Sunday, September 28, 2008

High Fructose Propaganda


I just don't even know what to say. I think the most alarming thing about this is not that Big Food is fighting back, but that there are people out there who will see this on the tee-vee and believe this. If it weren't for that fact, it'd almost be funny.

There are a series of these, I suppose. My friend Beth and I have been keeping tabs in our outrage - there are at least three. If you need me, I'll be spending the rest of the day with my head submerged in a mound of dirt.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fake Can Be Just As Good

Oh, Paul McCartney. You may not have been my favorite Beatle, but your doe-eyed gaze and jowly smile always secured you a place in my heart. Maybe it's because of the aforementioned animalistic traits that you've so long been a champion for the vegetarian lifestyle. Now I know that loving and losing a compassionate, bodacious Amazonian babe like Heather Mills must have been hard enough, so I won't relate you to this story: 

Wow, a boatload of vegan vittles! I was psyched by the headline. As I clicked on the link, I wondered what kinda goods we were talking about: was it going to be a sort of Food-Not-Bombs  affair? 

Not s'much. More like partially-hydrolyzed soy salvation. An onslaught of fake chicken, soy dogs and veggie burgers. Now, here's the deal. I love, love, love the way these things taste. Oh geez. The texture of those chik'n patties is so close to real deal that when I first tasted them, it opened up this wave of nostalgia for the real thing (in my childhood, those frozen chicken patties would inevitably be served on a white hamburger bun with applesauce and frozen peas. Holla if ya hear me). But tasty as they are, I've been trying to weed them out of my diet. Those guys are addled with sodium, fake flavors, HFCS and processed, GM-soy - all the stuff of Big Foods dreams. I didn't want to admit it, but I eventually realized that they are but the sad, frozen ghosts of a vegetable. I spent a very sad, single year subsiding on little more than beer and Trader Joe's soy nuggets with barbeque sauce - and I wondered why my broken heart wouldn't heal! 

I'm sure it's a well-minded act that I really have no place whatsoever harshing on. But it's good leverage to raise the point that just 'cause it's called "vegetarian" doesn't mean it's de facto good for you (and, btw HM/AP - not all those puppies are vegan). Now I need to eat. I just got out of work, and I'm starving. And I have a wicked jones for a Veggie Samurai Dog from Spikes. Damn it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh, these sour times

These are troubled times, my friend. I wish I better understood what's happening on Wall Street, but shoot, I spent my college years sneering at the kids in the School of Management. So having failed to make the proper contacts, all I know is that the mortgage crisis has sunk its teeth into any colored collar it can find - white, blue, and anything in between. I can testify that it has certainly affected the restaurant industry. Sales are at a harrowing low every shift I've worked in the last two weeks. All year, in fact, people are eating out less, which as a waitress, I loathe to admit, and as a human, I embrace.

While shopping for my other venture as a personal cook today, I kept the economy in mind as I made my frugal choices. Two tips of the trade: 1) Buy bulk! I visited the Harvest Co-op today and felt like little Laura Ingalls at the general store, in honest awe of all the tantalizing choices and beautiful colors. And 2) Visit your farmer's market! I had an incredibly stressful day, and it's not just the economy, but being at the market amongst all this fresh goodness just lifted my spirits.

And in the interest of frugality, here's what I'm planning on making tomorrow. When you buy the dry goods in bulk, it's cheap cheap cheap!

Fruit-and-Nut Pilaf
1 cup brown rice
2 cups veggie stock or water
1/2 cup roasted almonds and/or pecans
1/4 each slivered dried apricots and raisins
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp soy sauce

Cook rice according to directions. In the last few minutes of cooking, add dried fruit. Fluff rice and add the nuts. With the heat still on, add oil and stir in gently. Season with soy sauce.

Friday, September 12, 2008

When Raita Met Salsa

September has yet to assert itself as the summery type of the autumn-y kind. Today's been overcast and healthfully gloomy, and I made it home from a run just before this cool rain started. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and 75. So while the seasons remain in flux, I am torn by what to cook. I want to seize the last of the sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes, but I'm also giddy at the site of squash and brussels sprouts at the farmers' market. What's a girl to do??

I whipped this up yesterday in the spirit of seasonal limbo, and of using the produce I had kicking around. I don't quite know what it is (it's a mix between a raita and a salsa) or what to do with it (too chunky to be a sauce, too light to be a proper salad). In essence, it's not a moment of culinary perfection. But it's delicious but strange, refreshing but stimulating, exotic yet homey.   

Apple-Cucumber Sorta Like-a Raita
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 sweet apple (Gala, Empire, Pink Lady), diced
1 new, white onion (not the yellow, papery kind), diced
splash of olive oil
juice from half a lemon
handful of fresh parsley, minced
sprinkle of sea salt

Mix it up in a bowl, take a bit, and ponder - what am I eating?

My guinea pig for this experiment likened it to cantaloupe -  I guess that' the sweetness of the apple and the texture of the cuke talking. This might work with tofu sour cream or soy yogurt.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Small Packages

Proving that that's really where good things come from, The New York Times featured an article yesterday that highlighted an encouraging deviation from the bigger-is-better business plan so prevalent in food retailers. Apparently the grocery giants are taking a cue from Trader Joe's and small-scale vendors who sell smaller quantities of better stuff. The midwest's Jewel-Osco, the ubiquitous Giant, and even - brace yourself - WalMart, are opening smaller versions of their megamarts to cater to the harried consumer who hardly has the time or inkling to peruse forty types of yogurt and eighteen varieties of peanut butter on her lunch break. The goal is to rope 'em in and spit 'em out in ten minutes or less, after which they're happily armed with the evening's dinner and arsenal of paper towels.

I feel positive but skeptical about this trend. On the one hand, it indicates that there is a demand to choose less over more, which is a healthy blow to the ethos of over-consumption. And that push has to be pretty firm to reach the guys and gals in the big, windowed offices. On the other hand, it's slightly disheartening, since it plays into this whole gulp-and-go mentality that has become too ingrained in our culture for Alice Waters and the Slow Food-ers to battle alone.  But hell, I'll take what I can get.

Also, I loved this article about cookbook maven and certified badass Marcella Hazan. This feisty old broad knows that produce ain't what it used to be, and that an artichoke the size of a Nerf ball does not belong in her hallowed roasting pan. Preach it, Senora!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Patience, Young Grasshopper

It's officially the unofficial beginning of fall: a couple hasty trees have begun to turn, the mornings' cool lasts until at least noon, and September 1st - that tragic circus where the city's student populace migrates en masse from one slum to another - has passed. I realized that day that for the first time in years, I had nothing to do with the traffic jams, the jaywalking, or the sinful amount of trash disposal that are inherent to National Moving Day. I almost wept with joy, and I was overwhelmed with the sense of "in yo ' FACE" -itude as I watched the parade of U-Hauls crawl through Brookline and Allston.

But, oh, Allston. This time of year floods me with nostalgic and wistful memories of that place. I spent the most blissfully unaware and recklessly irresponsible years of my youth in Allston Rock City. There was drinking and partying and falling in love and when we had the time and money, oh, we ate. I can't write a vegetarian blog in Boston without touching on that timeless vegan mecca: Grasshopper. Grasshopper, where the tea was inexplicably free and flowed like water from the Ganges, where the No-Name miraculously cured (or exaggerated)  any hangover, and where duct-taped, punk-rock wallets would creak open to pay real American dollars for real un-American food.

This recipe is a sort of homage to #69: Spicy Black Peppers & Garlic Seitan, a dish that inevitably found its way to our table when we went there. Like me, it's a little different now than when I first started making it years ago. And like Grasshopper, I'm frankly kind of over it now, but I keep it around, largely for the memory, and the deliciousness.

Veggie Lo Mein with Sesame-Garlic Seitan 

1 package seitan, sliced into strips, juice reserved
1 green and red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 T sesame seeds, toasted
Tons of garlic, cut into slivers (use at least three cloves, the more the merrier)
1/2 inch ginger, sliced
3 T canola oil
1/2 package noodles (to keep it ghetto, use 50-cent enriched spaghetti; for your health, use whole-wheat spaghetti or soba noodles)
Scallions, for garnish (not for the broke) 

-Cook pasta, drain, set aside (but you already knew that)
-Heat a small frying pan over med-low. Add sesame seeds and toast, shaking pan often, until the first couple ones pop, browned and fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.
-Heat a large frying pan or wok over med. Add oil. Test heat by adding a sliver of garlic. When it sizzles, add garlic and saute for until just browned- not burned. Add ginger and stir.
-Add pepper strips and cook until softened, about six to eight minutes 
-Add seitan and its reserved marinade cook until browned.
-Stir in sesame seeds, reserving a bit for garnish (if you're feeling fancy)
-Stir in noodles. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds or scallions, or simply devour from the pot with chopsticks hoarded from various Chinese restaurants 

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Blog Is Born

Here it is, kids: blog post the first.  I've gone back and forth on what I want this blog to entail, what I want to convey, and I'd be a big, fat liar if I said I had a cohesive game-plan to execute. But here's what I know:

I've been vegetarian for almost ten years.  I'm very committed to health and wellness and not putting crap in one's body. I also love, love, love to cook.  I have no formal culinary training (yet), but I know that nothing makes me happier than cooking up a good meal or morsel for myself and the people I care about.  I've spent several years reading up on food politics, veganism and vegetarianism, agribusiness and agriculture, and I devour cookbooks like Harlequin novels. That being said, I've amassed a host of ideas and opinions that I want to put out there for anyone, like me, who's looking (not all those who wander are lost!). 

Here you'll find a collection of recipes I've been working on, book and restaurant reviews, news, and my own chronicles as I try to establish myself as a cook and a figure in Boston's locavorious vegetarian community.  Cross ya fingahs fah me!