But, Saint Patrick’s Day was last week!

24 Mar

I was very set on creating a Saint Patrick’s Day food post and publishing it a week prior to Saint Patrick’s Day so that people could actually follow my recipe this year, but unforeseen car trouble and car shopping took my attention away quite quickly.  I almost scrapped the idea entirely, but then realized, I could post now and just be totally ready for next year!!

Having lived in several regions of New Jersey, I consider myself fairly acquainted with various Jersey-isms and can attest to the fact that within our small state we have many differences in food, language, and even (or especially!) driving etiquette.

To quickly address the latter two differences, I can say there are at least four to five distinct accents in New Jersey and that the most whiny, annoying, and stereotypical one is actually limited to a very small area of the state.  As for our roadways, I recently read that we rank as the number one worst state for road conditions, with 47% of our major roadways in need of repair.  Yet a few years ago I also remember reading something along the lines of us spending an average $48,000 per year per linear mile of road statewide while Wyoming only spends $2,000.  And if you drive in Jersey there is always construction, so the roads don’t look like they do for lack of trying.  But with such a densely populated state and winters becoming increasing worse, our roads just can’t keep up with the wear and tear.  With that said, driving in the northeastern and central regions of New Jersey can be traumatic for the uninitiated with our jughandles for making left turns from the right side, crazy network of several intersecting major interstates, and gridlocked traffic.  On the other hand, there’s South Jersey, with it’s occasional traffic due to large tractors and not one jughandle — or even citizens who know what a jughandle is…

But I digress.  Food is my focus, of course, and what I wanted to introduce to both Jersey and non-Jersey readers is a sweet Saint Patrick’s Day treat called Irish Potatoes.  But here’s the catch — they aren’t actually potatoes.  Essentially, they are small candies that appear brown on the outside and white on the inside, not unlike potatoes.

I had never seen them until living in South Jersey, and apparently, that’s because they are originally from Philadelphia (not Ireland!) and just spread to the surrounding area.  In fact, it seems to be an obvious rule of thumb that in the northern half of New Jersey is influenced by New York cuisine (bagel shops every where, “subs,” black & white cookies in most bakeries, and New York-style Pretzels) and the southern half is influenced by Philadelphia cuisine (cheesesteaks, “hoagies,” and Philadelphia-style pretzels).  In fact, my local Acme supermarket featured Irish potatoes this past month, while the one by my mother’s house did not.  Unfortunately, the ones at Acme included dairy ingredients as well as corn syrup and something else unpronounceable.  So in all honesty, I never had an Irish potato until three years ago when a colleague brought a homemade vegan batch to work.

The following recipe is the one I used this year, based loosely on what my old co-worker told me as well as a modified non-vegan recipe I found on the Internet.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) Earth Balance, softened

6 ounces Tofutti cream cheese, softened

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

6 cups organic or vegan confectioners’ sugar

2 cups finely shredded coconut

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon cocoa

Preparation :

First, I use the whisk attachment of my mixer to cream together the Earth Balance and Tofutti cream cheese. Then, I added the vanilla and almond extracts.

Gradually (to avoid a white cloud of dust covering my kitchen), I added the confectioner’s sugar about ½ cup at a time, scraping down the sides when needed, and continued beating it until the mixture started to harden and form lumps.  Initially, it appeared creamy, and eventually stiffened around the whisk. 

A lot of people I know don’t like coconut, or more specifically — it’s texture — so I ran mine through the food processor in small batches first, then gradually added it to the mixture.  Some people still picked up on it, so next year I may try coconut flour to avoid that texture problem.

To keep the sizes of my potatoes equal, I used a small cookie scoop to measure before rolling the chunks of the mixture between my hands to form small balls about the size of walnuts.  This roundness made the next step easier.   

Next, I made the mix equal parts cocoa and cinnamon into a small bowl, and rolled each lump around until it was completely coated.

Finally, I took this perfectly round ball and started to sculpt with my fingers to make dents in bumps in my “potato.”  They are edible immediately, since they require no baking, but it is better to refrigerate them for at least an hour to harden them.  This year, my batch yielded 61 potatoes I shared with family and friends.

So there you have it.  Irish potatoes, without the actual potatoes.  Well, but there’s always next year — I intend to try incorporating real potatoes as others have.  Here is the recipe I’ll be trying next year.

Ediets vs. MyFitnessPal: Weight Loss and Technology

26 Jan

As I mentioned in my last post, all that cooking and baking in November and December, with very limited time for the gym (as in, never!) led to unwanted weight gain for me.

Although in the past I have been successful with losing weight quickly on an all-raw food diet, or even a few days of juice fasting, I decided not to go that route this time because of the added pressure of a new part-time teaching job.  Plus, I’m not in any rush.  It’s the dead of winter, and I am not going any where in a bathing suit.

Generally, I eat lots of healthy foods, and cook with a minimum amount of oil and salt — if at all.  However, I also have a huge appetite and a weakness for chocolate.  I used to be quite active and burned it all at the gym or outdoors in the summer, but now with a brutal winter and concerns about having time to get to the gym, I can’t just eat as much as I want.

Therefore, I decided that this time around I would stick to a more traditional means of weight loss — calorie counting.  But how?  I couldn’t do it without help.

First I attempted Ediets, which helped me lose a lot of weight nine years ago before I was vegan and knew how to cook.  At the time I succeeded using the Vegetarian convenience plan, which designed a menu using mostly frozen entrees and simple recipes for salads, dressings, snacks, and easy cooked foods like chili.  I did not abstain from dairy at the time, but I am happy to report that Ediets now provides a check box option for avoiding both dairy and eggs in their Vegetarian plan — thus making it vegan friendly.  The plan costs about $18 per month, and gives you menus, shopping lists, exercise logs, and a community for connecting with others.

But I did not stay with Ediets.  Within 24 hours I called back for a refund — which they did promise to return to my credit card.  I don’t believe it’s a bad service at all, and do believe it would be helpful to some vegetarians and vegans — but not me.

As I looked through the menus planned for my first week, I was discouraged by the choices automatically chosen for me.  There were a lot of meals planned with vegan deli meats, vegan cheeses, and bread.  Now, I love a great sandwich from time to time, but I’m so passed the stage of wanting my food to look like a substitute of the Standard American Diet.  It’s probably great for newbies still attached to the ham-and-cheese sandwich ideal, but I just can’t have it every day, or even every other day.  Also, I wouldn’t want just one sandwich — if and when I do splurge on something like a vegan grilled cheese sandwich, I want at least two!  Plus, I wondered where all the greens were in the Ediets plan.  A small salad once  a day isn’t enough for me.

Ediets does permit you to modify the menus.  In fact, if you are like me and you prefer to have the same breakfast food all the time (I just can’t think in the morning), you could find the one you want and set it to come up every day until you change it.  When you modify the menu, you scan through other meal options in their database.  You also have the option of choosing a different meal that is not from the Ediets database.

And therein lies my problem.  After my modifications, my first three meals all said “I chose my own meal.”  None were from the Ediets database.  At that point I realized I would be paying for a service that would essentially  just track my weight as I reported it week to week — since their menus did not appeal to me.  But before I gave up, I tried one more thing.  Since I’m not a huge fan of bread — or rather, I don’t want to waste my calories on bread — I actually changed my Ediets plan from Vegetarian to Wheat-Free, thinking that perhaps a new body of meals would appear in my menus sans sandwiches — more whole foods-based, perhaps.

And that’s when I got the error message!  Under the exclusions section, I marked the “wheat” category and kept the boxes checked off for all the animals (eggs, dairy, beef, pork, fish, shellfish, poultry).   In fact, the only box left was “soy.”  The red-lettered threatening message said “You cannot exclude more than 5 sources of protein.”

Really?  I wasn’t under the impression that I had… I mean, I hadn’t excluded tofu, tempeh, beans, seeds, nuts, rice, quinoa, etc…. oh, and let’s not forget I didn’t exclude plants, who also have protein — a building block of life present in all plant foods!

I came to the sad realization that although Ediets attempted to accommodate vegans, it was still stuck in that Standard American Diet protein-obsession (hence all the bread and vegan meats and cheeses).

Thankfully, the agent on the phone was understanding and promised to refund my money within 5-10 business days.

So what else can I do?

I discovered a free Droid app for my phone called MyFitnessPal.  It is available both on the Internet or through the phone app.  There are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands?) of food items in their database, and one need only specify the food and its portion size.  And the coolest part is…

… the BAR CODE SCANNER!

If I do eat a granola bar, a certain cereal, or other packaged food, I simply scan its bar code with my phone and it is added to my daily food log.

As I document the foods I’m eating, the program keeps a list of recent ingredients or foods that can easily be chosen again if you repeat the same foods.  For breakfast every day, I’ve been eating 1/2 cup of rolled oats with 1/2 a cup of almond milk, a tablespoon of raisins, and three prunes.  After selecting the individual ingredients on the first day, I was able to save it as a meal called “Breakfast” (I wasn’t very creative with the title), so every day since then I’ve been able to record this meal with one click.

I also created a meal called “Soup” (yes, I have to work on these names).  After my  husband and I cooked a simple soup with broccoli, carrots, tofu, rice noodles, and broth, I looked carefully at my bowl and estimated how much I had of each ingredient in one serving.  It looked like a 1/2 cup of the noodles, 1/4 cup of carrots, 1/4 cup of broccoli, and maybe 1/2 cup of tofu (if in doubt, one could measure it).  The rest was all watery broth with seasonings.  So I entered these ingredients on my food log the first time I ate them, and saved it as “Soup.”  Every time I’ve had left over soup since that day, I just simply clicked on the “Soup” meal I had created.

Another option is to just enter the calories.  So if I make a meal from a recipe book that has the calories listed per serving, I can just add that number to my log (although with this function MyFitnessPal wouldn’t be able to also count the other nutritional information like carbs, proteins, vitamins, etc.)

MyFitnessPal also has an exercise log.  You can add an activity from their database for which it will estimate how many calories you burned.  If you know for a fact how much you burned, you can simply enter them as well.  These calories burned are automatically added to your daily food log, so you know how much more you can and should be eating for that day.

If you decide to use MyFitnessPal, I would suggest creating your free account on your computer first so you can set up your weight loss goals and any meals you eat regularly, like breakfast or snacks.  Then keep track of everything you eat on the go by using the cell phone app.

Well, it’s only been about 6 days, so it is still too soon for me to report any success with MyFitnessPal, but I can say that I am getting the hang of it and am particularly motivated to go the gym more often when I see how it makes my calorie goals go up — that means more food for me!

Where have I been for a month????

23 Jan

Wow.  After furiously writing every day for the one month VeganMoFo Challenge in November, I said I would take a 1-2 week break.  Well, it’s been over six weeks… almost seven!  It’s amazing how time flies.

So where have I been?  Just busy.  December flew by in the blink of an eye, what with the holidays, chores, errands, and family visits.  I succeeded in doing a major overhaul of my Christmas decorations and holiday clutter, bought all my holiday gifts, spent about five days baking and decorating holiday cookies, went to six houses between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, attended two New Year’s Eve parties, and… and… the rest is just a blur!!

My husband and I have also spent a few weekends developing our new found hobby of birdwatching.  Friends are either intrigued or think we are crazy.  Ok, I’ll admit it, only one friend is intrigued and everyone else thinks we are crazy.  But it is a lot of fun, and gives us a focus point and purpose when we go hiking.  In fact, it gave us a reason to hike at all in this bitterly cold weather!!

I have also started teaching again — just for this spring semester — there are no promises for long term work there.  But nevertheless, I really miss blogging, and intend to put it back into my routine now that things have evened out.

My New Year’s Resolutions (albeit very much belatedly) which you will read about on this blog include:

1) Losing some weight!  All that VeganMoFo cooking and fifteen variations of holiday cookies do not come without a consequence — yes, even vegan food can pack some calories!!

2) Write more — for this blog, and other places I have yet to contact.  But I will.  At least I intend to….

3) Learn to identify more birds, and continue to keep track of them as the seasons change.  I intend to blog about this new hobby soon, including my attempts to create a vegan bird suet for feeding woodpeckers.

4) Continue meeting and networking with other vegan friends.  I just got involved with the Vegan Pledge for Peace Advocacy Network in Philadelphia.  Over 30 people in this organization have pledged to go vegan for at least 30 days, with the benefit of a mentor and several workshops to guide them in the journey.  I’ve gone to two events so far and love it!  (More details to come soon!)

5) Visit and review vegan and veg-friendly restaurants in the South Jersey and Philadelphia area.  *Note:  this resolution may conflict with #1

Look for another post later this week!!

Final Thoughts and Final November Meal

30 Nov veganmofo_2

Here I am, having arrived at day 30 of VeganMoFo 2010, which is not only my first VeganMoFo contribution, but also my first blogging experience.  In other words, I dove in head first, trying to learn the technology, uploading pictures every so slowly, dealing with occasional writer’s block, and produce a post every day this month.  I  know I wasn’t obligated to post every day, nor would there be a VeganMoFo police checking up on me, but I made the commitment to myself, and I have to say that I now feel I can do anything.

There’s something cathartic about doing something for 30 days, every day, consecutively.  Most of the time, I have no idea if anyone is even reading, but the fact that I have written it for myself is just as satisfying.

Most importantly, I let go of 14-year inhibitions about my writing — I simply hadn’t done any writing at all, outside of the academic.  I also gave up the story that I couldn’t cook, think creatively about food, or share my insight publicly.  And yet, it is publicly that I have made and held this commitment.

Ok, I’m blabbering now, but suffice to say that it has been quite an achievement, and I am serious when I say that I feel like I could take on another 30 day challenge in another area of my life.

For now, I am going to take a one week break, although I do have a list of blog ideas I could already be writing tomorrow!  Nevertheless, a break will be beneficial, and then my goal is to post 1-2 times weekly.  In addition, I do want to blog about vegan issues other than food and recipes, and with time review restaurants, stores, and events in New Jersey, seeing that it meant to be a blog about veganism in New Jersey (Sorry — I didn’t get out much this month!)

If you are reading this post, thank you for following this blog and forgiving my writing flaws and the desperate and weird posts I had occasionally when I hadn’t had time to cook or didn’t know what else to say.

For my last November blog meal, I write about yesterday’s lunch I had at Cafe Chocolate in Lititz, Pennsylvania.  I spent the day in the area of Lancaster County with my mother, and since I knew they had both vegan entrees and desserts, I actually traveled 20 miles out of the way to eat there.  As I did last summer, I ordered a Chocolate Lush — a cold chocolate drink made of strawberry puree and crushed dark chocolate blended with ice.  Amazing!!!  As our server explained, all the dishes are made with 70% dark chocolate that comes from West Africa and is not roasted, and thus does not contain caffeine.  Apparently, in that state it has 13,120 units of antioxidants per 100 gram serving.  As far as high-antioxidant foods are concerned, prunes come in second place at about 2/3 the amount as 5,770 units per 100 grams, and even the mighty kale is only 1,770!  So chocolate really is good for you!

For starters, I had soup:  West African Peanut Chowder with sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and peanuts.

Next, I had my entree:  Vegetable Curry with Black Rice Risotto.  The curry included baby corn, water chestnuts, carrots, baby soy beans, and yubu tofu in a lemon grass and coconut milk curry.  As a palate cleanser, it came with a small pineapple and grapefruit salad, topped with coconut shreds.  It was the first time I had yubu tofu, which apparently is just tofu’s outer skin made into dumplings, and its texture was intriguingly a believable meat substitute (eek!)  However, the black rices risotto was definitely my favorite part of this dish.

I had so many vegan desserts over Thanksgiving, that I just requested two Cafe Nero vegan coffee truffles.  They actually had coffee bean grains mixed in with its soft chocolate center.  Yum!

What a delicious month it has been.  December’s 30 day challenge will have to be a diet and workout plan now.

However, I’m looking forward to VeganMoFo 2011, and will be better prepared next time!  Thank you!

Proud to Eat Granola!

29 Nov veganmofo_2

Poor granola — and I don’t mean a granola bar in fancy packaging — I mean plain granola.  Although its popularity as a breakfast food is growing with places like Starbucks offering it, it still seems to end up as a joke, sometimes in connection with mocking language, particularly about people who prefer to eat healthfully or are perceived to be something of a “hippie” (regardless of whether or not they are).

In fact, I had an unpleasant experience at a doctor’s office this summer.  I explained a minor problem I was having and requested both an allergy test and a certain type of hormone test that a nutritionist had recommended to me.  The doctor scoffed at the idea, said she didn’t know what the test was supposed to tell me, and why I was asking for it.  When I explained about the nutritionist, she said derisively, “Sometimes these earthy granola types tell people to do the craziest things.”  She then went on to suggest I take medicine for this minor problem — for an indefinite amount of time.

Well.  That was the last appointment I would have at that doctor’s office.  If she had recommended the medicine alone, then perhaps I would have felt sorry for her lack of training in nutrition, for example, that would otherwise have allowed her to recommend something beyond pharmaceuticals.  But that comment — “earthy granola types” — spoken about one of her own colleagues (in the sense that they both work for the improvement of people’s health) was unprofessional and dismissive.

But that word granola had me thinking — I’m not sure why she used it, but she was by no means the only person from whom I heard it in a similar context.  I actually don’t even eat granola on a regular basis, but that experience makes me want to reclaim the food with pride!

And so recently I realized that the book I am reviewing, Scatter Vegan Sweets, has not 1 but 6 variations of granola, and 5 granola bar recipes.  A perfect opportunity to take back granola!

With her permission, here is the recipe, by Wendy Gabbe Day:

Ingredients:

4 cups rolled oats

2/3 cups almonds

1/2 cup coconut shreds (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup almond butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

1) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit .

2) Lightly oil a 13 x 18 inch (or similar) baking sheet (I prefer parchment paper — it’s easier to clean up!)

3) In a bowl, combine the first four dry ingredients.

4) In a small saucepan, combine the remaining five wet ingredients and heat on low until liquefied.

5) Pour the wet mixture into the dry ones and mix thoroughly.

6) Spread evenly on the baking sheet.

7) Bake 20 minutes, then stir.  Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool to crisp up.

All the ingredients, shown here.

First I put together the dry ingredients:  oats, almonds, coconut, and salt.

Next, I measured and assembled the wet ingredients:  rice syrup, maple syrup, water, almond butter, and vanilla.  Instead of measuring each ingredient separately, I actually combined them within the measuring cup to reduce the messiness.  As long as you can remember some middle school math and add fractions, it’s totally possible.  Furthermore, when measuring out the almond butter that is not in liquid form, you can measure it by judging how much of the other liquids it displaces when you add it to the measuring cup.  As you scoop spoonfuls in, the liquid level will rise.  Easy!!!!

Heat all the wet ingredients together….

….until they blend.

Add them to the dry ingredients and mix.

Spread onto a cookie sheet…

… so that it makes one really big granola bar!  After baking, it can easily be crumbled and kept in a jar.

Serve over soy yogurt, or just eat by the handful.

This recipe is only one of many possibilities for granola as a breakfast food and as a counter-attack on anyone who wants to call you an “Earthy Granola Type!”

Bringing Pizza Back

28 Nov

No doubt you my have heard countless vegans name pizza as one of their most missed foods from B.V. (Before Veganism).  Pizza and probably Macaroni and Cheese, the latter being my most missed.

In B.V. times, I would order just extra cheese — no toppings — on my pizzas, but all that changed when I gave up cheese.  Along with the peace of mind that goes with the cessation of stealing calves’ milk, I also changed my pizza habit — tons of veggies toppings, and no cheese — if and when I had pizza at all.

At home, I would do the same on my pizzas, complete with veggies on tomato sauce and a whole wheat crust.  Then one day I discovered Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet cheeses.  These cheeses satisfied my husband’s craving for cheese, but were still a bit of a pain for me to grate by hand — at this point I had gone without cheese pizza for so long that it didn’t seem worth the trouble of all that grating.  Furthermore, the taste was just OK, and the melting was one step up from competing vegan cheese makers.

And then there was Daiya.  I first discovered it at the Vegetarian Summerfest I attended this past July in Johnstown, PA, where in addition to other ridiculously delicious foods three times per day, we were provided with pizza — lots of pizza — at both lunch and dinner.  I had a slice at every meal — probably to make up for lost time!

Daiya melts — it melts – it really melts!!  Daiya really tastes more like mozzarella, or cheddar, more so than other brands.  Daiya is already grated when you buy it in a small package.  Yes!  Daiya has brought pizza back to many of us now, and the beauty of it is that it mostly tapioca starch — it’s actually soy- and gluten-free, which means it can be embraced by people with allergies too.

I have had to travel far to get my Daiya, since my nearest Whole Foods is 45 minutes away, and no one else by me sells it. But I have good news:  I went to my local health food store and was speaking to the owner, and I asked him directly if he had heard of it.  He actually had not heard of Daiya but immediately offered to order it for me.  Within three days, he had a box of it!  No more traveling for Daiya!

One bag will yield me enough cheese to satisfactorily cover two pizzas, each with an approximately 12 inch diameter.

So this weekend I made four pizzas for a party at my house:  a grilled zucchini and eggplant, a onion and mushroom, a “meaty” one with Tofurky Kielbasa and Yves Pepperoni slices, and a just plain cheese mix of both cheddar and mozzarella Daiya cheese.

Of course, I wouldn’t eat pizza every day, but it is great to have an alternative that I can confidently recommend to other vegans, and most importantly the uninitiated veg-curious.  Truly, now there is nothing missing from the vegan world!

Below are some pictures — unfortunately with a house full of people, I did not get a chance to take the pictures until after they had already had slices pulled from them:

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

27 Nov

image

Sometimes, it can be difficult to find good veg-friendly food in certain areas, especially New Jersey shore towns.  Typically saturated with seafood and pizzerias, there are few opportunities to enjoy a good vegan meal down the shore.

I spent the day yesterday in Cape May, which is no different.  In the summer there is a place called Zoe’s and another called Gecko that reportedly have one or two vegan or easily veganized options.  Unfortunately, neither one of them was open on a cold rainy day-after-Thanksgiving.

Cape May is a lovely town, historically known as the nation’s first shore resort still decorated with beautiful Victorian houses now converted into bed-and-breakfast inns.  I enjoy it in the summer and in winter — but I just hate trying to eat there.  Few places have more than an iceberg lettuce salad — which wouldn’t be so awful if they didn’t also have the nerve to charge $12 for it.  One thing that annoys me, not just in Cape May, but in any place, is when I ask for a salad, such as Caribbean Chicken Salad without chicken, and the price is the same.  If that ingredient is not substituted, then why charge full price? — especially for iceberg lettuce!

Last time I was in Cape May for President’s Day weekend, I was pretty bored with my food choices, and eager to return to my hotel room for the cookies and smoothies I had packed.

Well, yesterday I visited for the day and discovered a new option at the Lemon Tree, right on the Washington Street Mall pedestrian walkway among all the quaint shops.

As I passed by, I could see a menu written on a chalkboard display announcing a homemade veggieburger served with sprouts.  How tempting!

But with caution, and a reluctance to get my hopes up, I entered the restaurant and asked at the counter, “Does your veggie burger have eggs in it?”

Much to my disappointment, the woman behind the counter responded with a yes.  As I thanked her and turned around to leave, she eagerly said, “We have other vegetarian options.  We have a veggie wrap.”  She pushed a menu toward me and I accepted.  Sure enough, they had a veggie wrap of grilled squash, zucchini, onions, and carrots.  Cautiously, I asked if there was any mayo or cheese in it, to which the woman responded, “It only has what’s in the menu.”  After I agreed to order one, she immediately offered “fresh hand cut fries, and fresh squeezed lemon juice.”  What a way to upsell!  She was very convincing, and so I ordered all three, even though I wouldn’t normally eat fries.

She was right, however, about the fries being the real deal — the skins were still on some of them, and they all varied in size and shape, unlike those fake fries from typical fast food places.  Even the carrots in my veggie wrap were definitely hand cut!

Another thing that stood out about my wrap was that after putting the grilled veggies in it, they also grilled the bottom of the wrap so that it had a crispy bottom.

Overall, fillin and satisfying.  I’m glad to know there is a winter time, or any time, vegan option in Cape May.

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