Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Toaster Pancakes

I always make too much food. Always. It's not like I'm trying to cook ahead and stock up for the week. I just can't scale back my old habit of cooking for five or more people, learned first from my mom, and carried over to my own family later. Now it's just Rick and me most of the time, but I still make enough for house full of kids.

It's OK. It would be even more OK if we had something bigger than a "Barbie Refrigerator" to store leftovers in. If you've ever spent time in an RV of any kind, you know the fridge. Little. I suppose it's nice that it forces us to shop more often, so our veggies are always fresh. It just doesn't lend itself well to stocking up, storing anything extra, or freezing much more than a few ice cubes, a pint of ice cream, and a few bags of whatever else goes in a freezer. There isn't even room for vodka.

When I make pancakes, I overdo it same as I do with a pot of soup. But because I make sturdy, real food pancakes, they hold up well in a zip-bag in the fridge, which doesn't take up much more room than a bag of tortillas does. We like flat food! And we've discovered that they're great the next day, heated up in the toaster.

If you're comfortable with basic pancake construction, just throw the basics in a bowl, like I did this morning. For vegan pancakes, I use whatever flour I have around, sometimes gluten free, sometimes not, usually a blend of several different flours. I add a tablespoon or so of ground flax seed per cup of flour, about a tablespoon of baking powder, a little salt, and water. Sometimes I stir in rolled oats, chopped nuts, raisins, fruit, spices... you get it. Pancakes aren't as scientific as cupcakes. But if you want a recipe, I have some good ones for you in past posts: Peachy Pancakes, Apple Pie Pancakes, Carrot Pancakes.

Another topping option, which you see here, is an easy pear compote. Cut up two ripe pears (or more, because more is good), put them in a small saucepan with a little water. Bring it to a boil, and cook until the pears are soft. Along the way, add raisins, spices (I used pumpkin pie spice), and maple syrup or a little sugar. After it's cooked down a bit, add arrowroot to thicken.

On Pancake Day, make a big batch of batter, cook it all up, eat what you want, and then let the leftovers cool completely before putting them away in the fridge. Next day, give them a quick trip through the toaster, and you have Pancake Day II, with a lot less mess than the day before!

More food, less mess. Always good!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Learn to Speak Chinese

We have a newly opened Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood. Our meat eating friends have had good things to say about it, so we gave it a try the other night. It was Rick's choice for his birthday dinner.
Veggie Chow Mein
Duck House Chinese Restaurant doesn't appear to have a website, but I did find this page on Eater. We wandered in on a Monday night, and were greeted warmly and seated right away. I'm not sure if there's a cultural thing we don't know about, but we eventually had to flag someone down to take our order. No problem. Just something to know.

There was not a lot of English spoken, which was a good sign we'd get real Chinese food, rather than an Americanized version. And because of that, it seemed like one of those situations where it would be best to ask for "vegetarian" rather than "vegan," to avoid having to explain too much, or being misunderstood.

The word "vegetarian" worked perfectly, and our server pointed out several things on the menu that were already veggie, or could have tofu or vegetables subbed for the meat. Perfect. We ordered mixed vegetables in garlic sauce, kung pao tofu, and veggie chow mein. We also ordered rice, which we didn't need, but we like it. It was all way too much food, but when that happens, we just take it home and think of it as "grocery shopping."

Mixed Vegetable in Garlic Sauce
Everything was delicious, and I'm fairly confident it was all vegan. As I talked about in my last post, making a big ol' stinky deal over ever tiny ingredient can actually be counterproductive to the number one vegan objective of helping our animal friends. So stop it already. Be a little bit imperfect. Do your best. It's good enough.

Kung Pao Tofu
And wouldn't you know it, when it came time for the fortune cookies, the kind with a fortune on one side and a Chinese lesson on the other, I got the one that taught me how to say "vegetable!" I asked our server to tell me how to say it properly, and it turns out I would have mangled it terribly if I'd just read it phonetically.

Good Chinese food just steps from our door is going to be a great thing. Welcome to the neighborhood, Duck House. I won't be ordering the duck, but I do plan to do a lot of "vegetarian" grocery shopping there!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Salad and French Fries

You're at a restaurant with friends. Everyone is deciding whether to order the salmon or the cheeseburger or the chicken caesar... and you begin to panic that you're not going to get anything to eat until you go home. You know there's a granola bar in your bag, but you can't figure out how to smuggle it discreetly to your mouth. Everything, everything, everything on the menu has meat in it - even the salads, which just seems wrong, doesn't it?

We gotta deal with it. It's kind of a vegan nightmare, and it happens all the time. But you can get through this gracefully if you're willing to be open minded and not too bunched up about your "vegan purity."

Let's remember that we're vegan because we care. About animals, ourselves, and the planet. However, we should never expect saintly perfection from ourselves or others. Working with what we've got, the best way to be a good, compassionate vegan ambassador, while not being a big fat jerk, is to be creative, and to make the most of every dining situation.

It's good to have a fallback meal you can depend on just about anyplace. For me, when all else fails, it's salad and French fries to the rescue. You can get this satisfying combo just about anywhere. Instead of sending your server to the kitchen with a list of questions for the busy chef, simply ask that the chicken and the cheese be left off your salad, and the creamy-ranchy-whatever dressing be replaced with a nice vinaigrette. Sub ketchup and mustard (my fave), or bar-b-que sauce for mayo based dipping sauces for your fries, and you have a really good meal with minimal fuss.

I know this, because I did it about 17 times last week while staying in a lovely resort in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Family and friends had gathered from near and far to celebrate the wedding of my daughter and her awesome now-husband. The place was gorgeous, and the restaurants had a nice selection - for everyone but Rick and me. The bride and her gracious new mother-in-law took care to see that Rick and I had beautiful vegan meals at the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception. Other than that, we ate salad and fries pretty much the whole time. It was fine. No problem. We were in a fancy resort with lovely people and incredible views. There was really nothing to complain about. And besides, we had wine!

I know what some of you are going to ask. Did they have a separate fryer for the fries? I'm pretty sure they didn't! And you know what? We didn't ask or care. While I used to boycott fries that were cooked in the same oil as meat, I now have a different point of view on this.

Sure, there might be molecules of fish essence in the oil, and therefore in your potatoes. But honestly, it's not any worse than breathing in that burger smell from your neighbor's bar-b-que. I can't prove it, but I'm sticking to my story. In my hasty research, I found a snipet from the book, I Can't Get Sick by Angelica Joy, which supports my theory that smelling something is in some ways the same as eating it. It makes sense to me that we absorb molecules from the things we smell. If there's second hand smoke, why not second hand food?

My point is not to have you all grossed out and wearing a gas mask when you go out to eat. What I'm saying is, we live in the world, not in a pristine vegan bubble. If you want to glitch out on the fries being cooked in the same oil as the fish, I will gently suggest that you get over yourself. Really.

When we order fries that are cooked in the same oil as the chicken, it's not ideal, but let's go back to the biggest reason for being vegan - compassion for our animal buddies. Whenever we buy something, we're saying, "make more of this." But ordering, eating, and paying for potatoes cooked in popcorn-shrimp-tainted oil is not saying, "make more popcorn shrimp." It's saying, "make more potatoes." Sometimes we just have to forget about our little personal vegan purity issues.

I do have backup on this. Check out this short video from the Vegan Bros (serious potty mouth warning), in which they quote from a great article by Farm Sanctuary's Bruce Friedrich. To paraphrase, our often-perceived-as-obnoxious pursuit of personal purity can actually be more harmful to animals than if we ate a tiny amount of an animal product in something like a veggie burger with egg in it, or fries cooked in meat-shared oil.

When we make a big fat hairy deal over every little ingredient and cooking process, our servers, kitchen staff, and fellow diners see veganism as prissy and difficult, which often closes their minds to the possibility of trying it out for themselves. We do a much better job of helping animals if we make veganism look fun and delicious and easy, so other people consider going vegan because of our shining example.

I have a whole chapter planned on this for my new book (Yes!), because I think it's really worth discussing. For now, if you find yourself in potentially hostile restaurant territory, order a salad the way you like it. Don't be a stingy jerk and ask for a discount because you're not having the chicken on top. And order the fries without asking about a "dedicated fryer."

You'll be doing the best you can do, you'll get to eat (yay!), and you'll be more likely to have the people around you ask you thoughtful questions about your food choices. Really darlings, that's more than good enough.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

From Hot Dogs to Fabulous Falafel

The old Der Wienerschnitzel a-frame on Meridian Ave in San Jose has started a new life as Flying Falafel. It's all vegan and gluten free, and it's a terrific addition to the Bay Area vegan food scene.

The guys running it are cheerful, speedy, and generous. The food may be fast, but it's also real, and really, really good. I went there for lunch two days in a row, and saved half of my second meal for lunch the third day.

The falafel sandwiches start with a gorgeous, soft, fluffy, warm, whole wheat pita, which is stuffed to the brim with tasty falafel, fresh and pickled veggies, tahini, and hot sauce if you want it. A similar dish (called Plate Me) is all the above on a plate, with pita on the side. The simple menu also includes a couple of other configurations of falafel, hummus, and pita, as well as dolmas, fries (added as a garnish to one sandwich, on a whim it seemed), cinnamon baklava, and banana milk shakes. Pretty darn heavenly.

Ignore the goofy old building and funky freeway neighborhood and just go there. You will be happy. I'm quite sure of it.