Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lazy Woman's Enchilada Sauce

I enjoy making enchiladas out of leftover rice, spinach, and beans.  I tend to do this on weeknights, when I've just gotten home from work and I'm not really in the mood to sit down and cook a huge meal.  Rather than go to the trouble of making a from-scratch enchilada sauce, sometimes I take half a jar of spaghetti sauce and modify it to make it an enchilada sauce.

This idea occurred to me when I looked at the ingredients of a jar of tomato and garlic spaghetti sauce and noticed that enchilada sauce had the same base ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, and oregano.

To transform plain ol' pasta sauce into Lazy Woman's Enchilada Sauce, add:

2 tablespoons unsweetened baker's chocolate
4-5 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons all purpose flour (for thickening -- don't use if you plan on keeping enchiladas warm in the oven for some time)

Combine in saucepan, simmer for 4-5 minutes, pour over enchiladas, and then bake.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Vegan Cupcakes

O-kay.  I have not abandoned this blog, although it might seem like I have.  An unusually frantic Spring* turned into a huge Summer writer's block, and now it's Labor Day Weekend and here we are.

It is fitting, then, that my latest recipe is a Spring / Summer cupcake recipe that I have modified for Fall.  So here we go....

Apple Cinnamon Vegan Cupcakes
(Inspired by the recipe for strawberry cupcakes from the book The Happy Herbivore, by Lindsay S. Nixon.)

Ingredients (makes 12)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 cups Vanilla flavored Almond Milk (I like Silk's Real Almond)
2 tsps lemon juice

Dust the tops with powdered sugar, or you can use a quick (non vegan) cream cheese frosting.
(I have not tried to make tofu frosting yet, trying to do so will be another post.)

Quick Cream Cheese Frosting

1/4th cup powdered sugar
1/2 of a stick of cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla

Cream together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and cream cheese until they are fully blended together.  Should frost 12.

*My grandmother got very sick and died.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Animal Liberation -- Peter Singer (eds. 1975, 1990, 2002) Part II: Factory Farming Is Horrific and You Don't Need Meat

I'm not going to talk much about the chapter of Animal Liberation that deals with factory farming, both because the frustrating way they updated the book made it a really confusing chapter to read, but also because the topic has been done to death. Factory farming is a blight on the environment, our moral fabric, and the economy, we get it.

At the end of the book, Peter Singer finds a better historical parallel for the struggle for animal rights than the Civil Rights Movement: he compares the Animal Liberation movement to the social change experienced by a Christianizing Rome.  Although he does neglect to mention that people were still being crucified well into the era of the Holy Roman Empire, the changes he does site: the fact that gladiators came to be viewed as murderers, the idea -- imported from Judaism -- that religion was supposed to give people moral guidelines to refrain from pursuing courses of interest that may damage other people, parallel the growing level of awareness that animals are not just appliances for our use, as Aristotle and Descartes would have us believe. 

I really enjoyed the Short History of Vegetarianism chapter.  It has become a cliche for the mass media to attribute all progressive social movements to the nineteen sixties, so it was doubly refreshing to read about Greek and Roman vegetarians.  There are also parallels to the modern animal activist movements: by the middle of the nineteenth century there had already been a few revolutionary thinkers who questioned the way animals were treated by human society. Voltaire protested against vivisection, the RSPCA won the battle to ban turnspit dogs from kitchens, the British Vegetarian Society was founded, and a bunch of American reformers got all freaky-deaky and vegetarian in communes in upstate New York.  We as vegetarians have a long heredity. 

Next on the Feast:  Vegan Cupcakes

Friday, February 25, 2011

Animal Liberation -- Peter Singer (eds. 1975, 1990, 2002) Part I: Lab Animals

I'm breaking up my review of Animal Liberation into two parts because I haven't finished the book yet.  I'm a fairly fast reader, but the constant descriptions of what amount to graphic torture scenes are really hard to plow through.  It's like Martyrs but with chimpanzees instead of irritatingly beautiful French women.

The edition I have is the newest -- and the fact that the book has been through three different rewrites in three different eras makes reading it a historically interesting but also incredibly schizophrenic experience.  Although Australian philosopher Peter Singer does his best to let the reader know when he has updated sections of the material, I still found myself stopping in the middle of a paragraph and thinking, "okay, now that sounds like something someone in 1975 would think, but is it really applicable in 2002's -- or today's -- different social landscape?"  Maybe it's just the English major / historian in me talking, but I really wish Singer had just annotated the 1975 text and had done with it.  I'm a big girl. I've been to high school. I can read footnotes.

The other thing that bothered me was the constant comparison of "speciesim" to racism.  I understand what Singer was trying to accomplish, and I agree with him that in light of decades of scientific evidence that animals feel pain and even, in the case of chimps, have social structures and needs similar to those of humans, it's horrific to think of them being used in often pointless (more on that later) experiments. However, it seems a little disingenuous for a white guy to go around saying, "yes -- repressing farm animals is just like repressing human beings of a different color!" Because what qualifies him to talk about the experience of being racially oppressed, anyway?

It is also beside the point, Singer's point being that animal experimentation is insufficiently evaluated by the responsible scientific authorities and largely unnecessary given our ever more sophisticated use of computer simulations.

But what about cancer and AIDS research?  Well, Singer points out that we've already had decades of cancer research using lab animals, and we're still losing the war on cancer. Also? The bodies of animals may be too different from the bodies of humans to make drug testing on animals of any real use. He then gets into a much criticized and absolutely horrifying ethical gray area by suggesting the use of brain damaged humans as an alternative, but I've read and reread those pages and I think he just makes that suggestion to highlight the inhumanity of using animals in research.    

Next;  The Evils of Factory Farming and Vegetarianism: A Short Guide

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cafe Jaffa, Back Bay, Boston

Jeannie Berlin knows that when you've got food on your face you've had a good meal.

I think I have a slight milk allergy.  There's something about dairy products that makes me sneeze.  In the past few months, any time I have something with yogurt or cheese or even *eugh* a glass of straight milk, I sneeze loudly and embarrassingly for about the amount of time it takes me to dig my bottle of generic allergy pills out of my messenger bag.  As I did tonight at Cafe Jaffa.  So I'm writing this review in a mild OTC fog.   I'm thinking maybe obtaining a couple vegan cookbooks might be in order if my sinuses are to rest in peace.  Expect to see some vegan-oriented material in the coming weeks. 

That said, Cafe Jaffa has an excellent atmosphere -- a picturesquely battered interior, jeweled lamps and brightly painted tables, and good food for a decent price.  You will have to deal with the (to me) slightly nauseating scent of people's sizzling shish kebabs frying as they're taken to the table on metal skillets, but if you don't mind the smell of meat cooking, you will love the vegetarian friendly menu. I had an Israeli white wine --  It was nearly expensive as my meal, but interesting. Dry, with a strong hint of honey. I think you might like it.  We started off our meal with a plate of "Potato Bourekas Cafe Jaffa Style", a savory cross between a dumpling and a knish: mashed potatoes with onions and spices wrapped in a noodle-like dough (it reminded me of the dough they make lotus seed buns out of), seasoned with sesame seeds and fried.  Eric ordered the Falafel Plate with Tahini Dressing, which was fresh and well prepared if (to me -- I'm not a fan of salad) a little on the bland side.  

I had the Big Momma. My name for it, not theirs, but a name that I think is apt: a hommus, baba gannouj, and falafel sandwich.  It was delicious -- crunchy, savory, with a sweet but tart bite from the baba --  but drippy. I felt a little like a revoltingly mannered diner in a movie as I dove into my dinner slurped up hommus and baba juice and got a little bit of falafel on my nose somehow.  Mmmmm.  Always a good sign. 

We took some baklava home, and it was good, but not as good as the best baklava I have ever had, which I had in 1995 at a Greek Orthodox church's bake sale and was one of the earliest "hey, food can be stunning" experiences in my memory.  But then again, no baklava will ever measure up to that.  Cafe Jaffa comes close, though. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gazpacho Almodovar

Promo pic from Broken Embraces (2009)

A close relative of mine landed in the hospital, and my cat died, so that's why January has been kind of a washout for me, Feast-wise. I also spent much of January working on my New Year's resolution to improve my Spanish so that I can have actual conversations with people about subjects other than the location of the bathrooms at the Museum of Science.  Which was a useful skill once upon a time, when I worked in Visitor Services at the Museum of Science, but hasn't come in that handy since.  So far, I have a noticed an improvement in my reading and writing skills, even if conversationally I'm still firmly stuck in Me Talk Pretty One Day territory. However, I have gotten to see a lot of really good Almodovar movies by way of wanting to improve my listening skills.  

For those of you who do not know Pedro Almodovar, his biggest claim to fame in the US is that he launched the careers of Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.  He is also a talented director in his own right, his movies are well known for mixing social commentary, Spanish culture, sympathy for the plight of women, and a large dose of good ol' fashioned sex and violence.  

I've noticed that many of his movies feature a dish I would like to call Gazpacho Almodovar, which to the best of my knowledge contains the following:

5 to 6 large ripe tomatoes
1 large cucumber
1 bulb garlic
3 tbs olive oil 
3 tbs red wine vinegar
4 chopped green and red bell peppers 
3 or 4 packages of sleeping pills 
2 1/2 cups ice water 
lemon juice 

Puree in blender.  Serve to whomever you want to bump off.  Hide body in cooler of abandoned restaurant, get mistaken for the owner, turn the whole operation into a thriving concern. Have situation go AWRY. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My life in food: Los Angeles

I first flew into Los Angeles in December of 2006, and I found there the same glamorous, depraved desert city that has existed in the American mindscape in news and in fiction for more than a century.  I was greeted at the luggage carousel by Eric, who had come to pick me up bearing a bus pass and a bottle of water.  His hands were chapped, and I suddenly noticed the air was extremely dry and that the view out the window featured a view of palm fronds and cacti.  I lived in a foreign country for a year, but I don't think flying into Edinburgh presented nearly the level of climate and culture shock flying into Los Angeles did.

Although it was much warmer in Los Angeles than in New England, the cold was surprisingly pervasive -- perhaps because there wasn't as much call for central heating in LA.  There were fast food restaurants everywhere in LA, some of them chains that had long since shuttered their doors in New England: Little Caesars, Arby's, Sizzler.  There also seemed to be an inordinate number of donut shops around.  We went to a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese place for lunch, it was a fast food place, and for some reason shared store space with a donut shop.  The food was bland, but I hadn't eaten since five that morning, so I devoured it rapidly.  When we went back outside, I noticed the roaches skittering down the sidewalk in a la de dah fashion. There were Christmas lights everywhere, looking rather forlorn in the glaring sun. I was on Mars.

The next day, we postponed our plans to go straight into Hollywood to checkout the vintage shops* in favor of stopping in a little dive on Vine to get burritos.  I tried to order in my clumsy Spanish, but ended up merely pointing at a sign and nodding.  Bean and rice burrito with hot pickled carrots.  Si, me gustarlo.  We sat at a chipped formica table and looked out into the parking lot.  A homeless man was taking a pee on a cactus.

The thing that would intrigue me about California most was the seemingly infinite variety of Mexican food.  The first time I tried cactus was on a later visit, in 2008, in a cafe on Olvera street called La Luz del Dia.  I had a veggie enchilada and a cactus salad.  It tasted like a really succulent pickle.  It burst on my tongue when I gently sucked on it and cooled my mouth down from its encounter with the enchiladas' habenero fire.  I loved it, but I loved it more the way it was cooked during my one and only visit to a Oaxacan restaurant: Guelaguetza in Koreatown. I had the Nopal Zapoteco sin bif.  It did not taste like pickle this time, more like a fresh green pepper, grilled and simmered in cinnamon and mole sauce and Oaxacan string cheese: it was absolutely gorgeous.

I experienced other culinary adventures during the time I was in LA:  I had a "Northeastern Style" pizza while laughing ironically.  (It wasn't bad, but pizza really doesn't taste the same in California as it does on this coast.)  I got to eat a surprisingly satisfying vegetable curry at a Japanese-owned fast food chain, Yoshinoya. Sadly, I could not find anyone to sell me corn-on-a-stick, although I tried mightily hard. I had a ginblossom at Musso and Franks, the way Buster and Mabel and Roscoe, those crazy kids in the crazy Twenties, might have done.

Not all our food experiences were gourmet. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches outside the Autry Museum of the American West, sitting in our rental car as a coyote looked on.  I fell completely in love with the coffee sold at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.  Once in a while, I'd sit in Winchell's with the city's homeless and have a donut and fresh orange juice while everyone around me had complicated conversations with invisible people.  I grabbed a box of granola bars at a dollar store and at them in the courtyard of LACMA just so I wouldn't have to leave the museum for lunch and therefore spend less time at an exhibit of German Expressionist painters.

Los Angeles is probably the most exciting city I've ever been in. I don't know if I ever want to live there, but I miss it so.

*LA has the best vintage shops I've ever been in.  They've got everything: shoes, wigs, bakelite baubles.  And they have so much of it -- I think all the wardrobe vaults in Hollywood must sell their stuff to these shops.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My life in food: College

Nota Bene:  My absence from this blog was inadvertent -- this past Christmas shall forever be known as "The Christmas of the Flu from Hell", because it blasted through me and most of the people I knew right in time for the holidays.  This year -- let's try something different.

I was 19 before I realized that what I had considered the daily chore of eating dinner was actually a communal ritual.  When I moved out of my folks' house the first time, I was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.  I had planned on attending college as a commuter student, but I during Freshman year I landed a job that, broken into chunks and done between classes,  kept me on campus twelve hours a day, and I was also subject to wild attacks of academic ambition* that progressively began to keep me on campus even longer than that. I've never liked driving very much anyway, so it was easy to decide that living on campus was a much better option for me.

After I unpacked my little red Malibu and furnished my side of the dorm room with the essentials - little white TV/VCR (this was in 2001), big bulky computer, Andy Warhol drawing of a cat, a spider plant - I went to the communal bathroom down the hall and threw up. 

My roommate arrived later.  She came in the room with her best friend and boyfriend, all speaking rapid Vietnamese and bearing mysterious parcels.  I could smell barbecued meat wafting from the quad, and I decided they needed privacy, so after I introduced myself I hurried out of the room in search of salad with a quick, tight smile. 

There was no salad, and I didn't think to bring snacks with me to school, so I decided to just be hungry.  I went back to my dorm... to discover an entire illegal kitchen set up! I had visions of the room burning down around us, but I almost didn't care.  It smelled so good -- spicy and sharp.  My stomach growled, but I didn't feel like going out in search of more food.  I sat down at my desk and prepared to distract myself from hunger by reading the newest Buffy review on Television Without Pity. 

I heard a voice behind me.  "Mary," said my room mate, "would you like to try some Vietnamese food?" She handed me a bowl of congee laced with thick streaks of pepper.  It was the best bowl of rice I'd ever tasted. 

That year, I learned to eat.  Vietnamese food, with its Buddhist roots, is exceptionally kind to vegetarians.  I learned just how good a bowl of steaming lemongrass pho tastes in the middle of an interminable New England winter.  I also learned about the delights of curried tofu, cucumbers pickled in hot pepper sauce and served  on rice, and the value of a good boiled duck egg after a long day of being an admin assistant.  I started to cultivate resteraunts:  the Viet Thai near the library was good for avocado shakes, the best tofu curry was at Pho Da Lat, the Battambang Market had the best deals on fresh veggies and little treats like almond Pocky and lychee jellies.  

That was the first year I'd ever celebrated Lunar New Year, sitting on the floor listening to Vietnamese oldies and eating oranges and playing mah jong.  I've made quite a few Asian friends since then, and I've had some pretty fun Lunar New Years (including a particularly crazy one spent at a Lez Zeppelin concert), but I think that first one remains my favorite.  

I also learned about the thrill of minor rule-breaking:  how to cook noodle and bok choy on a hot plate, how to angle the fan so the food smells went out the window, how to wash a rice cooker in a tiny dorm sink.  Hey, some roommates share the thrill of drinking under age, but even when I'm a badass I'm just trying to learn.

My roommate and her friend changed so much about the way I see and think about food:  the careful preperation beforehand, the friendly rituals of chopping and dicing, sharing one's day while working to provide food for a group.  My mom is a spectacular cook, but she used cooking to relax after a stressful day of teaching.  It was her alone time, and more power to her because she didn't really have all that much. However, it wasn't until I became a partner-in-hotplating that I realized what cooking meant to other people: something that could be shared and bonded over.  I think that was the true legacy of my year of eating Vietnamese food.  

*I was extremely prone to taking subjects I had a lot of interest in but very little natural ability for, such as physics and Japanese. I expanded my horizons, and tended to lose ten pounds a semester in sheer anxiety.