Cookbook Review: Vegan Brunch

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Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes Worth Waking Up For--From Asparagus Omelets to Pumpkin Pancakes

At this point in her cookbook writing career, I think Isa could put out a book titled 137 Ways to Cook Brussels Sprouts and it would not only be a best seller, but a favorite on vegan messageboards everywhere (Really. Her roasted brussels sprouts recipe is great.). After the success of Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and Veganomicon, it’s little surprise that Vegan Brunch got such hype (and then lived up to it).

Isa’s Basic Scrambled Tofu recipe is quite good. I’d gotten so used to my own hodgepodge of spices, nootch, and turmeric that it was refreshing to try someone else’s recipe. Our first attempt came out a bit salty, but we cut back the second time around and it was nearly perfect. We also enjoyed the swiss chard frittata quite a bit.

The Perfect Pancakes lived up to their name. The secret ingredient here is maple syrup; having it in the pancakes as well as on top of them makes a big difference. We made it with half all-purpose flour and half spelt flour with very good results.

Other big-time winners (and recipients of the rare “double plus” rating in our notes): Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes (which do a surprisingly good job of capturing the flavor and spirit of crab cakes considering Isa had never actually eaten one before — do yourself a favor, though, and double the sauce… it’s really tasty), Whole Wheat Crepes (super quick and super tasty), and Red Flannel Hash (a great way to use those beets from the CSA that you don’t know what to do with).

The two recipes that I’ve enjoyed the most so far are the ones I was most anticipating. First: New York-style bagels, made from scratch. Sure, I had to get up at 7am to start making them in order to have them ready by 10, but it was totally worth it. That first morning they’re crispy outside and chewy inside and just perfect. I had no idea that making bagels at home was possible, let alone with such good results. The second show stopper: Cherry Sage Sausages. Using a nifty cooking tip from fellow vegan chef Julie Hasson, Isa pairs chopped dried cherries with a surprisingly easy to make steamed seitan sausage. Fry these babies up and you will be 100% satisfied.

Only two times so far have we come up a bit disappointed. The Chive Spelt Mini-Biscuits sounded promising but came out funny tasting — I’m betting that it was due to bad baking soda or flour, though (which means I probably shouldn’t be mentioning the recipe in a negative way, but I promise I’ll correct this review if they come out better the second time around). We were also not as happy with the Banana Rabanada as we expected. Again, I’ll give it a second chance because it just sounds so promising.

With sections dedicated to savory, sweet, sides, breads, toppings, and drinks, Isa takes you from the familiar to the exotic. The food photography is beautiful and as with her previous books, Isa’s commentary is fun, useful, and eminently readable. She’s got another winner here.

Now bring on the cookie book.

Talking With People Suffering from CDD

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CDD. So many people have it. In fact, we all do to some degree, but as vegans, we tend to bump up against it in almost any conversation with have with someone about the way we live our lives.

CDD is Cognitive Dissonance Disorder, a completely made-up malady that serves as a good introduction to two encounters that my wife and I had with people this weekend.

The Monkey Torturer

My wife took our daughter to a birthday party in our neighborhood recently and chatted a bit with the girl’s parents while the kids were playing. She comes to find out that the husband does “research” on monkeys. What kind of research, you ask? Something amazing and potentially life-changing for the entire world, because that’s what medical research is all about?

No. Of course not.

The project he’s working on involves “testing the mother-child bond.” One group of monkeys have their children taken away from them right after giving birth. The second group of monkeys have their children taken away a week later. And, of course, all are kept in cages and, according to him, “don’t mind it.”

I don’t need to tell you this is torture. I don’t need to tell you this is stupid. And I don’t need to tell you that we would never even consider doing this to humans, but for some reason, it’s OK to some because it’s being done to monkeys. What is the possible justification for this type of research? I have no idea.

I wasn’t at this party, and it’s probably a good thing. I don’t think I could have held a civil conversation when justified monkey torture was the topic.

(Oh, and for added fun, the research lab is just minutes away in the same town as Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.)

The Baffling Rescuer

Last weekend in our town there was a “Dog Days” event where a couple of blocks downtown were closed off and people were encouraged to bring their dogs down for a pet-friendly fair. It was a nice event overall and there were a number of interesting vendors and groups in attendance.

One was a greyhound rescue group. After looking through their literature, I asked one of the representatives whether they did any work lobbying against racing. She told me that the organization is officially “racing neutral.” She said that if they wanted to be able to continue getting the dogs from the tracks, they needed to remain neutral. That made sense to me.

As we continued our conversation, I proceeded with the assumption that even though the organization was racing neutral that the woman herself would be against racing. I mean, obviously, right?

She told me that she’d read that greyhound racing would likely be non-existent by 2015 because it was becoming less and less profitable each year. I said, “Well, that’s good.” She replied, “It would be a shame because we’d be losing a great, great breed…”

Those who know me know that I’m not a confrontational person. To a fault, actually. But at this point, we kind of got into it.

I explained that it’s not right to bring animals into existence just to treat them badly (at this point I didn’t even get into the “or for our use” thing, because, again I assumed she was against racing). She then asked me, “Have you ever actually been to a track and seen how they’re treated?” I told her I had not (and really wanted to use my favorite “and I don’t need to be hit in the face with a lead pipe to know it hurts” line, too, but I didn’t). She then assured me that most racers treated their dogs wonderfully.

Wait a second. Most racers treat their dogs wonderfully, but they’re discarded at a mere 3-4 years old? And if it wasn’t for your own organization, these dogs would die? I told her that, to me the treatment of an animal that you’re using for your own purposes is incidental. The use of an animal at all, I told her, is the problem. She acted like this was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard.

She then proceeded to throw goofy statements at me like, “Well, you can’t tell me you don’t get something out of having a dog? Isn’t that ‘using’ her?” (“Of course I get pleasure from having her in the family, but that’s not why she’s with us.”)

We both took a deep breath and paused a moment. I told her I appreciated the work her organization was doing and thanked her for being involved. I moved on, still baffled that someone could voice support for an industry that necessitated her rescue organization’s very existence.

When I got home, I tweeted about it and asked Mary Martin if this type of stance was common among greyhound rescuers and rescue organizations:

thevegblog: Got into it with a woman from a greyhound rescue organization today. She was defending greyhound racing. @mary_martin, is that normal?

mary_martin: They often say that their 501c3 status prevents them from having an opinion, but that’s BS. They get $ from the track & the $ they get makes them beholden to the industry. It’s a tough spot IF you want $ from the track.

thevegblog: The woman said the org was “racing neutral” in order to keep getting the animals, but she herself defended racing. Seems crazy.

mary_martin: Yeah, that’s a typical response. & from the adopter side, deciding 2 adopt from someone like that is difficult.

After a weekend of such encounters, I’m looking forward to working the farm this Saturday and going to a potluck with other vegan families on Sunday.

Cookbook Review: Vegan Soul Kitchen

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“I don’t eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets
only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat
I’m from the old school, my household smell like soul food, bro
curried falafel, barbecued tofu…”

– “Be Healthy,” Dead Prez

(Note: anytime I can quote “Be Healthy,” I do.)

Vegan Soul Kitchen

Bryant Terry‘s Vegan Soul Kitchen fills a niche that’s been long left empty: good, healthy vegan food rooted in traditional African-American cuisine. It’s one of many excellent cookbooks released this year and is definitely one that belongs on your shelf if you’re looking to get more veggies into your diet.

Our two favorite dishes from Vegan Soul Kitchen come from the “salads, slaws, and dressing” chapter and both are great for dinner or potlucks. The first is Roasted Red Potato Salad with Parsley-Pine Nut Pesto. It takes a little while to prepare, but is a really flavorful alternative to the mayo-heavy potato salad that usually finds its way onto summer picnic tables. A few pages later comes the recipe we’ve made more than any other in the book, Wild Style Salad (Rock the Bells Remix). Sure, I was predisposed to liking it given that it’s named after one of the greatest movies of all time (and the “remix” refers to one of old school hip-hop’s best tracks), but I suspect even if you’re completely unfamiliar with Fab 5 Freddy’s fine acting and L.L.’s brash teenage braggadocio, you’ll dig this salad. Its base is wild rice, four different colored bell peppers, and some raisins and cashews. The dressing is a mixture of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, agave, and some salt, pepper, and oil. The end result is a bright, vibrant, filling salad that’s packed with protein, minerals, and B vitamins. Love it, love it, love it.

Since we’re smack in the middle of autumn here, we’ve also tried out two of the recipes from the “root vegetables and winter squashes” section of the “So Fresh and So Green Green” chapter. We enjoyed both the smooth and sweet Roasted Sweet Potato Puree with Coconut Milk as a dip/spread and the Cumin-Cayenne Mashed Potatoes with Carmelized Onions, which provides just enough of a kick without being overpowering.

Other dishes we’ve tried: Citrus Collards with Raisins Redux (a great way to get your greens – also try his Collard Confetti, made with the leftover stems, with some sugar and balsamic), Sweet Sweetback’s Salad with Roasted Beet Vinaigrette (not for everyone’s tastes, but very bold if you dig arugula, beets, and candied walnuts), and the Carrot-Cranberry-Walnut Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette (the one recipe we’ve tried that was underwhelming).

In addition to being filled with great recipes organized in unique ways (there’s a whole chapter just for watermelon!), Vegan Soul Kitchen is a really entertaining read. The stories behind some of the food are longer than the recipes themselves and each dish is given a suggested music soundtrack ranging from MF Doom to Ann Peebles to Grant Green to DJ Spooky remixes of Charlie Parker. A fan even compiled two imixes on iTunes of 170 of the songs referenced in the book.

So, a big thumbs up for Vegan Soul Kitchen. If you don’t know, now you know…

RIP, Sammy

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RIP, Sammy

Last night, my family’s cat Sammy died. I still remember back in 1992 when Sammy came to us as a kitten for my sister’s birthday. Sammy was an independent cat early on who, though he interacted with people, was known to turn on a dime while you were petting him. In his later years, after my sister and I moved out, he changed quite a bit. Perhaps it was the addition of another cat to the household or the deaths of our dogs Bosco and Lady, but he became very affectionate towards people and significantly less grouchy.

He had some strange habits. He enjoyed “relations” with a stuffed dog and looked guilty when he was caught because of making too much noise. He also enjoyed vegetables — broccoli and even corn on the cob. I’m not an expert on cat behavior, but from what I understand, this is somewhat unique.

But for all his youthful attitude and strange habits, he was a really nice cat and I always looked forward to seeing him on trips home to visit the family. It’s hard to believe he was around for what’s half of my life, but he was and was happy and healthy up until a few months before his death.

We’ll miss you, Sam.

My Five-Year Veganversary

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Five years ago today, I came home from work and sat at my computer. I’d been vegetarian for four years and in recent months had been really transitioning away from dairy and eggs. I was consuming very little and writing even less about it (readers of the Veg Blog thought I was vegan long before I actually was), but I hadn’t made the firm commitment to completely forgo all animal products. This night, something wasn’t sitting well with me as I thought about it. It was the eve of my 29th birthday and I wasn’t quite sure what was holding me back.

For some reason, I watched Meet Your Meat. I may or may not have watched it before and I’d surely seen similar footage a dozen times since I went vegetarian. But something about this viewing on this night was different. I finished the short video and declared to myself (my wife hadn’t returned home from work yet), “I’m done. No more messing around. I’m vegan now.” And I never looked back.

I’ve been vegan now for longer than I was vegetarian. That feels significant. I think it’s because the only regret I have is that I didn’t go vegan sooner, that I messed around for so long, avoiding the commitment.

Over those five years, my outlook on things has changed significantly. I’ve become much more aware of how connected our exploitation of animals is to our exploitation and mistreatment of humans and the environment. My views on the role of animal welfare activism have changed. Most certainly, my tastes have changed and I’m eating and enjoying foods I wouldn’t have touched ten years ago. My relationship with animals (of all species) has changed. I’ve made some of the most incredible friends and acquaintances in “the movement,” people that inspire me with their words and actions every single day. I have an amazing family, including a daughter we’ve raised vegan from birth. And though I still have days where I feel cynical and hopeless about the way things are, most of the time I’m filled with hope, knowing that even if we don’t completely eliminate the use of animals in my lifetime, there are a lot of good people out there and things are changing.

Five years isn’t long in the grand scheme of things, I realize, but I know I’ll never go back. There’s lots to be done and five years is just a start.

As the Roots Radics said: forwards ever, backwards never.

(Also, happy 5-year veganversary to Lindsay at Vegan Chai, who remembers every year that we went vegan on the same day. This year, it’s my turn to remember!)