Friday, December 25, 2009

The Veggie Returns! Plus, a Christmas Quiche

So I am aware I have not posted since October.  I blame my chronic perfectionism.  See, I have had oodles of ideas for posts that I have even composed and recited in my head as I have made homemade frozen burritos (courtesy of my dear bestie Ben Herman),  baked to perfection vegan German Chocolate and Mint Chocolate cupcakes for the delight of my weekly meditation and vegetarian cooking group: 

and endured ridicule as cooed over the most adorable baby bok choy you can ever conceive

But then every time I sat down to compose an entry I found would have posts that seemed too long, some posts without adequate pictures, pictures of dishes I didn't feel were original enough for me to take credit for them or not healthy enough for my vegetarian blog.  I worried that I didn't have a strong enough concept for my blog--like perhaps it's not enough to just share recipes but I needed some sort of gimmick, like picking a different vegetable each week and writing about it.  Or only creating dishes whose titles contained the letters of my name.  I decided that because of my laziness, aversion to proofreading, and general lack of originality, I didn't deserve to have a voice in the blogosphere.  
All of this, as you can imagine, did wonders for my self-esteem.  

Still, I continued cooking. I mastered the art of the boiled egg.  I warmed my soul on rainy Jersey evenings with hearty lentil soup.


I turned chemist for a night as I manipulated agar agar flakes, corn starch, and tofu to create the vegan creme filling for Brooklyn vs. Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes. 

But then as thesis draft deadlines and internship applications began to up, I decided some silly thing like this wasn't a big priority anyway.  

But then my dad rented Julie and Julia for Christmas Eve.  I had seen the film several months earlier--it was, predictably, one of the motivating factors that led me to start my blog in the first place, Julie Powell coming up with one of the best gimmicks imaginable.    Watching it again, I was most struck with the point toward the end 


Julie learns that her idol Julia Child does not consider her a serious cook at all.  Julie falls into meltdown, feeling like a failure.  But then her husband reminds her that it shouldn't matter what Julia Child thinks, who probably had never read the blog and doesn't know anything about her really.  The only person that matters is the Julia Child in her head, the one who has brought joy and purpose to her life.  


What it taught me was, so what if some people might find some of my postings long-winded.  So if I might not have much of a gimmick or if every post does not yield Julia Child-level brilliance.  Or even Paula Dean.  Maybe no publisher will ever decide my voice is worthy enough for a book deal.  But damned if the little Jewish mother in me still didn't get a thrill as roommates, classmates, and family members "mmm"-ed as they took the first bite of the food I created.  I like to food--eating and cooking it and I like to share my love of food with those I love.  And anything beyond that is simply icing on the cupcakes.  

And now for the recipe

Vegetarian Quiche Fluffed With Mayo

While I love quiche, I had never in fact made one before.  But with my success with boiling eggs and most recently a frittata behind me, I was on an egg roll.  After surveying a number of them online, I rested one from that promised the optimum amount of fluffy goodness with the minimum amount of additional ingredients to purchase at Sparkle.  I modified the recipe slightly, taking the user comments suggestion to add an extra egg.  I decided to use fresh rather than frozen spinach as well as toss in a bit of nutmeg and salt and pepper to give it some flavor.   The only thing I wish I would have though to do was saute the onions before

So, without further ado:

1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
5 eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces of shredded cheesed (I used a cheddar blend)
1/2 bag of fresh spinach
1/2 cup chopped onion
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 9-inch pie shell (homemade or frozen, depending on ambition)
Sliced red pepper slices, mushrooms, or other veggies for decoration.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare crust in pie shell.

In a large bowl, whisk together mayo and milk.  Add eggs and beat until smooth.  Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Layer spinach, onion, and cheese in shell--at least two layers of each.  Pour egg mixture over vegetables and cheese.

Arrange peppers, mushrooms or other sliced veggies over top of quiche in desired pattern.  Cover with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes.  Remove cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until top is browned and filling is set and it looks something like:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comfort Food in 5 Minutes: Nuked Fruit Crisp

Fruit crisp made with frozen peaches and granola

Everyone loves hot pie, but rarely do our schedules allow us the hour plus time it takes to cut and peel four or five apples, roll out dough, and bake it in the oven.  With a microwave, however, you can get the same sweet warm feeling in a single serving in under five 5 minutes.  This has been one of my go-to dishes for about a year now.  Usually I make it as a late-night snack when I take breaks from studying (or, you know, stalking people on facebook and trolling the "Mad Men" message board on IMDB).  Over the past month, however, I've found my nuked cobbler a fruity alternative to the standard, everyday oatmeal when I have to grab breakfast on the run.

There are a lot of different ways to go about this kind of dish, and mine varies depending on what I have on hand.  Normally I use old-fashioned oats squished together with brown sugar and Earth Balance veggie butter for the base of the topping, but I've also found this to be a great way to use up leftover granola.   Or for a more traditional cobbler topping, you can cream together butter, sugar, flour, and milk.

For the filling, the options are infinite.  I usually use apples because that's what I always have on hand, but I've also had excellent results throwing in peaches and sliced bananas.  And if you don't want to use white sugar, you can always sub agave, maple syrup, or honey.

The point is, this kind of a dish is far from an exact science.  If you don't have everything listed, don't panic:  wonderful discoveries can be made in the case of last-minute substitutions.  Necessity is the mother of of invention, and in this case, warm heavenly fruitniness.

Nuked Five-Minute Fruit Crisp

Fruit Filling:

1 cup sliced apples, peaches, pears, or any other pie fruit
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp basil (it came from Martha Stewart!)
Splash of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp chopped nuts
1 tsp raisins

1 T granola
1 T old-fashioned oats
1 T butter or margarine
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp flour

Combine filling ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, plastic container, or coffee cup.  Cream together topping ingredients and spread on top of fruit.  Microwave for 3-4 minutes.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pudding--Lisa; Lisa--Pudding

Like macaroni and cheese, bread pudding is one of those foods that immediately conjures up thoughts of warmth and comfort.

As with last edition's fried green tomatoes, my foray into bread pudding came as a continuation of my attempt to make use of the food items I acquired after Rosh Hashanah.  In addition to the green tomatoes and herbs, I inherited a bike-helmet-sized loaf of challah bread.  While I was able to make pretty good progress of the loaf in the first week, it soon became clear that consuming this entire loaf single-handedly was beyond my 5 foot 2 capacity.  I had considered freezing it as well, but at its current size it would still take up a significant portion of the freezer and I was loathe to further encroach on my roommates' territory.

While I did not intend to make this a vegan dish, I discovered most bread pudding recipes required 3-5 eggs and I was hesitant to use so many on an experimental dish while I still had another two weeks before my next planned grocery store trip.  I finally found a recipe for Easy Vegan Bread Pudding that contained all ingredients that seemed familiar to me.   But because I still had suspicions about the dish's ability to hold its form and thickness without eggs as a binder, I also found a recipe that used tofu as well.  In the end, I ended up using more of the first recipe, while simply blending the soymilk with a bit of tofu.  Unfortunately, I didn't pay close attention to the tofu-to-soymilk ratio, resulting in a mixture that was perhaps slightly more mushy than expected and I'm not sure how much of a difference the tofu made in the end.

Pudding Without Topping

For the topping, I took inspiration from the Tofu Sabayon Sauce recipe in John B. Nowakowski's Vegetarian Magic, eliminating the saffron/tumeric and using agave instead of brown rice or maple syrup.  And while I have had a rocky relationship with tofu in the past, tonight I found it a quick and easy way to create a thick, creamy sauce without the boiling or whipping involved when dealing with heavy cream or egg whites (though I still find it has a bit of an aftertaste that leaves something to be desired in terms of flavor).  While the sauce tasted perfectly luscious drizzled over the entire just-baked pudding, in retrospect I would probably leave it on the side for the sake of keeping the pudding from being too mushy.

Pudding with Topping

And so, without further ado, your recipe for instant fall comfort.

Vegan Bread Pudding

4 cups of day-old bread
2 1/2 cups soy milk
1/2 cup of silken tofu
3/4 cup sugar
1 banana, slicec
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinammon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put bread into greased (not sure if greasing is necessary, but I'm paranoid about these things) 9x9-inch baking pan.

In some sort of blending appliance, blend tofu and soymilk. Combine the soymilk-tofu rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the bread.  Stir to mix.

Bake pudding for 30-45 minutes, or until the mixture begins to hold its form.

While the pudding bakes, make the tofu vanilla cream sauce.

Tofu Vanilla Cream Sauce

One 12.3-ounce box of silken tofu
3/4 cup soymilk, almond milk, or rice milk
1/2 cup of brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or agave
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

After draining the tofu, place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Serve on top of individual slices of pudding.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Last Brunch of Summer: Fried (Greenish) Tomatoes

Ever since I saw the mid-nineties tearjerker at age 8, I've been itching to try fried green tomatoes for myself. But like my fear of pastry crusts, frying was also a cooking technique that seemed to elude me. Plus the fact that I never really found an excuse to buy bread crumbs or under-ripe tomatoes. Granted, such tomatoes were available in abundance in my dad's garden, but asking to make any dish with the word "fried" in the title seemed downright insulting in such a health-conscious household.

But yesterday I went to Rosh Hoshana lunch with cousins in Teaneck. Like every Jewish family love, is expressed through how much food is sent home with you after you leave, and I was sent packing with a bundle of fresh herbs, a loaf of challah bread, two avocados, and finally, some under-ripe tomatoes.

This morning found me sleeping in until about 1:00, and with a craving for fried green tomatoes, I decided to take the plunge. Not in a mood to buy bread crumbs or corn meal, I managed to find a recipe on for a version that used simply flour.

Fried Green Tomatoes

2 or 3 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 c. flour
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying

To begin, I coated the tomato slices in the flour.

Next, I heated a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and plopped the tomato slices in. After a few false starts and the inevitable overzealous smoke detector sounding (hey, at least it cares) I cooked each tomato slice until they were slightly browned and crispy on both sides. While not all of the tomatoes were strictly green, they came out fine, though the firmness of the green ones made them hold up a bit better with the heat. What was nice about the mix of colors was the vibrancy they brought to the finished plate.

To serve, I sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. To add some extra variety and color to the meal, you can take a handful of baby spinach and saute for a few minutes in the leftover oil from the tomatoes.

While the tomatoes were very satisfying on their own, I imagine they could also pair very well with some steamed rice, potatoes, or eggs if you want to make a full meal out of it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pastries Without Fear: Magical Muffin Pies Oh My

The genesis of this project actually began during one of my baking kicks last winter. I came across an entry in Megan Reardon's Not Martha website about making pies baked in tiny jars. The inherent adorable-ness of this idea tickled my taste buds and imagination, and yet my lack of experience with pastry crusts scared me off. While I had previously had success with graham cracker crusts, cookies, and cupcakes, the creation of pastry's delicate flakiness seemed to require a meticulousness and patience for chemistry which I would never be capable.

Fast forward almost a year later. I am sitting at my computer, having just done an ichat test in preparation for a talk-back with Bradley Theater's senior seminar class. With two hours to kill before the scheduled talk-back, I attempt to turn my attentions to my current writing projects. Complete and utter failure. Restless, I needed to do something active but with the clock ticking, I knew a bike ride was out of the question. My thoughts drifted to baking, and I rattled off in my mind the ingredients I had: flour, water, salt, butter. All they key ingredients for a pastry crusts. Once again the jar pies popped back into my mind. Though the chemistry of it was still daunting, the thought of something warm inside of a flaking crust was too much to resist on a cold, rainy day.

So I trolled the web until I found a basic pie crust recipe that seemed simple enough even I couldn't screw up. With trepidation, I began following the steps outlined, careful not to let my insecurity and impatience cause me to lose faith in the instructions and screw it up completely. It's a similar fear to programming a destination into your GPS: though 95% of the time it gets you to where you need to be, there are those once-in-a-blue moon cases where it decides to have a conniption fit and leads you toward an abandoned warehouse during an Oklahoma tornado warning instead of the Motel 6. If I follow the recipe and do as I am told will I be rewarded with crisp, flaky, goodness or will the fruits of my labor be limp, mushy, and bland?

And while at first the outlook was bleak--this is absurd, I thought, cutting frozen butter bit by bit into the bowl of flour. Once I added began adding bits of water, however, I began to feel something vaguely dough-like taking shape. Still I was anxious, but by the time I was ready to put the dough in the freezer, it was about time for the ichat talk and I was forced to walk away.

45 minutes later, I take the dough out of the freezer and roll it out. Seems normal enough. Though the original intend had been to use an empty salsa jar for my jar-pie, I abandoned that idea when I realized the method was intended for more heat-resistant canning jars, and the last thing I needed was the jeers from my roommates once my jar exploded in the oven. So I instead resolved to take this opportunity to inaugurate my new muffin tin. For my first batch, I decided to make half veggie pies and half apple. The amount of dough I created ended up being enough for 8 pies.

Holding my breath, I popped them into the oven. About 40 minutes later, I took them out.

And planted my fork into the crust. It crackled and was just as flaky, warm and comforting as promised.

The next day, I was entertaining a guest and decided to try my hand at another batch, this time making half peanut butter and half apple. Here you will see the lovely Jen Ring modeling the result:

And now, finally, Miraculous Magical Muffin Pies

2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 sticks cold butter
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Ice water as needed

Fillings (these fillings are all measured for making six pies each. To make a full batch, simply double each recipe)

Vegetable Pot Pie
1 cup chopped veggies, can include peas, mushrooms, onions, corn, potatoes, etc.
l cup vegetable broth (a bouillon cube in water should do the trick)
Flour, corn starch or arrowroot to thicken
salt, pepper to taste

Apple Pie
1 apple, diced
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp of water
1 tsp corn starch or arrowroot

Peanut Butter Pie
1/2 cup karo (can also dissolve sugar in boiling water to substitute)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup peanut butter

Add flour to a medium bowl. Cut butter pieces about 1/2-tablespoon big and add to flour along with salt. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, blend together until the dough resembles pea-sized crumbs.

Add ice water a tablespoon at a time mixing with a fork just until the dough starts to come together. Using your hands, knead dough in the bowl two or three times until it comes together in a ball. Turn out onto a floured cutting board and knead another two to three times.

Flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the freezer for 15 minutes to use immediately according to pie recipe. Or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and use any time within a week. Crust can also be frozen for up to a month and defrosted in the refrigerator overnight for later use.

Once ready to bake, remove the dough from the freezer and roll out onto counter until dough is about 1/8 inch thick. Press half of the dough into greased muffin tin and cover the rest. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 and prepare the fillings.
For the veggie pot pie, combine chopped veggies and cook in the method you prefer. Next, combine broth in a small sauce pan with arrowroot, corn starch and flour and heat until sauce begins to thicken. Pour sauce over the veggies and combine until coated. Pour into pie shells.

For the apple pot pie, dice apples and set aside in lemon juice. Next, heat sugar, water, corn starch and cinnamon in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Pour into pie shells.

For the peanut butter pie, combine all ingredients until smooth and pour into pie shells.

Next, take the rest of the dough and cover the tops of each pie. You can be simple and just do a solid cover, or get creative and weave strips together to create a traditional basket look. When finished, pop the little suckers into the oven and let bake for 30-45 minutes or until the crust starts to get golden brown.

Remove from the oven, grab a fork, and you know the rest!

In the rare case that there are leftovers, pop them into a bag and pop them into the microwave for a quick lunch on the run, midnight snack, or rainy day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fun in the Trader Joe's Frozen Section: Frozen Eggplant Cutlets

Up to $2 cheeper than the Dominex brand they sell at most conventional grocery stores, this stuff is just good to have on hand when putting together a filling vegetarian meal in a time crunch. You can layer them with sauce and cheese to bake lasagna-style or put them in a kaiser roll to fulfill your craving for a chicken parm sandwich. I like to chop two or three up and mix in with pasta, broccoli, and marinara in a tupperware container for a hearty lunch.

Chickpeas: Not Just for Hummus Anymore

From the age of 10, I've been eating some form of chick peas at least twice a week. Whether pureed in hummus, on top of a salad, or straight out of a can, I can't get enough of this hearty legume. Since I began fully cooking for myself in college, my kitchen pantry has contained at least two cans of it at any given time.

Content, it never occurred to seek other uses for chick peas. Until this summer I read the July 21 edition of Mark Bittman's Minimalist column which provided Recipes for 101 Simple Salads for the Season. Though his column is usually slim on vegetarian options, what I love about Mark Bittman is how well he illustrates that living in the modern world doesn't mean sacrificing both taste and nutrition. I love his 101 lists because even if I rarely have access to all of the ingredients, he presents his ideas in clear and simple enough ways that it lets me use the ingredients I currently have in a new and interesting way. This particular day, my eyes fell on a recipe I actually did have the ingredients for: tabouleh that called for mashed chickpeas instead of cracked wheat (seriously, who ever has cracked wheat?). To my delight, the result had all of the herby, lemony freshness I love about tabouleh and the heartiness I love about chickpeas.

Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a recipe that uses chickpeas as a base for Mock Tuna Salad, which I found equally satisfying.

Taking both recipes into account, I have fashioned my own version that combines the creaminess of the Mock Tuna Salad with the crispness of the tabouleh. The following not only be a great lunch substitute for chicken, egg, or tuna salad sandwiches, it also provides an answer to the first question asked of most vegetarians: Where do you get your protein?

Smashed Chick Pea Salad

1 can chickpeas, drained.
2 Tbsp fresh curly parsley, chopped (you could also experiment with fresh mint or cilantro)
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup red onion, died
2 Tbsps mayonnaise, or to taste (I used Trader Joe's brand, but to make it vegan you could probably swap out Vegenaise and no one would be the wiser)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, or to taste
lemon juice to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, smash chick peas with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until the mayo and mustard are coating the entire mixture. Serve in a pita or on top of lettuce leaves.

By Popular Request--Creamy Mushroom Almond Soup

My most recent culinary conquest was inspired by one of the many soups originated by vegan cooking goddess Ely Pugh at first at the Flaming Ice Cube and now The Bread Chef in Boardman, Ohio. (If you are a health-conscious individual living in the Youngstown area and have never experienced Ely's soups, your life is in seriously need of some vegan love.)

In general, I am loathe to go too out of my way when it comes to meal planning. I am loathe to buy an item specifically for a dish unless I can be certain to find additional uses for it in the case of leftovers.

It was quite extraordinary, then, when I discovered I not only had a substantial portion of baby bella mushrooms as well as a bag of raw almonds. And while soup has always been rather shaky ground for me, I was determined to persevere.

So I went about my usual method of finding recipes--I did a google search of listing the ingredients I wanted to use and then surveyed the results to find a recipe that would allow me to buy the fewest additional ingredients. I had no luck, however, and the solution ended up coming from Keri Harmicar after I resorted to a facebook call for help.

And now, without further ado, my version of Creamy Mushroom Almond Soup:

(a quick note about measurements: I was mainly eyeballing while I made this, so these ratios are by no means exact. Feel free to add or subtract elements to reach your desired flavor and consistency.)

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp tarragon, or to taste
1/2 tsp thyme, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup raw almonds
2/3 cup vegetable broth (I made mine with vegetarian bouillon dissolved in hot water)

Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add mushrooms, onions, and spices, and cook till veggies are tender (and remember Julia Child's golden rule: don't crowd the mushrooms!)

Meanwhile, grind almonds to a fine powder in a coffee grinder, food processor, or magic bullet (you can probably use a blender as well, but I find them inefficient for quantities this small.)

Next combine almonds and veggies along with broth in blending contraption of your choice. Blend until smooth. Garnish with tarragon and an almond.

Serves: 1 or 2, depending on your appetite.

Kicking the Caffeine Crutch

While I was going to jump right in to recipes for my second post, I got a request from Jacob to discuss the various strategies for curbing the addiction to soda (I grew up saying "pop" in Ohio, but years of travel have finally swayed me. I apologize for letting down the team) and coffee.

For many, caffeinated beverages are the biggest obstacles to adopting a healthy lifestyle. Soda is not only refreshing (let's face it: carbonation is fun!) , but it's cheep and it is found absolutely everywhere. And coffee, whether you are of the Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts persuasion, is equally ubiquitous in our modern world.

In the case of soda, a trip to your nearest health food store will unearth a wide range of fruit-based bubblies at a wide range of prices. Read the labels closely, however: just because a product has a drab label and is sold at the health food store, does not mean it doesn't contain only 2
5% juice and the other 75% sugar. The gold standard are the spritzers made by R.W. Knudsen, which I grew up drinking as a kid. They can be a bit pricey, but they contain only real fruit juice and sparkling water and are equivalent to one servin
g of fruit. And without the high fructose corn syrup, I actually feel more refreshed and satisfied after drinking a can of Black Cherry Spritzer than I ever could drinking Cherry Coke.

And that's all well and good when grocery shopping, you may say, but what happens when we're on our lunch break, or on the run and have no time to plan ahead? I'm glad you asked! If you live anywhere in America, chances are you never more than 8 minutes from a Starbucks at any given time (either a stand-alone or in a Barnes and Noble). For over 6 years, Starbucks has been selling the Izze
brand of sodas. Like Knudsen Izze sodas, are made up of 100% fruit and come in fun flavors like pomegranate, grapefruit, blackberry and lime. And with prices between $1.30 to $1.70, they aren't much more expensive than Pepsi and a lot cheeper than any of the fancy coffee drinks you normally buy there.

Another fizzy option when eating out: italian sodas. Italian soda is essentially sparkling water with a shot of flavored syrup. While many of the syrups contain a higher level of sugar than is ideal, it can be a sensible option for those wishing to avoid the chemicals and high fructose corn syrup inherent in coke products. You might even try and ask if the restaurant or cafe or flight attendant can create for you a healthier version using soda water and fruit juice. The worst they can say is no!

Now , on to coffee. Your best strategy for curbing your coffee craving will depend on what needs coffee satisfies for you. If you drink coffee mainly because you like the taste, most well-stocked health food stores provide a range of caffeine-free alternatives, the best of which I've found is Teeccino. And for sweeteners, there are several sugar-free options that won't give you cancer. While probably the best option nowadays is stevia (most conventional grocery stores now carry it labeled Truvia, which now comes in packets that you
can keep in your purse, desk, or car), last year Jon Deliz turned me on to the virtues of sweetening coffee with liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup and agave. I've even seen single-serve honey packets on several occasions. For creamer, silk currently makes a line of excellent dairy-free creamers, but you can also experiment with rice milk, almond milk, or even coconut milk.

But if the taste of coffee is not something you are married to, and a caffeine fix is your main objective, several people have reported successfully weaning themselves off coffee by substituting it with hot green tea. While still containing enough caffeine to give you a kick, it's far less concentrated than coffee, cheeper (especially if you drink loose-leaf), and requires a lot less added ingredients to take off the bitterness. Keeping a few tea bags in your car, purse, or pocket while on the run is also a very effective way to avoid the temptation toward toxic beverages in general. Many cafes have understandably begun charging for just the styrofoam cup, so I try to carry with me either a ceramic mug or thermos with me whether I am at work or on the run. Most establishments will grudgingly fill your vessel up with hot water if you ask, and you can feel good that by abstaining from the styrofoam to go cup you are saving the environment as well as your shekels.

Carrying tea bags on your person is also a terrific defense against the situation where even the most well-intentioned traveler can find themselves the most vulnerable: airline travel. Now that most major airlines have eliminated the complimentary beverage service, it is tempting to choose soda or coffee because it's at least $1 cheeper than the apple juice (and if there is tea, it's usually the most basic, bland, bitter plain lipton crap). Carrying a handful of tea bags, whether green tea, rooibos, darjeeling, or chamomile, is a relatively low-cost way to take back control of your travel experience. And if you're really new to the hot tea experience, the overwhelming array of options can be a bit dizzying. While I have become accustomed to The Republic of Tea, Yogi, and Celestial Seasonings (I'm a sucker for the artwork on the boxes), much more affordable options can be found at Trader Joe's and even Lipton has greatly diversified its selection in recent years. And at many Asian food stores you can buy large quantities of both bagged and loose green, jasmine, and black teas for a song.

So that's what I've been able to glean thus far Anyone else have any great caffeine alternatives or strategies they have found effective?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving" ~ Rosalind Russell

Since I can remember, my life entire life has been defined by the food around me. Growing up as a vegan in middle America, our first priority as a family was, can we eat anything there? Can this restaurant make a baked potato? Does the soup have a beef broth? Can they provide a side of avocado? Do they know what avocado is?

Throughout my childhood, I often felt as though I was living in a parallel universe. While other kids packed their lunches with JIF-filled Wonder bread sandwiches and sipped their chocolate milk boxes, I was eating avocado-covered rice cakes and yelling at my dad to make sure he strained the fresh-squeezed orange juice my sister and I had to drink before we were allowed to leave for school. I was sixteen when I finally discovered what a coffee grinder was. Granted, we had one in our kitchen my entire life, which was used to grind cashews and in my mind, it was a nut grinder.

Normally resigned to two aisles in the back of conventional grocery stores, I remember feeling liberated whenever my dad and I would make our monthly pilgrimages to the Mustard Seed Market in Akron (this was even before Cleveland got a Whole Foods, let alone a Trader Joe's).
The world of healthy eating has changed a lot since I was in elementary school. By high school the same kids who once mocked me for eating "slime" on my rice cakes were asking me how to lose weight and how to make smoothies. I knew the world had really begun to shift the first time I saw national commercial for Silk soy milk. Now in addition to The Mustard Seed, my dad's pilgrimages include detours Whole Foods as well as Trader Joe's. While growing up the best vegetarian option for fast food was a salad bar at or baked potato at Wendy's, veggies-on-the run can now choose from Panera, Jamba Juice, and the wonderful magic that is Chipotle.

The point is, there a lot more ways to eat healthy today there were when I was growing up. Still, I encounter a lot of people who run into obstacles when trying to navigate the meat-free lifestyles. They either report feeling ill because they decided it was enough to simply give up meat while continuing gorge themselves on what my dad would call "chazerai" (i.e. over processed sugary crap), or they eventually give up after a month because they find a diet of brown rice, tofu, and steamed broccoli to be severely limiting. And I agree would have to agree wholeheartedly.

This blog is by no means a diet system. I have always found the word "diet" to be limiting. It implies oppression and deprivation. Many people give up on vegetarianism cold turkey because they feel discouraged by one or two guilty indulgences. For me, life is all about balance. I am immensely grateful for the way I was brought up (yay immunity!) and yet at this point I personally find pure veganism limiting as a lifestyle choice (a semester delighting in unpasteurized camembert and roquefort in Rennes, France pretty much killed my taste for soy cheese). I am grateful to my upbringing because it taught me how to take care of myself: when I start to eat too much "chazerai" (i.e., over-processed, over-sugared crap whose ingredient list contains more than 5 mysterious chemical compounds) I get congested and realize my body is telling me it's time to eat fresh fruit and miso soup for a week.

Here you'll find recipes here that involve cheese and eggs as well as soups that use ground nuts as and coconut milk as substitutions. Though I am aware the vegetarian lifestyle is not the right choice for everyone, I want this blog to illustrate that vegetarian living by no means should involve sacrificing flavor, color, variety, adventure, and magic.