Tuesday, April 29, 2008

triple the fun: veggie food in Northern Virginia

As I mentioned previously, I spent a week at my mom's place for spring break earlier in the month. I got to relax, enjoy seeing family and friends, and of course eat a lot of good food! Anyone who has visited the Northern Virginia/Metro D.C. region knows that they are not lacking for vegetarian dining of all kinds. When I visit, I tend to venture into D.C. to try out the great selection of restaurants, but this time around I decided to stick to the Virginia side of the river. Here are my reviews of the three restaurants that I got to try. (For a complete listing of all vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants in Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, make sure to check out this fabulous list by VegDC- this was my starting point)

While browsing the list, Happy Family caught my attention. First of all, their location in Falls Church makes them very close to my mom's place, and second of all, they have an entire section of their menu dedicated to veggie meat dishes. As most of you know, I am endlessly fascinated by vegetarian meat creations, so I wanted to try this place out. As you can see from the photo above, the restaurant itself is very small and run-down. That didn't matter to us, though, since we were getting our food to go.

My mom ordered the spicy eggplant with garlic sauce, a dish that both of us regularly order in Chinese restaurants.

I got an order of spicy Szechuan chicken and veggies. I loved the texture of the seitan and veggies, and thought the dish was pretty spicy (although I wouldn't have minded if it was even more so!). My mom and I both liked our dishes, but found them to be a little under-flavored and overpriced compared to other take-out style Chinese restaurants in the region. If you have a particular craving for mock meats and are in the neighborhood, Happy Family is worth checking out, but I wouldn't describe it as outstanding.

Next up, a blogger meet-up! I met Ryan (of Veg Blog fame) for lunch at A Taste of Burma restaurant. You might remember my previous write-up of another Burmese restaurant, Myanmar, in Virginia (here), where I professed my love for the cuisine. This lunch only solidified my love.

Ryan had the green tea leaf salad, which is a refreshing and unique dish that you have to try at least once in your life.

I decided to go for the tamarind veggie curry, which was phenomenal. It was a mixture of a ton of veggies (cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, green beans, eggplant, onions, and more) and two kinds of tofu (baked and deep-fried) in a bright and tangy tamarind base, all topped with cilantro, and it was awesome. I can still taste it now, and I know that I will always want to go out for Burmese food when I visit my mom from here on out. It was also very fun to meet and get to talk with a fellow blogger- a definite highlight of my trip!

I had heard whisperings about a new vegetarian restaurant called Lotus in Chantilly, and I convinced my mom and my aunt to go there with me the day before I left. I had heard that the owner used to work at Sunflower, the famous veggie landmark, so it seemed worth a try. (You can read my write-up of Sunflower here) My aunt is very cautious about trying new foods, so I appreciate both her and my mom for humoring me. Lotus' menu is pretty large, and clearly distinguishes vegan and vegetarian dishes from one another. I was disappointed that there were no vegan desserts, but that didn't prove to be a problem as the three of us stuffed ourselves on our lunch dishes!

We started with an order of summer rolls which turned out to be my favorite. A crisp combination of tofu and veggies wrapped in a soft rice paper wrapper, and dipped in a sweet and sour peanut-y sauce definitely satisfied my cravings.

My aunt went for the house salad, a combination of field greens topped with carrots, apples, sunflower seeds, crispy soy nuts, and a delicious house dressing.

My mom ordered the Manchurian palate, hoping for a spicy dish, which she got! Spicy seitan chicken nuggets, along with crisp red and green peppers in a nice sauce came atop a bed of steamed cauliflower, along with a side of brown rice. I loved the emphasis on healthy ingredients at Lotus, where steamed veggies and brown rice were plentiful.

I ordered the tempeh sandwich, which the menu said came with cheese. When I asked them to not include the cheese, the server very kindly told me that the sandwich also had mayo, and asked whether I would also like to omit that, which I of course did. I love the little luxuries of veg restaurants, where they are mindful of the ingredients and the potential preferences of their customers to such a degree. My double-decker sandwich was awesome even without cheese and mayo- the tempeh bacon had a perfectly smoky flavor and crisp texture, and the tofu and veggies brought it all together. My aunt got to try tempeh for the first time by sampling my sandwich, and she loved it. The order also came with a small side salad.

Overall, Lotus Vegetarian was a good restaurant, but it definitely does not reach the levels of flavor that I experienced at Sunflower. It is awesome to see a restaurant of its kind in the neighborhood, though, and I would definitely go back for more healthy fare. Next time, I'm going to have to try one of their intriguing smoothies.

Restaurant Information:

Happy Family
301 South Washington St
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 534-3838

A Taste of Burma
126 Edds Ln.
Sterling, VA 20165

Lotus Vegetarian
13872 Metrotech Dr
Chantilly, VA 20151
(703) 378-6888


Saturday, April 26, 2008

I get by with a little help...

This is the blog post of gratitude. Throughout the last weeks and months, friends have surprised me with wonderfully generous gifts. Every time I have come home to find something waiting for me in the mail box or on the front porch, I have been reminded of the awesomeness of the person behind the package. I have used and enjoyed everything, but I thought now would be a good time to make my thanks official in a blog post, one that will also serve as a preview of cool things to come.

In reverse chronological order we have...

I came home from my mom's house last week to find this book, courtesy of my friend Liza. Let me first mention that I've known Liza since 9th grade, when we both suffered through geometry class together. Let me next mention that she is an awesome artist and illustrator, so it goes without saying that she sent me the most beautiful edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I had shamefully never read this story, and now is clearly a good time to fix that!

Next we have the wonderful Celine. Anyone who has dealt with her for even the briefest time knows that this girl's sweetness knows no bounds. She surprised me on my birthday with a gift certificate to Vegan Honey's Etsy shop! It took me forever to decide what to get- Vegan Honey, after all, offers not one but two kinds of vegan twinkies in addition to tons of other sweets. Finally, I decided on the cherry cheese danish, reasoning that I have never made danish at home.

Zomg- these were delicious! And the best part was that they arrived right before I left for Virginia, so not only did Daiku and I each get a Danish, but I got to take one to share with my mom. Vegan Honey also included a little spice donut in the package, which tasted really good and went great with tea.

Another birthday surprise: I received a package from Pandacookie with, what else, cookies! Chocolate chocolate almond cookies (ETA: from the Vive le Vegan recipe)- these were so good. Daiku and I went through them all in about two days.

One of the best things about making friends with fellow bloggers from around the world is having the chance to sample food that you don't have access to at home. Such is the case with Johanna, whose Puerto Rican food and recipes always make me drool. And now, thanks to this package from her, I can make those recipes using these all-natural culantro and achiote seasoning packs. Daiku and I both love Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas, and these add so much flavor!

Speaking of flavor, Diann (of Eat'n Veg'n fame) surprised me by sending me this huge batch of berbere spice mix from her favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Austin. She knows how much I dig Ethiopian food and now I get to have more fun experimenting with Ethiopian cooking at home! I have a big Ethiopian feast planned soon, but I also enjoy this seasoning on simple things such as these potatoes, simply roasted with olive oil and berbere:

This is the second year in a row that I have been the joyful recipient of the Veggielicious zine from Amey (of Vegan Eats and Treats). I love looking through this zine, first of all to savor all the work, dedication, and cute drawings that Amey fills it with, but also to peruse the recipes that she showcases.

The first recipe I tried out of the zine was for these maple walnut cookies from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan. We had a guest coming over and I wanted something warm and fresh out of the oven to greet him with. Sadly, at the last minute, I realized that I didn't have walnuts or any nuts in the house (a freakish and rare event, I assure you)- but these cookies came out so wonderfully even without! They are light, fluffy, buttery, and totally infused with maple goodness.

Finally, my friend Sharon gave me this book last September. It's a French book all about soy and various soy products like tofu, tempeh, miso, and more. It's so fun to see simple things like tofu in the new light of a different cultural perspective. It's sumptuously illustrated with detailed photos and teaches soy facts, history, and nutrition in addition to having a huge number of recipes.

Here's a step-by-step guide to making your own tofu. I haven't tried it yet, but definitely hope to soon. However, I have made some other recipes from this book, and you'll just have to stay tuned to see them!

Thank you again, all my friends who have made checking the mail every day an exciting event! XO


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

earth day in many photos, few words

UPDATE (4/24): I forgot to give credit for the gas station installation. Please visit the
International Fiber Collaborative to learn more!

I was gone for a little over a week. This is what our flowers looked like before I left. When I came back, Spring had settled in Syracuse, because our yard and garden looked like this:

Flowers were not the only new thing to have cropped up while I was gone. Yesterday, Daiku took me to see this new project in our neighborhood:

It's an abandoned gas station, reclaimed with all of these intricate and beautiful patches, as a way of drawing attention to our energy consumption. We stood around for a long time admiring the work that went into each individual panel:

To celebrate Earth Day, we have decided to finally sign up for 100% wind energy for our house. The process was fast and easy, and based on our electricity usage, our monthly bill shouldn't go up more than $10-12 a month. If the prospect of that small increase inspires us to use less electricity, so much the better.

The majority of Americans have the option of converting all or part of their energy usage to wind, hydroelectric, solar, or other more environmentally friendly options. Look into the possibilities in your area. Happy Earth Day!


Monday, April 14, 2008

veganica grammatica: a modest proposal

Today, I want to write about a topic that is always in the back of my mind as a vegan and as a blogger. Lately, as I've been preparing to be interviewed by the wonderful Vegan Noodle on the Go Vegan Texas radio show (click here for more info-the show airs today, but you can download it and listen to it at any time!), and thinking more about how we communicate about veganism, it's come to the forefront. The question is, how do we refer to our food?

I posted this question on the PPK forums a couple of months ago:

"What do you guys think of alternative spellings for food? Do you drink mylk or milk? Do you eat chicken or chykyn? Wings or wingz? Cheese or cheez? Soy milk or soy "milk"?

I always use the traditional spelling for foods, my reasoning being that vegan food is normal food, no need to segregate it. I have no problem eating chicken (something protein-y that tastes a certain way and has a certain texture), I have problems eating actual chickens that were once living! Does that make sense? Our frozen desserts are ice cream, too. If it was all about ingredients, I don't see why a non-vegan ice cream or mayonnaise with lots of fillers and artificial ingredients and very little of the "traditional" ingredients (how many ice creams or mayonnaises actually contain egg yolks, for example? alternately, how many of them, like their vegan counterparts, contain things like soybean oil?) can have traditional names, while we can't.

I'm not being humorless, I think some vegan names are really witty and cute (dulce sin leche, veganaise, etc.) but in general, I don't have a good reaction to alternative spellings and I don't think the population at large does, either. I alternate between being bemused and turned off."

As you can see by the responses to this question on the PPK, the majority of vegans agree that alternative spellings can range from annoyingly cutesy to downright annoying. Even worse, several people talked about the constant use of quotation marks as being very distracting when reading food descriptions or recipes. As a vegan, a blogger, a teacher, and a student of rhetoric, I think that what we write communicates a lot about what we eat and represents us as individuals and as a community. I believe that our food is as real as any other food, so there is no reason to segregate ourselves rhetorically or sacrifice our grammar. I already practice this for the most part, but from now on, I pledge to use regular food terms when describing food (mine or any other vegan food) or writing recipes. I have put a disclaimer in my sidebar to this effect. This will help our food prove that it is what we all know it to be: normal, straightforward, tasty, and within reach.

From now on...

the soy milk that I foam and put in my latte IS normal milk

The dollop of Tofutti sour cream on my baked potatoes IS normal sour cream

The vegannaise in the dressing for my slaw IS normal mayonnaise

And what you see on my bagel? Well, that is the most delicious veggie cream cheese you will ever taste.

What do you guys say, are you with me?


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

seriously, bluecross?

Those of you who live in the United States might recognize this. Those of you who don't might get a good laugh out of it. My health insurance offers a health rewards program- an incentive to make healthy changes in your life in exchange for
cash and prizes better health and a longer life. Or that's the idea, anyway. I feel that I eat pretty well and am in pretty good shape, but I don't want this to stop me from all the cash and prizes health benefits that this program has to offer, so I have signed up. The exercise portion was fairly straightforward- I tell them how active I am and they give me tips for exercises to do every day. So far so good.

Then, I got to the nutrition section. Here, they ask you to enter your weight, and then tell them whether you would like to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight. They then design an optimal menu for you, which they also promise will be "heart healthy." Well imagine my horror upon being presented with this suggested daily menu: (click on the photos to enlarge)

For breakfast, they want me to consume calcium fortified orange juice, fat-free fruit yogurt (ack! the yuck factor of dairy aside, don't they care about the sugar or chemical sugar substitute in those things?), some lowfat milk (more dairy?!), an egg-white omelette with cheddar cheese and imitation bacon bits (come on, now!) along with an english muffin. (Oh, phew! They recommend a wheat english muffin! no word on if that means whole wheat or not) Knowing what I know about eggs and dairy, not to mention what I know about packaged foods, that breakfast sounds like a nightmare.

But that is nothing compared to dinner! Keep in mind, these suggestions are supposed to be healthy and contribute to weight loss, and this is a health insurance company making the recommendations! You would think they would have a vested interest in me not dropping dead (or worse, developing chronic illnesses necessitating prolonged health care, medicine, hospitalization, etc.). Here we go: they want me to eat frozen boysenberries (unsweetened- woo!) with powdered sugar (d'oh!), some yellow wax beans (a wonderful vegetable, but not a nutritional powerhouse), some more lowfat milk (ew! I mean, seriously?), and some pasta and meatless (phew) tomato sauce with cheesy meatballs. (d'oh, d'oh, d'oh)

As if this meal weren't enough to wear you out, you get a snack! A parfait made from fat-free frozen yogurt, frozen strawberries, peanut M&Ms, and, oh! two tablespoons of Kashi Go Lean cereal. I don't care if you're vegan or not, consuming that much dairy in one day is not good for you. If I ate their suggested menu, I'd be sluggish, over-sugared and under-nourished. And frankly, a little grossed out.

What about my breakfast? How could I enter things like this rice pudding made with organic brown rice, unsweetened hemp milk, cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, walnuts, and a dash of agave nectar?

Or this hearty brunch of marinated grilled tofu, roasted spicy potatoes, swiss chard, tomatoes, and rye bread?

It turns out you can customize your menu, but your only options even there are preselected brand-name packaged items. For example, I tried picking "smoothie" but the only smoothies they would recognize were Dannon Light 'n Fit-brand "smoothies." (light on the smoothie, heavy on the sugar and crap). Why, if I were the suspicious type, I would think that my insurance company has product placement agreements with major food brands to pimp their products as healthy...? No...

Well, the promise of being rewarded for health is enticing, but I can't even lie and say I'm eating that stuff! I better re-double my exercise program - and go munch on a carrot stick while I'm at it.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

gifts that keep on giving

It's ridiculous to be blogging about Christmas gifts 5 months after the fact, right? But I just had to take a moment to talk about 2 amazing gifts that I've been using ever since then.

First, this cutting board from Bridget. It's gorgeous, isn't it? What's even more wonderful is that it's handmade by her husband. I have always admired this kind of artistry and woodworking, and now I have a beautiful example of it in my kitchen.

I've decided to devote it to bread baking. So if you're ever at my house and I offer you a slice of homemade bread, you'll know where it came from!

Second, a gift from Bridget and Trac: homemade ravioli!

Daiku and I were so lucky to be on the receiving end of so many hours of their labor! We got several filling flavors, including tofu/spinach (pictured above), pumpkin, and sun-dried tomato. Since we got these ravioli the day before we left for L.A., we froze them, and so had a stockpile of delicious home-made food when we came back.

It was only last week that we finally finished them -vegan ravioli is a rare treat to be savored, after all! They were so flavorful that the best way to eat them was the simplest- here you see the ravioli with a few pieces of sausage, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some chopped parsley, and generous amounts of sea salt and fresh pepper.


A belated thank you to you ladies!


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

party, giveaway, and news!

birthday lilies

Hi everybody! In this post I want to share some birthday wonderfulness with all of you. Usually, I don't make a huge deal out of my birthday, but this year we had a group of friends come together, and the results were too fun and too delicious to keep to myself. So here are some scenes (and recipes) from our little partay this past weekend:

Do you remember my vegan ceviche from last year? I decided to make it again, with a few tweaks to the recipe. Once again I used sliced jarred hearts of palm because of their pretty shape, great taste, and eerie resemblance to calamari. This time, I marinated together:

1 jar of hearts of palm, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
2 ripe but firm avocados
1/3 large red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 small jalapeño pepper, minced finely
the juice of 2-3 organic lemons, plus 1/4 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
splash olive oil
sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and a tiny smidge of powdered coriander

this is what it looked like after a few hours of marinading in the fridge

and this was the ceviche in martini glasses, ready to be passed around at the party

for an entrée, we finally whipped out the Camellia red beans that Kittee had sent us back around Mardi Gras, and Daiku made his famous New Orleans red beans & rice

here it is, served with white rice and garnished with chopped parsley and Tobasco sauce. These beans are so simple, and yet taste so otherworldly, they make me fantasize about traveling down south. Mmmmm.

We also decided to pass around tapas-style potatoes. To make them, we simply steamed these tiny white potatoes, and then tossed with coarse sea salt, parsley, and truffle-scented olive oil,

and served with this improvised aioli sauce comprised of vegannaise mayo, lemon juice, garlic powder, and paprika.

My friend Heather baked a birthday cake for me by veganizing her favorite orange pound cake recipe! Gorgeous, no? This cake was so good, full of orange juice and zest, spiked with orange liqueur, and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. I am so grateful to friends like her, willing to step outside of their food/baking comfort zones and making this vegan birthday girl very happy indeed! (another baked treat veganized by my friend Rachel, but devoured too quickly to be photographed: banana bread! I have to get a picture of this some time soon, Rachel has perfected the art of making her banana bread create a pudding-like layer at the bottom... words would not do it justice)

Of course, I had to bake too. I'd been craving tiramisu cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for way too long to hold out any longer! These little guys were composed of golden vanilla cupcakes soaked with an espresso/Kahlua mixture, topped with dollops of cream cheese frosting and cocoa powder and finished off with dark-chocolate covered espresso beans. Oh my.

The term 'food porn' was invented for moments like this!

Our party fell on the night of Black Out For Earth Hour - and thanks to a reminder by Tracy, we managed to turn out our lights from 8 to 9 to participate in this event for the environment! As you can see in the above photo, this hour turned into a kind of campfire moment- we all sat around with only candles for light, eating, drinking, and sharing funny stories. It was so fun!

birthday spring bouquet

* * *

Ok, I promised to share my exciting news with you guys, so here it is!

But first, the small matter of the pool. I had a lot of fun reading your guesses as to what I was going to say. I don't want to choose one winner! So I've decided that everyone who guessed can be a winner. The prize? Some of my beloved sourdough starter so that you guys can have as much fun at home baking sourdough bread (and pancakes and biscuits and waffles and pizza...) as I do!

I've even created a blog email address for this event: wherestherevolution (at) gmail (dot) com. So if you made a guess on this blog, would like some sourdough starter and instructions in the mail, and live in the U.S. (I had to it this way, I'm not sure about the advisability of mailing live cultures through international mail), email me with your address! I will wait 1 week, or until the first 10 requests have come in, whichever happens first, to mail them out.

Ok, without further ado, here's the news:

Daiku and I are moving* to England!!

(woo woo!)

*Ok, it's not a permanent move, but for 5 months starting in late August or September, we will be living in Canterbury. For a time at least, we will be British Bloggers, and I can't wait. So all you Brits out there, please, I could use all your advice! And when I come over, I hope you know there will be meet-ups galore! This vegan's going international, yo.

a map showing Canterbury, in the southeast corner of England (click to enlarge)

birthday begonias