Exploring my new neighborhood & Unplugging

My mom is fond of telling me that the three most traumatizing things in life are death, divorce and moving. (I would add: the bar exam.) I usually think that adding the third one on there is kind of bullshit. I mean, moving? Ok, it hurts your back and all, but having done it maybe 15 times since college, I consider moving to be a mildly annoying side-effect of my persistent wander-lust. Usually I find it pretty exciting.

This time, though, I was sort of bummed out. I guess a lot of things happened in my Silver Spring house (insane roommate, major break-up, shifts in friends and priorities) and I hadn't really recognized it until I was packing everything up. So while the move itself wasn't terribly complicated, I did find myself a little dazed and distracted as I entered my new dwelling in Columbia Heights.

But now that I'm here, I'm waking up to the fact that I'm in heaven! Its a diverse, bustling neighborhood with plenty of vegan options, fantastic access to public transportation, and a great local bar and library! Its even pretty bike-friendly! I can't say I hung out much in this neck of the woods before, but now I don't ever want to leave! Here's just a few of my finds so far:

*Julia Empanadas- I used to get delicious and cheap lunches from their location in Dupont Circle a couple years ago, but I never dared to ask if the delicacies were vegan (I worried about the crusts). Well, the Columbia Heights location wears their vegan friendliness on their sleeve! I had an amazing $3.50 empanada yesterday- lentils, sweet potatoes, green beans and spices wrapped up in a slightly sweet, flaky crust- proudly proclaimed on the sign to be all vegan. Not only that, they have 3 vegan soups and two small salads- cucumber and beet. I honestly think I'll be eating here 3-4 times a week.

*Sticky Fingers Bakery- I mentioned this awesome vegan bakery/ coffee shop before, and since I was last there little has changed. There are still awesome cupcakes and sticky buns, vegan hot dogs, and convenient to-go meals. My only complaint? The hours! I wish they were open late so I could eat cupcakes and study there. Still looking for a late-night study lounge in the 'hood.

*The Heights-Although this restaurant doesn't have much in the way of vegan food other than, like, french fries, their one option is worth mentioning: tofu stir fry with red cabbage, shitake mushrooms and a sweet tamari sauce over rice. So good. Oh, and a nice selection of beer too. (This place is REALLY close to me, so I have to go there occasionally.)

I'm discovering new stuff everyday, but I won't post about everything... just suffice it to stay that if you're in DC, Columbia Heights is an area you'll want to hit up. Hey, I'll be your tour guide!

As for "unplugging" a la Jennifer and Brett from VC&ORM, I have unintentionally done a lot more than I planned on. I initially intended to watch less TV and check fewer gossip sites and mainstream media sites. But funnily enough, life has a way of pushing you along once you get started on something. So, coincidentally, around the same time I started thinking about getting away from negative/ prejudicial white noise, I quit facebook, broke my phone, and moved to a new place where I don't have internet access or cable! So I am like, WAY unplugged right now. No text messages, no "friend updates", no perezhilton, and definitely no tv. Oh yeah, and I already mentioned no car.

All of this unplugging has left me with a lot more time and, dare I say, mental energy. It may also have to do with a lighter load at school this semester, but I find myself re-engaging in politics in a way I haven't done since college; re-reading Marx and Engels, Polanyi, Derrida, Foucault and all the other oldies but goodies. I've even been writing a bit of political stuff- after all, I can't count on law school profs to give me a critical analysis of anything.

Another nice side effect is that the lack of phone and facebook makes it difficult for people to get in touch with me. Now, that could be annoying after a while, but briefly its a nice vacation. Its amazing how much more in control I am of my time- no longer a slave to texts and event invites. And since I don't even get any messages, I don't waste time thinking about whether to respond.

So yes, my head is a bit in the clouds these days- my friends don't know where I am, and I don't know anything about Gossip Girl or my ex-boyfriend's relationship status... but then, in a lot of ways I'm more focused on what's right in front of me. Which is convenient, because I'm still getting used to dodging traffic on my new bike route.

So, in conclusion, just in time for Rosh Hashanah things are looking very up! Now, onto vegan apple challah bread...


Yes, We Can!

I had a long, lazy weekend ahead of myself this week, and I knew if left to my own devices I would simply read my new bookstore finds (Hannah Arendt and the new Antonio Negri!) rather than do anything productive. (Although, according to Negri, expending my mental energy is of course, productive...) But anyways, I've come across 3 mentions of canning lately, one in the Washington Post, one in Vegetarian Times, and one in the new Gourmet. A good rule of thumb for me is that if you tell me to do something 3 times, I will most likely do it. So I bought a boat-load of figs at the farmers market and got to it!

In case anyone is in the mood for some delectable home-made preserves, here are the basic steps for doing so. There are plenty of other step-by-step guides out there, but lest you get scared off, let me cut through the precautions and give you the basic outline:

1. The first step (aside from gathering your ingredients and equipment) is to boil and sterilize the jars and lids. You need to keep them hot while you prepare the recipe.
2. Prepare the recipe. This generally involves a good bit of chopping or peeling, but its not much more work the making a stew.
3. Once the jam/preserves whatever is ready, you carefully pour it into the hot jars. I used a ladle for this, but others suggest a funnel. Using gloves or a magnet, you carefully put the lid tops and screw tops on.
4. The final step is to boil the closed jars once more, usually for about 10-15 minutes. After letting it cool you can check to make sure the lids are on properly (they should be concave to the inside of the jar.) And you're good to go!

I would really encourage this project if you're one of those DIY people. I'm pretty sure I didn't save a lot of money, but when it comes to Christmas and Hannukah gifts, you can't beat homemade preserves. Think about it: if you handed someone a $3 jar of strawberry smuckers for a gift, they'd be like "wtf?" But a homemade jar of delicious preserves is a totally different story. You're still not spending much money, but people love it. My plan is to make several types of preserves and put them in little baskets- fig, strawberry, and apple butter I think. Plus its nice to know exactly what went into something you eat.

And here are some more delicious looking recipes:
*Caramel Pear Butter
*Mango Chutney
*Vidalia Onion Relish
*Blueberry Jam

In other news, I'm now carless! I moved to an area of town with ample public transportation, my bike is ready and raring to go, and I'm taking the plunge! I hope that this will at the least me save money, but more importantly I'm hoping that by "unplugging" from my vehicle I remove one of the screens that separate me from the world. Wish me luck lugging my law books around!


Move over Hummus

I used to go to this sushi restaraunt in Atlanta that, in addition to having banana sushi and other vegan delights, served every meal with a complimentary salad and miso soup. The salad was drenched in this absolutely scrumptious miso ginger dressing that made you scrape the bottom of the little glass bowl for any remaining carrot shred. I was dying for the recipe for this stuff, but being a shy collegiate girl I never asked. Plus, I didn't know what miso even was. Turns out, its sort of a fermented soy product that is packed with protein and is a Japanese staple. (I heard its a good immunity booster for cold season as well!) Unfortunately, I couldn't find a sushi place with the amazing dressing in DC, so I forgot all about it.

Fast forward to law school. To cheer myself up from dreary classes and the even drearier cafeteria, I would often venture to Dupont circle to trat myself to a vegan empanada or other such treat. But there's also this amazing restaurant called "Teaism" that I have been frequenting on occasion. They have this insanely good (albeit, expensive) bento box with edamame, raw tofu in a soy broth, rice with a ton of gomashio, and this absolutely amazing sweet potato salad. The salad is simple: roasted sweet potatoes at room temp covered with... why, its that same miso dressing! Its like pure magic on all orange veggies! It has this creamy, sour, salty taste that reacts like magic with the sort of earthy/ sweet taste of roast vegetables.

And so today, when I ran across a bottle of the stuff at wh0le foods, I had to make my meal around it. (Apparently you can make it yourself too.) And despite the crappy pic (I left my camera in Chicago, dammit) it was SO good. Merely roasted baby carrots and sweet potatoes (coated in EVOO prior to roasting) served with ginger-garlic kale. My roomie, who's not crazy about kale, found that when she wrapped it around the carrots and dipped it in the sauce it was DELISH. I should have made twice as much, literally.

Other ideas for miso dressing:
-Obviously amazing as a salad dressing
-A dip or fancy drizzle for vegan sushi
-Drizzle over a variety of balsamic roasted veggies
-Drizzle some inside lettuce wraps
-Stand in front of the fridge chowing down on raw carrots dipped in the stuff, like I just did!


Vegan Mole Power

For the longest time I've been scared to try Mexican Mole sauce. I mean, isn't it obvious why? Chocolate in a savory sauce? Hot things in the food processor? And what to serve it on? But at the same time, I have always been intrigued and peeved when I see "Chicken in Mole sauce" on a menu. So often I find myself craving the sauce a meat is served but being at a lack of things to serve it on. After my recent trip so close to the border, I decided to stop being a pansy and give mole a try... even though it could mean wasting precious organic vegan chocolate *gasp*!

Luckily, after giving the sauce a try I can confidently assert that the V'Con ladies are right... its good on everything. I think I might even use it as dip for tortilla chips. Yum.

So this recipe is an amalgamation of the Joy of Cooking recipe and my own shortcuts and guess-timations, with Isa and Terry as inspiration. Although it was NOT picture perfect, it was SO yummy. I'm totally going to eat it on everything this week, people.

Vegan Mole Power Sauce
3 red chile peppers
8-9 cloves garlic
Chipotles in adobo sauce
Pinches of cloves, cumin, organo, and salt
3 C vegetable broth
1/4 C raw almonds
1/4 C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 small onion, diced
1/2 C diced tomatoes
2 slices bread (I used wheat) toasted and torn into pieces
1/4 C good baking chocolate, chopped
Pinches cinnamon, black pepper

1. First you need to do some roasting. Rub the garlic cloves, unpeeled, with a little EVOO and stick them on a piece of tin foil in the oven on 400 degrees. When they're brownish-yellow, they're done. Meanwhile, roast your chile peppers over an open flame until blackened all over. Set them aside and wait to peel and remove seeds until they are cooled. Don't forget, those things are hot, so don't rub your eyes!*
2. Peel the garlic as well and add soft inside to peppers in food processor. Add pinches of first set of spices, being a little heavy handed on the oregano. Add 1-2 chipotle peppers and a few drops of the liquid they come in. (Reserve the rest of the can for rice and beans!) Now, spin away in your food processor until smooth, adding 1/2 c. of veggie broth as you go. Sieve the mixture and set aside.
3. In a good-sized pot or dutch oven that you can use later, heat a little oil over medium heat. Roast the almonds for about 3 minutes, then put in the food processor along with pre-roasted pepitas. In the same pot, cook onion until browned, then add to the food processor (using a slotted spoon.) Add in chocolate, tomatoes, and cinnamon. Also throw the toasted and torn bread in there. Process that stuff until smooth, adding more broth to smooth it out.

4. Now, we combine. Add a tiny bit more oil to the pot and throw the pepper mixture in there over medium. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to thicken. Next, add the nut/chocolate mixture. Blend the two together for another 5 minutes until its getting really good and thick. Finally, add remaining broth. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Now is the time to adjust salt, sugar, or heat. You can also control how thick your sauce is by adjusting the amount of broth. I like mine thick. Simmer partly covered for 20-30 more minutes, or until whatever your serving it with is done cooking.

I really, really like this with polenta. Its like my new mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy. It would also be excellent on pumpkin and/or sweet potatoes I suspect... and I fully intend to prove it by the end of the week. ;)

*If you're not big on spicy stuff, maybe you should leave out one of the peppers and some of the chipotle.

**Update** I made an awesome quesadilla-esque thingie with onions, peppers, polenta, mole sauce, plus sour cream and guac to dip. SO divine.

I've been everywhere, man

I just got back from a last minute trip across the ENTIRE country. Literally, I drove from Washington, DC to Tuscon, Arizona in 4 days. Why, when law school is in full swing and I have two other big trips coming up? Well, it seems I have become a travel magnet, and cannot help but attract random far-fetched trips from every direction.

In this case, my little brother (well, he's not really little anymore) had signed up for this outdoor wilderness survival program in Arizona. It looks really rad! The students go spelunking and mountain climbing and learn first aid and all sorts of badass outdoorsy stuff. Plus they get college credit! So my bro had planned to drive across the country to get there by himself, and long story short, I got roped in to doing it at the last minute since its sort of a scary drive. And luckily, I'll take any excuse to get out of dodge. ;) Another lucky thing was that my brother is also vegetarian and doesn't eat cheese- so I knew he would be up for some vegan restaurant exploring.

So we set off from DC in a fully-stocked truck: my Mom had whipped up brownies, cookies, hummus sandwiches, and other treats that should have lasted days (but of course, disappeared pretty rapidly.) All in all we took a tried and true trek through US-40 (historic Route 66). Some food-related highlights:

*Homemade pasta and perfect spicy tomato sauce in Nashville, Tennesee. We somehow managed to avoid BBQ!

*Texas toast, jam and coffee in Memphis for breakfast. Fuel to vamp in front of the King's house and, quote, "get the fuck out of Memphis."
*Cheeseless pizza off 40 in Oklahoma... with Arnold Palmers! (1/2 sweet tea, 1/2 lemonade)

*An awesome vegan Indian feast at Gopurumi in Oklahoma city (corner of 23rd st. NW ad Meridian). Huge potato-filled dosas (pictured), Bhaigan Bharta and of course, a giant Taj Mahal beer to wash it all down.
-Vegetable fajitas with mountains of guacamole in Roswell, NM... and no extra-terrestrial contact (at least, that we can remember...)
*Fabulous selection of salads, mexican food, and sandwiches (no cheese, please!) at the Eclectic Cafe (off Tanque Verde drive) in Tuscon, our final destination.

All this, and the most amazing scenery in every direction. The West is wild, man! I had no idea! Check it out!

Cow country in Oklahoma

Gorgeous scenery outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

Wide open range near Amarillo, Texas

And now, for the sad part. While driving through Texas to NM, we started to smell something horrible. In the middle of nowhere, all of sudden, we could see about a mile of cows, all crowded within feet of eachother. They were so overcrowded and within sight of their final destination: a huge, dirty factory. UGH. We wanted to blow it up- and of course, we passed like 4 more before leaving Texas. I mentioned this to a classmate today who was from TX. She said, "You see? how could I not eat meat growing up in an environment like that?" EXCUSE ME? How could you possibly see that and not be utterly horrified at how cruel and disgusting it is? Its one thing when you are not aware of the origin of your food, or are completely disconnected from the absent referent, but when you see a factory farm like that you can't help but be intimately familiar with the whole horrible process.

It was especially sad in contrast to the cows we saw in Oklahoma- hanging out, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, just taking in the sunshine and wandering in huge beautiful fields. (Here's one!)

Now, I'm nowhere near backsliding from vegetarianism, but even for me this experience was an eye-opener and MORE than solidifed my already confident views: in the words of Herbivore, factory farms are MEAN and NASTY.

PS- We listened to Bright Eyes non-freaking-stop the entire trip, at my brother's insistence, and actually I do think that Cassadega and Wide Awake are excellent fits for Southwestern expeditions. :)

PSS- I have been meaning to post exhaustive travel diaries from my May travels... and I will when I can get the print photos to upload correctly. Better late than on time! Wait, that's not how that saying goes...