But after the boxes were packed, sealed, and labeled, I started to feel really good. I know these clothes won't be going to waste, they will be distributed to a women's center and maybe give someone else the confidence to land their first job. For me, it was a form of catharsis. I am not fully there yet, I held onto to a few pairs of shoes (some more sensible flats) and a few wool sweaters that have some sentimental value. Eventually I'd like to get rid of my leather couch as well, but this was a good step. And after all, this gives me a reason to treat myself to a little something new, vegan of course!

On an unrelated note, my food obsession lately has been with mangoes....I think I've had them every day this week. Last night for dinner we dined on a Mango Tomato Salad modified from the Vegetarian Times cookbook. My boyfriend continuously begs for salads, so I was happy to appease him with this one. I added avocado and toasted pepitas, as well as replaced some olive oil in the dressing with flax oil. To share, we also gave the Gardenburger BBQ Riblets a try for the first time. I though the texture was nice and the bbq sauce was quite tasty. A quick and easy way to get some additional protein (since we vegans are sooooo deprived of it....ha!). This weekend I am planning on posting a food log from the past week or two, plus my first attempt at vegan cheesecake for mother's day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

HSUS: The Rolex of animal welfare activist groups?

Since the release of the HSUS's "Humane Index" (read my previous blog about how Houston ranked), the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has responded by labeling the HSUS as "basically PETA with a nicer wristwatch." Their press release is quite angering, even for someone like myself who does not really agree with the animal welfare approach (check out Gary Francione's recent blog post on the problems with animal welfare). They also have links on their website for "PETA Kills Animals" and "Animal Scam". The CCF seems to think it should be every American's right to try foie gras and that no matter how much factory farms try to treat animals humanely, the animal movement will never be satisfied (at least they've got that right). Of course, this group is funded by the food and restaurant industry, so their bias is apparent. Still, these types of campaigns are the reason that the animals rights movement needs to truly mobilize efforts towards promoting veganism, not cage-free eggs, not free range chicken, not organic milk, just veganism. The public gets mixed messages when words like animal welfare and animal rights are used interchangeably. Making animal products more "humane" will only provide people with a false sense of morality. How many ex-vegetarians and vegans have you heard say that now that can enjoy a glass of hormone free organic milk or a free range piece of chicken without feeling guilty that animals suffered?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Vegan Marshmallows Exposed!

I just found a link to this CNBC story (through Food Fight) about the quest to find make a vegan marshmallow. Like most of us, I have fond memories of sitting around a fire at Girl Scout camp making Smores and telling ghost stories. And of course there are Rice Krispie treats, a long-time favorite. Although I can't say I've eaten too many marshmallows in my adult life, I do remember making the connection when I went vegan that this was a product I would no longer be consuming due to the presence of gelatin. The story describes two vegans who separately started a quest to make the perfectly gooey vegan marshmallow. Both of their paths led to one ingredient: Emes Jel, a supposedly animal-free kosher gelatin replacement. Turns out that Emes Jel was not so kosher after a series of independent tests. I can't imagine how many vegans consumed their products thinking it was safe! Luckily, one of the marshmallow pioneers continued her quest, and finally got it right. Sweet and Sara marshmallows were named product of the year by VegNews and finding them on the shelves these days is apparently quite difficult. I haven't tried them yet, but as soon as I can I want to get a hold of some of the delectable treats, I have my eye on the Mexican Chocolate Marshmallows. I will report back with my findings (could take a little while, because everywhere I checked they were sold out!!) Be sure to watch the two-part series below!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Cinco de Mayo Festivities

Down here in Texas, Cinco de Mayo is a cause for celebration. Mainly it gives us an excuse to slam down margaritas and devour Mexican food, which really goes on year round here, but is especially out of control today. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the May 5, 1862 victory of the Mexicans over the French army in the Battle of Puebla, not actually the day of Mexican independence as many people assume (which is Sept. 16, 1862). It seems as if today is even more of a celebrated holiday than Texas Independence from Mexico, which occurred on March 2, 1836. But, regardless, it is a fun day to be living in Houston.
To celebrate, my boyfriend and I attended my first Houston Vegan MeetUp at Azteca's Margarita Bar and Grill. I am always a bit nervous meeting new people for the first time, so it was nice to have him along as well. The restaurant was a bit rowdy when we arrived, a group near our table had apparently been there most of the day and several of the girls were actually chasing each other around the tables. The wait staff was slow to respond.... I ordered a mango margarita to start off with and tried my best to avoid the chips and yummy salsa. The margarita was very sweet and I could barely taste any alcohol. As we got more comfortable with the crowd, we found out a bit about the history of the meetup group, a couple's trip to Farm Sanctuary in New York, and shared our frustration and hunger in not getting food for over an hour after we ordered it!! This is a Mexican place, usually they just have everything cooked and just send it through the heaters! I suspect that we threw them off since we ordered from the vegan menu (a separate small piece of paper), the waiter admited he'd never taken an order from it before. When the food finally did arrive, it was pretty reasonable. My bf had mushroom soft tacos and I got black bean enchiladas. We decided that although we may not be going back to Azteca's that we would definitely try out another vegan meetup. We had to split pretty quickly after the food in order to make it to our next Cinco de Mayo party....

I spent most of the afternoon making empanadas modified from a vegweb recipe and Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. For the empanadas, instead of using frozen dough, I made my own crust from the Vegan Lunch Box (I also use this for pizza and calzones). For the filling, I sauteed some Field Roast Chipotle Sausage with shallots, red pepper, and some canned chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. After removing from the heat I added some black beans to the filling. These were hugely popular at the party....people were just getting drunk enough to start having the munchies, and the food from their earlier dinner spread (pork and beef fajitas, glad I missed that) was long gone. They were all gone in less than half an hour, several people admitted to having at least three. Needless to say I will be making these again.

After a not so successful first try with Vegan Cupcakes, I took another shot with what I thought would be appropriate for Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes. I splurged and bought full fat coconut milk. Healthy cupcakes these are not, but the batter was yummy and they filled the house with such an amazing aroma. It was truly a test of self-control not to eat one before the party. I topped them with powdered sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon. After arriving at the party the first thing I did was try one. They were delicate, a bit crumbly, and heavenly chocolatey with just a hint of cayenne pepper at the back of your mouth. Although there were some left at the end of the night (yay, more for me!), the ladies (and a few guys) gave their compliments.

After all that eating yesterday, we ran this morning and took a walk in the ever-increasing Texas heat. The normally large brunch crowd seems absent, maybe they all had too many margaritas last night (not the ones I had though!) Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Vegan Nightmare

I am not usually the kind of person who dreams a lot, but when I do, they seem to last all night long and I barely feel as if I've slept the next morning. Bad dreams are even rarer. But last night I had several, and the final and most vivid dream I had was the kind of dream only a vegan could find scary.....
I was on a field trip with a large group of people (no one that looked familiar to me) and it was our first night together. For some reason, the activity that night was a cooking contest, and everyone was given two ingredients and 30 seconds (yes, I know, a crazy short amount of time) to come up with the tastiest looking dish. I looked down at the plate that was in front of me and there was a pile of seitan cutlets and strips of tempeh. With such a short amount of time to prepare, I simply cut up the fake meat products and tried to arrange them in a fun way as quickly as I could. I remember red lights flashing and buzzers going off signaling that time was nearly up. I was frantic, but finished with a degree of moderate satisfaction given the task.
Then the judges started making their rounds. I felt nervous as I was approached with by a stern-looking woman with a clipboard and pencil. She glanced down at what I had prepared. In order to demostrate the merits of my dish, I picked up a piece of the seitan and ate it, remarking how delicious it was (although, this was not a dream where I could taste, actually I don't think I've ever had a dream where I that possible?). She jotted down a few words on her clipboard and walked away. We all anxiously awaited the announcement of the winner. Finally, they walked over to a girl who had used a tortilla (hey, where did she get that? that wasn't one of the ingredients) to make a wrap of.....did they say chicken strips and bacon?!? I looked down at my plate in horror realizing that I had just eaten chicken. My stomach began to ache and I looked desperately around the room trying to figure out what to do. I saw a man run towards the bathroom with his hand over his mouth....apparently he thought it was seitan too.
The dream ended with me in my hotel room, trying to figure out how to get out of this field trip that was supposed to last for two weeks. These cooking challenges were going to be daily occurences and before getting to my room I learned that they would all involve meat. I called my boyfriend and told him I had to figure out a way to get on the next flight home.....

If I had to analyze my own dream, I would say that this dream is related to my fear of being fed animal products when I am not in control of the food. Everytime I go out to eat I am a little nervous. Like the rest of you, I've had bacon tossed in my salad, cheese melted on my pasta, and butter drowning my vegetables. The scariest thing is when you don't know, but are only suspicious and can't prove anything. A friend of mine told me her boyfriend knowingly lied to several vegetarian friends, saying that the soup was fine for them to eat at a dinner party when it was made with chicken stock! At least you can wake up from a bad dream.....

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Meat and Republicans.....Hand in Mouth

The results are in ..... Republicans love their meat. Presidential hopefuls were asked by the Associated Press about what type of foods they like to cook. Six out of the seven Republicans chose some kind of animal flesh. Of the Democrats, 3 of the 7 chose meat or another definitively non-vegan item (scrambled eggs).....others may be left to some interpretation (milkshake made with soy milk? vegan chili or pasta?). Only 7% of all the candidates made an undoubtedly vegan choice (okay, so that's only 1 out of 14 and we all know it was Dennis Kucinich). Unfortunately, I don't think these results will have a major influence on voters when election year rolls around. At least none of the candidates chose a cute little (and alive)kitten as their prey of choice. So maybe America is moving in the right direction....

Speaking of meat eaters, this weekend our townhome association had a resident cookout potluck. Although this included the usual hamburgers, whole-roasted chicken on a spit, mayo-drowned potato salad, and cheese-laden three bean dip.....I had more vegan options than anticipated. This included a yummy red cabbage salad (brought by a neighbor who owns a restaurant in downtown Houston, Dharma Cafe), vegetarian baked fava beans, plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, and some pineapple, mango, and red pepper kabobs that my boyfriend made especially for me (such a sweetheart). I made a quinoa salad based on a recipe from my mom with black beans, corn, red pepper, avocado, and plenty of cilantro. Many of our neighbors were curious as to what quinoa was and liked the taste...what an awesome little grain. I also made two kinds of cookies, my tried-and-true Happy Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies and a test of the Gigantoid Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance (except I made mine normal-sized instead of gigantoid). They both came out delicious, but I made way too many. Brought them to work the next day, posted with a sign that said "Have a homemade Vegan Cookie :-)" and they were gone within a few hours (I think the word vegan caused a little hesitancy at first, food does not last long at work). And to my delight, someone wrote me a note asking for the recipe! A small vegan victory.....