"Takeout" at home!

Having (thankfully!) recovered from my bout with the stomach bug, I’ve been back to cooking!  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for both Chinese takeout and rice.  However, given the ambiguity of a lot of takeout, I prefer to make my own food.

So what to do when one is craving the ultimate tasty takeout treat, fried rice?  Whenever I ask myself a question like that, I inevitably hit the cookbooks.  And once again, Robin Robertson delivered. (Can you tell yet that I’m a huge fan of her recipes?)

Here’s her very tasty vegetable fried rice.  The original recipe only called for veggies, including zucchini, which I never would have thought to put in fried rice!  In order to make it a one-dish meal, I tossed in some seitan.  The end result was awesome, and I’ll definitely make it again.

You’ll notice that it’s the same lovely yellow color as fried rice you’d get at a Chinese restaurant.  That’s because I also love tumeric.  The recipe called for an optional dash of it, and of course I had to put it in.

I have been cooking other things, but nothing like so photogenic.  Chances are I’ll be breaking out another cookie recipe soon, and hopefully noodling around with a dish or two of my own creation!

Book Review: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

After hearing about it in magazines and on websites after its release, I finally got a chance to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book about factory farming, Eating Animals.  These are my thoughts.

Everyone who eats needs to read this book.  Not everyone who eats animals–everyone who eats, period.

You will not want to read it while you’re eating, and probably not right before eating.  You might not want to read it too soon after eating, either.  In fact, if you ever want to eat again, you probably won’t want to read it at all.  But you should.

Foer begins with a simple premise. Upon becoming a father he, like many parents, wanted to know: what am I feeding my son?  He asks, what exactly is meat, and what does it mean when we, both as people and as a society, eat animals?

What follows is a frequently troubling, sometimes disgusting, and almost constantly disturbing collection of information drawn from three years of research into how meat is produced on a mass scale.  Without apology, Foer shatters any last vestiges readers might have of the idyllic farm image.  Gone are the rolling pastures and reassuring red barns.  Gone are the chickens scratching in the yard, the pigs rolling in the mud, and the cows grazing in pasture.  What Foer lays bare is a profile of corporations with only one goal: to provide people with a cheap commodity that “tastes good”, whatever the cost to the animals, the environment and, ultimately, the very people it serves.

Regardless of your current diet or where you stand on issues of environmentalism and animal welfare, there are things in this book that will shock and disturb you.  Foer relays everything from conditions he witnessed himself on a late-night foray into a poultry farm, to first-hand accounts from current and former slaughterhouse workers.  He offers shocking statistics regarding disease, waste, and poor conditions for every industry including the fishing industry.  He talks about antibiotics and pandemics, excessive amounts of manure, bycatch, abuse, overcrowding, self-regulating practices, and more.  If you didn’t know it was bad, you’ll learn how bad it is; and if you already thought it was bad, you will be assured that it is even worse.

Foer does not entirely exclude the other side.  He offers views from ranchers and slaughterhouse owners, often those who try or believe they are trying to be more ethical or humane in their practices.  He champions those who are making a deliberate move away from the factory farm model.  He offers information for people who eat meat but don’t want to contribute to the current assembly-line production standards.

For those with stronger ethical, moral, or dietary standpoints, Foer’s position may not seem like enough.  His stance may seem to lack concrete conviction.  But for the middle-of-the-road, where the majority of those who read this book will most likely find themselves, it is a stance that can be identified with, a jumping-off point for a deeper understanding of what it means to eat meat in today’s society.

While Foer ultimately doesn’t make a direct argument for any particular kind of “ism” (environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism, etc.), what he does say is clear: the things we decide to put on our plates and in our bodies matter.  No individual can put an end to factory farming by choosing a veggie burger over beef, but such a choice can and does affect people other than oneself.

A Gratuitous Picture of Cookies

I would love to be able to blog about all the awesome things I’ve been doing–especially awesome things I’ve been cooking–but alas I’ve spent the past five days trying to beat a nasty bout of the stomach bug. Out of all the diseases it’s possible to contract, stomach flu frustrates me the most! Cooking, baking, and eating are such big parts of my life that it’s a huge bummer to be relegated to the land of animal crackers and rice.

On the upside, there has been Yogi Tea’s ginger tea. In order to avoid sounding like a commercial for it, I’ll just say this: YUM, whether or not you have a stomach ache!

I have managed to do a couple of things. Before I got sick, I made these:

cookies

Chocolate Agave Trail Mixers, from the fabulous Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. (I’ll gush about this book at length in a later post.) Agave nectar was on sale at the local co-op this month and, never having used it, I decided to pick some up and grab the tastiest-sounding test recipe I could find. I used walnuts and left out the dried fruit, as I was lacking dried cherries and am not a fan of raisins and chocolate together.

Yes, they’re good. They’re amazing, in fact. My mom and I have been gobbling them down every chance we get.

As a side note, this was also the first time I had cause to use ground flax seeds as an egg replacer, and I really like the way it came out. The texture is perfect for cookies. (I’m sure all you more experienced vegan bakers out there are laughing at my happy surprise!)

I also updated the layout of the blog–I’ve always been a sucker for notebooks, even digital ones. There are still a few things that need tweaking, but overall I’m happy with it. Let me know what you think!

That’s all for this rather short post. I’m hoping to do more cooking over the weekend, and maybe whip up some brownies next week. Here’s to being able to eat real food again!

The Other Side: Being Underweight in a Weight-Obsessed World

It’s well-known that obesity is a growing concern in many developed countries. We hear about the negative health effects of being overweight all the time. By contrast, we see television shows, movies, magazines, and advertisements full of ultra-thin women and buff men–images that often evoke a negative attitude toward our own bodies.

There are of course many health benefits to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. However, the contrast between the sizes and shapes of real people and those of models and actors has led to the belief that you can never be too thin.

In truth, being underweight carries its own list of health risks, depending on the cause:

  • osteoperosis
  • anemia
  • weakened immune system (due to poor/improper nutrition)
  • amenorrhea/infertility in women
  • pain/discomfort due to lack of padding

I am currently about 10lbs. underweight. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, but for clarity’s sake I will say that it has nothing to do with eating a vegan diet. (Far too many people assume that vegan and thinness are synonymous!) It’s also not for lack of trying. I eat quite a bit of food and try to keep my diet full of varied fresh, plant-based dishes and nutrient-packed snacks.

When I first began talking to doctors about my weight, I was startled by the repeated question, “Have you tried exercising less?” I was exercising maybe 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week–not an excessive amount. It still strikes me as astonishing that multiple medical professionals would suggest cutting out exercise as a tool for weight gain rather than eating more food. This shows how deeply ingrained the idea of extra food being a bad thing is in our society.

The other thing that disturbs me about being underweight is the envy it can elicit from other women. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a conversation about food or health and heard the remark, “Well, you don’t have anything to worry about!” In public, I’ve been on the receiving end of dirty looks from complete strangers. And sometimes when I mention how much weight I lost, I get a response like, “Good for you!” Rarely, if ever, have I gotten a concerned reaction from people outside my family.

I try to make it a point to tell people that being underweight is no fun.  Can I pull off outfits I never would have considered wearing when I was 20lbs. heavier?  Sure.  But I also can’t enjoy walking around barefoot because my feet are so thin it’s painful to walk without shoes on.  Pants of all sizes fall off me.  In a bathing suit, I look like a walking skeleton.  I have no hips on which to balance things like heavy laundry baskets or big bags.  In the grand scheme of things, looking good in one outfit or another is hardly a positive trade-off.

With all the focus on weight loss and hype over diet products, it can be very hard to find useful information on how to gain weight in a way that’s healthy. Essentially, underweight people are dealing with a problem that very few others believe is a problem. In my experience, the best thing to do is take charge of your own health. Read what you can find, ask questions of people you know are knowledgeable, and seek out the truth rather than sensationalism.

Recipe: Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Black Beans & Kale

In case I haven’t already mentioned, I’ve always been a sucker for cookbooks. Even before switching to a vegan diet, I had a tendency to pick up collections of recipes. It never mattered that my family already owns more cookbooks than we know what to do with.

Now that vegan food is a staple in our household, I’ve been trying to gather both traditional and unique recipes to try. This has led to a growing collection of exclusively vegan cookbooks. But even with a shelf full of options, my books occasionally let me down.

Such was the case yesterday. I got up knowing that I wanted dinner to contain black beans and quinoa, but for the life of me couldn’t find a recipe that matched the sort of dish I was picturing. It’s been a while since I invented something from the ground up, so I decided to take a crack at it.

This was the result! Black beans, quinoa, and fresh kale, together with some cilantro and lime juice to season it all up. It was an instant family hit (thankfully!), and I’m glad it came out well enough to be able to share the recipe.

Cilantro-Lime Quinoa With Black Beans & Kale
serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable broth

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 or 2 small hot chilis, seeded & minced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red pepper
2 15oz. cans black beans, drained (reserve liquid)
3 cups fresh kale, chopped
1 cup fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tsp dried cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
lime juice to taste
black pepper to taste

Directions

1) Rinse the quinoa and place it in a pot with the water or broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

2) While the quinoa is cooking, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilis and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and pepper, cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

3) Add the beans, cilantro, cumin, and lime juice and pepper to taste. Add as much of the reserved bean liquid as you wish to make the whole thing moist, but not too watery. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the quinoa is done.

4) Once the quinoa is cooked, uncover the bean mixture and add the kale. Cook until just wilted, then stir in the tomatoes. Add the cooked quinoa and stir until everything is well combined and heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot. Drizzle with tamari, if desired.

How saucy and seasoned to make this is largely up to personal preference, so play around with it to find the flavor you like best!

When I’m not cooking, I…read

I’d like to make it a feature on this blog to write some posts about what I do when I’m not cooking, planning meals, or blogging about food.  So when you see “When I’m not cooking, I…” in the post title, you can expect a non-food post!

Except for this, because I can’t resist sharing:

I’m a total sucker for Lauren Ulm’s Vegan Yum Yum.  And, since we had some leftover black beans and sweet potatoes have been on sale, I went flipping through it the other night for a little inspiration.  The result was breakfast for dinner!  Tofu scramble (with broccoli and black beans) and Moroccan Spiced Home Fries (which I used one extra cup of potatoes in, since I was lacking celery root).  The seasonings in the scramble will need a little tweaking to suit my tastes, but overall it was a fun and yummy meal!

So what have I been doing lately besides cooking?  Reading!  After an informative read-through of Becoming Vegan, which I’ll come back to in a future post, I’ve found myself wanting to re-read a bunch of books by Diana Wynne Jones.  For those of you unfamiliar with her, she’s behind the superb Howl’s Moving Castle, the six Chronicles of Chrestomanci books, the Dalemark quartet, and countless other fantasy and sci-fi novels for readers of all ages.

I’ve been into light fantasy since I was a kid. There’s something about a well-crafted world that sucks me in, and Diana Wynne Jones manages to do that with pretty much every novel.  I admire her ability to write as though what goes on in her stories is perfectly natural, a talent that allows her to present tales that aren’t bogged down by unnecessary explanation.  If magic or dragons or parallel realities exist in a Wynne Jones novel, you’re bound to believe it without having to be told why.  She even manages to seamlessly blend fantasy, sci-fi, and mythology together in the marvelous Hexwood.

I’ve been re-reading a few of the books in the Chrestomanci series–about a nine-lived enchanter who polices the misuse of magic in the Twelve Related Worlds–and am finding myself charmed all over again.  Though the books show their age by being (refreshingly) unlike the things appearing in today’s YA fantasy market, they’re still entertaining and enjoyable.  Wynne Jones never falls into the trap of pandering to the lowest common denominator in her intended audience.  Instead, she continues to write fresh, fun stories that endure the test of time.

I know I sound like a book review by now, but I really can’t say enough good about DWJ’s work.  A friend turned me on to her in high school by nagging me to read Fire & Hemlock, and I’ve been seeking out more ever since.  So for now when I’m not cooking–and sometimes even when I am, if something needs to simmer–I’ll have my nose stuck in a Diana Wynne Jones novel!

Kitchen Geekery: Rice Cooker Love

I like rice. A lot. Many meals in my household somehow involve it: rice and beans, fried rice, jumbalaya over rice, seasoned rice as a side dish, etc. Given that it shows up on the menu so often, it’s kind of silly that it took me until only a couple weeks ago to acquire a rice cooker.

On more than one occasion, other people who love rice the way I do have extolled the virtues of rice cookers. I’ll admit that at first I thought it was kind of silly to have a kitchen appliance for the sole purpose of making rice, but then this little beauty caught my eye:

Not only does it cook rice, but it also allows you to steam veggies or anything else that strikes your fancy at the same time. I know. This shouldn’t be such a shocking novelty, but both my mother and I were so charmed by the idea that we were convinced to buy the thing.

The first meal I made in it was simple: basmati rice with steamed mixed veggies (broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, red and green cabbage) and tofu cubes. For flavor, I whipped up a batch of Spicy Szechuan Sauce from Vegan Fire & Spice. Easy as pie and, best of all, next to no cleanup!

I’m fond of the fact that the cooker will keep rice warm for indefinite periods of time. I also like that it can be used as a crock pot for things like soups, stews, and chilis. I don’t think I’ll ever use it for sole purpose of making rice, but as a tool for throwing together a quick, simple dinner or one-pot meal, it will come in handy.