Sunday, September 30, 2012

Welcome to Vegan MoFo 2012 (tomorrow)!

When registration became available for Vegan MoFo 2012, I clicked the link on auto-pilot; last year was FUN.  Besides the minor delay in determining my blog's URL RSS feed (or some such), I plowed through the content like a champ.  When it came to the part where you have to explain your MoFo theme, I did hesitate for a micro-second, but rambled on about something that made sense at the time and referenced last year's theme snafu.

Yeah; remember 2011's cleanse theme?  That didn't go so well.  The goal behind the cleanse theme was noble, but the reality was too much for me.

I considered that my 2012 theme could revolve around all of the amazing but forgotten cookbooks languishing in my cabinet, but having to prepare big, elaborate meals daily for each day's post would be just as much as an undertaking as a cleanse.  Not to mention that I tend to cook in large quantities that net me leftovers for a week, and having a series such as "MoFo Days 4-9: how I ate eggless salad all week and lived to tell about it" didn't seem ideal.

So, a compromise.  I (still) need to eat healthier and I need to be better about not always cooking the same things that I've had bookmarked in my go-to tomes forever.  Maybe it's not about always relying on recipes, but more about emulating the meals I admire on other people's blogs- tossed together from healthy ingredients they usually have on hand. 

But, let's be realistic; there has to be a pay-off.  So, my proposal is to stock my fridge and pantry wisely in a manner that will foster creativity...and then splurge on the weekends.  Then I'll just post the stuff I think is the best, okay?  Fair enough.  Let's see how I do.  Viva la MoFo!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does New Jersey Have the Best Iced Coffee?

It would seem that Small World Coffee is quite a big deal in Princeton, NJ.  Until recently, I'd never ventured in because a popular, local, coffee place such as Small World seems as though it's intended for serious coffee aficianados- definitely not me.  I've never considered myself a huge coffee fan; unless it's all sweetened and fancied up it's not my style. 

When I mentioned my warped justification to a local, they implored me to try the Small World NOLA, a New Orleans style iced coffee with chickory, homemade vanilla syrup, and milk. Yep, more coffee than milk. Scary, but I was willing to give it a try.

So this is what real coffee is like.  Neither VM's bitter instant, nor the rich and milky lattes I'm used to; this is a drink to be reckoned with. 

Even though Small World is an extremely popular place (their two establishments are within walking distance from one another), my drink was ready almost instantaneously. 

the two locations aren't next door to one another, they just have two signs on the same shop
Boy was it was nice not to be bottlenecked at the end of a counter watching 3 people take drink orders and 1 person create them (ahem).

I'm more than a little disappointed to report that they charge 75 cents for soy milk, but hey- at least they offer it. Contrarily, they have no vegan baked goods at their Witherspoon location (I'm told their Nassau shop often has a vegan oatmeal cookie sandwich).

And I do want to note that there is no decaf option, so if you're like me and are very sensitive to caffeine, prepare to have your excitement over the delicious drink toe the line of possible heart attack as the afternoon wears on with your skin tingling and heart pumping.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

No matter what your level of coffee love, if you're in the area I'd highly recommend you skip the Starbucks and make your way to Small World.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mediterranean Pesto Zucchini Spaghetti

With all my galavanting with animals big and small, I really haven't been cooking much, have I?  Inspired by a meal Cadry's Kitchen posted on Facebook, I decided to make my own Mediterranean pesto zucchini pasta.

Instead of my standard pesto, I used the suggested Spork recipe, subbing almonds for the pistachios.

Then I spiralized 4 medium zukes.

I sauteed some frozen artichoke hearts with salt, pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes (and only ate a couple along the way).

And then I chopped 3 fresh tomatoes and 1 small onion.  I was originally going to use sun-dried tomatoes, but I thought they would be too rich.

I tossed the pasta with the pesto first: no easy feat since my strands always wind up super-long!  Then I plated the "noodles" and spooned all of the accoutrements on top- including kalamata olives, whose pungency wound up being the savior of the dish.

VM liked it much more than I did; it seemed to be missing something.  Maybe I threw off the balance with the almonds in lieu of the pistachios?  Or maybe I should have added some whole pignolis at the end for crunch?  I'm going to have to consider what ingredient could turn this from boring to wow.  But as long as winter is coming, bring on the traditional puttanesca!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Demistifying Jackfruit (Don't look away; it's NOT chicken!)

I'm going to start this post with a note to my good friend.

Remember when I was all "jackfruit carnitas!" and you were like, "meh"?
And I said, "no really, jackfruit!" and you were all, "not interested"?
And then I bought my can o' j-fruit and you pointedly suggested it sounded disgusting?

You have no idea how right you were.  This is what I found inside.  I know, right?  Total gag.

Seriously, what is this stuff?  People think tofu is gross?  Although, I did taste a tiny piece raw and it reminded me of a white bean, so that wasn't all bad.

The recipe I was using (Jackfruit "Carnitas" Tacos from The Urban Housewife) called for rinsing and then squeezing all the water out of the jackfruit pieces, which was a major gag.  Isn't this what dead chicken parts look like?

As I wasn't using a crockpot, I gamely (no pun intended) placed all of the rinsed and squeezed jackfruit into a a regular stovetop pot and shuddered.  I could only bring myself to season one side because I didn't want to touch it any more than absolutely necessary.

Once I'd roughly chopped the onions I was feeling a little better about the whole ordeal.

But the call for salsa verde should have been a sign; I don't really like tomatillos.

In lieu of a crockpot simmer, the recipe suggested simmering on a stovetop for 1-2 hours.  After 90 minutes it started to burn, but looked otherwise cooked.  Since I'd already eaten donuts for dinner In light of the abbreviated cooking time, I decided to let the the cooked jackfruit sit overnight in the fridge so that the flavors would have more of a chance to penetrate.

It's always nice when dinner is already prepared when you come home from work, but I have to admit that when I was re-heating it, the look of it was extremely off-putting.  Rather than the suggested soft tortillas, I decided to serve it on nachos; chips make most meals better.

Unfortunately, not this one.  So meaty; I really couldn't stomach it.  The seasoning went unnoticed; the texture alone was enough to turn me away from jackfruit forever.   But for all of you folks who like to duplicate the taste and texture of meat; this is for you.  To give you an idea of the authenticity, I was able to pass it off to my dad as a Mexican, pork, sloppy joe.  His only complaint?  Too spicy.  So there you have it; jackfruit: weird and "meaty".

Friday, September 14, 2012

Vegan 89: Eating V-Dog and Vegetables Up a Storm

You might recall that 89 was eating unmentionable kibble when I adopted her and I immediately responsibly transitioned her to the most readily available vegan kibble.  When I googled the company in an effort to procure nutritional information to present to the vet, I was disappointed to find that there had been a voluntary recall due to possible salmonella contamination.  Thankfully, the bag of food in my pantry (and those in my vegan friends' dogs' pantries) was not part of the recall, but the thought made me extremely uncomfortable.  My diner might have a vegan burger, but if they're going to cook it on the same surface that they grill everything else, do I still want it?  So, while I'm thrilled that a mainstream company offers a vegan option, it's a little too disconcerting for me to think that it could be mixed up with less desirable food prepared in the same factory.

Enter v-dog.

As far as I know, you can only order it online, which makes it infinitesimally less convenient.  Or more convenient when you consider that you can have it appear at your house with less effort than it takes to actually go to the store.

89 REALLY doesn't like the sound this bag makes when it crinkles.

Another food transition began, but 89 didn't seem to mind since I also started giving her a little pumpkin a few days a week.

As it turned out, the vet wasn't too interested in the ingredients and nutritional breakdown of either vegan kibble.  All he said was, "I'm not vegan so I don't know anything about it, but dogs are carnivores by design" and then tried to give her an obviously non-vegan treat (presumably out of habit rather than insult).  I easily intercepted the treat and discounted his disinterest with the knowledge that there are plenty of vegan dog resources (including other vets) for me to consult.  However, I did find it disappointing that he would be so discouraging- especially when he obviously didn't have any real concern for her ability to thrive on a well-planned vegan diet, as I'm sure that there are steps a veterinarian can take if he or she truly believes an animal is at risk of any kind of abuse- including malnutrition.  But a newer or trepidatious vegan dog guardian might not have fared so well in the face of his authoritative dismissal; when the well-being of an animal in your care is at stake, just about anything can make you panic.  (For instance, I have a somewhat irrational fear of dogs choking, so I offer only raw vegetables- like carrots, that have been cut into tiny pieces.)

This reminded me of a time I was at a cooking class with the normally impressive Christina Pirello.  After recounting how she'd managed to turn disease around through a healthy, whole, unprocessed vegan diet and lifestyle, a young girl in the class explained that her mother- who was sitting beside her, was worried about her health and well-being now that she'd begun following a vegan diet.  The response, to paraphrase, was that if it would make her mother feel better, she should eat an egg every once in a while.  Needless to say, coming from someone with a Master's Degree in Nutrition and almost 30 years of veganism under her belt, you'd think she could have offered a more educated and compassionate response.  So too this veterinarian.
So here's a thought that's generally a good rule of thumb in all aspects of your life.  If someone who is supposed to help you isn't, look until you find someone that will.  And, if you're interested in something, find out everything you can about it as well.  Ask your friends, do some research, and read, read, read.  With this in mind I have begun to trust myself to be better prepared to discuss with professionals rather than rely on their often biased or baseless, initial responses, and to arrive at my own thoughtful and educated conclusions on many subjects.  Sometimes people- even those who are in a position to do so- do not help you.
And sometimes they do.  I contacted famous vegan vet, Dr. Armaiti May, for guidance in finding a vegan-friendly vet in my area.  While she wasn't able to suggest anyone (hey vegans, we're not well-represented in the vet category; start going to vet school!), she did send me a ton of useful information for both myself, and my (presumably interested) vet about how and why vegans choose to feed their pets in the same ethical manner.
Check out Vegan Break's interview with Dr. Armaiti May. And, coincidentally, Vegan Break's interview with V-dog's founder.  By feeding your pet a vegan diet, you are not imposing your ethics on an animal, you are caring for him or her just as you do yourself and would all of your loved ones if they'd just listen! if given the chance.  If you're already vegan, you know that besides cruelty, there are many atrocious ingredients to be found in non-vegan human food; have you ever looked into what's in non-vegan dog food?  It's not pretty, and it's certainly not healthy.  As always, please remember that this blog is not intended to be an instruction manual for your (or your pet's) life, just a window into mine with suggestions for a more compassionate existence. For a humorous overview of vegan dogs, check out Laura Beck's article from the Bark.  For more comprehensive nutritional information, I recommend Vegan Heartland's post on her own vegan dog's diet.
Vegan food 89's not eating.
Always consult with a veterinarian before changing your pet's diet.  Good luck to you and yours.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Soaked and Soaking It Up At the Bethlehem VegFest

Despite a forecast of rain, it was a gorgeous day to be heading to the Bethlehem Vegfest.  Last year's inaugural event had been great, and this year's looked like it was shaping up to be even better.  VM, 89, and I grabbed our jackets and umbrellas and headed out early.

Our first stop, of course, was Vegan Treats Bakery, located only a few miles from the Fest (and open an hour earlier).  VM let me do the choosing and I started out small: cannoli, truffle/cake ball, peanut butter cup.

The cannoli was as decadent as ever, and the peanut butter cup was awesome: perfect ratio of thick, dark chocolate paired with a very peanut buttery center.

But the red velvet truffle/cake ball stole the show: crunchy, chocolatey exterior filled with moist and rich red velvet.  Total party in our mouths; I really don't know how we didn't buy 12 more of these.

Then we had the day's cupcake offerings.  On the left is Boston Creme, the center is S'mores, and the right is chocolate cheesecake.  Yum, YUM, YUM.

We pre-purchased some more stuff for pick-up later in the day, thanked the fabulously friendly Ashley and Laura for making our visit extra special, and were on our way to VegFest.

As we walked from our car to the fest grounds, who passed us but the venerable Snail.  Sorry for hollering at you while you were driving, Adam; we were just really excited (Shamefully, I've also done this to Thiru from NY Dosas).

The sun was shining as we reached the welcome booth.

No huge greeting this year or any freebies (I still have my BVF branded eggplant stress ball from last year), but the Fest grounds themselves seemed considerably larger than last.

Not sure if this carrot guy was an organizer or attendee, but he must have been really hot in there.

We started off at the VegFest photo booth, helmed by Captured by Caity: a local photographer who was offering the photos complimentary with an option to contribute to the donation jar she had set out for a local animal charity.

The idea was adorable and our photo came out great.

It's nice that we finally have a picture of us that doesn't have my thumb in it because I can't seem to master the self-photo.

As we embarked upon what turned out to be the Food Court area of the fest, we were handed a sample of a "vegan & egg free" (?) soft pretzel from Jane's Organic Pretzel.  It was really good, but tasted inexplicably buttery.  Is it possible that the ingredients were free of actual vegans, but contained butter?  If anyone is familiar, let me know.

A hot dog cart that was veg for the day (unclear on whether or not the offerings were vegan).

It was really warm and sunny, so I promptly procured a watermelon cucumber push pop.  These were from Rodale catering, a non-veg company who was kind enough not only to offer vegan options, but also to clearly mark them.

They were served in cool lidded push-pop containers and were recyclable.  It was really delicious and 89 liked it too.

We weren't ready for The Cinnamon Snail just yet, but the line was already impressive.

It was time for a treat for VM, so we stopped at the Franklin Hill Vineyards booth.  We enjoyed talking to the woman with the beautiful eyeglasses who invited us to visit the vineyard.  When I asked if the wines were vegan, she said that everyone had been asking that (!) and that she didn't know of any instance in the processing or ingredients that would involve animal products.  I've since emailed them to confirm; although I haven't yet heard back, I'll be sure to keep you posted.  VM really enjoyed her pomegranate peach spritzer (which I failed to snap a picture of).

We passed the Snail again as we looped and the line endured.  Those people in the bottom left of the frame are the end.

I didn't really bother with the food vendors who didn't have vegan options clearly advertised; if I wasn't going to be welcomed as a prospective customer, I consciously chose not to be.  At a VegFest- especially with all-welcoming, obviously vegan establishments such as Vegan Treats and The Cinnamon Snail present, I didn't find it necessary to bother with a vegan battery of questions.

"let's move on"
Then we came upon the always beautiful and impeccably presented booth of exquisite Vegan Treats.

a rare moment with a clear view
Since we'd already indulged at the shop and had more waiting for us, I didn't push through the crowd for a closer view.  People know and love Vegan Treats; no wonder they recently received the honor of being named one of the 10 best bakeries (ALL bakeries) in the world.  Well deserved!

It was such a beautiful- if not a bit hot, day to walk around enjoying the fest and there were lots of organizations representing.  Mercy For Animals, Sea Shephard,

and For the Animals Sanctuary to name a few.

I was happy these important organizations were present, but knowing that they do such good work I was disappointed that their presentations weren't more dynamic in a way that would grab attention in the extremely festive setting.  With so many non-vegans in attendance (it was CROWDED), perhaps engaging footage of their extraordinary accomplishments would have been more of a draw than simply selling vegan message wear to the converted.  It seemed a missed opportunity to educate about their cause(s) and accomplishments when they surely deserve widespread, mainstream exposure.

I hadn't previously been familiar with the Pig Placement Network,  but according to their website, their mission is:

"To promote domesticated pigs as pets.  To provide education to pet pig owners, veterinarians, shelters and the general public.  To work with animal shelters, humane societies and pet pig owners to rescue unwanted, abused or abandoned pet pigs and place them into new, loving homes."  

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but it seems to me that by promoting pigs as pets (even advertising "tea cup sized piggies" on their site), you are ultimately contributing to the breeding phenomenon of yet another animal for domestication and thereby creating the problem of unwanted "pet" pigs who are in need of your rescue and re-placement services.  Rather than "domesticate" another animal, shouldn't we instead concentrate on reducing the numbers of those that are already solely considered pets from landing in shelters where they exist in vast numbers in need of a home?

At this point we entered what seemed to be the shopping section of the fest.  We first happened upon a booth of recycled/repurposed but unfortunately animal-product laden clothing and accessories, so we were thrilled when we spied Compassion Couture.

VM got a great deal on a Matt & Nat bag.

And I got this roomy clutch from  Dialog Wordbutik,

a socially responsible company that uses recycled materials and employs people in dire circumstance or with special needs.

Hours had flown by; 89 was exhausted from walking and decided to rest on top of her stroller rather than in it.

Happily, it was time to go catch Jaime K. of Save The Kales in the Speaker Tent.

We got there early and it's a good thing we did; Jaime has a ton of fans!  That's 89 in the front row.  She enjoyed chiming in with the frequent applause by barking- much to the amusement of all in the tent.

I really enjoyed how Jaime presented her own path to veganism as an imperfect journey, showing how attainable it is to live compassionately.  And I truly appreciated that her message was simple but grand: if you want to do something, do it.  I agreed with VM that she could have held the audience's rapt attention for much longer.  Engaging and candid; it's no wonder Jaime has her own show.

I love the way 89's bow echoes Jaime's awesome gourd.
Afterwards, we visited the Compassion booth, where I got this fab button:

And then Crinoline, where owner Jaime (S.) was beautifully displaying and selling her painfully cute, vegan (in style and substance) crafts: fruits, vegetables, and tofu!

I'm sorry to say that we missed the cooking demonstrations because they were tucked a bit away from the rest of the fest.  Last year the turnouts were huge, so I hope we were the exception.

By this time we were more than ready for some Snail food.  The plan was for me to make my way towards the truck while VM and 89 waited in the Fest's Beer Garden in anticipation of their lunch (sammie for VM, kibble for 89).  Even though it was only 4:00, we began to notice that the booths were packing up.  When we tried to confirm that the Fest would run until 6:00, we were informed that they were being closed down due to an impending storm.  Aghast, we all three made a dash for the Snail, with 89 showing especially considerable skill, excitement, and speed- despite being new to leash-walking.

As the sun continued to shine, VM & 89 took a seat nearby (it was a great idea that the Fest provided these throughout the grounds) and I jumped on the Snail line.

The Snail Crew seemed to be moving at warp speed to accommodate all of the Pennsylvania brethren that had come out to support them despite the supposed threat of rain.  The excited chatter was a happy hum as the line moved forward.  Everyone I spoke to was on line for the first time and I regaled them with stories of the famed gochujang burger, as well as all of the other delicacies.  One man suggested that his group bail for a falafel from the (normally omnivorous, but presumably veg-for-the-day) Fud Truck beside, but I shot him a look that was intended to imply the ridiculousness of suggesting falafel from an omni truck vs. the ultimate Snail food; the message was received loud and clear.

Eventually VM & 89 walked over.  Thinking they were alone, another attendee had warned them to leave the grounds because there was a storm only minutes away.  Did VM want me to vacate my place in line?  No; we had to have lunch!  "I just thought we'd stay together."  Soon after it began to drizzle, so they stood away from the Snail crowd under the awning of the Fud Truck, who had already closed it's window to customers.

This is the last thing I saw before naively shoving my iPhone in my pocket for safe-keeping as the rain deluge came so fast and strong that the dozen or so of us nearby (including 2 Whippets and a huge, fluffy dog) almost involuntarily huddled intimately under the Snail's awning as pouring rain shot sideways in a manner that suggested it was aiming for us.  The wind whipped and order tickets flew out the Snail window; loyalists on the outskirts of the huddle chased and returned them in an extremely impressive showing of Snail camaraderie.

At one point Adam peered out from the dry haven of the Snail and- looking all at once touched, impressed, and amused- congratulated us for being such loyal fans and promising free donuts.  Even as the Snail sat parked in what seemed to be the eye of the storm, his love and gratitude was palpable.

When my order was called, I could do nothing but blindly pass sopping wet bills through the window as I futiley wiped my eyes with a napkin.  It felt like the rain was dousing my head like a gushing firehose.  I'm still wondering if it's possible that I was standing under a seam in the awning, or did the storm really come from the top down and the bottom up as it felt?  Lunch finally in hand, I squeezed out of the confines and splashed my way to VM, who was nobly using our two umbrellas to minimally shield both herself and 89 in the face of what I can only describe as a rainflood.  I peeked in at 89, who seemed to implore, "Why am I wet!?" and then almost wordlessly exchanged my phone (for a better chance of surviving in VM's bag) for the car keys and ran as if through the ocean towards the car.

It was only when I got there that it hit me how literally soaked I was.  I searched the trunk for things that would shield the seats from our wet bodies, as well as something to wrap 89 in- as I was certain that our jackets had been soaked in the rainflood.  I drove back to them and the first thing VM instructed me to do was to carefully transfer the Snail food to the car.  How's that for loyal Snailism?  Then she told me that the Fud Truck had almost driven away with her still under their awning- yup, without even putting their awning down, let alone making sure the lady with the stroller was a safe distance away (not cool, Fud Truck).  We experienced a bit of panic when the keys seemed to have been misplaced, but then we were all safely inside and on our way.  Although we'd long since reached our saturation points, it was nice to have a reprieve from the rain assault.

Snail loyalists
Everything was soaked: our bags, our purchases, ourselves.  As luck would have it, 89's t-shirt was the only thing with us that had inexplicably remained dry deep inside my bag, so she snuggled on my lap in it and was just fine as we headed to Vegan Treats to pick up our order from what seemed like weeks ago, but had in fact been only that morning.

As we pulled up we could see through the windows that the store was packed.  The smartest people who hadn't had the fortitude to wait for Snail food had at least had the good sense to head towards the bastion of veganity that is Vegan Treats.  It's a considerable drive home and we were not willing to save our Snail food until we got there, so VM and I decided to picnic in the car.  Her smoked portabello mushroom carpaccio sandwich with fried caper berries, caramelized onions, truffled kalamata olive tapenade, and arugula on grilled herb focaccia was perfectly packed for eating-on-the-go and was just as delicious as always- despite the frenzied conditions under which it was prepared.

Inspired by the recent write-up on Midtown Lunch, I finally tried the Korean barbecue seitan served open faced on a grilled tortilla slathered with chili butter, kimchi and greens.  As artfully prepared as if it had been done at leisure, I'd made the right choice.  Utensils were in absence, so I folded it up like a massive burrito and chowed down.

Please don't call Animal Cops; it was unintentional that a sleeping 89 wound up covered in grilled tortilla crumbs (ok, and a piece of seitan).

Finally satiated, we recounted the day's abbreviated but eventful showing. VM pointed out that we had now successfully enjoyed the Snail in three states!  It was at this point that I realized there was an extra box in my Snail bag: a touching gift of awesome Snail donuts!  Thank you SO MUCH!

There are two lessons to be learned here.  The first is obvious:  good things come to those who wait.  The second?  Don't wear lime green underwear when there's rain in the forecast and even the slightest possibility that your pants will become transparent when wet.  You're welcome.

Since an exhausted 89 was already settled on my lap for the drive home, VM braved the packed bakery to pick up our order.

This included, but was not limited to, a whoopee pie...

and a sticky bun.

Vegan Treats fossil!

While she was in there, VM finally had the opportunity to grab Danielle's attention and tell her what she thinks of all that she has accomplished in the name of animals, delicious food, and veganism, "This place is remarkable."  I concur.

And to end a day started with Vegan Treats with even more Vegan Treats, VM delivered to me a coveted cup of VT ice cream: chocolate and peanut butter swirl with rainbow sprinkles to be exact.

It was as good as ever.

So, despite the soaking, it was an awesome day at Bethlehem VegFest.  They really do an excellent job of organizing and executing an impressive and welcoming event.  But how about we strive for a Veg(an)Fest next year?

There can be no better evidence of the Fest's opportunity and need to progress to an all-vegan event than the fact that the most sought after sights were proudly all-vegan.  I've now been to both of the Bethlehem VegFests; they were each successful, joyous events that obviously attracted a huge crowd: vegan, vegetarian, and non-veg.  What these people all have in common is that they can appreciate and enjoy vegan food, wares, and organizations- as well as benefit from veganism's strive for total compassion... and pass it on.  The simple fact is that VegFest has the public's attention; why not use it for the most good possible by presenting a unified, wholly cruelty-free, vegan event?  It would be epic.