Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hello (Vegan) Jello

VM was never a fan of Jello; so, as the cook of the house, she did not make it readily available as I was growing up.  This was fine by me- for a few reasons.  One, I didn't care for Jello myself.  If it didn't come in chocolate, I wasn't interested.  Two, Jello is undeniably weird.  Three, she made a mean chocolate pudding pie that was exactly my style; who needed Jello?

Fast forward to when I recently received a gift of vegan jello!

I fully intended to make it for my dad, the only person I know who likes Jello, for Father's day...and then I forgot.  So, a bit late, I gave it a try- even pulling out the old jello mold for the occasion.

It was extremely easy to prepare (I know jello isn't rocket science, but this was even easier than regular jello). 

While I was combining the mix with the water the orange smell was extremely strong.

The jello set very quickly; in no time the old-school jello ring was complete!

For some reason (probably human error), some of the granules did not dissolve and settled in the bottom (then top) of the mold.  This did not seem to affect the taste at all.  And the pungent orange smell was not at all indicative of the flavor, which was actually very pleasant and extremely refreshing.

It held it's shape well, even lending itself to being cut into the requisite jello cubes.

It wasn't very firm, though; and it all fit into a relatively small container.  This might also be because it seemed to be sweating water; I emptied a good amount from the container each time I opened it to take a piece.  On a friend's suggestion, I'll try decreasing the water next time to see if that makes a difference.

One box made about 1/3 of the mold, so I'd recommend 3 boxes for a full mold (assuming this size is standard; I'm not a jello mold aficionado).  And, perhaps figure out whether it's my refrigerator that's slanted, or my house.  No one likes a cockeyed jello ring!

Overall, it was surprisingly enjoyable.  I'm still a chocolate girl, but I'd definitely make this again.  Rest assured, though: there will never be fruit suspended in my jello mold!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cow-in' Down and Chow-in' Down In and Around Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

When you take a vegan friend to a farm sanctuary for their first time, you don't expect them to say to the first pig they meet, "You're so cute; I could just eat you."  But that's exactly what happened.

He meant it figuratively, of course.

But let's start from the beginning.  As it was a loooong drive, we officially kicked off the day 2 hours in at the Karma Road Cafe.  Every table was full, but the service was still pleasant.

Because my friends hadn't been there before, the server gave them the lowdown on the vegetarian cafe's offerings.  Everything is vegan, except they serve organic milk for coffee only (boo).  When I made a face asked why, she really stressed that the milk was organic; but as one vegan talking to three others, I'm not sure why she thought it mattered.  And as far as carrying an animal product in an otherwise vegan establishment?  I know they're not the first, but I just don't get it.  The server then further stressed that they were very conscious of allergens and that, for instance, if we said we were vegan she would make sure the food was prepared "extra clean".  Once again I was perplexed; I have no idea what that meant since "the organic (cow's) milk was for coffee only" and that was the only non-vegan ingredient in the cafe. 

In any event, two of us enjoyed the Karma Reuben with baked tempeh, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, sprouts and soy mayo.  It was a solid sammie, but nothing spectacularly out of the ordinary except for the fact that there was lettuce on it, which was simply unusual albeit not unpleasant.  I also didn't see any sprouts.  The addition of a side was a nice touch, but the seemingly unseasoned quinoa and kidney beans left a lot to be desired.

The sole holdout ordered the Kalecado salad with kale, avocado, onion, carrot, olive oil, lemon, cashews, raisins & seasonings, plus added fresh sprouts.  She didn't love the dressing and we all expected the portion to be larger, but ultimately it was exactly as advertised.  Again, no fireworks.

photogged before they were reminded to include the cashews and raisins
She also ordered the Young Coconut Shake: young thai coconut, agave, vanilla.  I thought it was excellent, but my friends weren't thrilled in the least.

There were various sweet goodies consumed after lunch, but it was in a bit of a rushed frenzy between the counter and the car so they went un-documented: chocolate chocolate chip cake, sweet potato biscuit, and chocolate walnut biscotti.

After that it was off to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.

It had been a while since I'd visited on a non-event day, but it was thoroughly enjoyable to trade in the excited hub-bub for a peaceful, low-key visit.

there is quite an assortment of legs in this picture
We got there just in time for a tour and our guide, Mike, was PHENOMENAL.  Entertaining personal anecdotes about the animals peppered with no-nonsense, non-confrontational facts about the suffering non-vegans contribute to as a direct result of their lifestyle; I could have listened to him for days.  I've taken my fair share of tours at WFAS, but this one was outstanding; thank you so much, Mike.

not Mike
A particular highlight of the tour was when we got to meet Mike Jr. the cow, Mike's namesake!  Read all about how Mike saved Mike.  Now these are two real celebrities in my book.

Someone else with a considerable cow lick (haha).

I spent even more time than usual by the chickens on behalf of a certain special lady that hasn't been to visit as often as she would like.

I even found this girl (and another behind her) hiding in a bush.

A beautiful rooster.


Quincy is all grown up and even has a significant other!

More visiting with the pigs.

After many attempts, I caught this sheep mid-baa.

Albee is always a crowd-pleaser.


you can't blame a girl for trying


I even got to feed Dylan an orange!

As if all this cuteness wasn't enough, we also happened to be there for the pigs' feeding time.  I was told that the produce comes from a nearby market who gives them day-old or ugly produce and the scraps from their juicing business.

 This turkey had the right idea stealing a piece of mango!

Much like dining at an Italian restaurant, the pigs began their meal with bread.

And then the real fun began.

A picture just can't do it justice.

Before we knew it, hours had passed and it was time to go.

We'd already decided to dine at the Garden Cafe on the way home, but Jennifer, who runs the farm's new Guesthouse, also suggested Giovanni's Pizza Grill: an all vegan, Italian stand right across the street.

I We decided to go there for appetizers.

First up: Poppy's potato croquettes: potatoes and fresh parsley.  Fresh and tasty, but they needed something in order to wow: perhaps a pinch of salt or a buttery element?

I've never had a traditional rice ball, but the spinach poppers: brown rice, spinach and mozzarella were the clear winner of the two menu items we tried (although the sauce could have benefitted from a bit of a spice kick!).

While we didn't have pizzetta, they looked terrific; definitely make a stop and show some support if you're in the area.  Maybe they'll add some as-yet unveganizable Italian desserts like tartufo and tortoni!

Unfortunately we didn't realize that most of the shops in town close at six on Saturday, so our walking exploration didn't last long before we had nothing left to do but to go to dinner.  I'd only previously been to the Garden Cafe for brunch when, even though they were relatively empty, the service had been quite inefficient on a number of occasions (example: when two people order pancakes, it's probably wise not to wait until you serve the dishes to say that you're out of maple syrup).

On this particular evening they were packed inside and out, but even with the significant amount of serving staff, the service was extremely and visibly chaotic; this seems to be a theme.

While the menu choices vary, I was surprised that this casual restaurant had some considerably priced menu options for dinner specials.  Sticking with the regular menu, two of us chose the homemade southwest black bean and roasted sweet potato burger: "a combination of southwest spiced black beans and roasted sweet potatoes served on a toasted bun with guacamole and salsa".  Served adorably with potato wedge fries, the portion seemed slightly small, but was deceptively filling.  My friend who doesn't generally like veggie burgers absolutely loved it; I was a little conflicted.  The bun was hearty and the uber-fresh guacamole and salsa added a terrific element, but the burger itself was surprisingly lacking in flavor and, worse, was extremely smooshy (you know what I'm talking about; just like the unfortunate specimen at Candle 79).  I did enjoy it, but since it didn't look like it would have to be doused with Cholula, I was disappointed that it did.  Maybe my tastebuds are just burned away?  I also doused the potatoes, which was unfortunate since they only would have needed a little salt and pepper while cooking for optimum flavor.

Our companion ordered the Make Your Own Bowl with brown rice, baked tofu, sauteed greens (kale and cabbage), and roasted beets.  While he too was generous with the Cholula, he gave it 5 stars out of 5.

I opted out of dessert (I told you the dinner portion size was deceiving), but my friends shared the strawberry shortcake with almond cashew whipped cream.  I only tasted the whipped cream, which was great, but it has been reported to me that the dessert was so good that a second order was considered.

If you live in the NYC area, the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is a bit of a hike.  However, I would highly recommend the trek; it's worth the trip. 

Definitely bring your camera, but make sure to take plenty of time to soak it all in out from behind a lens.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Finding Good Vegan Burgers in Expected Places (Vegan in Costco!)

Unlike some people, I'm not a a veggie burger aficionado.  I can appreciate a good one like Sunshine (southwest flavor FTW), but I don't gravitate to veggie burgers on menus or in the supermarket.  For starters, many contain non-vegan ingredients.  Not to mention that there are a lot of bad ones out there.  Also, there's so much other great stuff to eat; long gone are the days when you were lucky to just have a veggie burger option.  Like hummus, salad, and pasta; to me, veggie burgers represent the ho hum of requisite veg offerings at omni establishments that have great potential, but too often miss the mark.

Yet for some reason, these refrigerated veggie burgers recently caught my eye in Costco: perhaps because they looked so chock full of veggies?

It certainly wasn't because I needed that many burgers (I don't own a barbecue and I have no intention of having a cookout).  Oh, right; it was because I'm a sucker for the word "vegan" on mainstream packaging.

It's hard to "try" things from Costco, because if you don't like them you still have to power through the rest of the giant package.  But I had a good feeling about these (i.e. the second "vegan" on the box), so I took a chance. 

When I got them home, I was happy to see that they looked exactly like they did on the package, smelled extremely appealing, and were packaged neatly in a reusable, figure eight-shaped box.

The burger cooked up nicely on the stovetop and was soft without being delicate; this is no smushy/falling apart burger.  My only complaint is that it's oblong, so it doesn't exactly fit into the confines of a round bun.

The veggie flavor was prominent and the burger was a substantial meal.  I gambled and I won; 13 more to go!

The company, Don Lee Farms, is neither vegan nor vegetarian; but they make one heck of a tasty, vegan burger. (UPDATE 2/12/14: I bought these burgers again and did not enjoy them; they seemed to have some sort of a coating on them that I found oily and off-putting.  I'm definitely back to the Sunshine Burgers.)