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What, Where, Why and How?

21 Feb

Recent conversations with others have made me think again about why I decided to start this blog and naturally that led me to think about where I was, where I am now and of course where I’d like to be.  When I started writing here in 2007,  my life was quite a bit different. I was starting over again in many ways due to the end of a relationship, the end of running a business, and the brink of financial disaster.  Running a small business was one of the most challenging and stressful situations I have ever been in (and not one that I intend to repeat) but working for myself did give me the opportunity to do things like teach myself to be a better cook than my mother and go to events and farmers’ markets on days when I would normally be working if I’d had another job – not to mention time to read and do other interesting things while I was working from home.

It was during this time when I went into Survival Mode and I did whatever I could to keep our costs down to a minimum. I was feeding two people on a budget of around $50 a week. Of course this sounds like a ridiculously small amount, especially for the Bay Area, but I learned that if you cut out all of the processed food, reduce consumption of meat, and make everything yourself, it really can be done.

After the business closed I decided to try a vegan diet – but not just any vegan diet – this one would be without any processed food and yes, that included all meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh or any similar products. Of course I must be honest here and remind the reader and myself that I did use some processed food products such as salt, sugar, flour and olive oil, but tried to keep them to minimum and if at all possible, I made sure these produced were locally produced.

So there I was:  single, broke, vegan-for-financial-environmental-health-and-various-other-personal-reasons, and looking for a new life and new friends with whom I might share my interests. I really had no idea just how difficult that would be. You see, being vegan-for-financial-environmental-health-and-various-other-personal-reasons (and don’t forget: not eating meat or protein substitutes) not only confused the hell out of people, but made it practically impossible to socialize.  And THAT is why I started this blog. I wanted to have a place where I could discuss my thoughts and ideas as well as lament the fact that, even in progressive San Francisco, people’s heads would catch on fire if you even suggested that they may want to learn more about the soda they were drinking or the candy they were eating and, heaven forbid, consider not buying it!

It just seems very sad to me from a cultural perspective that many of our parents would reminisce about the days when people in their family would make pies from scratch but my generation and those that are younger tend to remember cookies, cereals and candy bars. These are our shared food experiences? In more ways than one, we are a manufactured culture.

So What now? Well, it has been more than two years since my first post and though I still consider myself the same food activist I was, I find it very difficult to maintain the momentum.  With a full-time, challenging job, a relationship and debt from the business (not to mention various family issues) I often do not have the energy to cook my own dinner, nevermind making everything from scratch or tending to my neglected garden.

My goal for 2010 is to be a bit more in balance and bring back some of the things I was doing a couple of years ago. I had more head space for it at the time so some serious mental spring cleaning is needed. I must remain mindful of my own actions, intentions and what makes me happiest. From here on I’d like this blog to be more about discovery and sharing those discoveries with the people I care about most. And yummy food.

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New Recipe: Spiced Sourdough Corn Fritters

25 Jul

Spiced Sourdough Corn Fritters (Vegan)
This recipe gets 4 Purkle Stars
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Ingredients:

  • the kernels of 4 fresh cobs of corn
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp. tumeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 – TBSP vegetable oil

Place kernels in large bowl. Add sourdough a bit at a time ( 1/3 cup or so) until all kernels are covered but mixture seem a bit thick. Add all seasonings and mix. Add baking soda last. Mixture will rise a bit, becoming smoother and easier to stir. Add vegetable oil to a frying pan and let heat up to about medium-high. Gently drop in corn mixture until it forms a medallion about 3 inches across. Let fry about 2-3 minutes on each side or until each side is a nice orange – gold color.  Serve warm with your favorite hot sauce or tomato sauce. Feeds 4-5 people (my general rule is one corn cob per person.)

The Case for Reducing Soy Consumption

8 Jun

As mentioned in my first post on this blog “You are what you eat.. a Vegan Food Activist” I discuss the fact that I stay away from processed food as much as possible. Frankly, this has become even more important to me since then with the top reasons being health: knowing what’s in the food and that is it fresh and full of nutrients, social and economic justice: knowing that everyone involved is getting paid a decent wage and being treated fairly as well as putting money into the local economy, and environmental justice: knowing where the food came from and knowing its impact on the environment.

With this in mind, it can make life difficult when not eating meat. Most people automatically assume that eating soy-based meat substitute products is par for the course and when I tell them that I generally don’t eat those products, they have trouble imagining what I could possibly be eating for a protein. First, I tell them that there are many wonderful proteins available in beans, nuts and grains. Second, though I do occasionally eat organic tofu and soy sauce, I tend to avoid soy products as a rule.

As someone who, first and foremost, avoids processed food, this automatically cuts out soy that is somehow made to look and taste like sausage. I used to be quite impressed with how the companies were doing this. How could you possibly make soy look and taste like sausage? Well.. exactly! The more ingredients on the list, the more manufacturers involved, the more people involved in the process, the more likely it is that the ingredients came from a large variety of sources and locations, and the less information we have available to us for an informed decision.

When walking through a grocery store, take a look at the ingredients of the products you pick up. Especially with foods like crackers and breads; how many of them have some sort of soy product listed? Sure, soy has proven to be one of the most versatile and nutritious plants on the planet and because of this the demand has skyrocketed. We are vegetarians and vegans (or trying to have a more healthful diet), but we still want our meat and dairy. And our soap, cosmetics, plastics, inks, solvents, clothing, alcohol, oil, biodiesel, flour, livestock feed and many other products.

Our desire for soy and beef and exotic woods are the primary causes for the depletion of one of the world’s greatest sources of biodiversity and oxygen: The Amazon Rainforest. Yes, people are cutting down the amazon for soy production.

Keep that in mind the next time you reach for that soyburger.

More information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soy

http://www.ajc.com/news…amazon_rainforest_shrinking.html

Recipe: Squash Ravioli with Rainbow Chard

24 Nov

Squash Ravioli with Rainbow Chard
This recipe gets 3.5 Purkle Stars
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Ingredients – Filling

  • one smallish kabocha or buttercup squash, cooked with skin and seeds removed
  • one small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp crushed coriander seed
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients – Pasta

  • 1/2 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water

* I initially doubled this recipe but ended up making one more as well (which actually made it triple) but I suggest starting with a double recipe first. Once you’ve made it, it’s not that difficult to just make a bit more.

Ingredients – Rainbow Chard

  • one bunch rainbow chard (beet greens) chopped into 1-2 inch pieces (including stems)
  • handfull of fresh, chopped fennel
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut squash in half and cook (I find it easiest to cut in half and place open-face down in a glass dish with 1/2 inch of water. cover with plastic wrap and cook in microwave for about 10 minutes) remove seeds and skin and place flesh in large bowl. Cook onions, paprika and coriander seeds in a little olive oil until soft and a little carmelized. When done, mix with squash in large bowl. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Pasta: The recipe above comes from the following website: http://www.vegan-food.net/recipe/117/Homemade-Pasta/ which says to mix all ingredients in a bowl, wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. I never do this… I mix, knead a bit and roll out pretty much immediately. My pasta usually comes out a bit thick.. maybe this is why! I also roll my pasta by hand with a pasta roller. Basically this is like a thin rolling pin without handles. I roll out about 1/3 of the pasta dough and cut round shapes with a glass. Cut out all the shapes while the squash mixture is cooling. Once you’re ready to make the ravioli, place a small amount of the mixture (about a large teaspoon) and either trace the edge of the pasta with a wet finger, fold pasta in half and pinch to close or place another round shape on top. Set raviolo aside where they can get a bit dry, otherwise the mixture will keep the pasta wet and if touching, they can easily stick together. While these are drying, heat a large pot of water to cook. Wehn water is boiling, turn heat down to medium-low and add pasta. Chop the greens and put on medium heat in a skillet with a little olive oil until leaves are wilted and stems are soft and flexible but still a little crunchy.  Add some salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat off, add chopped fennel and stir. These should both take 5-10 minutes to cook. Drain pasta.

On the plate, prepare a bed of chard ( around 1/3 of what’s in the skillet) and top with 4-6 Ravioli. Eat! This recipe makes enough for 3 people (with some ravioli left over if you used the fold-over method) but you can always cook up more of the chard (or some other dark green) and fennel.

Even our friend who normally wouldn’t dream of eating something vegan liked this dish a lot.

ravioli

Cooking: classes, volunteering and sharing.

29 Oct

A number of months ago I was looking for classes on nutrition in the area and came across a program list on the website for the Cancer Project. It’s a no-cost, 8 week program focusing on nutrition for cancer patients as well as prevention. It’s vegan too! And I’ve signed up for it. I’m quite excited…

And, just today, a friend pointed me to another interesting thing happening in Berkeley. Karma Kitchen, is a once-a-week event where food is prepared and served by volunteers and is completely free of charge. I’m thinking about volunteering, though may attend once first.

I am curious to see what other, interesting food related things are going on around here. I had heard about Food Not Bombs a while ago and later heard that there had been some problems with the chapter in San Francisco. I’ve yet to see evidence of it in the city but the SFFNB website does look active and up to date. There’s also some interesting information about FNF on wikipedia. Must check out.

Don’t blame it on the food, blame it on the chef!

24 Oct

Though I am not strictly vegan, I certainly tend to cook only vegan meals at home. I also don’t generally have relationships with people that are vegan, or even vegetarian. So, cooking for two or more can certainly be a challenge – not without the occasional sigh or disappointed pout.

I am currently in a a relationship with an amazing person and though he is not vegetarian or vegan and does enjoy his processed foodstuffs (for now!!!) he is quite a good cook and has an appreciation for good food.  At first, he was decidedly wary about what kinds of ‘vegan food’ I might make him eat. He’d lived with vegans in the past that made “awful  shit”. So naturally, he wasn’t expecting the food to be very good.

The following recipes have resulted in various swears and obscenities mainly because “It’s not supposed to taste good! It’s VEGAN!” I hope you will find them tasty and useful and if we’re lucky you can freak out some meat-eaters too!

Continue reading

You are what you eat.. a Vegan Food Activist?

25 Sep

The Vegan Thing… 

A few months ago I heard a radio broadcast featuring Howard Lyman, a former Montana cattle rancher turned strict vegan. This weekly radio program, called Deconstructing Dinner, has become my favorite over the last year and has been the main driving force behind my decision to become “vegan“.  I use quotations marks when calling myself a “vegan” because I have not yet found a better term to describe my eating habits. To say that I was a strict vegan would be wrong, as would assuming that my dietary decisions were primarily based on animal welfare as that seems to be the most common reason for the switch. Because I don’t feel that I fit squarely into the common vegan identity, most people are a bit confused and don’t really understand exactly what it is I am trying to do. While this is often an opportunity for me to explain my point of view and my ideas on the subject, it’s also a bit frustrating. If I am being good about holding to my own personal guidelines, it’s nearly impossible to socialize if food is involved, whether eating out or staying in! So needless to say, it is a challenge being a “vegan”, or at least my version of it.

The Food Activist Thing…

I consider myself to be an environmentalist and for the last few years have been trying to find the best way to express that in my daily life. Sure, I can recycle and buy green products, volunteer, wear clothes made out of hemp and drink fair trade coffee. But I can’t do it all, no one can. As human beings in this day and age, we must take advantage of our strengths and our passions. I’m quite fond of music, movies and FOOD. The more I learn about the food industry, the misleading advertising, the injustices and poor working conditions, the politics and control, and the health issues that are now rampant in our society, the less I can justify buying anything processed.

So how do I define myself? What is it that I eat and why? Well, I’ve decided to provide what I like to call my List of Priorities. It is very difficult to hold to all of these 100% of the time. As a Vegan Food Activist, I am constantly making decisions about what is most important to me that week, day or moment. And sometimes, I just really want sushi…

  • In general I do not eat processed food. This includes pretty much everything, but there are certain exceptions: 1) beer & wine – though I do drink mostly organic and local beverages 2) tofu – I don’t use it much, but umm… there’s no way I’m making it myself 3) tomato paste – I use it constantly and am not yet ready to make it myself 4) various organic/natural/locally produced snacks – sometimes. I mostly buy these for other people! 5) bread – I often make my own, but sometimes a quicker version is required. I never buy white, and I usually buy something produced by a local bakery.
  • In general I don’t eat sugar. I do currently use sugar in baking but no doubt will transition to other options at some point. Regular cane sugar is not considered to be a vegan product for various reasons anyway (though as I’ve mentioned, strict veganism is not exactly my priority.) So what do I eat instead? Fruit and honey. Local, seasonal, wonderful fruit and honey. I was suprised at how my cravings for things like cookies, candy and chocolate pretty much vanished after a while and sugary foods eventually became difficult to eat.
  • Dairy. Hmm. Dairy is my gateway drug. Though I don’t generally eat dairy, sometimes cheese is required. I’ve broken down and eaten cheese that was boring and tasteless and regreted it afterwards. Ideally, I’d like to partake in the cheese and the egg once in a while.. and it better be good when I do! (Oh and local and organic and all that crap)
  • Red meat, poultry, fish and meat substitutes. Generally = no. Though I’d rather eat local, organic chicken than say, a bag of Doritos. And meat substitutes are what? Yes. Heavily processed foods. Also, I find most vegan and vegetarian dishes to be well, lazy. There are many wonderful and tasty sources of protein in nature (that humans have been eating for millennia) and I don’t really understand why people don’t always take advantage of what’s readily available… and unprocessed!
  • Farmers’ Market. Farmers’ Market. Farmers’ Market. Fresh, local food. Supporting variety, the local economy as well as the farmers. Many farmers in North America and making little more than they did in the 70’s.
  • I make a lot of my own stuff. Beans, bread, pizza dough. These things are really not as difficult as you might think, or as time consuming! I’ve watched plently of mind-numbing, reality TV while baking bread!

So, there you have it. Pretty much. As a rule, I don’t eat processed foods, or sugar or meat or dairy. Umm… anyone want to go out and have dinner? :/