Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Weekend Getaway!

I didn't post last weekend, because we were away, celebrating our wedding anniversary! We got engaged several years ago on Ocracoke Island, which is part of the Outer Banks, North Carolina. It is nice this time of year, because they are shutting down so there are hardly any tourists there at all and it's nice and cool. This is the beautiful lighthouse there, which is the second oldest lighthouse in the U.S. I think it's also the smallest. At any rate, it was a memorable trip. We did many of the same things that we did last time, including walking the beach and biking out to see the wild ponies.

Of course last time I was there, I was vegetarian, not vegan. You might think that this made things more difficult for us, as there are no chain restaurants here and just about all of the eateries feature fresh seafood (fresh, as in just killed... I figure if it was really fresh, it would be alive and swimming far away, very quickly!). To be prepared, I scoured the menus from home first (many are online) and called restaurants ahead when we got there, just to double check. Well, you may not believe it, but I think we ate better this time! Last time, we just picked some random restaurants, which didn't necessarily have the best food nor the best choices.

When we rolled in on the night of our official anniversary, we were too tired to get dressed and go out (and besides, isn't it more fun to stay in sometimes??), so we ordered pizza from the Ocracoke Pizza Company. I got my half without cheese, but with their delish tomato sauce, fresh spinach, mushrooms and black olives. The picture didn't come out that great, but it was AMAZING! The crust was thin, tender, chewy and crunchy all at the same time (even though I usually like thick crusts, this blew me away!). I had to stop myself from eating all four slices. My only complaint was that they went a little thin on the sauce. Awesome flavors and great texture -and free delivery! Three and a half stars! After that and a bottle of wine (and some Twizzlers - vegan!) we were "all set."

The next day, we ventured to the Creekside Cafe, which had this amazingly stuffed hummus wrap (ignore the nasty Styrofoam). The picture is kind of dark, but the hummus was really packed in! Mushrooms and all other kinds of veggies complemented the peppery spread. There was so much, I ate one half the next day! Three and a half stars again! (And no, I didn't eat the chips. I'm sure they were vegan, but I'm not much of a chip person, more for health reasons than anything).

Our second evening meal was at the sort of famous Howard's Pub, which is open year round (unlike just about all the rest, which shut down during the winter). Their menu featured a "vegan" black bean burger, which they had just changed (not homemade) to a regular-style veggie burger. It was actually pretty tasty, with pieces of carrot that you could actually see, but it definitely wasn't homemade and I could tell it had TVP (textured vegetable protein) in it (which isn't too bad, but not my fav meat substitute).

Unfortunately, the bun was not vegan. Fortunately, the waitress had a friend who "used to be vegan" so she knew all those details. Unfortunately, she couldn't substitute rice or potatoes or any other grain side for the bun (which demonstrates that this was more like a chain ... in "real" restaurants, they can do whatever the hell they want, because they don't have a prescribed set of rules for a dish and they usually have a real chef who just wants to make diners happy). Fortunately, I did get a decent side salad and a mixed drink. Unfortunately, the drink was really weak. Two stars for the burger. Maybe two and a half. Two for the drink :P And not worth a photo. The plain burger just looked so sad -and that was once without a face!

I wish I had a photo of the last meal we ate, because it blew the others out of the water! Well, it was at least a definite four stars ****. At the Back Porch Restaurant
we celebrated the last night in the fresh air (a porch, really!) with an outdoor fountain making music for us. I selected probably the only vegan/vegetarian thing on their menu which was (get this!) Chana Masala!! No kidding. A tofu-chickpea-spinach-tomato curry over rice. And it was good!! The presentation was gorgeous - a curly spliced celery piece in the middle (it looked like a mini fountain) and sprinkled red pepper pieces and herbs around the edge. The coconut sauce was creamy and the curry was great, if not a little mild compared to what I'm used to. But it seriously kicked ass. It was completely worth the price. And the huge glass of white wine didn't hurt either. ;)

Coming back down from our rush of eating out (oh yeah, and salt water taffy, which is usually vegan- woohoo!), I made a quick white bean spread (Italian style) with some fresh herbs still surviving in my backyard pots. On a whole wheat tortilla, I added some fresh greens, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers (all canned, sorry!). I got some of these delicacies on sale at my local Ukrop's (like, really on sale - one buck a can!), so it was a nice splurge. The spread came from 150 Vegan Favorites, by Jay Solomon. It was wicked easy and was a nice change from garlicky, tahini hummus. A little thin. But filling! Two and a half or Three stars, I guess. ***

Last week, I was finishing up some tempeh that was about to expire (by the way, if the "sell by" date says September, does that mean it's still good for a few months? We ate it anyway, and we survived). I prefer the three grain flavor to the straight soy one. It has less of a "soy" taste and a better texture. I baked it, according to the directions in Vegan World Fusion Cuisine. It really soaked up the marinade!

Next, I whipped up (from the same book) this quick and easy Sweet and Sour Tempeh sauce, and mixed in the tempeh. Served over healthy brown rice (I never eat white, except in sushi now) and with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds (no nutritional difference, I believe, but pretty!). Since I grew up eating sweet and sour chicken every time we got Chinese takeout, I was really looking forward to having it again. Lucky me -it was perfect!! I immediately copied and mailed the recipe to my immediate family members, who I hope will try this very soon! It was sooo good. The sweet and the sour and the tempeh were all perfect! Mmmmm.... Four stars for sure! ****

Our last quick meal of this week was to finally try the Chreese that I had bought at the Animal Rights Conference back in August. Since I'm not much of a pasta person (I love the sauce best!), and since it's only now getting cold enough to really necessitate hot meals, I finally whipped up the sauce and mixed it in with some whole wheat elbows, topped with sesame gomashio. The result? Well, it was melty and creamy and yummy and perfect with some green beans! However, not at all surprising to me, my husband mixed the Chreese with his regular noodles (he doesn't care for whole wheat, or fiber - ha, ha!) and his turned out ten times better! He really is an expert at making this stuff. He makes the packaged Kraft stuff once in a while, and knew to leave a little pasta water in the bottom of the pan to thin out the sauce. At any rate, this photo below is his. Isn't it just the quintessential mac and cheese shot?
Well, I'm off to do some other things before I hit the sack tonight. I hope that everyone has already thought about Thanksgiving and prepared their menu to include a Tofurky and an adopted real turkey! We adopted Serendipity this year, from the Farm Sanctuary. Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy Vegetarian Month!

I've been blog-absent for the past two weeks, but I promise that I have a good excuse! The excuse was celebrating Vegetarian Month with a class at the library where I work. I called it, "Veg 101: Beyond Tofu," and opened it to teens and adults. For a library program, it was surprisingly well-attended! We had about 25 people, with all seats filled and a couple of people standing! Although it was a lot of prep work (gathering materials including a third of our library's 150 vegetarian/vegan cookbook collection, creating handouts and recipe packets, and making 11 different desserts) I completely enjoyed the entire process. I especially loved sharing what I've learned about veganism (and vegetarianism) over the years. I had door prizes (including Rice Dream ice cream, Tofutti Cuties, and seitan!) and they had lots of great questions.

The top five myths we discussed:
1) The lack of protein in a veg diet (most Americans get far too much, and your body can't store it the excess, so it gets excreted (and harms your kidneys)
2) Veggie protein sources aren't good enough (government and medical sources confirm that you no longer need to "combine" veggie protein sources, and they have more nutrients and good fats)
3) Dairy prevents osteoporosis (did you know that meat and animal products are actually so acidic that they cause your body to draw calcium OUT of your bones to neutralize your blood?)

4) Athletes can't be veg (check out this link for a huge list of vegan athletes, including Carl Lewis, Martina Navratilova, and Bill Pearl)
5) Children and pregnant/lactating women can't be veg (our own government and medical communities say it's perfectly fine)

But my favorite myth to dispel is the root of the word, "vegetarian." It actually comes from the Latin word, "vegetus," which means, whole, sound, fresh and lively!

Everyone seemed to find some bit of information to walk away with, even long-time vegans/vegetarians (there was a good mix of all kinds of diets in the audience), many checked out our library's cookbooks, and everyone walked away stuffed with sweets! I made all my long-time favorite ones including: Blueberry Coffee Cake (Vegan with a Vengeance), Cookies and Cream Cupcakes (Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World), Pumpkin Carob-Chip Muffins (Vegan Lunchbox), Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Chocolate Raspberry Blondies (all three from Vw/aV). Some raw treats (not technically raw, but at least healthier and requiring no cooking!) rounded out the sweets. I came away with a whole new idea list of cookbooks to buy! (The library owns some great ones that are older but look awesome!). I came away with the realization that I can touch those 25 people's lives, they can go on and touch a few more, and therefore the message can be spread much further and to a broader audience than this poor blog. :)

Last week, my husband (using the library's copy of Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes, by Robin Robertson) decided he wanted to make her Tofu Pot Pie. It required quite a few steps, including making a gravy, but all in all it wasn't too bad. Here is that bad boy, hot out of the oven! Quite a nice crust - tender and flaky, although barely big enough to reach the sides of the dish.

The inside was full of steaming veggies, tiny cubes of tofu and the gravy. Results? Three stars *** for sure! If we made it again, I'd add some different veggies and double the amount of crust. Hubby loved it! He thought it would be a great dish to serve our non-veg parents.

Meanwhile, I was still trying to use up the phyllo dough I had leftover from the spanikopita (from Vw/aV)and the Moroccan-Infused Vegetable Phyllo Rolls (from ED&BV). Here is the beautiful and incredibly yummy smelling mixture that filled the Walnut, White Bean and Spinach Phyllo Rolls (also from ED&BV). I was in heaven! However, when I drizzled the finished rolls with a balsamic/flax oil sauce, the picture looked kind of funny, so I'm omitting it from this post. Just trust me that it was amazing! Three and a half stars ****! (the filling was a tad dry - the drizzle was necessary!)
My Wild Irish Stew isn't a recipe title that would ever catch my attention, especially since it basically was a root vegetable (ie-starchy) concoction, but after a weekend of making sweets for my Veg 101 presentation, I desperately needed something salty and completely un-sweet! Robin Robertson came to our rescue, as her Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes cookbook helped my husband make this stew without a whole lot of fuss. What tender veggies! What hearty potatoes! What great flavor! Four stars for sure**** and a big surprise for me. My husband graciously allowed me to have the last bowl of leftovers later that week. He has now decided that he wants to buy this book - a first!!!
I ended my two-week cooking splurge with three baked banana goods, to use up the six or seven bananas getting overripe in my kitchen! Yesterday I whipped up my favorites: Dense and Fruit Banana Bread, from Vegan Express (I exchanged wheat germ for the cocoa powder, sunflower seeds for the walnuts, applesauce for the oil), Banana Wheat Germ Muffins, from Veganomicon (again exchanging applesauce for the oil), and Banana Almond Coconut Carob Muffins, from Extraveganza (photo left - holy cow, these are good!!!). But tonight, we venture into our first chili of the season, this time a recipe from Vegan World Fusion Cuisine.