Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brutal Truth


After receiving my first bits of “constructive” e-mail I feel compelled to delve a little deeper into why I’ve altered my lifestyle the way I have. I’ve recently been challenged to go vegan or become a bit more “committed to the cause.” I believe I am exactly where I need to be right now, and feel very comfortable with, and excited about, my choices. While I appreciate those who are further along their path than me and look to them for information and sometimes inspiration, I don’t want to be anyone else. As I wrote in my very first posting, I hate labels and only use the term “vegetarian” to make things easier at restaurants. I’m about to give more specifics relating to my reality, so if you’re not ready for the truth about factory farming, catch me on my next post.

I grew up in the South and am no stranger to farming. My uncles raised chickens for Tyson, and I have memories of playing in the chicken houses as a child. I witnessed cows being branded and castrated, and even saw a chicken lose its life to a quick pop and a sharp knife. I’m a dog and horse person and have never had much emotional attachment to anything else. I value human life over non-human life, and do not condemn those who choose to raise animals and grow gardens for the sustenance of their families.

Most men in my family were/are seasonal hunters, with one uncle qualifying as a big game hunter. I have always loved the taste of venison, quail, and fish. Although I’ve never been a fan of chicken or ground beef, a really rare, well aged steak was a thing of beauty. I’d looked into the big sweet eyes of a steer, but allowed my conscience to disconnect when it came to the reality of my meal.

I am a somewhat accomplished cook, and have been fortunate to have friends and family who share my love of good food and wine. Three years ago I cooked my way through Julia Child's, Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I have made my own gelatin from boiling bones, can gut a fish, debone a chicken, and theoretically, could field dress a rabbit and a deer. Food, to me, is much more than sustenance. It is cultural, artistic and the stuff of which great memories are made. I love to eat!

With all this being said, sometimes life gets complicated and requires major changes. For many different reasons I decided it was time to face the truth of my dietary choices. Part of this was due to my concern with the environment, part due to my health, but I’d say there was also something even bigger that I can’t quite describe right now.

These life changes prompted me to read everything I could get my hands on about organic farming, free-range ranching, corporate farms, agricultural business, and nutrition. I also went on field trips where I saw what can only be described as the worst horror film in the world, but it was real. The sights, sounds and smells are imprinted in my mind forever. I am still frightened to think that human beings are capable of such torture, brutality and perversion. Animal processing plant workers witness horrors every day, while still trying to maintain a sort of emotional distance. Even if I didn’t give a shit about animals, as a humanitarian, the meat packing industry is no place for a soulful human. I don’t see how a person who participates in that process can be whole.

When you see playful pigs trotting in a field, looking like they have smiles on their faces, with personalities and charisma, and then see them scared and violent from their own insanity, marching towards two men who operate a machine that will quickly slit their throats, the only solace is that it will soon be over for them. The squeals and shrieks of pain require humans to wear ear plugs. And this is just the “organically raised and/or free-range” pigs. Factory farms are another tier in Dante’s hell.

Chickens neurotically pull out their own feathers and their beaks are burnt and clipped without any sedatives. They are starved and deprived of water to induce egg laying. Cows’ beautiful eyes turn wild and crazed long before the chains are wrapped around their ankles to jerk them into the air, and you can hear loud pops from their legs breaking. Before this point they are supposed to be stunned with a bolt-gun to the head (unless they are up for Kosher beef, in which case they have to be totally aware of what is happening) but all too often the stun doesn’t “take” and the steer is completely cognizant of this terrifying process.

Workers stand knee-deep in blood, excrement and entrails, surrounded by deafening calls from the animals, and studies have demonstrated the psychological toll on meat processing employees are significant. All this so I can eat a steak?

So, I know the truth now. To me, once you know the truth you have a responsibility to do something about it. I have chosen to eat in a way that causes the least possible pain to other beings—human or otherwise. For those who are not ready to cut meat out of their diet, I hope I can help them find less-dreadful ways of sourcing their food. For those who have found themselves on a similar path to mine, I hope we can share information and make things a bit more fun.

I won’t say I’ll never eat animals or animal byproducts again. I have eaten fish recently, and would probably do it again. I don’t think people living in remote Africa or the North Pole need to quit eating animals. I’m not going to judge some poor person in rural China for eating a dog. I just know that I live in a place where I have many options to avoid eating another living being. I am committed to living my life in a way that is healthy to me, the people around me, animals, and the planet. I feel amazing, am having a blast, and my doctors are over-the-moon with my choices.

So this is my path. My mission for this blog is just to share information and give little slices of my life that I suspect might be entertaining or meaningful to someone else. I’m not here to judge or be judged, thank you very much. And you can keep writing… I love getting the notes (especially the funny ones), but know that I’m just where I need to be, and so are you!
Love and Peace,
SA

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What the Kale???


I’m sure, if you have made the decision to eliminate critters from your diet you are forever asked the “protein question.” My standard response is, “Protein is in most foods, and I eat such a huge variety it’s really not a concern.” But after several weeks of serious aching in my joints, it occurred to me I might not be as aware of my protein and other nutrient intake as I should be. Last week I had several tests run, and there are a variety of possibilities for my pain, but one thing the nutritionist pointed out was my low protein levels. I was taking in about 25% less than the minimum suggested for my weight and activity level. So…I started searching out good sources of protein. One veggie that really packs a punch is kale, wonderful kale!

I have been a big fan of kale since ordering it at The Lucky Platter, when they were in Chicago. It was simply sautéed, with a bit of sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Really delicious. Ever since this discovery, I’ve been a big fan of experimenting with kale and finding new recipes.

It turns out, every cup of kale has 2-3 grams of protein and less than 40 calories. My favorite method is to sauté a little garlic and onion, then stuff a bunch of kale in a pot, cover with water and drop in a veggie bullion cube and simmer for an hour. It makes a sort of kale soup. I’ve added canned kidney beans, and left as-is. It’s a great, quick lunch over wild rice or any other grain.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes involving kale. If you have any other ideas for maxing out protein I would love to hear them.

Roasted Kale

• 4 cups firmly-packed kale
• 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tsp. good-quality sea salt, such as Maldon or Cyprus Flake
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and trim the kale: Peel off the tough stems by folding the kale leaves in half like a book and stripping the stems off. Toss with extra virgin olive oil. Roast for five minutes. Turn kale over. Roast another 7 to 10 minutes until kale turns brown and becomes paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings.
Per serving: 186 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein, 412% vitamin A, 268% vitamin C, 18% calcium, 13% iron
http://healthycooking.suite101.com/article.cfm/roasted_kale#ixzz0J5a1viGG&D

Sausage Potato Soup


Makes 5 servings, at about 350 calories per serving and almost 25 grams of protein. This is not exact as I modified the recipe to make it vegan.
INGREDIENTS:
1 package Field Roast Italian Sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (48 ounce) can vegetable broth 2 baking potatoes
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh kale, washed, chopped into
pieces
DIRECTIONS:
1. In soup pot, slice sausage thinly and brown in olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes longer. Add salt, peppers, broth, potatoes and parsley. Bring to boil and immediately turn down to simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes add kale. Cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Refrigerate leftovers.

Sweet Pepper Pasta Toss
INGREDIENTS:
1 (8 ounce) package uncooked farfalle (bow
tie) pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup roughly chopped kale 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch dried basil
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
salt and ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
DIRECTIONS:


1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in red pepper, yellow pepper, kale and garlic. Season with basil, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender.
3. In a large bowl, toss cooked pasta with skillet mixture. Sprinkle with feta cheese to serve.
Serves 4 w/ 432 cal/serving and 17.6 grams of protein. Delicious!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Quickies


I’m forever hearing vegetarians and vegans say how difficult it is to find things to eat while on the road. I also hear friends protest going veg because it would require too much time and effort in the kitchen. While it’s true, the transition from critters to carrots is not effortless, I have to say it hasn’t been that difficult for me.

I recently found myself at the Kansas City airport with nothing (truly nothing) to eat except for a cheese quesadilla. It was ridiculous and completely my fault. As a person eating low on the totum pole, I can’t expect small airports to be on my side. Yes, it would be nice, but I’m not going to assume much.

Most cities have either a Whole Foods or some other grocery store which offers healthy snacks. While you can’t get liquids through security, packaged food is typically ok. I could have easily picked up hummus and veggies, olives and goodies from the olive bar, soy cheese or regular cheese sticks. There are all kinds of good snacks in the bulk section, which are also inexpensive.

I was inspired by Erin-the-Organizer to pre-make meals for the week. I love black-bean burritos and can make up 6-8 in about 30 minutes for less than $10 and put them in the freezer. I sauté a little onion and garlic in some olive oil, dump in a can of drained black-beans and add chopped pickled jalapenos. I soften (via microwave) tortillas, add ¼ c. rice, 1/4 c. soy cheddar cheese and 1/3 c. black bean mix. Roll them up in wax paper and stick them in the freezer. Done! At about 250 cal. and over 13 g. of protein (depends on cheese, beans and tortillas you use), these are great with a side of your favorite salsa and a piece of fruit. Easy! Done.

Another favorite is to make up a batch of peanut sauce to have for salad dressing (can thin with a little more rice vinegar), to dip fingers of toasted tofu in w/ steamed veggies, or to mix with noodles. Again, this option is really inexpensive and so easy.

I thought I’d add a couple favorite, quick recipes inspired by my favorite chef, Rozanne Gold. I’ve added a couple of ingredients to her 3-ingredient base. Be adventurous and try to make your own version based on what you find at the farmer’s market.

Smokey Polenta with Tomatoes

12 plum tomatoes
4 oz. smoked mozzarella
1 c. stone-ground yellow cornmeal


Preheat oven to 275. Cut tomatoes in half, sprinkle w/ salt and bake on parchment paper for 1 hour. Turn over and bake for another hour, then turn again and bake for 30 minutes. (alternative: I’ve roasted asparagus which is also great…any roasted veggie would be yummy). Shred cheese. In medium pot boil 3.5 cups water and 1 t. salt to boil. Add cornmeal, stirring constantly until thick. Add half cheese and keep stirring until creamy.

Heat oven to 357. Coat 8.5” removable bottom tart pan w/ oil. Pour polenta in pan, spreading out to even. Put tomatoes on top of polenta. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake 6-8 minutes then broil until golden. I chiffonade fresh basil to sprinkle on top before serving. Serves 4
I’ve altered this even more by making it with soy cheese and caramelizing purple onions and roasting mushrooms. Was so good and super-easy!

Baked Fennel Parmigiana, Sort Of

1 large fennel bulb, about 1.5lbs.
1.5 cups V-8 juice
2 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese, or ½ c. chopped walnuts

I took Rozanne’s recipe and changed out the parmesan for toasted, crumbled walnuts. Take large fennel bulb and cut frond away. Cut lengthwise, through the core, into 4 wedges. Boil with a little salt and just enough water to cover. Cook 20 minutes until barely tender. Drain. Preheat oven to 400. Put 1 ½ c. V-8 juice in small saucepan and cook over med. Heat until reduced to 1 cup. Place fennel, cut side up, in a shallow oven proof casserole. Pour ¾ cup reduced V-8 over fennel. Sprinkle with 2 oz. parmesan cheese or 1/2 c. chopped walnuts and 1 tsp. salt. Bake 30 minutes and then sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds. You could also try soy parm, but I haven’t. Would love to see how that worked.

Yesterday I took some squash ravioli that was in the freezer. In a pan I sautéed garlic in olive oil, then added walnuts. Once the nuts started browning I added a ½ tsp. of honey, some chile powder, chayenne pepper and salt. Once the raviolis were done I tossed them with the walnut mixture and sprinkled with parmesan. It would be great if I’d had some fresh parsley or sage. So…in about 15 minute my house smelled wonderful and we had a fantastic meal.
So, no excuses, really. Get crackin’!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy Trails......


So, I’ve been in Kansas City for a week, and during my stay have been pleasantly surprised at the number of quality dining options available for most vegetarians. I say “most,” because I feel the emphasis is not as much diet with respect to animals as diet with respect to the environment and health. Vegan options are very often available (and we’re not talking peanut butter and agave nectar), but the number of vegan-only restaurants are limited. So, while you munch away on your soy noodles mixed with fresh vegetables and cashew sauce, your dining companion might be eating a bison burger. Bison is very big here in KC!

But, let’s talk about the positives…and there were many.

I’d heard about Eden Alley on my last trip to Kansas City, but didn’t have the time to stop in for a meal. It is located in the tawny Plaza area, in the basement of the very beautiful Unitarian Temple. I went for late lunch on a VERY rainy day, an hour before close. I will say, this is more on the “hippy-dippy,” side than most of my critter-eater friends would indulge in on a regular basis. There was a faint smell of incense, with New Age music playing in the background, with a gift shop adjacent to the restaurant sporting a good deal of tie-died wares.

This being said, the food was fantastic. I was starving, but still. Just after sitting down I was offered a lovely slice of homemade bread with honey butter. I could have had ½ a loaf! I thought seriously about getting a bowl of soup and offering the waiter sexual favors for another slice of that bread. Alas, I opted for one of the day’s specials, the vegan tostada.

My meal was terrific and incredibly filling. The tortilla was made of corn and potatoes and was covered with black beans, veggie bits, soy cheese and a wonderful homemade salsa. You could pay extra for cow cheese and cow sour cream, but I went vegan. This was so delicious and so filling I could only eat ½, and I really was starving. This, along with a small bathtub of their select peoney tea added up to about $15, with tip.


Everything on the menu at Eden Alley was available vegan. In fact, I was pleased to see many items on the menu were raw. They even had a cookbook for sale, Stir-Well to Heaven, which you can also purchase from their site. Lunch was awesome, but the atmosphere isn’t what I'd opt for when having dinner. They do have a lovely outdoor patio area, but due to torrential rains, this wasn’t an option. Might be nice to dine al fresco on a nice evening.

Tonight I had a delightful dinner at Blue Bird Bistro. I'd heard Gourmet Magazine gave this spot recognition in 2007 for farm-to-market fare. Couldn't wait to check it out!

It really had a “bistro,” atmosphere, complete with hexagon tiled floors, long, mahogany bar, and tin ceilings. Their shtick is offering locavore fare. In fact, on the wall is a listing of their ingredient resources, which are primarily located in central Missouri.

I must say, I came really early for dinner. So early, in fact, they hadn’t quite gotten their dinner specials on paper yet. I don’t typically like to order my wine prior to choosing my main course, but this time the wine called the shots. For some reason I ordered a glass of rioja. And wouldn't you know, I didn’t hang on to the wine list, thus cannot share with you the exact wine. I've already checked, and it's not something they list on their current menu. I will say it was somewhat young, but still had that predictable cola thing going, on both the nose and palette. By the time I got the specials I was so into the wine I opted for the pizza.

Pizza is typically not a first option for me. When I feel the urge, I like extra crispy crust with very light cheese and lots of veggies. This pizza touted a tomato cream sauce, with toppings of kohlrabi, onions, corn, cheddar and feta cheese. It didn’t sound great. To add insult, the crust was whole wheat. What made me order this pizza I will never know. I’ve never had a wheat pizza crust that tasted like anything more than stale whole wheat bread with tomato sauce smeared on. Typically the tastes is too…dare I say it, “granola.”

Much to my relief and joy, this did not taste a bit healthy, but just like the best comfort food in the world. The crust was indeed thin, and crisp and the slight sweetness of the whole wheat married perfectly with the corn and cheddar. The onion was a little heavy, but the kohlrabi was paper thin and just delightful. I ate ¾ of the 10” pizza and loved every bite. I would have licked the platter clean, but for the need to carry out my plan.

I need to insert a little tidbit about myself. I practice yoga to save my soul. I run to eat dessert. I can think of no other reason for putting my ballet-hips through such pain and agony but for the sake of sugar (and cuter clothing options). I have tried eating the sugar without running and it doesn’t work as well. Ok….so I ran today. I ran far. I wanted dessert.

The dessert menu at Blue Bird Bistro was, well, l’attack en bouche. I started salivating while reading descriptions of chocolate port cake, vegan orange cake, ginger and chocolate ganache tarte, and the like. And then came the “specials.” There is a bread pudding de jour, along with a sorbet and two daily ice cream flavors. All homemade and all sounded decadent.

I consider myself a bit of a bread pudding connoisseur, so I opted for the special cranberry-cherry-walnut affair. When it arrived, it was a vision in whipped cream. I took a moment to take it all in… the specs of red cherries and cranberries, with a dusting of cocoa powder on top. What I put in my mouth was not as wonderful as I’d expected. There were layers, with the bottom being sweet scrambled eggs. The top was really good, and the fruits were so perfect and tart, but I wasn’t blown over by the dessert, as a whole. This might have been a good thing, but I really wish I had opted for the orange cake with chocolate sauce and toasted almonds.

My total meal at Blue Bird Bistro came to around $40, with tip. I really loved the pizza and wine, but likely would go back to Blue Koi or one of the fun ethnic restaurants in Westport over Blue Bird Bistro. This is definitely a great place to try if you’re a locavore, as they had house-cured salmon, bison-fifty-ways, something done with chicken livers... just all kinds of madness. I could also see this being a great upscale place to dine with a mixed crowd.

Oh, I have to tell this story: As I mentioned before, dining alone allows me (sometimes forces me) to eavesdrop on my “neighbors.” At Blue Bird I was alone for a good part of my meal, as the only other diners were in the front of the restaurant. Finally a couple was seated next to me, and the young lady ordered the wonderful pizza. After the waiter had taken their orders and turned to walk away, she called out for him and asked, “Excuse me, could I have a side-cup of ranch dressing with my pizza?” I almost screamed!!!

Good bye wonderful Kansas City. I'll be back soon!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kansas City...It's not just for ribs anymore!


Let's just put it out there; when you think of Kansas City, "vegetarian cuisine" isn't what comes to mind. It's ok. I know you're thinking it. When no less than five foodies told me "good luck" when I mentioned I would be in KC this week for work and would be seeking out new and exciting dining spots, I simply took that as a challenge. I looked to my resources and found ten potentially veg-friendly options. Out of those, I narrowed it down to five spots, and I'm here to tell you, number one on the list was a score. Not just a minor, but a major, out-of-the park find! Yeah!!!

After what can only be labeled as a challenging day, at 1:45pm I found my tummy with nothing left of the 1/3 blueberry scone I picked up at 6:45am while running past a Starbucks at O'Hare. So I turned to my list and saw something that sounded refreshing and tasty... Blue Koi Noodles and Dumplings. Doesn't the name just sound divine? Calm? Clean? I like it.

The restaurant is located in what I believe is KC's Westport neighborhood(?). I could be wrong, but it really is a lovely little area that I find myself coming to for tea (love Tea Drops)and strolls.
The side streets are brick and have such great charm. I'm certain there are many other vegetarian delights in this area, if for no other reason than the variety of ethnic dining options.

But, back to Blue Koi. The interior was fun and casual. By mid-afternoon the crowd was light and I was seated in the window, overlooking colorful flower boxes and bustling W. 39th Street. The first thing I noticed about the menu was that everything could be made vegetarian. With one exception, all items could be VEGAN!!!! Yes, I typed it. VEGAN in Kansas City!!!

Although I found their Asian beer selection disappointing (I believe I only saw one variety), they had the most wonderful array of bubble teas, which, for an upgrade, could be made with a shot! Some flavors sounded fairly common, but there were some funky things like sweet green bean and peanut. I opted for the mango and it was great. Unlike other bubble teas I've had that were more like a fruit-flavored milkshake, this was really tea. It wasn't over-milked or overly sweet, but simply refreshing and not just something you'd consider for dessert.

The best bit is coming though--the food! My very helpful waitress suggested the veggie dumplings, pan fried, to accompany my vegetarian lettuce wraps. When the dumplings arrived they were really fat, with a perfectly crisp exterior and not the least bit greasy. They were full of luscious mushroom chunks, greens and other vegetables. I believe there was also tofu in there, but the vegetables definitely took center stage. The dipping sauce was light and flavorful and not at all extreme. It partnered well with all the flavorful vegetables without overpowering them.

My favorite thing that happened all day was the arrival of my lettuce wraps. Honestly, had I known the portion was as large as it was I would have simply ordered them. I've always wondered why God made iceberg lettuce... mystery solved! Mixed in with the wonderfully flavored carrots and green onions were big roasted peanuts and bits of fresh basil. I ate three wraps before deciding to add a touch of pepper sauce, as everything was seasoned perfectly.

Understand, I was starving. Out of eight really large dumplings I polished off five, and ate every last morsel of my lettuce wraps and most of the bubbles from my tea! I indeed made a "happy plate." The total cost of my lunch was about $20, but this could have easily been less expensive were I not famished and faced with all the goodies on the menu.

Blue Koi makes everything from scratch. Their menu says they've been in Kansas City for twenty-five years, and I'm guessing that has always been in some kind of food service capacity as they definitely have this down. I love this place. It would be great fun to come with friends and order several different things from the menu, tapas style. And it was pretty funny to hear mariachi music playing while I munched on my Chinese dumplings!

The only thing that wasn't fun was the really disturbing conversations of both my neighboring tables. The tables weren't too close together, but when you're eating alone you really pick up on what others are saying. And I was pretty shocked to learn what others find to be suitable dining conversation. I'll leave it at that.

Go to Blue Koi! If you're a meat eater, swell... you're covered. If you're a vegan, JACKPOT!!! Trust me.