Vegan Brazilian Feijoada, quickly

On a cold and rainy day, there's nothing quite as comforting as a big warm pot of feijoada. Since Brussels is often cold and rainy, I first learned about this miracle cure when I lived above a group of Brazilian guys in Belgium. Every Saturday, a smokey, rich cooking smell would drift up to my apartment during the morning, and continue all day. In the late afternoon, I would hear them playing guitars and singing in Portuguese, clearly having an awesome party while I shivered in my apartment. Finally, I got invited one day, when I happened to be walking by the open door. I learned that the all-day dish was feijoada, Brazil's national dish. Its a combination of slow simmered black beans, various types of meat, bay leaves and other spices, with wine or beer. The vegan way, of course, involves some substitutions, but its still incredibly rich, comforting and delicious, especially with sides of orange rice, braised kale, and roasted plantains, the traditional accoutrements to the rich stew.

The real, "from scratch" recipe takes several hours, given that you use dried beans to get a luscious broth. But sometimes I do a short-cut recipe for weeknights that captures most of the appeal of the original without the many hours of stirring. I definitely recommend trying the traditional recipe, however- both Viva Vegan and Color Me Vegan offer awesome versions (and you can't get that perfectly thick bean broth with canned beans, alas.) However, once you've mastered those, you may find yourself craving the dish on non-special occasions, such as a particularly gross rainy day. In that case, I think my version holds up fairly decently, and my feijoada-obsessed boyfriend agrees.

Brazilliant Feijoada serves 4

2 16 oz cans black (turtle) beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup deuhydrated soy curls or similar (I use "soja schnetzel")
1 cup red wine
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. soy sauce
4 cups vegetable broth (or water + veg bouillon)
1 sprig fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried
1 bay leaf
1 and 1/2 Tbs. cumin
1and 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1.) Reconstitute soy curls by pouring boiling veg broth (about 2 cups) over them (enough to cover) and soaking for about 5 minutes. Then drain, squeezing against colander gently to release excess water, and set aside.
2.) In a large, sturdy pot, heat a few good glugs of oil over medium low heat. When hot, add in onions and stir to coat. After 1-2 minutes, add in garlic. When garlic and onions are soft, season well with salt and pepper and pour in red wine to deglaze, cooking a few minutes more.
3.) Add in mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes, then add in soy curls, beans, remaining two cups veg broth, and remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat to low. Let stew simmer for 30 minutes, stirring ocassionally. Meanwhile, prepare accoutrements (ie, roasted plantains, greens of your choosing, orange rice.)
4.) After stew has boiled down and sauce has become thick, taste and adjust seasonings. (I usually add a bit more soy sauce and balsamic at this point.) Let cook a bit longer until plenty thick, and serve hot with plenty of rice and hot sauce. Leftovers are even better the next day.

For more on roasting plantains, see here. For more on cooking dried beans, which I fully encourage despite the above recipe, see here.

Song of the Day: Aguas de Marco- Cibo Matto


Cold Comfort

Winter time, and the living is easy.

The weather is extremely mild (for Berlin), I've got a little money for once, and I have lots of fun parties and meet-ups to attend before heading back to the USA for the holidays. With all of this good luck, I've been cooking up a storm of comfort food.

Above are potato and spinach enchiladas with a side of avocado. Enchiladas are really just the greatest. Once you've got a standard recipe, you can substitute whatever you have on hand to make a simple dinner. I used my normal recipe for Chipotle Plantain enchiladas, but subbed the filling out for a simple mash of boiled potatoes and spinach (with a bit of salt and pepper and soymilk) With frozen spinach anbd potatoes it doesn't get much cheaper than this recipe. I also subbed out the chipotle in the sauce, getting the heat instead from a tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Spicy and delicious.
Next I made the Mac and Cheeze from the archives of the mysteriously disappeared Veganyumyum. Its a great recipe because if you have a decently stocked vegan cupboard, you likely have most of the ingredients on hand. (Tahini, miso, soy sauce, nooch, lemon juice, ect.) The dish itself is extremely satisfying and even somewhat cheeselike. Hmmm, maybe I should whip up another batch today...

Last but not least, we have a boring (read: easy and delicious) curry with potatoes, carrots, zucchini, tofu, and tons of garlic and ginger. The curry is coconut based with tomatoes thrown in too. Topped with a little sriracha, its the kind of thing I like to make a big batch of then eat all week for lunch.

Ah, winter... if you keep behaving, you can stay a little longer.

Song of the day: Spandau Ballet- True



The gorgeous centerpiece, a mix of bought and found flowers from S.
The tables, decked with Brussels Sprouts, Stuffing "muffins" and mixed plates

Making a wok full of mushroom gravy at the last minute
S getting ready to enjoy his "favorite" American tradition
SO! In the midst of my INSANE 19 person Thanksgiving party, I forgot one thing: to take pictures. It's not really so much that I forgot, but more that I was so exhausted that my brain turned to mushroom gravy. But let me just say, as you can see from these guest-foraged photos, things went well! Here's a run-down:

Number of Prep Days: 3
Number of People: 19
Number of Tables: 2 (but they were equal, no kids table)
Number of Bottles of Wine: 17
Number of Sweet Potato Casseroles: 3
Amount of Mashed Potatoes: 4 Kilos
Loaves of Cornbread in Stuffing: 3
Dinner Time: 8:00 (timing was PERFECT)
Biggest Hits: Miso-Mushroom Gravy, Green Bean Casserole
Least Favorite: Chestnut-Sage-Apple Cornbread Stuffing. Delicious, but should have been served hot rather than room temp. (But there wasn't enough room in the oven...)
Biggest Question: "What do you put the gravy on?"
Biggest Exclamation: "Mampf. This is a great holiday."

SY and me, savoring victory

All in all, I can say it was a big success. And that I won't feel like cooking again until next year. :) Hope you all had as fantastic a holiday as me!!


Jetzt shon wieder!? Thanksgiving

Man, its already Thanksgiving again! This time, come hell or highwater, I'm doing it right!

I know, I know: I say that every year. But this year, no sickness, Belgians, or German disdain for patriotism will prevent me from celebrating Thanksgiving: the holiday of feast, family, and forgetting (either America's history of colonial atrocities or the fact that you Uncle thinks Barack Obama is a Kenyan-Islamic-Fundamentalist-Communist, take your pick.)

 In fact, I decided to go all out and invite like, 20 people over (I think maybe 13 are coming) and arrange to cook a huge buffet. Since most of these people have never celebrated Thanksgiving before they are most likely going to interpret this as an invitation to come over and get drunk on a weeknight, but I don't care! I will have twinkly music, candles, flowers, and green bean casserole and it will be awesome! It won't be exactly the same as in America- ie, no Martha Stewart inspired placeholders, 20 year old handmade turkey paper mache centerpiece, or football- but I will have a fairly decent replica of the event, just 6 hours earlier.

So here's the menu! As you can see from my elaborate preparation list above, it will take some finnagling to get all the necessary ingredients, but I have a gameplan spread out over a week, so everything should come together one way or another.

Thanksgiving 2011
-Salad with oranges (brought by a guest)
-Simple roasted Brussels Sprouts (salt and pepper and olive oil)
-Sweet Potatoes two ways (because I don't have enough casserole dishes to make a huge sweet potato casserole.)
     - 1st way: My Aunt Mary's specialty, with apples, brown sugar, pecans
    - 2nd way: An experimental version- pureed sweet potatoes with miso, maple syrup, cumin, paprika and cinnamon.  Oh yeah, and coconut milk.
-Mashed potatoes with roasted garlic
-Green Bean Casserole, a la T ( no decent mushroom soup here, so I'm planning the following instead. I will do a light roux, add in mushrooms, finely diced onions, a bit of soy sauce and nooch and plenty of salt and pepper. I will toss the frozen green beans in this and top with bastardized french fried onions- Danish onions that they use for topping hot dogs. Will it work?!I will let you know!)
-Cornbread Stuffing (also an invention: veganized boxed cornbread from the USA, roasted chestnuts, dried cranberries, onions, plenty or salt, pepper,. and fresh sage, held together with a bit of  vegetable stock. THEN I am going to grease up some muffin tins and make little individual stufffing servings! I'm hoping this will be like a mixture between bread pudding and stuffing. Total off the cuff experiment due, once again, to lack of baking dishes.)
-Mushroom Miso Gravy, from Crescent Dragonwagon (haha best hippie vegetarian name ever)
-Cranberry Sauce ala Isa, however, I will add a bit of orange zest because I just need to.

And then to top it off my friends are bringing pumpkin pies and chocolate pies. I would say, that is a Thanksgiving!

If you are planning your own and need inspiration here are some posts from Thanksgiving pasts with lots of links to recipes and treatises on vegan Thanksgiving.
Last Minute Thanksgiving Ideas
My Veg Thanksgiving
More Thanksgiving Tips

So, wish me luck kids! And good luck with all of your own Thanksgivings, whether you are hosting or dragging your family to Grandmother's house: I hope its great!

Song of the Day: Future Islands- Balance


Fighting the Winter Blues

After a freakishly warm autumn, Berlin is once again the cold, grey, stony-faced city that I dread all year. Its the time of year where I am constantly freezing, constantly sick, and totally bummed out from the uniformly short and "blah" days.

However, having spent last winter here, now I know what I am facing and have decided not to take things lying down. (Literally. I am vowing not to hide under the covers all winter.) Yes, I am taking a 3 pronged approach to combating winter blues!

Tactic 1: Stay Well
The best way to be in a good mood is to not be sick! I am doing my part by eating tons of "Russian antibiotic" ie, GARLIC!! Above is one of my favorite ways to eat a ton of anti-oxidant packed garlic: roasted in the oven. Bake the whole bulb with a bit of olive oil for 45 minutes, then squeeze out the mushy insides and use as a paste for bread, pizza, or blend it into a soup for added flavor. I used mine for this awesome and simple potato soup, topped with sriracha and chopped leftover herbs that I've been storing in the freezer.

Another part of this tactic is to take advantage of the plentiful winter citrus offerings (for me its clementines and grapefruit, yum!) and get tons of vitamin C. Finally, I'm upping my vitamin intake and making sure I get the Vitamin B that vegans need to stay healthy.

Tactic 2: Coziness
The Scandinavian countries have a secret for staying cheerful in the long grey winter: candles. Yes, lighting tons of candles and twinkly lights combats the depressing darkness everywhere, and makes you feel like an evening at home is a special occasion. I am taking this advice to heart this year: fuzzy socks, cute candles, soft music and nice teas will be found in my household. We are going to pretend to be totally Danish (stopping short of consuming massive quantities of Herring) and I'll let you know if it works.

Tactic 3: Get outside
Finally, even though it is completely gross outside it is important to leave the house and get the tiny little bit of Vitamin D available. I have decided that, so long as I can afford it, I will be going to the local coffee house to do my legal research rather than burrowing in at home. This way, I have to get dressed and get outside, and get a minimal amount of social contact (which is also important.) The walk to and fro, along with detours in the park of nearby, mean I get to enjoy at least a little weather and fresh air- which always ends up putting me in a good mood somehow.

What are your tips for beating the Winter Blahs?

Song of the Day: Future Islands- Balance


Kale, sweet potato fries, seitan nuggets

Do you guys love it when reality show divas say, "I finally found my voice?" I do. Especially on Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, which is possibly my favorite series of all time. (I would like to say "ironically," but I give the tortured souls of New York, Beverly Hills, New Jersey and Atlanta so much attention that it drifts now and then into true fandom.) Yes, it's embarrassing. If you haven't seen them, the shows follow the privileged and often peculiar women of various U.S. cities around, documenting their petty arguments, personal struggles, and social climbing maneuvers. It goes without saying that anyone who would star on reality shows is probably not incredibly classy, but who wants to watch classy people? These chicks range from crazy-pants to lovably overbearing to drunk all the time, and they are very entertaining to me and my friends, who fancy ourselves the Real Housewives of Berlin.

Anyways, who ever didn't get into enough fights the first season is obliged to come back the second season and say, "I finally found my voice, and I'm NOT afraid to use it."  And this is how I am feeling about Kale at the moment. I found a bunch in a little bio-markt day-old bin, labeled as grun kohl (green cabbage) and I almost shouted out, "I've finally found my kale--- and I am NOT afraid to use it!"

And so I made a little kiddie meal to introduce the delicacy to S. (One could even call this my spin on a tv dinner.) Sweet potato fries dusted with cinnamon and paprika, wheaty seitan nuggets, ketchup with sriracha, and the star attraction- kale with garlic and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Guess which part he didn't like?

Oh well, more for me. I'm taking charge of my kale! The Real Housewives would be proud.


Okra Gumbo from Heaven

There is this little "Afro-Asia" Lebensmittel Laden down the street from where I live, and I'm there almost every day. The front is plastered with Bollywood posters, and on the inside little kids buy ginger beer and gummies from the bored shop girl, who spends most of her time on the phone. Its a modest, kind of dusty little spot, but for me, its heaven. Its my local source of plantains, chipotles, mirin, sriracha, silken tofu, masa harina... you name it, they've got it. Along with every spice and flour on the planet, bags full of frozen crustaceans still in their shells, strange looking spice mixes (like, for sugar cane broth? what do you use that for?) And best of all,  in a small and crowded refrigerator they also offer up fresh thai basil, habanero peppers and... okra.

Believe it or not, I've never cooked with okra before! Its a standby in good old Virginia, but I usuallu come across the canned version and I never felt compelled to experiment with it. But when I saw box of fresh okra at Afro-Asia, I became curious. Luckily, Isa posted a recipe for Okra Gumbo w/ Chickpeas and Kidney Beans on the PPK a few weeks back, and I made a mental note to try it out. That ended up being a really good idea.

Isa's version is a lot quicker than most versions, even if you make a darker roux like I opted to. The end result is complete comfort food, toothy and creamy and a little sour from the okra, and the perfect receptacle for a bit of hot sauce. With some white rice and a beer you can pretend you're in steamy Louisiana (even if you're in freezing Berlin.)

Song of the day: Chuck Berry - You Never Can Tell


Vegan Mofo: BBQ and Cupcakes

People constantly ask me what the difference is between Germany and America. I usually say that its not all that different, that socio-economic and cultural factors make more of a difference than the actual country you are living in, bla bla bla until the person gets bored and walks away. But if really pressed, I'll talk about the food.

First off, we've got the bread. Americans don't have one standard, but in general we like it relatively soft and fluffy with a crust. Germans, on the other hand, like bread that is as healthy as humanly possible. I'm talking coarse brown, sour bread with 15 different kinds of seeds and grains so big you can make them out from across the room. Just try to give a slice of Wonderbread to a German, I dare you.

The second thing is, Germans (and Belgians, and Dutch...maybe French too) think its totally normal to eat chocolate for breakfast. As a kid I sometimes indulged in Cookie-crisp cereal or the like as a treat, but in general chocolate is more a dessert thing to me... not so with the dozens of breakfast products here created with chocolate. You've got spreadable chocolate, chocolate flakes to sprinkle on buttered bread, even muesli at health food stores contains chocolate. Dream come true, right?

Anyways, there are many other scandalous food habits of the Germans that I could expose for you today (bread and cheese at every meal! 6 cups of coffee a day! beenkuchen!) but I don't want to ruin the mystery. I, meanwhile, steadfastly maintain my American way of life as best I can. This week, that meant BBQ'd soy curls for lunch (above) and chocolate cupcakes with no proper icing. (Shortening is apparently not a part of the daily diet. Will bring back 6 tubs after Christmas...).

As I always say, Germany isn't better or worse than the US, just different. And they both have something to learn from one another. For instance, let's introduce icing to Germany, and they can teach us about chocolate for breakfast... pretty soon, we've got inter-cultural breakfast cupcakes. Ah, a world without borders. :)


Vegan Mofo: Soup and Salad

Here's the latest in my continuing series, "What to Serve People that Aren't Crazy About Your Weirdo Vegan Food".  I had S.'s parents over for dinner last weekend, and unlike my parents, I can't (or more like, won't) serve them wild and spicy things, eg, chipotle plantain enchiladas or penang tofu, because they would think that is just crazy town.

(I should mention, however, that I am extraordinarily lucky to have parents that will literally eat whatever vegan food I like, from a casserole made with beets to Chili made with cinnamon and beer to stir-fryed Brussels Sprouts...on Christmas. I mean, my parents are in it to win it.)

So instead I made something just weird enough but reminiscent of things normal people eat. I cooked up a big batch of Curried Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup (without hot peppers), baked some instant vegan cornbread, and threw together a huge romaine salad tossed with garlicky miso-tahini dressing (which looks just like Caesar but tastes a zillion times better.) For dessert? Chocolate cupcakes (from VCTOTW, natch) with a light dusting of cinnamon.

S, me and his Mom, enjoying the bounty

It was a hit! I am getting good at this "convincing people I'm normal" thing.


Vegan Mofo- Hard to Mess Up

As promised, here is my list of 5 recipes I make over and over again, with delicious, crowd-pleasing results every single time.

5.)  Pizza Crust- Joy of Cooking
Sure its a non-vegan cookbook, but its got a lot of hits, and often contains the most simple baseline recipe for something you've heard of but never cooked. That makes it great for veganizing. This recipe, however, needs no alteration, and I've made perhaps 100 times, always with phenomenal results. A no-frills classic.

4.)  Venezuelan Black Beans- Viva Vegan
Once you try Terry Hope Romero's recipe for simple black beans, you may feel tempted to throw away all of your other cookbooks. Resist. Man cannot subsist on black beans alone. However, this is the perfect recipe with which to attempt that feat.

3.) Minimalist Tagine (from moi)
I came up with this streamlined take on the classic Tagine in Brussels and ever since I've made it at least once a month, always a little differently. Sometimes its mushrooms and eggplant, sometimes I throw in some chickpeas, the nuts depend on what I have around... in other words, its flexible. But the cinnamon and cumin spiked sauce, with golden apricot bits, is exotic enough to feel like a feast, even when you just throw it together. Its also a good centerpiece to a Moroccan themed dinner party.

2.) Eggplant Potato Moussaka- Veganomicon.
Isa and Terry might be over-represented on this list, but there is a reason for that.  I've served this impressive casserole to everyone, from my parents, to a bunch of omni Germans on Passover. Its always a hit. The filling- layers of potatoes and eggplant with a toothsome tomato sauce- perfectly compliments the custardy pine-nut cream topping that no one ever believes is vegan. Its simple enough to make, but everyone will think you are a star vegan chef when you serve this.

1.) Banana Flapjacks- Vegan Brunch
I have plenty of pancake recipes that I love and enjoy, but let's not kid ourselves- Vegan Brunch's version are the sine qua non of pancake recipes.Without them, there is no breakfast. I get so many compliments on these babies that I feel like I should send a royalty check to Isa every time I make them. But then I'd really have to be a millionaire. Try them once, and watch as your attachment to all other pancake recipes fades away....

What recipe or cookbook can you not live without?


Vegan Mofo: The perfect recipe

So I made the pineapple cashew quinoa stir-fry from Veganomicon again last night. This time I made it with tofu and ommitted a few steps. And guess what? It was freaking PERFECT. The quinoa is like caviar coating the pineapple pieces that pop in your mouth, the spicy basil and mint are bright and hot, the flavoring is perfectly savory, its just a complete and total winner.  S. was like, "why don't we make this more often?" And I was about to reprimand him that I make it about 10 times per year, when I realized that most of the time I make it with leftover quinoa and eat it all myself. Ooops.

Anyways, this success got me thinking about some of the other cookbook recipes that I make time and time again, always with great success. Tomorrow I'll post a list, and try to find links to recipes for each.

In the meantime, I received an award!  Thank you to Michelle from A bit addicted to cookbooks for nominating me for the Liebster award! (Hey its even in German!)

Now I have to nominate 5 people with less than 200 followers, and so shall do so! Congrats folks, you are my lieblings (though I'm not totally sure you all have less than 200 followers... whatev.)

1.) Crack the Plates
2.) Pixiepine Blog
3.) It ain't meat, babe
4.) Seitan is My Motor
5.) Veggie Terrain

Ich liebe euch!


Vegan Mofo: I love my Kiez

A hipster baby eating at Cafe Marx? OMG that is so Kreutzberg, Alter...
Not to brag, or anything, but I live in pretty much the coolest neighborhood (or "Kiez" in Berliner slang) in the world. That's right, Kreutzberg 36, sort of a German Sesame Street for hippies and hipsters, maybe you've heard of it from your annoying globe-trotting friend who claims Berlin is the new Brooklyn. It's gained sort of a reputation lately and has experienced an influx of ridiculously hip British, French, and Spanish ex-pats looking to live in an artisitic, up and coming neighborhood. (This, of course, infuriates all the people who lived here before it was the center of world-hipsterdom, but what can you do.) People can complain about foreigners and gentrification all they want, but to me this neighborhood is pretty much paradise. Here are a few reasons why:

A vega-burger from Germany's first vegetarian fast-food restaurant, on Wienerstrasse
Now might be a good time to mention that punks burnt down a local McDonalds... twice
Guerilla gardening is really taking off. Check out above ground U-bahn-tracks in the background.
A soja latte w/ extra foam at Cafe Marx
One of several Sudanese restaurants around, serving up excellent tofu wraps.
Thrift store at Spreewaldplatz- meeting all of your bowling shoe, accordian, and cowboy hat needs.

Morrocan vegetable tagine, falafel, fresh carrot juice, and Veggie doner's at Rissani

And of course, every open surface is covered with murals and graffiti.

So that's my neighborhood, at least for the time being. And although I move around a lot, I'm proud to call multi-kulti, vegan friendly, hipster populated Kreutzberg my home. Come visit sometime!

Song of the Day: Kiezkiller


Vegan Mofo: A Miso to Remember

Miso and I, sizing eachother up (I'm Cary Grant, obvs)
I have this needlessly tempestuous and stormy relationship with miso (ie, fermented soybean paste.) Its like, every time I see it in a bio-store I go up and examine it flirtatiously. I hold onto it for five minutes at a time while I walk around the store, pretending to be totally casual. Sometime, I even bring it to the register. But in the end I always return it to the shelf. Why? Because I simply cannot bear to spend 8 f#@king euros on what is basically a condiment. But then... I dream all night of all the things I could have made with it. Macaroni and cheeze.... miso-tahini dressing... mushroom gravy.... soup.... and then I get annoyed and think of rushing back to the store, only to realize its too late, its already closed and my hesitancy has cost me my chance for happiness. I mean, with me and miso its like An Affair to Remember... star-crossed lovers, always too late, kept apart by misunderstandings and fate.

Until today! I found a huge tub of miso for 4 euros in an Asian market near Alexanderplatz, and finally, all of my miso fantasies can come true!! First on that list was a simple classic, roasted vegetables with miso-tahini sauce.

I started with roasting a gazillion vegetables- beets, zucinni, carrots, onions, sweet potato, a fistful of mushrooms, a tiny pasrnip, ect- with some oil, salt and pepper at 400 degrees (200 c) for about 25 minutes, or, long enough to call all three of my student loan officers. Then, I made the ridiculously simple miso tahiuni sauce--- whisk equal parts white miso and tahini, add a drizzle of agave nectar, and whisk in warm water until desired consistency is reached.

The end result was the super healthy plate of my dreams- mixed vegetables, roasted to perfection, fluffy quinoa and my perfect, heavenly miso-fix. Perfection attained.
Song of the Day: Fiona Apple- Why try to change me now


Vegan Mofo: Mushroom Risotto

Just a quickie today, kids!

Made risotto last night, the same way I always do, except this time, S had a brain flash. We could leave out the veg of the day (in this case, mushrooms) and just add it into our individual servings. Then, we can make a different veg tomorrow and add that into the leftovers! Brilliant, right? Especially if you have a ton of risotto rice and not a lot of one particular vegetable.

Two other small pieces of news: The NYT actually managed to have a whole article on vegan recipes without snarking! And the recipes look fairly good! Check it out here.

In other news, I started a new blog on a totally different subject- migration, statelessness, and refugees. In the off chance that those topics interest you, please feel free to check it out:


Vegan Mofo: Let's Talk About Veganism

Two things happened in the last few months that made me want to write this post: 1) I finished Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and 2) I decided to look up my old friend the "Voracious Vegan" and saw what a shit-storm has been going on with her blog, which is now a non-vegan food blog called Voracious Eats. (You can read the now infamous post, "A Vegan No More" here.) Since I didn't eat anything of note yesterday, being a bit sick, I thought I would go ahead and comment on these two issues for Vegan Mofo.

These two "events" (if you can call them that) intertwined because they both deal, on some level, with how vegans and vegetarians interact with omnivores. In Safran Foer's book, he researches factory farming extensively, and also looks at small sustainable animal farms to research what is the best food to feed his child. Although he eventually lands on vegetarianism, for both ethical and practical reasons he finds it hard to disown those that are working hard to provide good alternatives to meat-eaters, and at the end feels compelled to support their plight as well.

The point is that, while he advocates vegetarianism strongly, he makes the point that the dialogue between veggies and omnis should not be quite so, well, fraught with rage and accusations. Discussing diet choices can already bring out the worst in people (just ask my boyfriend how racist I am against Germans and their love of mayonnaise), and when we involve animals in that discussion we really get into sensitive territory. This is because human beings have an incredibly complex relationship with animals, which is really about our relationships with ourselves. The way we feel about animals, not to mention our views on whether or not they ought to be eaten, are inextricably intertwined with our views on human beings, God, nature, and morality. And you expect to untangle all of this over a dinner party?

The point is, when we talk about vegetarianism, we also talk about all of these other matters. ("Here comes everyone.") So its no surprise that people get extremely emotional about it. However, let us do ourselves a favor, and try to separate two things when we discuss veganism/ vegetarianism: ethics and health.

1.) Ethics
I went vegan for ethical reasons. (And to impress my hot vegan boyfriend at the time. So shoot me.) I thought about it deeply and felt that, if I were on a desert island alone with my dog, I would probably have to eat her. But not being on a desert island, I was privileged to not have to eat my dog, or any other animal. I always could, but I don't have to. So why should I contribute to a system that harms the planet, causes unspeakable cruelty to living beings, and facilitates human rights abuses on labor?

The answer, for me, is obviously I shouldn't. BUT.... what if I lost that privilege of being able to choose? What if I had to eat meat?

2.) Health
When I went vegetarian almost 10 years ago, I noticed two changes to my health: one, I didn't get stomach aches anymore (I think I was mildly lactose intolerant) and two, I ate a wider range of food which made me feel happier.

But that's basically it, friends. I didn't lose weight, my skin didn't clear up, I didn't notice a huge change in energy or mood... basically, I was the same, but I liked my food a lot more and enjoyed cooking a lot more. But for me, it wasn't some miraculous health change. (I know it is for some.) It also, on the other hand, did not have any negative effects. I had the same health problems as before (eczema, hay fever) at the same levels, and didn't suffer from any huge physical changes.

But here's where I bring up the example of the artist formerly known as Voracious Vegan... she did experience massive changes apparently. She got very ill, lost her energy, and became depressed. To me, this effectively removes her choice. This is now the desert island scenario.

It is my opinion that if, for whatever reason, you cannot sustain a vegan diet (and given the variety of people on this planet, this has to be a possibility for some) than you should not have to sacrifice your health and happiness to do so. Similarly, you should not continue to eat grains if you are gluten intolerant or peanuts if you have a nut allergy. (Isn't this sort of a no-brainer?) I can't see any reason why a vegan diet cannot provide all of the essentials that people need for their life, but I'm not a doctor so how the hell should I know? Listen to your doctor and don't eat what makes you sick.

I love animals, but I love myself more, and I would not put myself at risk to be vegan. So far, I have never had any diet-related health problems in my 10 years of vegetarianism and 6 or so years of pretty decently adherent veganism. I don't personally know any other vegans that have either. But I am willing to admit that it is possible and that if you are struggling big time, maybe you should try something else. Let's not torture people to beleaguer the point, vegans: if everybody ate less meat we would already be getting somewhere important, and forcing people to stick to a diet they don't like, or even makes them sick, is not our job.

Voracious Vegans
That being said, I was bewildered to read, both on the comments section of Voracious Eats and elsewhere, tons of people angrily tearing down vegans as propagandists, liars, cheats, and fundamentalists, who will do anything to get their way. Looking around at vegan cooking blogs, I see so much positivity, delicious food, and just general love- but maybe I'm not reading the right blogs?

The way I see it, vegan food speaks for itself. It is just as delicious as non-vegan food, with the added benefit of not containing dead animals. If that's not enough of a sell for you, then I'm not going to be able to convince you by screaming "meat is murder!" I was really disappointed to see people accusing Tasha of having lied about her illnesses or secretly hating animals or calling her a bitch and even evidently sending her and her family death threats. (WTF?) Guys, we don't win the war against factory farming and cruelty to animals by attacking non-vegans, especially people who tried it and couldn't make it work for them. In my opinion it is much more effective to seduce people gently, by serving them delicious vegan and vegetarian options to eat, providing them with information if necessary, and raising awareness of the dangers of the current food system. A lot of people come over on their own, but almost no one changes the way they think about food because of being cursed out or attacked. I mean, is that how you went vegan?

Its not necessary to demonize non-vegans. People contribute to the cause in their own way, and if that way is veganism, then that is awesome, please pass the cupcakes. But if not, it doesn't mean you are an evil person. Just as my diet doesn't make me a fanatic or human-hater. But also not a saint.


Vegan Mofo: Polenta w/ Plantains and Onions

I know what you are thinking. "Sweet Lord, this woman eats a lot of plantains." Yes, ok, but  in comparison to Budapest, Berlin might as well be the Dominican Republic for how many plantains are available and I am taking advantage while I still can. These dear "koch bananen" are so wonderful in savory stews, curries, enchiladas.. you name it, and I miss them terribly when I'm gone. (Gone where, you ask? Weeeelll I am in the first stages of arranging a move to Belgrade, Serbia in a few months to continue the work I started in Budapest on statelessness and legal invisibility. Its exciting!)

For this "recipe" I simply browned some plantains and some onions in a pan while boiling the water for polenta. When said water was boiled, I whisked in the polenta, then waited till it was thickened to add in plantains and onions. On top was plenty of salt, pepper, sweet paprika, cumin and hot sauce. A perfectly decadent comfort food lunch. Also, polenta is so cheap and makes so much, it is an excellent investment for the pantry.