Looking for Veggie Pals.

Hi, I'm a 40 year old Brit looking for e-pals. I've been vegetarian for 6 or 7 years now. I'd like to talk to anyone interesting (in my experience ALL vegetarians and vegans are). I've wondered about the experiences of veggies in countries other than England. It's easy being veggie here. How about where you live? We have a good selection of veggie food in most supermarkets. Not vegan, though. I have a profile on here somewhere if anyone can access it. (Maybe don't go there. It'll put you off!)

Veganism is a wise decision

You might want to consider trying it.

First of all, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian. That is NOT my intention with this, and I know how it feels to be shamed by others who feel like their lifestyle choices are “better” than yours. Life’s too short for that bullsh*t.

I’m not even a vegan myself. I call myself a “flexitarian” because I only eat meat when my family’s having it—say, my husband wants to make tacos or something. But even then, he often makes veggie refried beans for me. I was a strict vegetarian for several years and I can honestly say that I did feel better, weigh slightly less (hey, I still ate lots of cheese and bread!) and really enjoyed it.

But I also encountered people who were so defensive about my vegetarianism, and I never really understood it. “Mmm meat!” they’d chortle as they ate in front of me. I even had a debate coach whom I otherwise deeply admired take me to barbecue places where I could barely find anything to eat, and he’d preface each visit with some asinine comment like, “I’m curious to see what you will find to eat here.”

Now I know—at least, I think I know—that they felt as if they were being judged by me. I didn’t say anything, ever, except for “No, thanks, I’m a vegetarian” when offered a sandwich! Yet somehow my lifestyle translated to “uppity sanctimonious butthole” to them. And I admit, I can get pretty sanctimonious—I don’t mean to, but I can—but I truly don’t think I did during that time.

Anyhow, evidence keeps pouring in to support the fact that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are healthy for both our species as well as our planet. I really support people who go vegan and hope that someday I will, too (as long as I can have vegan manicotti…). In addition to the defensiveness, the lifestyle often gets torn down by people who claim we need meat to stay healthy, that it’s a bunch of weirdos eating granola, and so on.

I’m not going to argue that some people don’t need meat—I don’t know every health condition on earth and some folks very well could need it—but I do think that most people can survive without it, perhaps living even more healthfully. To these naysayers, I say give this new veganism slideshow a quick view. It’s really informative, with plenty of links where you can access even more information about veganism to see if you might like to try it out. And like I said, it might not be for you, but maybe it could help you see vegan friends in a new light.

Beet juice in Guatemala

Great juice mixes

I drank some serious juice down in Guatemala. There and all though the tropics you can get really fresh fruit and vegetables. In Central America you can get juice in restaurants, on little stands in the street, or sometimes even from people walking around with little carts.

In the little village of San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, a high altitude lake surrounded by volcanoes and jungle, I had juice with Angelica every day at her little juice bar on the dirt road outside of my hotel. She was talkative and had patience to listen to my bad Spanish.

Over the course of two weeks, I went from drinking orange juice and other things I was familiar with, to trying everything she had. Pitthaya (dragon fruit in English), for example, is outstanding and worth the high price if you can find it. But the best juice, the one I now make at home with my juicer, are mixes with beet juice. The most basic is simply beet and carrots (pure beet juice is possible but a little strong). I usually use one whole beet and six to eight carrots.

Adding an orange to this mix adds a little more flavor. Usually Angelica would add a slice of pineapple as well. But then last summer I went back to San Pedro for my third visit. This time I had a cold, and so did Angelica. “What do you recommend for a cold?” I asked.

To the beet/carrot/pineapple she added a few cloves of garlic and a slice of ginger. She didn’t peel the ginger, just washed it. Both of these combined packed quite a punch. I recommend if you make this at home, don’t add garlic unless you are sure you will be staying in that night. It will make your breath just awful.

Happy juicing!

 

Boardwalk’s veggie burger

If you are a newfound vegetarian, then you are sure to have a craving for certain meat products every now and then.  However, instead of feeling guilty for having those types of cravings, you can go ahead and treat yourself to a vegetarian version instead.  You might actually find yourself enjoying the taste of the vegetarian version more than the meaty version.  Then you will never have to have those guilty thoughts again.

One of the things that vegetarians are sure to miss is a good burger.  Those that have grown up eating the meaty version might think that it is impossible to find a vegetarian version that is worth biting into.  However, veggie burgers come a long way over the years.  So you might just be surprised by the taste of the veggie burgers that are out there.

These days, you can get a veggie burger almost anywhere.  There are many versions for sale in the frozen aisle at the grocery store.  Plus restaurants everywhere are starting to serve up veggie burgers.  Even fast food places like Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries have a veggie burger for those who are saying no to meat.

Personally, I am a fan of the veggie burger at Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries.  I like the taste and texture of the veggie burger.  Plus, I appreciate the fact that the burger is not made out of soy.  Instead, the burger is made out of black beans.  I had mine with the chipotle sauce and enjoyed it immensely.

Curried carrots with kale

How rescuing old veggies from my fridge led to a delicious new dish

I am an alchemist. This morning, I sat around lamenting that my fridge was filled with wilting greens, wrinkling tomatoes and softening carrots. Now, I sit with my belly full of one of the most delicious--and unlikely--concoctions I've ever been able to cobble together.

I guess one of the perks of subsisting on a plant-based diet is that you can toss  together the neglected remainders of your weekly meals and still come up with something pretty darn tasty. I don't know much about cooking meat, but I doubt somehow that different types of animal go together quite so nicely as a full pan of assorted veggies. Plants have friendly flavors; they mingle nicely, especially when you lubricate their interaction with a few strategic spices.

So the following stew (I guess it's a stew--maybe it's more of a stir-fry, depending on how you swing it) was born out of pure neglectfulness of my own groceries. Sometimes just eating what's in your fridge can be a real chore, especially when your favorite people keep inviting you out to eat at your favorite restaurants. But with only days, perhaps hours, left in the lives of my sequestered vegetables, I had to suck it up and take action. And gosh, I'm glad I did. This is some mighty tasty stuff, great over rice or maybe even wrapped up in some kind of tortilla. I don't know. Go nuts.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 stalks of kale, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
  • About a cup of grape, cherry, plum, or other non-traditional tomatoes, chopped
  • Half a medium-sized onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup almonds or pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

Heat up your coconut oil in a large wok or saute pan, then add carrots, onions, and garlic. Saute until the onions are lightly browned, just beginning to caramelize. Stir in curry powder, cumin, and cayenne. Cook for 2-3 minutes. When the spices are well-mixed in and the vegetables are fragrant, add the tomatoes. Let simmer for a few minutes, then stir in kale leaves. Sprinkle salt to taste. When the kale has lost its rigidity and turned a bright green, toss in the nuts and raisins. Cook everything, stirring, for another couple of minutes. Ladle over brown rice/whole wheat couscous/naan/grain of your choice. Enjoy the super-healthy flavor mosaic you've just created. 

 

Homemade Vegan Refried Beans

Cow-free Tex-Mex goodness

I feel like a lot of Mexican restaurants get a little confused as to what "vegetarian" really means. Sure, they might offer a meatless version of their signature tacos, but chances are their rice and beans are still going to be laden with the same cow drippings as they are in the meaty dishes. Most kitchens aren't going to bother to keep two separate vats of refried beans stewing at the same time just to please the herbivores, so they dish out the same lardy stuff whether you order your burrito with steak or without. 

I was pretty bummed out when I realized how not at all vegan most refried beans are because they're among my top ten favorite things to put in my mouth. I may be a simple creature, but there's little I love more than wrapping a tortilla around brown bean goo or just heating up a bowl and topping it with some baby spinach and salsa. It's such an easy pleasure, and it's also a good source of protein and fiber for my plant-fed self. I used to rely on the Trader Joe's canned beans (they come in both pinto and black) for my refried fix, but I realized that buying the pre-made stuff wasn't the most economical method of getting my bean on when I would go through a 99-cent can in about a day and a half. So I decided to be a Mexican side dish renegade and start from the ground up--with the dry legume. I make my refried beans entirely from scratch now. It's much cheaper and so, so delicious. Here is how.

You don't need much at all for this recipe. It's almost insultingly easy for how tasty the result can get. Just get your paws on some dried beans (pinto is the standard, but I like to mix it up and mash some black beans every now and again), a small onion (white, not sweet), some garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, coconut oil and maybe some jalepenos if you're feeling fancy. You'll also want a pot that's on the small side to ensure you're not spreading your beans too thin while you're destroying them into a delicious paste. 

First, you'll want to pre-cook the dry beans. I use a crock pot for this because I can set it to cook while I'm away at work. Just rinse and sort your dry beans, throw them in the slow cooker, then add about three cups of water for every cup of beans. Toss in some salt, set the pot on high and come back to it in about five or six hours. If you don't have a slow cooker, just let everything simmer in a regular pot on the stove for two or three hours. Once your beans are nice and tender, sautee your onion and garlic in some coconut oil in a small pot. (Coconut oil is like the lard of the plant kingdom; it's soft, thick, fatty and I could eat a whole jar with a spoon if I lacked self-restraint.) Once your onions are translucent, sprinkle everything with a little cayenne pepper, jalepenos and/or other spices of your choice. After about a minute, add your cooked beans and their broth. Bring to a simmer and let them stew. You can start to mash them with a fork as they're cooking after about ten minutes. Add more water or more coconut oil as you see fit. Once they're the consistency you desire, turn off the heat and revel in your tasty, goopy creation. It looks like primordial clay because that's what it is.

Rethinking Meal Structures

Why our protein-centered food model could use some work

 

You know you're a veg type when a lot of what you eat comes in quotation marks. For example, I just broke fast on some "bacon", "buttered" toast and coffee with "cream". Not that I'm complaining. That Morning Star fake-on (facon? fakon? I don't know, man) was good enough to make me rethink my policy on meat substitutes and Earth Balance tastes butterier than the butteriest butter. And neither is full of things that will kill me from the outside. In fact, I've recently come to the conclusion that vegan junk food is the best kind, because you can gorge on frozen burritos and "ice cream" and not feel like a molten ball of grease after the fact.

That being said, I still have some problems with constructing a vegetarian or vegan diet from reconstructed meat-eaters' menus. The social constructs regarding what, when and how we eat tend to obstruct the whole foods, plant-based diet that's not only compassionate toward other sentient life, but also much healthier than the norm. 

The idea of a diet centered around meat and grains with fruits and vegetables as afterthoughts seems utterly anachronistic in this day and age. We're not serfs anymore. We don't have to rely on meats and breads just to get enough calories to get through the day. Yet we're socially conditioned to eat as though we still lived in the middle ages, when fresh plant foods weren't yet farmed and distributed. These days, you can pick up bananas and lettuce at your local 7-11--yet we're still socially conditioned to believe that animal proteins and starches are the best supplies with which to put together a meal.

It's a construct that fuels that age-old "what do you eat?" question whenever an omnivore learns of our dietary habits. But the truth is that most of us can survive just fine on what most would tend to consider side dishes. I keep it simpler than most, but I've still made entire meals out of just sauteed chard or roasted asparagus. No central protein, no excess carbs, just slightly enhanced plants. And yes, I feel full after eating. Swallow down half a braised cabbage and tell me you don't feel full. It's a different kind of full, maybe, from the meat-based one most are used to, but that's largely because you're not inundating your digestive tract with too much stuff it's not really supposed to process. We didn't evolve physiologically to subsist on refined sugars and proteins alone. We need leaves, nuts, roots, fruits. Stuff that springs up from the ground and falls from trees, whole, untampered-with. It's about time we invert that meal model and put the green stuff at the center. Meat can be the afterthought, if we think of it at all.

Standing Up for Yourself as a Vegetarian

"Never put up with abuse or disrespect, especially for something as commendable as being a vegetarian."

 

Vegetarians and vegans currently are a minority in the world. We all live in a culture where meat-eating is the norm, and animal abuse is all but ignored. However, many vegetarians decided to stop eating animals because of strong convictions and ethics. This is something worthy of applause. While it may seem sad at first glance that heroes in this culture are ones simply abstaining from doing harm, it’s a thing that’s very heroic when the norm is to accept the harm of animals through consumption of their bodies. 
 
Yes, vegetarians are standing up against the norm, and that means that we are bound to get resistance from others. It can come in many forms, from ads from the subsidized meat industry to our peers mocking our choices out of thinly veiled guilt and a desire to validate their own choice to ignore the suffering that eating meat supports. Next time this happens, instead of nodding and smiling politely at the rudeness, stand up for yourself.
 
First, try practicing radical honesty. It’s another rare thing in this world. When someone says something rude, be honest and say it hurts your feelings. People tend to be so offensive and defensive in this culture that we rarely stop to just speak from the heart. Starting from this place can set a sympathetic and respectful tone for the conversation. Rather than fuss at them for what they said, you are taking responsibility for how you feel and expressing it. Next, explain why this makes you feel that way. It could be something as simple as, “It hurts my feelings for you to criticize my personal choice. It was made because animals are tortured, killed in a torturous way, dismembered, and then their decaying corpses are served as food.” You do not have to go into that much detail, but you can if it’s appropriate. It’s likely they will not repeat the mockery. 
 
Never put up with abuse or disrespect, especially for something as commendable as being a vegetarian. The important thing is to express yourself and come from a genuine place of how you are feeling. Make sure that you get the respect that you need to feel great. Being a vegetarian is a wise, kind choice for you, the animals, and the environment. It deserves respect so be sure to demand it from others.

Braised Cabbage with Apples and Carrots

Whole, vegan comfort food

 

Well, our winter finally bit. It toyed with us for a little while there, doing a convincing Bay Area dance around 50 with a healthy dose of showers, when suddenly Mother Nature slammed on the brakes and froze us over with the midwestern chill we know so well. I've been going out in my big cocoon coat with four layers underneath and to tell you the truth I'm a little relieved. At least the seasons are revolving more or less as they should be, even if the freeze is a little tardy.

Of course, this newly arrived arctic ambiance means that I've been reaching for the warm and toasty comforts. I've been drinking boatloads of tea, taking plenty more hot showers than usual, and running to the corner of my living room to curl up in front of the furnace every time it goes on. I'm a simple, rather feline creature, and I like my warm things. 

I also like my wintry comfort foods, but my new resolution to keep my eats on the vegan and super-frugal side of things means that such seasonal classics as baked mac and cheese are no longer on the table. Instead, I've got to find ways to make fruits and veggies into comfort foods. This challenge has mostly resulted in my nuking up a whole lot of lard-free refried beans, but in an effort to get some real, whole plants into my system, I recently went ahead and bought a cabbage. It felt right. It's a winter vegetable, it's green and leafy, it's round and sturdy like a bowling ball. I don't think I'd ever cooked it to satisfaction before this time, but I went ahead with it despite the follies of my past. And by God, I was going to turn that plant into a warm and sticky comfort food fit for the bitterest of winter nights.

I started with an Orangette recipe, figuring braising until tender would be the way to go. I wanted to play up the cabbage's natural sweetness a bit, so I tossed some apple on top of the original formula, figuring baked apple is a delicacy that can't go wrong. The result was a nice, simple, clean but still zesty batch of flavors that turned a trayful of plant matter into a dish hearty enough to eat on its own for supper. That there's some alchemy.

You will need:

  • 1 medium green cabbage head, about 2 lbs
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 carrot (I used up the bottom of a bag of babies)
  • 1-2 tart apples (Fuji worked nicely for me)
  • 1/4 cup water (or veggie stock)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice up your onion, your apples, and your carrots. Rinse the cabbage and cut into eight wedges, making sure you get rid of all that awkward core matter at the bottom. Lay your wedges out in a brownie pan, then scatter the rest of your veggies and fruits on top. Coat the pan with water and oil, then sprinkle your vinegar, salt, and spices to taste on top. Cover the pan tightly with foil, then pop it in the oven. Flip the cabbage wedges at the one-hour mark and add any additional oil and water as needed. The cabbage should be tender and tasty after another hour, although my sluggish oven took an extra fifteen minutes or so. And that's all there is; enjoy this slow-burning, high-reward healthful treat through the frost.

Accidental Salad

Or: how failed hummus led me to arrive at a brilliant new vegan dish

 

Here's to happy accidents. As someone who's started out the new year on a whole-foods vegan diet, I welcome them with open arms when they make my food taste better. And boy, did they. I don't know if it's the carb withdrawal talking, but today I think I had the best salad of my entire life. And it's all thanks to my spectacular failure at making myself hummus. 
 
Like most good little vegans, I eat one heck of a lot of pureed garbanzo beans. Combined with some baby carrots, there's literally nothing else I'd rather snack on all day. Since the good store-bought stuff tends to get expensive, I started getting into the habit of whipping up my own hummus in the blender. It's a lot easier than you might think; chop up some garlic, buy some tahini, halve a lemon, open a can of chick peas, top it all off with some olive oil, and you're pretty much done. I don't even measure out ingredients anymore, just toss it all together and blend. 
 
Since I started cooking my own chick peas from the dried variety, though, i should probably pay more attention to portions. My last batch of near-hummus ended up using way too much of the garbanzos' cooking broth. Instead of a nice, thick puree, I ended up getting a watered-down, sad hummus barely thick enough to be scooped up by a carrot stick. I was a little bummed at how many chick peas I'd poured into a substandard foodstuff, but I quickly got creative. This didn't have to be hummus. It could be something else: like, say, a dressing for all the salads I'd been eating recently.
 
So I tried it out, and I ended up creating a salad whose deliciousness cannot be contained within mere words. This is some seriously good stuff, so proceed with caution. I almost exploded with excitement upon first tasting it. 
 
I like to start out with an arugula base for its flavor and bite (Trader Joe's has good bagged stuff year-round for cheap). I then add a few washed and halved green grapes, for a little tartness and sweetness. I had some slivered almonds lying around at the time, so I tossed those in too. Finally, I smothered the thing with my attempt at bean dip, and lo and behind, the best salad ever appeared. Such simple stuff, yet such a perfect combination of flavors in one bowl. Hooray for screwing up.

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