Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vegan Friends, Gifts, and Activism

"Mink don't care about your next vegan potluck. Fox yearn for freedom while we swap recipes and eat cupcakes." -Victor Vanorden

I recently read this powerful quote on Facebook from an interview with Kellie and Victor VanOrden.

In a conversation with vegan friends, it came up that the vegan superheroes used to be the hardcore, the activists, the people who were getting arrested for the cause.  Now it's the cooks, the bakers, the business owners.  Sweet activism/cupcake activism, whatever you call it, has it's place...but have we watered down our own cause by becoming a coffee klatch of sorts?  Are we too caught up in our own vegan foodie communities that we've lost sight of the big picture?  The whole idea really gave me pause as the calendar approached the mark when I would be embarking upon my thirteenth year of veganism.

And then the holidays arrived.

Awesome MVG care package: Crazy Rumors (peppermint plum), Brad's kale chips (THE BEST), Sweet & Sara s'mores and dreidel, and a chocolate hazelnut Mast Brothers bar
I gifted vegan goodies to non-vegans.  I was the reason that 80% of the food at my office holiday party was vegan and, since it was awesome, the dialogue was effortless and continuous, eventually reaching aspects of veganism other than diet.  My non-vegan co-workers bragged about the various vegan-friendly brands I've turned them onto- from Espe to Matt & Nat to Alternative Outfitters.  Of course the world doesn't revolve around consumerism, but let's face it; we do vote with our dollars.

Thanks, VM!
It's not all about food either, but isn't it nice to be thought of and to be able to participate in ritualistic eating that we've, in the past, been relegated from?  As it happened, this holiday season I received a boatload of extraordinary love from vegan friends far and wide- mostly in the form of delicious vegan delights, pictured throughout this post.  All were heartfelt, with contents brimming with personalized touches.

Boundless gratitude for the ridonkulously kind and generous booty from MS: YES that is the best "chewy caramel" I've ever eaten; sugary, crunchety snickerdoodles; peanut butter(y) cups; soft ginger(bread) cookies I inexplicably devoured like I'd never had an issue with ginger, and chocolate chip (!) banana bread (cause without them it's pointless).
I ate and enjoyed.  I shared the goodies and the vegan word.  I felt part of a community and I wanted to do more.

Cocoa V chocolate pretzel clusters (thanks, BSGP!)
I suppose that could have been achieved by jointly participating in leafleting, a protest, or an undercover endeavor instead of enjoying a holiday dinner together, but we didn't. I suppose that instead of exchanging tasty morsels we could have made donations in each others names.  Maybe we should have (some did; thank you HK!!).

The Kind Life's chocolate peanut butter cups, courtesy of PS
So, what is the answer; I know I can do more, can you?  But, if it weren't for this kind of activism, sweet activism (which begets "community" activism), family friends wouldn't be aware of farm sanctuaries and the reason for them, co-workers wouldn't have otherwise known what a vegan was or why, and my mom wouldn't be vegetarian.  So yes, I can do more.  But living a vocal, vegan life every day: educating people in earnest rather than condescension; leading by example with fashion forward, cruelty free products; donating as much as I can afford to the vegan charities I support; emailing companies regularly in commendation of their vegan options or in request for some or more; proudly living a vegan life without apology- sometimes it's all the activism you can muster in a day.  I do what I can and I will try to do more, but all this is something.

"Thank you for the delicious pie, which we shared with friends on boxing day.  You may yet convert me to veganism!"
But lest we not forget that veganism is mistaken as a dietary choice mainly because food is the predominant part of many cultures.  Most people don't give a second thought to realize the cruelty behind everyday "textiles" (leather/wool/silk), cosmetics, cleaning products, etc.  By sharing your own vegan enlightenment on this and other issues, you interest people, open their minds, make them think differently, and spread the vegan word; it is not for naught.  Try it with family, friends, co-workers...whoever is in your vicinity.  My friend HB recently coined the term "Supermarket Activism", wherein you- only when appropriate- suggest various vegan items in friendly conversation to other shoppers that may be reaching for the same or similar thing in your vicinity.  This really works!  Sometimes you meet other vegans who respond with, "I know; my wife and I love Daiya", and sometimes you'll come up against a non-vegan who'll say, "There's really no cholesterol in Almond Bites?"  Plant seeds of veganism wherever and whenever you can.

that which needs no introduction, thanks to my own personal inside scoop: BYOL
So an unabashed bravo to the hardcore protesters whom I appreciate and aspire to.  But also a special thank you to my vegan friends who are not only sweet/community activists, but who keep me grounded, thinking, and full.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Eve Eve

This year a group of us were hoping to get together on Christmas Eve, but family plans were an impediment.  So, we created our own non-secular holiday: Eve Eve!  

Here's how it went down: we went to Hangawi for dinner.

my requisite plum juice
Our first shared appetizer was the vegetarian dumplings, fried; it was Eve Eve after all.


Next up was my fave Hangawi appetizer, combination pancakes in pumpkin, kimchi, and mushroom leek.

They kindly quartered each flavor to make it easy for our party of four to share.

For dinner I took my cue from my friend, PS, who always orders the best noodle dishes: we both went with the vermicelli stone bowl rice and I stole all her hot sauce.  I still think I prefer the avocado stone bowl, but this hit the spot.  Our fourth, HB, ordered the original vegetarian stone bowl with brown rice (it looked too much like mine to warrant another flash photo in the serene dining room).  Note: it would seem that the stone bowls no longer come with complimentary miso soup.

My bud, MVG, ordered the tofu with mixed vegetables in brown sauce; it was mild, but extremely tasty.

We all telepathically agreed to forego dessert and headed to the place where everybody knows our names, Lula's Sweet Apothecary.  I had a sundae of pumpkin, cinnamon, chocolate, and peanut butter chip ice creams...

topped with hot fudge, caramel, graham crackers, whipped cream and a cherry.  A masterpiece!

As you can see, Eve Eve was a raging success; it just might have to be a permanent celebration.

photo courtesy of BYOL
Happy Eve Eve to all, but especially to the Fab Vegan Five!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eight Crazy Nights

This Hanukkah, I sent my self family Gone Pie's extraordinary pecan pie.

Since I ordered multiples for gifts and shipping was already built into the price, Gone Pie was kind enough to include a surprise...


The macaroons are soft, moist, and very lightly toasted on the outside.  There is no question that they look and smell extremely appealing, but my AB radar detected that something was missing.

Ah yes, Gone Pie's famous frosting; the decadent chocolateyness went terrifically with the mildly sweet macaroons!

The pecan pie was just as delicious as I remembered and I've decided that I like it best chilled.

I have to admit that after eating all of this, even I couldn't partake in the Sweet & Sara chocolate-covered marshmallow dreidel that I'd been saving (for 3 whole days!).  It was bestowed upon me by a dear friend who carefully assessed the chocolate to marshmallow ratio before gifting; I can't wait to eat it.  <3!

Luckily, tomorrow is another day...of Hanukkah.

"Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights!" - Adam Sandler, The Hanukkah Song

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Remix

Nope, I'm not baking out of season; I'm just really behind on my blogging and found this post missed being published this summer.

Enjoy & stay warm!

Another $1.99 pineapple coupon pineapple, another pineapple upside down cake.

My cake from last year was a huge success, but I decided that this time I would try to make it using the pineapple right side up cupcake recipe for the cake.  I made a couple of minis; this one was for a certain pineapple-upside-down-cake-loving-friend.

It was good, but while the cupcakes are divine, I have to say that the upside down cake should be baked as is!  Subbing the sweeter recipe for the cake made the cake way too sweet- even for me.  Also, this batter always cooks up extremely moist, which means it soggifies very quickly.  Not so with the original cake recipe as directed.

So obviously it was my duty to make another one using the original recipe.  Notice that my design technique has significantly improved.

Once again, the cake perfectly browned:

And what do you know; the top caramelized as expected.  This recipe really is no fail (even for me).

I'm not above taking shortcuts, but fresh pineapple is a must.  So, bookmark this one for next summer!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Smackdown: Chipotle vs. Qdoba

I love Mexican food.  When I can't make it myself, I have no problem hitting up casual-dining (a step above fast food), vegan-friendly establishments: usually Chipotle.  Since a Qdoba recently opened near my office I've had the opportunity to try them a few times now to compare.  So, I decided to pit them against each other in a Mexi(can)-Cas(ual) smackdown.

Chipotle soft tacos
Admit it, Chipotle is an awkward word whether you're referring to the restaurant or the pepper.  But then you kind of get to like saying it.  Kind of like salsa in the 90's.  Qdoba, on the other it Q doba, or kadoba?  Note: It's Q doba.  Also, what is the reference?  Chipotle is spice, Qdoba is...adobea with a Q thrown in?
Point Name: Chipotle

I have a special affinity for Chipotle because they are an original, with Qdoba jumping on the bandwagon not long after (with others following suit).
Point Originality: Chipotle.

Chipotle cups
Chipotle's menu is refreshingly simple, while Qdoba's is unnecessarily convoluted for pretty much the same result.  Get over yourself, Qdoba.
Point Menu: Chipotle.

Chipotle hard tacos
Maybe it's just because I'm in the Northeast, but there are far more Chipotles around than Qdobas.  Except, of course, for the Qdobas that open right across the street from Chipotles (see "Originality").
Point Availability: Chipotle.

In quantity, the available options seem more plentiful at Qdoba, but that's just because they have two identical sections going at the same time.  Regardless, the choices at Chipotle are always presented much more neatly and therefore look more appetizing.  Chipotle also always seems much better staffed, with employees working at a constant pace like a well-oiled machine.  At Qdoba it's been my experience that they are short-staffed, messy, and overwhelmed- even during slow periods.  Barring a few missteps, Chipotle's finished dishes are consistently neat.  Qdoba, on the other hand, still can't even seem to get the burrito rolling down pat.  Who wants to eat their burrito with a knife and fork?
Point Presentation: Chipotle.

Qdoba burrito, poorly folded
A few years ago I tried Qdoba for the first time and found the nasty fresh cilantro taste way too much for me to bear. It seemed to be most highly concentrated in the rice and I vowed never to return.  I believe that they have since dialed it down considerably, as I don't taste a significant difference between theirs and Chipotle's.  Unfortunately, though, Qdoba over-rices as much as Subway over-lettuces.  As if they weren't already ahead, Chipotle has recently added a brown rice option.
Point Rice: Chipotle.

Black beans have always been the only bean option suitable for vegetarians at Chipotle and I've found them consistently forthcoming with this information once you order "vegetarian".  Both black and pinto beans are vegetarian at Qdoba, but I've never tried the pinto (Team Black Beans!).  I don't notice any difference in the preparation or taste anything different between the black option at both establishments.
Point Beans: tie.

Basic Ingredients:
At Chipotle the vegetarian option comes with black beans and rice, as well as peppers and onions if you'd like.  Imagine my surprise to find that at Qdoba, the vegetarian burrito does not come with veggies of any kind.  The grilled veggie burrito, however, does come with grilled zucchini, squash, and red peppers...but no beans.  Is there some rule in Qdobaland that beans and veggies cannot co-mingle?  Whatever the reason, it's kind of chintzy, but I'll note that for $0.69 I'd recommend abandoning your principle and adding the peppers and onions.  Point Basic: Chipotle.

Chipotle soft tacos
Chipotle offers complimentary guacamole on all vegetarian entrees and it's always ridiculously fresh.  My pet peeve at Chipotle, though, is that every time you order guacamole as a topping, they scoop some up in a metal spoon, use a plastic knife to portion it onto your food, and then throw the knife away.  Every time, for each person.  At Qdoba, guacamole is only included in some vegetarian entrees.  So tacky!  Why you gotta nickel and dime the veggie customers, Qdoba?  On the bright side, they use a small ice cream scoop to serve.  However environmentally friendly, though, it's also stingy and prevents achieving an even layer of guacamole on your entree; it's all concentrated in two bites!  If fresh, Qdoba's guacamole actually tastes slightly better, but that might just be because I can't stomach Chipotle's ridiculous waste of plastic utensils.  Unfortunately, more often than not, Qdoba's guac is browning or brown; don't be too shy to request a new batch.
Point Guac: Chipotle.

Qdoba hard tacos: barely filled (I requested the new batch of guac)
I am usually a fan of Chipotle's thick, tomatillo red-chili hot salsa, but of late I've gotten a couple of batches that don't taste much spicier than tomato puree; are we upping the wuss level because customers can't take the heat?  Granted my spice tolerance seems to increase by the hour, but this is a major disappointment.  When it's good it's good; when it's bad it's bland.  However, I will say that they'll give you as much as you want- on your entree and/or on the side.  Qdoba's fiery habanero salsa seems like it could be superior in taste and heat, but even with a double serving you can barely taste it amidst the pound of rice.  And why do they make you confirm that you really want it?  It's not that hot.  I think it's just another excuse to be stingy.  Chipotle's available table-side hot sauce is Tabasco: a little old school for me.  Qdoba's hot sauce of choice is Cholula- not my favorite, but a step up from Tabasco.  Still...Point Spice: Chipotle.

Chipotle soft tacos
At Chipotle I get the same every time: fresh tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, tomatillo red-chili salsa, guacamole, and lettuce.  While Qdoba's options seem more plentiful, they're basically the same idea, only some cost extra.  The flavors at Chipotle remain superior.
Point Accoutrements: Chipotle

While I don't buy into the humane myth, I do believe that Chipotle makes a considerable effort to minimize animal suffering, utilizes significantly higher quality ingredients than Qdoba, as well as attempts to educate the  general public about 21st century farming.  Point Accountability: Chipotle.

So there you have it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rock your Bok

Whenever I eat bok choy at a restaurant, it's prepared beautifully.  When I cook it at home, it inexplicably inevitably gets overcooked.  Not any more!

A friend recently schooled me in the art of the bok; this is my interpretation of his instructions and how I now cook it to perfection every time.  I had to scroll through all of my archived texts to find his original recipe, but now it's easily searchable and will be forever available on my blog.

First, sliver off the very butt end of the bulb and discard.

Then cut off the bulb- about an inch or so.  [UPDATE 12/10/11: This is both so that you are able to thoroughly clean the inners of your bok and to make sure the bulb and the leaves cook evenly.]

Wash the bulbs and the leaves separately.

(You'll be cooking them in stages.)

Heat a large pot with a little bit of evoo, garlic, and a pinch of salt.  Add in the butts bulbs and cook for about five minutes on medium low, stirring regularly.

Then add the leaves, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

At this point, squirt in tamari sauce, black pepper, toasted sesame oil, and a generous squeeze of lemon juice [UPDATE 1/24/12: My friend whose recipe I adapted has admonished me for the inclusion of lemon juice and says it was never in the original recipe.  Since I usually forget it anyway, let's all do so, shall we?].  Stir and cook, uncovered, for another minute.  If the leaves start wilting on you, STOP! 

If you remember, serve garnished with sesame seeds (I didn't; that's garlic).

Feel guilty about all the extra sauce you have left over?  Serve over rice or make some tamari almonds!

Marinate your almonds in the mixture overnight and bake at 375* on a lightly greased baking sheet for about ten minutes**, tossing midway.

*Or maybe lower; I always burn mine.
**Or maybe less; I always burn mine.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New York: You Asked For It, You Got It...The Cinnamon Snail is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You!

For immediate release:

Chef Adam Sobel
The Cinnamon Snail Food Truck

After two full years, finally The Cinnamon Snail food truck is fully permitted for NYC. We will be serving many neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn starting this Thursday 12/8/11 with an appearance for brunch and lunch in Midtown West.

The exact location will be announced via social media when we are parked. Folks can follow us on twitter @veganLunchTruck or on facebook.

Expect visits from The Cinnamon Snail in the FiDi, Flatiron District, Midtown, the LES, Williamsburg, Green Point, and other areas on Manhattan and Brooklyn in the following weeks.

Our season is over on Xmas, but we will be back from our winter hibernation sometime around valentines day (weather permitting).

The Cinnamon Snail has been mostly in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark and Red Bank NJ for the last two years. Hoboken is passing a new vending ordinance, which will make it completely unaffordable and difficult for food trucks to operate. So their loss in NYC’s gain!

The Cinnamon Snail is a 2010 and 2011 vendy award nominee
The Cinnamon Snail won the 2011 vendy award for their vanilla bourbon crem brulee donuts
We were named the #1 vegetarian street food in America by PETA
Named as one of the top ten food trucks in the country by in 2010
Nominated for the 2011 VegNews Veggie Awards
Nominated for PETA’s 2011 Libby Awards
Featured on the Cooking Channel, New York Times, Time Out NY, Vegeterian Times, Veg News, Asbury Park Press and probably on the FBI’s most wanted list (of places to eat of course)

* photos and links added by Abzilla