Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a real foodie holiday, isn't it? There is something so primal about a holiday celebrating the time of harvest, and paying respect to Mother Earth, the circle of life and death, the fragile interconnection of all things, and delicious seasonal foods and drinks, of course.

Last Saturday, Daiku and I threw a party, and asked our friends to come in costume!

He went as the Unabomber, complete with manifestos to hand out to guests.

I went as Jim Jones, complete with Kool-Aid (i.e. sangria) for everyone to drink. (How did both of us manage to go as sociopathic men with aviator glasses? Sometimes the stars align, I guess...)

Here are Trac and Bridget. Bridget came as Freddy Krueger, and Trac came as...

...a Freudian slip. She's wearing a slip...

...and it's a Freudian one. Isn't this the most wonderful idea for a costume? (Anyone recognize the scene illustrated above? C'mon, let your inner Freud nerd shine!)

Here's one of our tiny little Jack O'Lanterns... am I a freak because I grow attached to my pumpkins and can't bear to cut into them? (Celine, do you recognize the eyes and mouth?)

I was so excited about this- Bridget made LindyLoo's bloody finger cookies!! I'd been wanting to eat these since seeing them on her blog last year. They were really good- and we even had a little playful fighting over who would get the last index finger and the last pinkie! (Ok, the fighting was between our youngest guests, but you get the idea...)

Daiku made some Autumnal sushi: sweet potato and radish (dyed pink with beet juice) with black and white (wild and sushi) rice or green rice. The green rice was a variety that we came across last month called "green bamboo rice" that we'd never seen before. It retains its jewel-like tone even when cooked. Pretty cool. At some point, I realized that we were assuming a huge amount of veggie love on the part of our guests to be serving them sushi made with cooked radishes dyed with beet juice! But no worries, these were all gobbled up. They totally looked like tuna rolls, too.

Some sourdough mini calzones, half with a tofu feta/spinach "spanakopita" style filling, and the other half with a spicy tomato sauce/broccoli combination.

Mini phyllo cups filled with chocolate mousse, some topped with raspberries (lovingly preserved from our raspberry picking adventures). The chocolate mousse is from the recipe in "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World"- I replaced the soy milk with soy nog for an extra holiday-flavored kick. Take it from me- you don't need cupcakes to make and enjoy this mousse! It's so incredibly rich, and feels decadent, although its main ingredient is silken tofu.

And there was so much more, so I decided to create the above mosaic. (Click on it to enlarge) Can you find...
  • sweet 'n spicy toasted nuts? (made with brown and maple sugars, cayenne, chili, cinnamon, oregano and cumin, inspired by this recipe at 28 Cooks)
  • a Middle Eastern carrot dip, served with fresh-made sourdough bread and toasted coconut? (thanks to Emilie for recipe)
  • Jack O'Lantern in front of the fire?
  • pomegranate seeds? (served to be reminiscent of Persephone in the underworld)
  • a table decorated with freshly fallen leaves from the backyard?
  • various naughty things being done with finger cookies?
  • Celine's insanely addictive cheesy quackers made with whole wheat flour? (or maybe they were ghosts...)
  • a trio of dips, including tofu feta, feta/spinach, and kalamata olive/fig?
  • Trac's mini pumpkin bundt cakes and pretzel/chocolate spiders?
  • crudités and other foods with creepy crawly spiders over them?
Overall, it was a really fun night, and I want to thank all our guests for coming and for your wonderful costumes and good cheer!

Some observations: the soundtrack to the movie The Gift is very spooky and perfect for a Halloween party. Hellraiser? Awesome movie to have running silently in the background during said party. And cranberries in sangria? Pretty damn good!

I hope everyone has a happy and (forgive me, I have to say it) spooktacular Halloween!


Monday, October 29, 2007

pleasure on an autumn day

a student passes out information about recycling at the Community Harvest market

Friday was one of those incredible autumn days, when friends, fun, and food converged in a perfect storm. It all started with the Community Harvest Farmers' Market, a large market held right on the Syracuse University campus. This was an experimental one-time event, coming out of the series of talks, symposia, and meetings on campus about the need for the local farmers, providers, and eaters of Syracuse to come together. The turnout was magnificent, and I hope this becomes a regular occurrence - and not just because I'm selfish and want a wonderful market within walking distance of my house! A community benefits greatly when its food providers and consumers work closely to ensure that the quality of food stays high, the impact on the environment stays good, and the availability stays wide.

Here is a photo essay of Friday...

I met up with Trac (with carrots) and Bridget (with apple fritters) to check out the market. We had such fun, and it felt good to speak with so many local food producers, everything from farms to the Syracuse Food Co-op was represented.

So much squash! I learned about several new varieties that I had never encountered before. There was one kind called the "Long Island Cheese Squash." "Does it taste like cheese?" I asked the farmer hopefully. "No, it's just called that because it looks like a flat wheel of cheese," he replied. D'oh- another vegan cheese possibility squashed! (pun intended!)

We saw this cute dog voraciously eating an apple- something I hadn't seen before!

We ran into Jennifer, the wonderful blogger behind Cookin' in the 'Cuse, who was running a table featuring lots of books about thoughtful eating: organics, local, justice, health, you know, all the good stuff!

I just want to take a moment to give a shout-out to Jennifer- her blog is so informative, and represents what it means to eat locally and mindfully. When Daiku and I moved to Syracuse, and were wondering about whether it is possible to eat locally in Syracuse in the winter (yes, it totally is!) her blog was one of the first and finest resources we found to help us. It has been so nice to meet Jennifer on a couple of occasions, and find such a knowledgeable force for good right here in town.

I set down my pumpkin on her table, creating a telling juxtaposition - slow food, fast food, how do we find balance between the two in American culture...?

In addition to food, the market also had tons of seasonal flowers on display, like the wonderful ones you can see above. We also found crafts, soaps, drinks, and prepared foods and restaurants.

After the market, we walked over to Oishi Sushi for lunch. It was a chilly day and the food, like the miso soup Trac is having above, really hit the spot. (Am I the only one who finds Japanese food to be the ultimate comfort food?)

Here is my salad with a carrot/ginger dressing.

Bridget's teriyake vegetable bento. The restaurant was really flexible about veganizing everything for us- in their bentos, they replaced the california rolls with veggie rolls, and the meat gyoza with veggie-filled ones.

Here's Trac's tempura veggie bento, including tempura squash- yum!

And my plate, a minimalist composition with avocado and asparagus maki.

After lunch, Bridget had to return to work, but Trac and I decided to meet Daiku for a coffee at a new Syracuse spot, Sugar Pearl Espresso Bar and Lounge. I don't know why we waited so long to check this place out! It is a beautiful space, filled with books, games, and modern decor. Everything on the menu is vegan (although they do offer milk for coffee and espresso drinks), and we salivated over the pumpkin cake, the brownies, the freshly baked cookies, and the extensive drink menu.

Finally, we decided. Above you can see my hot chocolate, made with soy milk and Scharffen Berger chocolate (back), foamed together into a decadent concoction. Trac ordered the pumpkin latté (front), with an aroma even more wonderful than its appearance.

Daiku, ever the caffeine fiend, ordered this quadruple (yes, quadruple!) espresso, which was a truly high quality tonic, with a bitter flavor and a woodsy roasted aroma. We loved Sugar Pearl and will be going back for sure.

Stay tuned! I picked up some provisions at the market for the Halloween party that we threw the next day...

Restaurant Information:

Oishi Sushi
(they'll veganize stuff for you, c'mon!)
713 south crouse ave.
Syracuse, NY

Sugar Pearl Espresso Bar & Lounge
(vegan, caffeine, sugar, community, feminism, what more could you want?)
600 Burnet Ave
Syracuse, NY 13203


Thursday, October 25, 2007

sourdough semolina saffron bread

I have been experimenting with sourdough more and more, and have been amazed by the variety of things that it can make! Just recently, I made sourdough biscuits, which I had never before even considered as a possibility - but boy were they good with chili! One of the more intriguing recipes I've come across has been this recipe for semolina sourdough bread. I had had a bag of semolina flour sitting around forever, and this bread looked like a beautiful way to use it. Baking the bread as indicated (replacing the honey called for with agave nectar), yielded a wonderful bread, with the best flavor and texture of any bread I've baked before! Encouraged, I decided to switch things up a tiny bit, and came up with the idea for a semolina sourdough loaf infused with saffron. Here are some illustrations from the process. It's a rather long process (almost 24 hours all together), but most of that time is not hands-on, and the end results are worth it. There is nothing as comforting and yet somehow empowering as spending a day baking bread!

Top to bottom: sourdough starter formed into a "starter dough", the mixture of semolina and all-purpose flour, saffron soaking in warm water, mixed dough with flecks of saffron, and risen dough (look how yellow!) ready to be shaped into loaves. To infuse the bread with saffron, I added a mixture of 1 tsp saffron (ground) that had soaked in 2 TB of hot water for a few minutes in the first stage of mixing (before the first rise).

The result was an aromatic and strongly flavored bread. I realize now that I could tinker with this recipe some more, perhaps increase the sweetener a bit to offset the saffron flavor.

But it's an awesome bread to for sweet (drizzled with tahini and agave nectar), or savory uses, like this sandwich with Melody's tester tofu feta and radish greens:

I'm submitting this post to Sunita's World blog, for her monthly spice event, "Think Spice!" This month's spice, obviously, is saffron, a flavor near and dear my heart as it plays a huge role in Iranian cuisine.
  • If you like saffron, here's another post from last year with saffron playing a starring role.
  • To catch up with my sourdough spree, check out my sourdough post

If you scroll down all the way to the bottom of this blog, you'll see that I've joined the Foodie BlogRoll, a huge compendium of other foodie blogs. I get inspired daily by foodie blogs, and am thrilled to be joining their ranks (and representing vegan cuisine to boot!)


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

time to rip Slate a new one... again

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Ripping Slate a New One ™, the feature on Where's the Revolution that gives our friendly little pseudo-liberal journal a beating and makes it come begging for more. Last week,
we tried to convince them that picking local apples is not a societal ill. Today, we look at their main headline: Vegans vs. Vegetarians: Who's Greener?

The funny thing about this article is that it's not really about veganism
or vegetarianism. After admitting that vegetarian diets are better for the environment, and furthermore that veganism has even greater impact, the article goes on to talk about how it's not realistic to expect Americans to "forgo steak for the benefit of the planet" (yeowch!) and how it's therefore better to simply decrease our meat consumption. A teeny bit. Some of the time. Well, not really at all, rather, just to be more aware of where our "extra-long bacon cheddar cheesesteak" comes from.

This article has so many logical inconsistencies that it would be a shame not to tackle it. The fact that Slate magazine claims to be fairly progressive (even featuring regular articles on environmentalism and green living) is even more reason to do so, since it's this sort of pseudo-enlightened response that can really throw ethical vegans for a loop. It's one thing to fight against a mythical ignorant meat-eating opponent, it's another when your opponent basically cedes all your points, but still can't take their knowledge to its logical conclusion and give up meat, for reasons of convenience, pleasure, or habit.

At first, I thought it would be fun to do another point-by-point refutation of this article like I did with the apple article last week. That was fun! But I decided, why not make this a collaborative project and share the fun? I'm challenging all my readers to find a fact, a claim, an argument, or a statistical figure in this article that is wrong and call Slate out for it. It's easy- there are a lot of them packed into this tiny article. All fun aside, it is also important for vegans to hone our argument- let's not let the scientific acrobatics here throw us for a loop in future arguments. Read the article and leave a comment with your findings!

I look forward to reading your comments and to a lively discussion- hopefully, we will all walk away with new knowledge and resolve.

Daiku can have the first crack:

The article claims that: "to optimize land use, [...] limit their meat and egg consumption to two cooked ounces per day—3.8 ounces less than the national average."

According to this USDA website, in 2005 Americans consumed an average of 200 pounds of meat a year. That's about 8.7 ounces a day, almost 3 more ounces than the Slate article claims. This is data straight from the horse's (or in this case, the cow's) mouth, not including eggs, which the Slate article does. There might be shrinkage and therefore a discrepancy between "meat" and "cooked meat", but the fact remains that this is typical of a lot of arguments that underestimate consumption in order to downplay the urgent need for reform. The fact is that Americans are eating more meat than ever, their consumption is not going down, and the vast majority of the meat that they eat does not come from local, sustainable sources. The point is, 2 ounces of (responsible, green, sustainable) meat a day is a ridiculous figure- very few meat-eaters would take care to always be aware of exactly where their tiny portion of meat came from.

What about you? What do you find most objectionable in this article? C'mon, everybody, let's Rip Slate a New One™ - again!


Monday, October 22, 2007

200th post!!

Ok, I titled this the "200th post!!" , partly to draw attention away from the fact that I
got to Boston late got overwhelmed the lighting was bad didn't get any good photos from Boston Veg Fest!

So I will try to distract you guys by pointing out that this is my 200th blog post!

And saying look who I got to meet! Susie on the left and Nikki (from I Love Heeze) on the right!

And the wonderful and talented Emilie from Conscious Kitchen- look at this cake that she baked!

And I got to taste some of the chocolatey, hazelnutty goodness that was that cake!!

And after the fest, at dinner, look at these gorgeous Cambodian rolls we got to eat at Elephant Walk restaurant!

And I got Veganomicon! And came home and promptly baked my first recipe from the book-

A pound cake!! Woooooo!

Did I do a good job of distracting anyone? No? Well, I have to apologize, but the fact is that the Veg Fest was incredibly crowded, claustrophobia-inducing, and hectic! We got to eat some good food, but in general, the samples this year didn't measure up to last year's stuff. One good thing was the ice cream from the Ice Cream Project - there was white Russian, pumpkin, peanut butter, and many other flavors. We tried espresso. Let's just say, this is reason enough to feel jealous of people who live in Boston.

What ruled this year was getting to meet a bunch of awesome people. Everything else you need to know, you can get by looking at my VegFest posts from last year.

Finally, a word of gratitude. When I posted last week about feeling a little lost in blogging, I never expected to get such an outpouring of support and wisdom from you guys! To everyone who wrote such incredible, smart, kind, and encouraging comments, I don't know what to say other than THANK YOU. It means the world to me that you guys read this blog and enjoy it as much as I enjoy all of yours. I promise to stretch my creativity muscle as much as it takes to be sure to keep blogging, and continuing to be part of this amazing community.



Thursday, October 18, 2007

on birthdays, beaches and burmese

I apologize for my irregular blogging lately. It's a combination of regular everyday busyness and a bit of a light existential crisis. I'm not sure exactly what my blog is supposed to be doing! I veer between the politics and the aesthetics of food- sometimes I want to get on my soapbox and go on and on about various idiocies and injustices in the world, and sometimes I just want to admire delicious, healthy food. So every time I start to think up a post, I undermine myself by fearing it will be too repetitive, irrelevant, preachy, or boring.

BUT. I don't want to stop blogging, so I hope you'll all bear with me as I work out the kinks. Whatever the purpose of my blog, one thing I most certainly don't want to give up is getting to be in touch with so many fascinating and talented fellow bloggers all around the world! I'm sure all of you who blog also go through extremely productive periods as well as periods when you scratch your heads and thing, "what am I doing? and why?"

This post is way too long in the making though, so I'll get right on to it. My mom's birthday was September 30th, so Daiku and I headed down to the Northern Virginia/Metro D.C. region that weekend. Aside from the fun of getting to see family, the weekend was also filled with wonderful food.

First up: Burmese food. I had read about Myanmar Restaurant on The Veg Blog and could not wait to try this cuisine for the first time. My mom is always game for trying new foods, so she, Daiku, and I headed here for lunch. And it was spectacular! I have to admit, being ignorant about Burmese food, I expected it to have deep similarities with Thai or Vietnamese food, but it definitely had unique flavors and textures all its own.

Here's a green tea leaf salad. Cabbage, tomatoes, sesame seeds, peanuts, and crispy garlic in a tangy green tea dressing. The flavor is very hard to describe- it hits you first as almost like pesto, but then a deep, woodsy flavor lingers. The flavors played nicely off of one another, and each bite delivered something crisp, something crunchy, something chewy, and something nutty all at the same time.

I decided to go for a jackfruit curry. I'd never tried jackfruit before, and I thought it was good! I'm glad I didn't go for something familiar as I so often do. The jack fruit reminded me of artichokes in flavor. The curry was unusual if you're used to any other type (Indian, Thai, etc.)- it was a tomato-based broth, with a nice acidic edge.

Jackfruit is made of all kinds of awesome, as you can see by this close-up photo.

Here is a plate of rice and curry, topped with some intensely hot chili flakes. The thing about Burmese cuisine that stood out the most for me was the sour flavor. This comes from something called "sour leaf" or "sour vegetable," which is unique to Myanmar, as far as I could tell. It gave the food an unforgettable flavor, and made my mom a fan, since she dislikes foods with sweet flavors but adores anything sour. So do I, for that matter.

Here was dessert, shweji, a mildly sweet wheat cake with raisins and poppy seeds, with almost a baked cream of wheat taste. It was a very mellow ending to a delicious lunch.

Check it out- white poppy seeds! I've never seen that before!

Of course, the entire time we were eating lunch, we were aware of the strife going on that very moment in Burma itself. It's times like these when I don't have a ready answer to what exactly the relationship between food and revolution can look like. While we enjoy the delicious food of a country, half a world away, peaceful demonstrators in that very country are being killed. Where's the connection? What is our role?

* * *

The next day, my grandmother and aunt and uncles were coming over for brunch, and everyone agreed to have me make a huge vegan brunch! (New vegans, take heart: this would not have happened a few years ago!)

I made two kinds of tofu scramble. The one you see above was my normal mix of veggies: mushrooms, red peppers, onions, and garlic, garnished with cilantro and scallions.

The second one was a vaguely "Iranian-style" version. In Iran, what most people imagine when they speak of "omelette" is a mixture of tomatoes and eggs, often with plenty of garlic and pepper. I found that tofu mimics the texture of eggs in this dish pretty well, so I kept the second scramble pretty simple- just tomatoes, garlic, chili pepper, and tofu.

We also had oven fries and vegan sausage. I thought I had made too much food, but everyone ate the stuff up. I was especially happy that the food impressed my grandma, since she is the origin of many of my food memories, and her seal of approval meant a great deal to me. She told me that she would try experimenting with tofu herself soon- squeee!

I also baked my mom's birthday cake, by doubling a cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. (Thanks to the PPK forum for the tips!) My mom wanted something citrus-y, so I picked the coconut-lime cupcakes with lime buttercream dressing. Check out my awesome (NOT) decorating job! Do I know how to dot an "i" or what?

The blowing out candles shot.

The close-up shot with coconut flakes.

The inside shot.

We finished up the weekend with a trip to Atlantic City.

Here I am on the beach, saying goodbye to summer.

Here's a sunset on the boardwalk.

The best food we found in Atlantic City? In one shop, fresh-baked pretzels sold 3 for $1, and came with an awesome mustard selection. In another, we found veggie philly cheesesteaks! (No photos of either, unfortunately)

One last funny picture:

Daiku and I experienced some hometown pride upon seeing a local upstate New York wine in a Virginia supermarket: Bully Hill. Not only is it a local and very cool company, not only do they make delicious wines with cute goats on the labels, but I recently found out that all their wines are indeed vegan. Double yes! And how funny is the wine next to it- Beauzeaux? The 12 year-old in me loves that name!

This weekend, Daiku and I are headed to Boston for the Vegetarian Food Festival. I am super excited to meet some fellow vegans and bloggers, and will be sure to report back with plenty of photos and stories. If you're going to be there and see us, come up and say hi! In the meantime, here is one of my Boston VegFest posts from last year.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Restaurant Information:

Myanmar Restaurant
7810-C Lee Highway
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 389-0013