Monday, November 24, 2008

The Gratitude List


So, the holidays are just around the corner, and I am so full of joy. See, I am a total Thanksgiving/Christmas fiend (due to being a Christmas baby- yep, that's right- 2:45 AM on Christmas Day), so I always try to maximize the celebration time as much as possible. I am actually listening to holiday music right now as I type. I consider the season to begin November 1st (which drives my fiance crazy), which includes listening to music, getting gifts ready, and beginning to work on my Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes. Love it, love it, love it.

I don't want to steal Thanksgiving's thunder by concentrating on Christmas at this time, so I decided to spend this post devising a list of things I've learned/discovered/just plain love about being vegan. Basically, it's a gratitude list- which I think goes with that whole being thankful thing on Thanksgiving.

So, here goes. Below you will find the things this year that I have been most grateful for:


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1) My fiance Steve

Now, I type this because before I go into a list of dorky vegan things I love, I had to acknowledge the loving being in my home who happens to not be vegan, but who eats vegan with me all the time, supports me in every vegan endeavor, and is just plain amazing. Steve is my number one recipe taste tester, and any time I have a vegan dilemma, he is right there listening and doing what he does best- being my best friend.

2) Agave Nectar

Oh my Gosh... Agave Nectar. The honey replacement that has taken a hold of my life and won't let me go. This powerful little syrup has sweetened so many dishes, drinks, breakfast bowls that I can't even count the ways I love it! It's just awesome!!! And the best part about it? It's got a low glycemic index, which makes it healthy to boot. Man oh man, I love you, Agave Nectar.

3) Skinny Bitches Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

These are the authors of that little diet book that took the world by storm- Skinny Bitch. If you haven't heard of it before, you need to get your butt to a bookstore or library and read it. It not only makes a justified argument for a vegan diet, it's also hilarious to read. Their tough love talking helps you feel like you have a friend on your side as you read some crazy stuff about the food industry and what goes into our chow. Rory Freedman also won a Veggie Award this year for "Person of the Year". Love it.
http://www.skinnybitch.net/

3) Seitan, Tofu, and other awesome natural protein sources

So, I have to address these two gifts one at a time. Seitan- where do I begin?? When I first learned about seitan, I was like, what the heck? Wheat gluten? The protein from wheat?? How is that going to taste good at all?? And then I got past my judgments and tried it for myself. And it has changed my life for the better. It's one of the most versatile and wonderful meat replacements (and a great source of protein). My absolute favorite seitan dish was served at the restaurant I am about to list as my #4: Blossom, which is in Chelsea. I had pan-seared seitan in a port-wine reduction with mashed potatoes. I even had to cut it with a knife! So gourmet and yummy. Seitan also tastes great fried up as a Parmigiana or cut up in big chunks in a winter stew. I love it so much.

My mom tells me when I was little, I would only eat blocks of plain tofu, rice cakes, and cheerios. Fast forward to college, where I'm a happy meat eater who thinks tofu is nasty stuff- I would never replace my meat with that! And fast forward again to now... and boy has life changed for me. See, the thing about tofu is that it's an acquired taste- much like beer or wine. You have to get to know it, work with it many different ways, make mistakes, and then finally one day, you realize you love it. Much like a friendship that develops slowly over time, my love for tofu is now a life-long one. Thank you tofu for being so loyal and dependable and waiting for me- I'm sorry it took me another 20 years to re-discover how in love with you I am.

4) Blossom Restaurant (and for that matter- Candle Cafe, Candle 79, Counter, Gobo, Atlas, Zen Palate, Dao Palate, and every other awesome vegan restaurant in this great city)

http://www.blossomnyc.com/

Whether you're vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore with veggie friends, go to this place. It's this beautiful little restaurant in Chelsea with food that is rich and delightful. My seitan was perfectly cooked, the bread was great (always a plus for me), the ambiance was peaceful, and the staff was lovely. It's a great place to take a date, have an anniversary/birthday dinner, or just have a great vegan experience. If you are curious about what a good vegan meal might taste like, go here.

5) PETA, The Humane Society, and The Farm Animal Sanctuary

http://www.peta.org/
www.hsus.org
http://www.farmsanctuary.org/

These organizations and their awesome websites have been tremendously helpful for me. When I first got started eating vegetarian, PETA was the place I explored- I needed more and more reasons to continue being a supporter of animal rights and an advocate for a vegetarian diet. I have become an online activist of sorts because of these three places- I even raised $400 for the Proposition 2 Campaign (
http://www.yesonprop2.com/) because PETA and HSUS inspired me so much. If you've ever wanted to know what goes into factory farming, why you should become vegetarian/vegan and why animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or abuse, go to PETA. If you want to know more about puppy mills and why we should always neuter/spay our pets, check out HSUS. And if you need a reason to fall in love with farm animals, visit the Farm Animal Sanctuary's website, and check out all of the animals' biographies- all of them have either escaped or been rescued from slaughterhouses, and their rescue stories are quite moving to read. Did you know a pig is smarter than a 3 year old child? Or that chickens can comprehend cause-and-effect relationships? Or that cows have the emotional complexity to worry about the future? There are endless reasons to be vegetarian/vegan, but these sites can get you started on your journey.

6) The Animals

Animals have always been a great love of mine, but it hasn't been till I adopted a vegetarian and vegan diet that I have found so many reasons to fight for their livelihood. I fell in love with a cow named Aggie at the Prospect Park Zoo two years ago, and that was it for me. She was so kind and sweet, so laid back when I pet her and talked to her. It began to connect for me- animals are sentient beings, with the ability to feel pain and pleasure, to love and be loved. I have never looked back since meeting Aggie. I only move forward on this cruelty-free journey, and it will continue to shape my life as I learn even more reasons to support these amazing animals.

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So, I'm sure I will think of more stuff, but for now, I feel good about what I got. I will of course be posting soon about my vegan Thanksgiving dinner adventures, but for now, I wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. May you be thankful for the people, experiences, and animals who have blessed your life this year. I certainly will.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies + Poker Game= Yummy

So... poker. My fiance loves it to bits, and I enjoy the game too. We try to have weekly or bi-weekly games at our apartment, which is always fun, since living in city makes time with friends limited, and these games always give us all a chance to reconnect. What I love about these gatherings the most is the different people who come to each one- newcomers who I'm meeting for the first time, good friends from college or life in the city, and friends I haven't seen in a while.

A new tradition I've slowly begun since the summer is using these poker gatherings to test out some new dessert recipes (no matter whether I feel good about the result, people always seem to think it's yummy, so why not?). So far, I've tried Berry Crisp, Vanilla Cake, and Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Pudding. But last night presented an unexpected winner amongst these poker players: a good old childhood classic, Chocolate Chip Cookies. Who knew?

I had found the recipe out of an awesome cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz called Vegan with a Vengeance. Isa is very funny, down to earth, and has super, easy to follow recipes. I also love her stories- she will randomly interject recipes with anecdotes about childhood and her upbringing in the city.

The recipe called for molasses, which as it turns out, gives the cookie a deep, thick, earthy flavor. The molasses also caused some happy responses like "I'm glad they're not too sweet" and "Those were vegan?", which in turn made this little amateur baker very happy indeed.

My favorite moments of the night were when I was in my kitchen messily preparing the recipe. People would come in during poker breaks, we'd have a quick chat about the yummy cookie scent in the room, and then it would get a bit deeper. A few new friends talked to me about my beginning a vegan diet- What's it like? Why did I decide to try it? Some even told me about certain times in their life when they practiced veganism or vegetarianism. I always love a good open chat about vegan eating, and I especially love it when two people with opposing eating styles can walk away learning something new about food.

It's taken me a long time to learn how to be open, welcoming, and honest about eating vegan, and it's always a comfort meeting people who are accepting of it and open themselves, no matter where they stand on the issue.

Oh yeah. The recipe.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
(from her cookbook Vegan with a Vengeance)
Makes 3 Dozen Cookies
"There's nothing healthy about these. I feel like I have to get that out of the way because sometimes people think vegan translates into healthy and although I usually try to make my cookies a little bit more healthy than your average cookie, I didn't even bother here. This cookie was made for the sole purpose of proving to someone I work with that my vegan cookies were just as good as his unvegan ones, and it worked!"
(p. 193, Vegan with a Vengeance)

1 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet vegan chocolate chips (she loves Tropical Source ones)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the margarine and sugar until fluffy. Add the molasses and vanilla. Add the flour and baking soda, and salt, and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls spaced a little over 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until ever so slightly browned. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to the cooling rack.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pumpkin Pie with the Brooklyn Kids

So, I just did a crazy long overnight babysitting job with three kids from Brooklyn, who happen to be three of my favorite kids in all of Brooklyn. :)

One of my favorite things about these kids is they loooove to eat! Since they share one of my greatest loves, I felt happily obligated to work on a cooking project with them. Thanksgiving's coming, so of course, a pumpkin pie was the perfect idea.

I found this awesome website called
http://www.bryannaclarkgrogan.com/ and on it this lady has got some awesome vegan holiday recipes. I decided to give it a whirl, and let me tell you- it was pretty amazing. The pie came out darker than a usual pumpkin pie (I think because of the molasses and brown sugar), but it was creamy, spicy, and delicious. My kind of pie.

Best part about it? No tofu! Now I love tofu like nobody's business, but I don't always love tofu in desserts. It also made for a quick and easy prep, which I always love (just blend all the ingredients in a blender- I actually just used a spoon and it was fine). For anyone deciding to try it, the recipe is below. I decided to go with a graham cracker crust and canned pumpkin, and I think it kicked some major pumpkin pie butt.

The kids loved it too. They also love saying- "Lindsay- you're vegan! I like vegan!"


I love those kids.

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BRYANNA’S VEGAN PUMPKIN PIE (can be soy-free)
(from website: http://www.bryannaclarkgrogan.com/page/page/1435893.htm)

I don’t like pumpkin pie made with tofu. This filling has a cleaner taste, in my opinion, and no one ever suspects this one doesn’t contain eggs. One caution— make this the day before serving. It’s needs a day to set really well, I find. This is a spicy filling—use less spices if you like it milder. Omit molasses if you like it lighter, too (use white beet sugar instead of brown if you like it really light).

Serve with a good vanilla non-dairy frozen dessert, such as Purely Decadent Soy Delicious (Purely Vanilla or Praline Pecan).

Try cutting out some of the extra pastry into leaf shapes and decorate the rim of the pie with them.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Have ready, one 9” unbaked pastry crust.

Blend in blender until smooth:

2 c. solid-pack canned pumpkin (one 14-15 oz. can)
(NOTE: if you use home-cooked pumpkin, drain it for several hours hanging in a cloth bag, so it’s thick like canned pumpkin; measure after draining.)
1 c. non-dairy milk (preferably a rich soymilk or nut milk)
3/4 c. brown sugar or Sucanat
3-4 T. cornstarch (depending on how firm you like it)
1 T. molasses or blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. EACH ground ginger, nutmeg and salt
1/4 tsp. ground allspice or cloves

Pour the filling into the pastry and bake 60 minutes, covering the edges with foil if they begin to brown too quickly. Cool on a rack, then refrigerate overnight before serving.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh boy... what have I done?

So, I'm beginning a blog about my new adventures eating vegan (been doing this since the beginning of October). This has been a goal in the making for a while now- and since the holidays are nearing, I will definitely be veganizing all of my family's traditional classics- and here is the perfect place to share. There will be recipes, stories, and lots of etcs. Mostly, this will be a place where I hope people, vegan and non-vegan alike, can find a sense of connection. Whether you've been eating vegan since birth, new to veganism, or a compassionate omnivore, my hope is that you will be able to learn something new about food and life... and mostly, I'm just plain obsessed with food.

Since graduating from NYU in 2006, my life has had many twists and turns. I have had some awesome and exciting experiences, made mistakes, and learned so much. And in the midst of it all, I've made a huge realization- that I love animals very much. How I got to this point and where I will go from here is why I created this blog. I'm so freakin excited. :)