Monday, April 29, 2013

Dog Cookies for my Furry Friends

I'm still traveling, and still functioning without a computer, and with only an iPhone. The See Jane Run 1/2 Marathon is this Saturday in Alameda. I'm ready! I've been fueling up on fabulous plant-foods in Seattle, and also got some good practice runs in there. Now I'm in San Jose, taking two days to visit family, super hydrate, and rest up for race day. Fortunately, I wrote a few extra draft posts before leaving Taos. Here's one of them to keep you busy while I run a race. Enjoy!!!
This is my latest recipe for Dog Cookies. It's simpler than some I've done in the past, and our dogs all love them. They aren't very exciting to the human palate, so if you want to share them with your four-legged pals, you might want to spice them up a bit...

Dog Cookies
makes about 50 small cookies

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups water

Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly oil 2 cookie sheets.
Stir all ingredients together.
Using a teaspoon, place small dollops of dough on the cookie sheets, and flatten them into the shape you want. You can place them very close together because they won't rise or spread when baked.
Bake at 350º for about 30 minutes.
Let the cookies cool before feeding them to your fur-friends.

Heidi says YUM.

Fixing Glitches

I got a text from a friend this morning, asking me why she couldn't read my entire blog on her phone. I really had no idea why, but once I took a look at my Blogger settings, I saw that the "mobile version" was what was causing the problem. I switched it over to the regular old desktop template, and TaDa!, now it works perfectly! (Thanks Debra, for letting me know there was a problem!)

I don't really know how all the technology works, or why anyone would actually want a less functional mobile version of anything. Chances are though, my friend wasn't the only one who was frustrated by not being able to read my blog on her phone. If you were having the same problem, check it out again! And everybody, please feel free to let me know any time you have trouble with my blog or website. I also welcome friendly editors who catch typos for me. (Thanks Gregg!)

I'm paddling this boat all by myself here. I'll take all the help I can get.

Mom's Sour Chili Chick'n Gets Veganized

I took another stroll down Recipe Lane, flipping through my ancient recipe box, and pulling out an old favorite I've been thinking about for a while now. Mom used to make Sour Chili Chicken for the family back in the 70's. It's one of those good old meat-and-dairy-bombs we used to think of as "healthy." Clearly there was no health whatsoever in recipes like these, for the humans who ate them, or the animals involved in creating the ingredients. Isn't it just so nice that we now have much healthier choices for all of us, and the intelligence and compassion to use them? I think so!

I'm not normally a big fan of fake meats. But as I see more and more of them hitting the market, and gaining popularity, I'm realizing that a lot of people are fond of them, particularly when it comes to "transitional dishes" that take a person from meat-eater to plant-eater in a familiar and tasty way. And in a recipe like this, mock-chicken is just the right thing. Sitting down to a plate of this spicy, creamy delight, I was positively transported back to the family table in 1973. I should call it Time Travel Casserole. It's that good.

Sour Chili Chick'n
serves 4 - made in a small 8x6x2 inch pan

1 1/2 cups vegan sour cream, store bought, or blend: 1 cup raw cashews that have been soaked 20 minutes, juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup nut milk
1/2 cup Daiya shreds, any flavor
1 cup diced green chiles (13 ounce tub frozen Bueno brand chiles, thawed and drained)
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 (6 ounce) package Light Life Smart Strips Chick'n Style, or other vegan chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup almond milk
6 Food for Life organic sprouted corn tortillas, cut in half

Preheat oven to 350º
Lightly spray the baking pan with oil.
Stir all ingredients, except tortillas, together in a bowl.
Place 3 tortillas in the bottom of the pan, fitting the flat sides of the tortilla halves along the sides of the pan.
Spread half of the filling mixture over the tortillas.
Place the remaining tortillas over the filling, and top with remaining filling.
Bake at 350º for 45 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Variations: Substitute tempeh or pressed tofu for the chick'n. Add or substitute chickpeas or pinto beans. Use cooked brown rice instead of tortillas.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finding Vegan on Travel Days

As I mentioned in my last post, we were able to find a wonderful abundance of vegan food in Las Vegas. I'm now quite certain that with a few polite questions and a willing server, a hungry vegan can find a good meal almost anywhere. We have to ask though. They can't read our minds.

Travel days can be a little bit more challenging. Airports still have pretty limited options, although we can always find something, even if it's a fruit cup from Starbucks. It's a good idea to bring our own snacks, but when that just doesn't happen, check out the VeganXpress app. I consider it $1.99 well spent. When you click on the Menu Guide, you get a long list of common fast food and chain restaurants. Click on whatever happens to be near you in the airport, and you'll get a list of all the vegan options at that place.

Example: At the Auntie Annes's Pretzels in our terminal yesterday, we could have gotten five different varieties of pretzels. We didn't, but we could have. Burger King offers vegan fries, some vegan breads, vegetables, apple fries, Oreo cookie crumbles, and a garden salad without cheese or croutons. Again, not terribly tempting, but in a pinch we wouldn't have starved. We settled on green smoothies from Jamba Juice, and a bag of popped corn chips. It was a short flight.

The drive home from the Albuquerque "Sunport" was longer than the flight, so we stopped at the Whole Foods in Santa Fe for provisions. Whole Foods is way more amazing than I've given it credit for. We don't have one in Taos, so I rarely get to wander the aisles, exploring a bigger world of vegan delights than I'm used to at home. For me, this was almost as much fun as our time in Vegas...

We kept this Whole Foods visit short, just picking up a few things to get us through one dinner and breakfast, and we needed a snack. We found everything we wanted, plus smart, friendly, helpful people. We got some hot soup and bread from the cafe section, and some fruit and veggies. Easy enough. For the last part of the drive home, I spotted the Earth Balance Cheese Puffs I've been seeing ads for in magazines. Yes, vegan cheese puffs! And no, they do not taste like Cheetos - or look like them either. No scary orange color. Yuck. They do taste very, very good, and cheesy. I would like them to be just a little bit saltier, but that's probably just me.

The other snack we got was a ready made BBQ Chick'n Wrap, made with Beyond Meat Chick'n. I've been hearing some buzz about Beyond Meat, but this was my first sampling of it. It was really good, and also kind of scary. The Chick'n looked, tasted, and felt so real I almost couldn't eat it. After one bite I re-checked the label to make sure I'd picked up the right thing. Once I was convinced, I dug in and enjoyed it. I don't know how they make soy and pea protein into a faux meat that I'm positive could fool the most devoted animal-eater, but they do. Go get some and let me know what you think.

Back in Taos today, I'm unpacking and all that, and also planning for our next trip. We leave for the VidaVeganCon in Portland in just about four weeks. I can't wait! And even though I know we'll be well fed there, I'm still going to take along a few snacks for the trip. I'll also find a Whole Foods when we get there, because well, it's all about the food. And the fun. And the food...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Eating Well in Las Vegas

I'm checking in today from sunny Las Vegas. I so needed this trip. Not only for the sun, the pool time (I'm at the pool now), and the family gathering, but also for the food. I needed to be assured that there are other vegans in the world, and that there's life beyond trying to find good vegan food in New Mexico. Amazingly, the rumors I've heard are true. Las Vegas, being the Universal Capital of Excessive Excessiveness, has so many things I do not want to eat, but also has an incredible amount of wonderful vegan fare. Since we're with a large family group, we need to find places that will please everyone, from hardcore steak eaters (eek!), to long-time vegetarians, to Rick and me, The Weird Vegans.

I'll admit, there was an initial trip to the nearest grocery store, and we do a lot of snacking to fill in the gaps between real meals. But everywhere we've been so far has had something for everyone, most importantly to me, for me!

Last night, we met up with our friend, Paul Graham, and a new friend, Pauline, at the Paris casino. To show you how veg-friendly things are around here, the Mon Ami Gabi is a steak house... but when we told our server we were vegan, she instantly rattled off several good suggestions, and she seemed truly pleased to be able to tell us that the fries are indeed cooked in their very own potatoes-only fryer. Oh happy day!

Later in the evening was a family dinner at SEA, a beautiful, quiet Thai place at Bally's. Again, most of our party went for the meaty options, but our server was happy to point out her best vegan suggestions, and steer us away from items that couldn't be made without fish sauce. Another winner in Las Vegas!

I have to say though, that breakfast this morning at Pura Vida was the best restaurant meal we've had in a long time. We had pancakes with berry syrup and bananas, and an incredible puff pastry delight, filled with tofu scramble and topped with creamy cheese sauce. When the food arrived at the table next to us, I swooped in and asked to take pictures of their meal before they even had a chance to take a bite. They humored me - lovely folks from Oregon.

Seriously. Come to Vegas. Go to Pura Vida. Eat. Repeat. I am in vegan heaven.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Eating Vegan in Vegas

There's a new book on the e-shelves I think you should know about. Paul Graham's Eating Vegan in Vegas is the e-book extension of his super-popular blog by the same name. Paul spent an entire year eating at least one meal a day in Las Vegas restaurants, in search of every tasty morsel of vegan fare he could find. And, surprisingly, at least to me, he found more than plenty! Paul's theory is that if this can be done in Vegas, it can be done anywhere. It makes me want to dig deeper in my own little part of the world.

In the e-book, Paul condenses his year-long project, making it easy to find vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in various sections of town. He takes us bite by bite through some of his favorite places, describing wonderful dishes throughout. I found myself wanting not only to travel to Vegas for a few good meals, but also to hit the kitchen and try to recreate some of the dishes he describes.

The second part of the book is a restaurant guide. This makes me particularly giddy, because I actually am going to Vegas for the weekend, to meet up with my decidedly non-vegan family. With the help of Paul's insights and listings, I can now gently steer the group to restaurants that will make all of us happy. This is a first, and I hope that more books like this will come out for cities all across the country.

Paul Graham is a relatively new friend of mine, but a long-time acquaintance. We went to high school together, but only became friends as adults, when thanks to the internet, we discovered that we had veganism in common. Paul does a lot of good work to raise awareness, to speak for the animals, and to build bridges that we all can cross and meet on, over the troubled waters of our crumbling food system. Please support him by buying your own copy of his wonderful e-book, Eating Vegan in Vegas, over at Sullivan Street Press. You'll find all new reasons to plan a trip to Vegas!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Speaking of Vegetables...

Vegetables, lovely vegetables... and animals, and the planet, and a few other important things. But we do talk a lot about vegetable here, don't we? Just this morning, it came to my attention that my friend Rebecca Verrill, who used to live in Taos, is putting together her masters thesis show. She's making slipcast clay vegetables, and "glazing" them with actual vegetable juices. These are gorgeous! I'd love to go see her show, but it's in New York, so I'll be content with her photos and her blog. I think you'll enjoy them too, and if you happen to be near the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, in New Paltz, NY, from May 17-21, please go give Rebecca a big hug for me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gluten Free Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes

My pancake-lovin' sweetie fell hard for these, and didn't even think to ask if they were gluten free until he'd polished off a huge stack of them and gone back for seconds. You could serve these to anyone, whether they care about them being vegan or gluten free or not. Everyone at the table will be happy.

Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes
makes about 16 (1/4 cup) pancakes

1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1 banana, well mashed
zest of one organic lemon
1 T apple cider vinegar
2 cups water or almond milk
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Stir mashed banana and other wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.
Pour the wet into the dry and mix well.
Stir in the blueberries and walnuts last.
Cook on a hot griddle or non-stick pan until about an inch around the edges looks dry. Flip and cook the other side for a minute or so, depending on your griddle. Serve with maple syrup and sliced bananas.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vegan Between Parties

I've only been vegan for three years but it feels like much longer. In a good way. I'm remembering back to when I "attempted vegan" the first time, and failed pretty miserably within about two weeks. It wasn't because I didn't want to be vegan, or because I felt unwell, or because I didn't know what to cook or eat. I failed for social reasons, which I suspect isn't all that uncommon.

Leading up to that first failed venture into veganism, I had been known to say that I could never go vegan because life without cheese would not be worth living. I said it, and I believed it, and for a while it seemed like a personal truth. What I quickly discovered when I first tried to live without cheese was that not eating it made me socially unacceptable. Friends had always known me as a vegetarian, and were used to my not eating meat. But cheese was a common ground that we could gather over with a glass of wine. When I eliminated that, nobody, including me, knew what to do with me. It seems kind of silly to me now. Certainly I could have come up with some wonderful foods that we all would have enjoyed. It's what I've been doing for the last three years. But for some reason I guess I just wasn't ready for it then. I crumbled under the pressure, reverting back to my old diet, heavy on the cheese, please.

When I decided to try going vegan again, three years ago this month, I was more ready for the change. My reasons for eliminating animal products from my diet were clearer, and I was more committed. Rick was willing to try too, but really mostly because I was so excited about the whole thing. We started by committing to one month, and then we'd see how we felt about it. We both noticed within a few days that we were feeling much better physically, and mentally clearer as well. Two weeks in, and I was in for good.

But as with the first time, it was socially very awkward. Once again, friends didn't know what to do with us. Also, this time we had more information on the virtues of veganism, and as so often happens with new converts to anything, we wanted to share. We wanted everyone to see the light, and abandon their meat-eating ways just because we said so. Obviously, that never works, and relationships were damaged, at least temporarily, not only over our food choices, but also over our evangelical enthusiasm.

I soon learned that I needed to shut my mouth and just feed people. I still can't help but spout a few well placed facts about health, environment, or animal rights now and then, but for the most part, I've realized that it's best to keep quiet, keep cooking, and be the best example of a happy healthy vegan I can be.

Rick was a few steps behind me in total committment though, and would sometimes snack on cheese, or non-vegan bakes goodies at work or parties. I didn't make a big deal out of it, and joked that he was "vegan between parties." Now he's all vegan, (almost) all the time, which will just have to be good enough for me. He does a lot, and he cares a lot, so if he takes a bite of non-vegan cake now and then, the world probably won't spin off its axis.

The point is, he stuck with plant based eating because he wanted to, not because he had to, and not because I nagged at him to do it. Successful Vegan Ambassadors don't nag. I'm still perfecting my approach, but I'm getting better all the time!

Over time, the "between parties" joke has actually turned into something that I think is a really good idea for new vegans. I'm going to start recommending it to people who are struggling with making the vegan switch. Be vegan at home, and out in the world as much as you can. And when you can't, don't beat yourself up. You'll still be doing wonderful things for yourself, and the animals, and the whole wide world. That's not nothin'. Go ahead and proclaim yourself Vegan Between Parties when someone asks. It's a great conversation starter, and gives you the opportunity to do a little evangelizing of your own. Be gentle though. Aside from religion and politics, nothing freaks people out more than differences in food. Once the people who love you start to understand that you really do want to go all-vegan, they'll probably stop being so freaked out, and start looking for ways to make it easier for you. Remember that it's baby steps, not perfection. And vegan between parties is certainly better than vegan between meals.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lentils and Onions Revisited

Lentils. Yum. They're one of my favorites. One of my favorite recipes comes from Chris Maher, and a wonderful Middle Eastern cooking class I took with him last year. The original recipe is drowning in oil, so I took it upon myself to health it up, and simplify it while I was at it. The result was nothing short of clean-your-plate goodness. This is not only vegan, gluten free, and oil free, it's a delicious, comforting protein bomb!

Lentils and Onions
serves 2-4

1 cup green lentils, washed and soaked all day if possible (lentils do not need to be soaked at all, but an all day bath will wake them up, begin the sprouting process, and make them more nutritious than ever)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp cumin
2 T oregano, tarragon, or basil, dried or fresh
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 T tamari, or to taste
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1-2 cups cooked quinoa
2 T Sriracha (rooster) sauce
2 T maple syrup

In a large pot, cover the soaked lentils with water and bring to a boil. After 5 minutes, drain the rinse the foamy stuff off of the lentils and rinse the pot. (This does wonders to help remove the "gas" from the lentils. The same trick works for beans too.)
Place the lentils back in the pot, cover with water about 2 inches above the lentils.
Add the garlic, cumin (also a gas reducer), herbs, and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a boil, and continue to boil gently, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, adding more water if necessary.
After the lentils have been cooking for about 30 minutes, start the quinoa. (If you don't know how to do this, it's much like rice. Rinse it very well, to remove the bitter coating. Bring quinoa to a boil with twice as much water as quinoa. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat, stir the quinoa to fluff, cover the pan again, and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.)
Once the quinoa is cooking away, heat a dry non-stick skillet to medium-high.
Toss the sliced onions into the hot skillet and stir frequently as they caramelize. Add a little bit of water now and then if the onions start to stick. You do not need oil. Really.
When the lentils are cooked, but not mushy, turn up the heat to boil off any extra water, and add tamari to taste. (Adding salt to cooking legumes of any kind toughens the surface of them, and slows down the cooking process. The same thing happens if you add acids, like tomatoes. Thank you Tassajara for that tidbit!)
Make a quick sauce by stirring together the Sriracha and maple syrup.
To serve, spread a layer of quinoa on each plate, topped with lentils, and then onions. Drizzle a little bit of sauce on to taste. It's a hot one, but we kept going back for more!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Being Vegan Isn't Just About the Food

If you've been enjoying a vegan diet for a while, you're probably pretty well in tune with what foods are vegan, and which ones aren't. Most of the time it's fairly obvious, and we learn to spot the sneaky non-veg ingredients in things like mock cheeses and meats, packaged foods, and even wine and beer as we go along. Like I always say, it's all baby steps, and we're all on the Learn As You Go Plan, not only as vegans, but as Life Scholars.

When it comes to truly living a vegan lifestyle, there are other, non-food, issues to consider. Being vegan, as in doing it for the welfare of all concerned, and often most specifically for the animals, means to look beyond our food, to the things we use and consume in other ways on a regular basis. Leather is often the first to come up and the first to be eliminated. Clearly not vegan, leather is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industries, and buying it, even though it's "already dead," supports those industries. Same with shearling, exotic skins, and of course, fur. We vote loud and clear with our dollars, and when we buy something, the message we send is, make more of this.

When you start to look around, an amazing number of non-vegan things in everyday use start to show up. Down and feathers come not only from factory farmed birds, but also from live birds. Imagine what that must feel like. Wool, angora, pashmina, and all other animal fibers are not technically vegan, and many of us stop buying them because the same cruel practices are used on factory farmed fiber animals as on food animals. I'm not going into it here, because it's not my purpose to bully you into changing. The goal is to shine a little light on something you might not have thought of yet. You can Google the specifics, and I urge you to do so.

Commonly overlooked, potentially non-vegan, non-food "products" include skin and hair care products, and cosmetics, many of which contain animal ingredients, or are tested on animals. Nail polish is on the list too, as well as most polish removers, which almost always contain gelatin. And don't forget the makeup brushes, which are generally made from very soft animal fur. Yes, fur, which we already know we won't wear as a coat, right?

Finally, take a close look the next time you consider a new piece of jewelry. Leather is trendy, and easy to spot. But what about pearls and shells, and those big resin bracelets with brightly colored beetles encased in them? You might think of them as "lesser creatures" than cows and pigs and chickens, but still, they are living beings, and to many vegans, products coming from them are no longer something we want to "vote for."

It can be sort of overwhelming, I know. But I'm not suggesting that you rampage through your house, throwing out shoes, furniture, purses, jewelry, and all your favorite makeup. In fact I think that's a very bad idea, as it's even more disrespectful to the animals involved than to use, honor, and value what you have. My suggestion, and my personal practice, is to replace these things slowly, as they wear out, are used up, or I find someone to pass them along to. I'm still in the process to disbursing beloved leather boots and handbags to people I know will love them. The leather couch in my living room is third-hand already, but I still feel terribly guilty about having it, and will find it a new home as soon as I can afford to get something else. Baby steps, indeed, and a daily reminder that even though I've made some great progress in just three years of being vegan, I'm not perfect, and probably never will be. It's okay. I'm doing more than most people will ever even consider doing, and I'm learning all the time.

There are plenty of places to buy animal/cruelty-free products, with more coming to the market all the time. While some companies are dedicated to only making vegan products, others offer maybe a few mixed in with other non-veg items. I like to support both types of companies, both large and small. The all vegan businesses deserve to be rewarded for what they do. The partial-veg companies need to be encouraged to do more. when I buy from them, I often write a note thanking them for the beautiful vegan shoes, clothes, face cream, or whatever. The people making the stuff we buy need to know what we want. Tell them!

Here are a few places to get you started on your search for the coolest vegan products available. Happy (Cruelty Free) Shopping!

The Vegan Cuts Shop is filled with all sorts of good things, including food, skin care, fashion, handbags, and art.

PETA offers an extensive listing of shops, products, and services for your cruelty-free pleasure.

Vegan Essentials has it all, from footwear to food. Definitely worth a visit.

MooShoes will make your heart (and feet) sing with happiness.

Now do some Googling of your own, and see what you can turn up. There's so much to discover! Please share your favorite links, brands, and products here in the comments. Thanks!

Monday, April 1, 2013

There's No Such Thing as Too Many Cheese Sauce Recipes

It's Meatless Monday, and our gluten free month of March has come to a close. It was a good experiment for Rick and me, and we've decided to stick to eating mostly gluten free - particularly wheat free - here at home, saving our gluten for special times out on the town. Since when did gluten become a "special" sort of food? Well, there we are. And here we are in April.

I hesitate to write at all on April Fool's Day, but you'll just have to trust me when I tell you that this cheesy sauce is just wonderful. It was excellent the other night over mashed potatoes and broccoli. And the leftover, reheated sauce was equally good with macaroni, served up kind of retro-style with sliced Smart Dogs (not gluten free), corn, and lima beans. Mmmm... comfort food.

Easy Cheesy Sauce
1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 20 minutes (the longer the soak, the smoother the sauce)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
2 T tahini
1 T tamari, or to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup nut milk

Rinse the soaked cashews, and place them in a blender or food processor with all other ingredients. Blend until smooth. Transfer the sauce to a sauce pan, and warm over med-low heat, adding more milk if necessary. Told you it was easy.