Thursday, June 30, 2011

Making Life Easier - Part Deux

I live in Barbados but I’m from Portland, Oregon, so “going home” takes a full day of air travel. I took my first trip as a vegetarian in April and enjoyed every minute of it!

Before the trip I checked out the annual airport guide that’s published by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (2010 Report). I was flying through Dallas and was happy to see that DFW ranked fairly well in terms of vegetarian fare. The guide gives a few suggestions but mainly it’s helpful to know where the airport ranks – do I have to pack a bunch of food or not! Surprisingly, Detroit ranked as the healthiest airport in America for 2010. Shocker.

My flight departed at 10:10 a.m. so I had plenty of time for a good breakfast before heading off to the airport. Even if your flight is ridiculously early, take the time to eat a substantial breakfast OR pack a breakfast sandwich, etc. for the wait at the airport. Nothing says “poor decisions” like an empty stomach in a fast-food-filled-food-court.

In my carry on I packed some cashews, three Luna bars, two servings of Rosemary Triscuits, my thermos, 10 tea bags of various flavor and a tube of NUUN. I’m a big eater so this treasure trove is really just a tiny meal. I banked on the Dallas airport to come through big! And it did…

I had a 90 minute layover in Dallas that turned into 3.5 hours so I had plenty of time to check out my food options! Au Bon Pain was the clear winner in my wing of the airport – veggie burger on whole wheat ciabatta with roasted red peppers and guacamole spread. YUM. The sandwich at Au Bon Pain was so good that I bought another one as "food insurance" for the trip from Dallas to Portland. They also had two clearly marked vegetarian soup options. This is SO helpful as I’ve discovered that most soups that don’t have obvious meat are still made with chicken stock. You may have read my rant about Progresso Soups in a previous post – of their 11 Vegetable Classics Soups – only 1 is vegetarian. What is UP with that?

As I walked around checking out the airport restaurant menus I found a lot of decent options – not just salad. A good veggie burger at a sports bar, vegetarian pasta options at a nicer restaurant. Chili’s has the Guiltless menu with at least two meatless options, and then there’s always a bean burrito at Taco Bell. I’ve confirmed it six ways to Sunday – Taco Bell no longer uses lard in their refried beans. If all else fails, you can hit the magazine store and cruise the packaged snack wall. This is really last ditch as the sodium in those bags just adds to the flight bloat your body is already experiencing. Combat the bloat with plenty of water – rivers of water.

Next up was my absolute delight at flying Alaska Airlines. I am a big believer in the airlines not handing out meals anymore. Just think of how much unnecessary waste and waistline those meals produced over the years – sodium anyone?! Now we're able to do a rarely remembered thing in this world called “taking care of ourselves!” The best way to do that is to make us pay for what we want. Let us show you what we want with our precious dollars. Or not! We have options and responsibility! Top 3 ways Alaska Airlines made my day:

1) 100% of plastic service items are recycled in an initiative proposed by the flight attendants. They came through the aisles with big ol’ rubber gloves on and sorted the recyclables as they went. It made people SEE the effort and by the time the flight attendants got to my row, people had it DOWN and had sorted their own crap. Happy.
2) Alaska offered both a vegetarian AND a vegan meal right alongside the turkey club and Angus burger. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Mediterranean Tapas Picnic Pack - $6 USD
(Vegan and gluten-free)
Food Should Taste Good® multigrain chips, Mario® snack olives, Wild Garden™ sun-dried tomato hummus dip, Madi K's almonds, Stretch Island Fruit Co.™ fruit strip, Harry London dark espresso chocolate

3) The flight attendants were happy, well-dressed and fully amenable to filling my thermos as many times as I asked without the “harried flight attendant” look. I couldn’t ask for more.

One last tip - When you arrive at your destination, log on to Yelp and Happy Cow and enter the city or zip code + vegetarian. This will give you a base of information that comes in handy throughout the trip. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants crop up in the strangest places! Remember to pay it forward and submit reviews on Yelp and Happy Cow if you enjoy a restaurant or (better yet) if you find a great vegetarian dish at a regular restaurant. I found those types of reviews very helpful along the way. If you feel like taking a look into the face of Vegetarian Heaven – type zip code 97205 into Yelp and behold the wonder of Portland, Oregon.

I can't tell you how many times a day of bad travel eating has led to a vacation of unhealthy eating. It is the ugliest of chain reactions. Travel doesn’t have to knock you off your game. While you can’t control the weather, flight delays, slow walkers, militant stroller moms or air turbulence – you can easily take control of your food and your health while traveling.

I would love to hear from you. Do you have vegetarian travel tips to share? I’m all ears!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Making Life Easier - Part One

{This lamb has nothing to do with the following post but I cannot get over the cuteness! This photo was taken by the writer of one of my favorite beautiful blogs - Honey Rock Dawn - check it out!}

The first few weeks and even months can be difficult. You’re a little foggy on vegetarian options at your old favorite restaurants, whole entire zones of the grocery store are being avoided, and going to dinner at a friend’s house makes for uncertainty and potentially uncomfortable moments. Nothing screams *awkward* like your sad little plate of lettuce leaves at a dinner party where you don’t know all of the guests!

Is it worth it? Of course it is!

At 10 months into the journey, I’ve latched on to a couple of tip and tricks you may find useful.

Dinner in someone else’s home...

Who is meeker than a new vegetarian? “Oh, it’s ok, don’t worry about me” “I’m fine, I ate!” “Please… don’t make anything special for me”. Enough already! Please tell the hostess that you don’t eat meat. Remember – they invited you because they like you. Nothing makes a hostess feel worse than a dinner guest with absolutely nothing on their plate because they weren’t told there was a vegetarian in the mix! Telling them you’re veg doesn’t mean you’re dictating their menu but at least they will think to throw together some sort of side dish with the pulled pork. Think of it as saving the hostess!

I always offer to bring something as well. You can almost always bring a hummus plate to any party. If you’re concerned that hummus may be the only thing you’re eating at dinner, make sure to make plenty of pita chips to go along. Veggie sticks will not tide you over Rover! I brought an additional main dish to a dinner party recently (AFTER speaking with the hostess) and it worked out fantastic! The dish sparked conversation about vegetarianism and three or four people tried tofu for the first time and liked it!

Very Important If you get to bring a dish –make it delicious. This is not the time to experiment! This may be the only time a big burly meat-eatin’ guy will acquiesce to try tofu – make it count. Make it beautiful.

Dinner in your own home...

This shouldn’t be tricky but it is! If you plan on hosting a dinner party of your own, take your guests into consideration. My husband still eats meat so we provide an option for dinner – say grilled chicken. (I wish it wasn’t so but I’ve got to pick my battles!) It’s my job to make the side dishes so delicious and beautiful that the chicken takes a back seat if only for a night! If you live alone, cooking chicken for your guests is not going to happen so take special care to make a main dish that feels familiar and hearty. One of the biggest misconceptions about vegetarians is that we just sit around munching on carrot sticks. Not SO! Make a hearty dish – show em’ what we’re made of!

Another great option for a home meal is any kind of “bar” – taco bar, pizza bar, etc. Vegetarians can rule the roost here with loads of expertly cooked and seasoned vegetables and even some meat/cheese substitutes that may surprise your guests. During a Mexican fiesta with a taco or quesadilla bar I typically serve seasoned soy burger that goes almost undetected. If you have access to a Vegan cheese like Daiya no one will ever know the difference. One taco at a time! This type of “self-assembly” meal takes all the pressure off and lets your guests try new things if they wish…

Dinner out...

Go ethnic! Mexican, Indian, Italian, Chinese – these foods are your friends. At my fantastic Indian/Thai place there are so many meatless dishes that I haven’t been able to try them all! Black bean enchiladas avoid the “refried bean lard factor” and there is always a pasta dish with fresh vegetables or a wicked baked ziti on any Italian menu. The two times I’ve asked if the chef could make a vegetarian meal “off the menu” both were delicious and creative. You never know what skills the chef is dying to use! Let them run wild with no special conditions or suggested ingredients. You’ve already asked for something that’s not on the menu – the rest is up to them.

If you know you’re stuck going to a steakhouse for dinner (Sorry, by the way) just know that steakhouses have some of the best side dishes in town. Their salads are traditionally wonderful and there’s always the baked potatoes, creamed spinach and veggie sides. Not ideal but if it’s your niece’s rehearsal dinner and you really can’t shake the steakhouse – you won’t go hungry.

Lastly, if you are heading out for a meal with a group from work or with family and friends, suggest a vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurant if you are asked. You may get overruled and that’s A-OK – you are ready and prepared for anything! But wouldn’t it be nicer if everyone in your sphere of influence had the opportunity to pick a kinder option because of your suggestion?

I started out as possibly the meekest veg in the world. Who was I to take up a vegetarian lifestyle? O’ Cooker of Pork! But slowly, I am coming into my own. I am finding my voice and I am beginning to use it. It’s easier to speak up when I remember that I’m speaking in support of my health and in support of those who have no voice. It all gets crystal clear in no time.

With love, Lauren

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Joyful Leaps of Logic!

I received this email today from a good friend who is an active and committed Catholic.

"It just dawned on me that, with your new stance on animals, you will be a huge proponent of pro-life. Then it dawned on me that all the vegetarians and vegans in the world must be pro-lifers too. Terrific!"

I looked at that posting and a big bunch of love washed over me for my friend. I love the logic and I love that vegetarianism sparks all sorts of fiery conversations. Using this logic, I too can assume that all those who take a pro-life stance must also be vegetarian or vegan. Life is life, right? Terrific!

These analogies and leaps of logic seem funny in a way but really, are they so far off? To me, this banter addresses the illogical ways we deal with the lives of animals and the ways we compartmentalize "life".

*We adore our pets but think nothing of eating pigs. Yet, pigs are more intelligent than our pets.

*We teach children to be kind to animals while we feed them chicken nuggets and a glass of milk.

*We make fun of and are repulsed by the fact that they eat dogs in rural China yet we slaughter 10 billion farm animals in America each year.

*We spend millions of dollars visiting zoos and animal refuges each year while wearing leather shoes and coats and stopping by the zoo café for a hamburger or hot dog.
Safari Kitchen at the San Diego Zoo
"The Kitchen is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view of Lost Forest. The menu includes burgers, Hebrew National All-Beef hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, BBQ pork riblet sandwiches, taquitos, and nachos. Enjoy a specialty coffee drink and pastry at the adjacent Jungle Java!"

Is a beating heart a beating heart? Or not?

Not to infuse too much drama but that IS the question. Do you believe that animals exist solely for our use, our consumption and to endure our treatment of them? Or do you believe that they are uniquely created from the same light that created us -that they feel, love, mourn and know?

Q: If I know it's true of my dog, then why don't I believe it of a cow, a pig or a chicken?

"If any kid ever realized what was involved in factory farming they would never touch meat again. I was so moved by the intelligence, sense of fun and personalities of the animals I worked with on Babe that by the end of the film I was a vegetarian."
- James Cromwell

"The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different."
- Hippocrates

"All beings tremble before violence. All love life. All fear death. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?"

Thanks to my friend for the thought provoking email! These are all things I will continue to ponder...

With love, Lauren

Monday, June 13, 2011

Polenta Sausage Stuffing - Quick Comfort!

Yes, vegetables are a crucial component of a vegetarian diet but they are far from your only option! Sometimes you just need to have a bowl of happiness that resembles (if not wallops!) an old favorite.

This quick dish provides a lovely side dish for your non-veg friends at Thanksgiving OR produces a big ol’ bowl just for you while watching back-to-back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on a rainy day. Not that I would know anything about that…

¼ of a ‘polenta tube’* diced into 1 inch cubes (ish!)
1 Morningstar Farms Italian Sausage
¼ sweet onion, finely diced
½ stalk celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 big pinch each – Dry thyme, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper

I should say a bit about fake meats before continuing on with the recipe. I ate a LOT of fake meats when I first became vegetarian. For forty years, the overwhelming majority of my meals looked about the same on my plate...

Large piece of protein + smaller pile of carb + the hint of a vegetable = Meal.

Changing the look of my plate took some getting used to and fake meats helped bridge the gap. I’m a huge proponent of zero criticism of diet while newly minted vegetarians are starting out. Whatever you have to do to piece together 24 hour periods is just fine by me!

Once I got the hang of “no meat”, I knew I had to get closer to “no processing”. Ever check out the list of ingredients on a Boca Burger package? Do it – it’s biblical. I have since moved away from the fakes and do my best to include them only once or twice per month. THAT is why I feel A-OK about eating a "fauxsage" on occasion. I hope you enjoy it!

Spray a sauté pan with a little non-stick spray and place the frozen sausage in the pan. Turn every 30 seconds or so until all sides have a little browning. Pour 3 tablespoons of water into the pan and cover with a lid. Let it sizzle away until all of the water has evaporated. Move the sausage over to one corner of the pan.

Spray a little more non-stick spray on your remaining cooking surface in the pan and toss in the onion and celery. Cook approximately 3 minutes and then add the garlic for 30 seconds.

Next, add the polenta cubes and “pinches”. Let the cubes sit for a minute or so to crisp up and then flip each piece to crisp the other side. Once you’ve got a little crust going on both sides, begin to stir things around a bit. Introduce the onions, celery and garlic to their newly seasoned friend polenta. They should all be eyeing the sausage in the corner at this point.

Use the end of your spatula to cut the sausage into six pieces(ish). These sausages crumble a little which is ideal. As you continue to toss everything together in the pan, crispy little pieces of polenta will mix with the brown bits from the sausage and the familiar stuffing spices to create yumminess. Feel free to break down the polenta and sausage as much as you like! For the picture below, I was too hungry to mess around with making smaller bits OR checking to see that my camera was in focus! Sorry about that...

After everything is mixed nicely and piping hot, remove from the stove and eat promptly. There is no waiting as the sausages do not “travel well”. Heat & Eat on this one! Oh, and give my regards to Derrick and Meredith 

*I'm a big fan of the polenta tube on a couple of levels. First, it requires no refrigeration, water in a pan or measuring. In fact, the little printed ruler on the side of the packaging does all of the measuring for you! It's also cheap and keeps for quite a while in the fridge after opening. All great qualities!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chipotle Lentil Burgers w/Cashew Miso Mayo

Our Vegetarian Cooking Class during Ayurveda Week was a yummy success! Once again, I have to send out huge thanks to Chandra Isa Moskowitz for her delicious recipes! Should I ever come across the opportunity to meet her - I'll probably tackle her :) For those of you who want to cook more of Chandra's delicious vegan recipes, check out her array of cookbooks including Veganomicon and Appetite For Reduction. Also, pay a visit to her popular website The Post Punk Kitchen.

Now, on with the show...

Chipotle Lentil Burgers

First, saute the following veggies for 7-10 minutes or until the zucchini is soft:
1/2 pound zucchini - cubed into 1/2 inch
3 minced cloves of garlic
Handful of rough chopped cilantro - stems and all

Transfer mixture to a food processor and add the following:
3/4 cup of bread crumbs
1 15 oz can cooked lentils (drained and rinsed)
1/4 cup chipotle chili in adobo sauce (seeds scraped and removed)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Pulse until mostly smooth but leave a little texture and then transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Here's the trick - now add 1/4 cup of bread crumbs to the mixture and work through with a fork to combine.

Divide the mixture into six patties and cook the burgers in a pan with non-stick spray for approximately 12 minutes - flipping often to get a nice brown crust.

These burgers even taste great cold the next day! Great for a beach lunch when tucked inside of a pita with some sprouts and...

Cashew Miso Mayo
1/4 cup raw cashews (soak in water for one hour prior)
1/4 cup red miso paste*
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Throw all into the food processor and whip like the dickens - that's it! Spread a little happiness!

*I'm hoping Red Miso is available at Singapura in Lime Grove. Michele was kind to bring it in on her flight from New York. I can order from Amazon and then divide it up among the group. It has to be refrigerated after opening so let me know if you're interested!

Hillaire will be posting the wonton recipe and her Kick Ass Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe soon!

Thanks again to all who came, laughed, ate, drank and TALKED!