"Perfect" Holidays

I hear it frequently, but I think it bears repeating: the perfect holiday is one where you reflect on the things you're thankful for, and take time to love yourself. Family is wonderful, friends are great, lovers are important, but you come before all of them. Your own well-being should be your biggest concern.

When you find yourself getting stressed, angry, frustrated, or annoyed in general about having to get something done (whether it be the drive to a loved one's house, the wrapping of the gifts, the cooking of the meal, the waiting on the delivery), just stop. Stop, and breathe. Breathe, and find one thing that you're thankful for. Then, thank the universe for it. Breathe again. Breathe some more. Find your grounding, find your centre, find your peace, and connect to it.


Why are you doing all these things? Because there is someone in your life who loves you, whom you love back. What is the purpose of going through any of the effort that you're going through? To show your love. To show your respect, your kindness, your thoughtfulness. To show your gratitude.

Nobody (who truly matters) is keeping score (hopefully; if anyone is, that person isn't worth your time). Yes, the slow traffic is frustrating. But think of what's waiting at the other end: people who will be happy to see you. Yes, the meal is hard work to cook. But think of what happens when it's cooked: delicious food is ready, to be shared with people you care about. Yes, it sucks when the food goes wrong. But think of what you have when that happens: a funny story to share with your friends, and then Chinese food afterwards. Yes, the other humans at the store are crazy. But you don't have to be. Breathe.

It will be OK, no matter how it turns out, how late you are, how little you have to spend. It's OK. You are loved. You are cherished by someone, even if it's yourself.

You are you.



So this morning, the AM cook asked me if I'd like a cup of coffee. He'd just made himself one, and was offering me one. He's a nice enough guy, but tends to be reserved, which is why I'm always encouraging when he reaches out to me. When he recognises something I'm cooking, he'll grin, and name it (he used to work at an Indian restaurant). I'll smile back in pleasant surprise, and confirm. When he enjoys something I've made, he's usually quick to tell me. But aside from those few interactions, he tends to keep (mostly) to himself.

That's fine, though, because he's always friendly, and professional at work. That's really all I can ask from someone.

Anyway. Anyone who's known me for a while knows that caffeine hits me hard. If I have any in the morning, I'll be up all night. This goes so far as to give me issues with soda, green tea, black tea, coffee, or anything else containing caffeine. I knew that the coffee would likely have me wired all day. However, here he was, reaching out to me. I didn't want to refuse. As I sit here, sipping this wonderful tasting latte he made me, I started thinking about how we all use food as a way to connect with each other. How rituals like the morning coffee ritual at work tends to bring people together, even if they're not necessarily having a long conversation over said coffee.

Think about it. What do most people remember about their favourite holidays, aside from the enjoyable times that they have with their family? The festive meal. This goes double for any religion (like Judaism or Hinduism) that has prescribed dishes for said festive meal. On Pesach, you eat those bitter herbs, that horseradish stuff, the fruit & date mixture, the matza. On Thai Pongal (a Tamil harvest festival), you eat bowls of sweet or savoury pongal (lentils and rice dish, also called kichadi in the North). These foods are woven into the fabric of those holidays, and are important parts of anyone's memories of those holidays. It's a Very Big Deal.

So what do you do when your morals and the specific holiday in question don't quite line up? Do you eat before you leave home, and skulk in a corner with your plate of dry salad? Do you bring something with you? Do you starve? Do you respectfully (and far in advance) ask for something special to be made for you?

I don't know. The answer will vary depending on your situation. Here, however, I'm going to cover a couple of dishes that anyone can sort out, anywhere they live, even if they don't have access to Weird Vegan Ingredients™. Whether you ask someone to make it for you, make it yourself, or make a quick trip to the supermarket on the way there (or once you arrive there), these are all dishes that can be sorted out fairly quickly, with a minimum of fuss.

I encourage you, however, to ask the host if they'd be willing to make you the thing, if you can. Why? Because my coworker this morning got a good feeling by doing something nice for me: making me a cup of coffee. People reach out to each other with gifts of food. Whether that dish is complicated like a tofu lasagna, or simple, like a cup of coffee with some soymilk in, it's the gesture that matters, not the specific food. Either way, I hope you get some ideas on how to figure out what to eat when you're in non-vegan territory.

Roasted Potatoes For as much as I adore green vegetables, roasted potatoes have a sweet spot in my heart. They're so delicious, and easy to sort out, no matter where you are. Depending on the neighbourhood you're in, you may or may not be able to find all different kinds of potatoes. My favourites are the fingerling potatoes, and the baby red potatoes, but it will work with whatever you have. Toss the potatoes in just enough oil to coat them, and lay them (in a single layer) onto a baking sheet. If you're using a typical baking sheet, you'll need 2 of them for a 5-lb bag. Roast at 350°F for 40 minutes, then remove from the oven. Toss lightly to re-coat in the oil, and crank up the heat to 450°F. Let them roast at the higher heat for another 20 minutes or so.

Pasta with Tomato Sauce: A quick, cheater version of tomato sauce involves getting an onion, a can of crushed tomatoes (use diced or whole if that's all you can find), some olive oil, and some fresh herbs of your choice. Cook the onions in olive oil until they're softened. Add the herbs, and stir around with the onions until you can smell them. I personally like dried oregano, and basil, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, and cook over high heat until the sauce reaches the thickness you want. For me, it takes about five to seven minutes. You may need more or less time. Then, dump the cooked pasta into the sauce pot, and stir to combine. Let the whole thing come to a boil, and shut off the heat. Sprinkle on a bit more olive oil, some salt and black pepper, and you're set.

QUICK Beans & Rice: There are times when beans and rice just get the job done. If you or the person in question doesn't know how to cook rice, just get some from the local friendly Chinese restaurant. Listen, I know I'm supposed to encourage you to cook, but sometimes, you have to work with what you have. To make really fast beans, you'll need a can of beans, some curry powder, and an onion. Cook the onion in oil, along with 2 tsp of curry powder (for every 1 can of beans, you'll want one large onion, 2 TB of oil, and the 2 tsp of curry powder). When the onions soften, add the can of beans, water and all, and cook on high until the beans come to a boil. Add the rice, stir to combine, and keep cooking on high until it's thickened to your liking. Serve with salsa, guacamole, or any kind of raw vegetables you like (I like sliced cucumbers and carrots). The whole thing takes like ten minutes when you've got the rice cooked already.

Cheater Pilaf: Technically, pilaf should be the best quality spices, along with the best basmati rice you can find, and fresh cut vegetables. And then you realise that you're in a town where the good grocery store has three varieties of potato, five varieties of onion, and a few wilted leaves of something that looks like lettuce, but you don't actually eat it. It's for decoration, apparently. Even the dodgiest grocery store has a bag of mixed frozen vegetables. Every store I've been to has at least a box of rice in there somewhere.

Here's how you do it. Purists will be cringing, but it does taste delicious at the end of it all. Put two cups of rice to cook. In a separate pot, cook 1 large onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and 1/2 tsp of turmeric in 3 TB of whatever oil you have lying around. If you don't have turmeric, use about 2 tsp of curry powder. When the onions and garlic are softened, add 12 - 16 oz of frozen mixed vegetables of your liking. I'm fond of the "california mix" (it has cauliflower, broccoli, and peppers or something of that sort). Sautee the vegetables until they're not frozen anymore. Season with salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Keep cooking until the vegetables are cooked. When the rice is cooked, toss it through the cooked vegetables, and serve.

If you can get access to couscous, millet, or quinoa, this works equally well with them.

Aside from the usual suspects of hummus and pita (or sliced carrots, if you're gluten free), salsa/guac and tortilla chips, white beans & rosemary dip with crostini, bruschetta, or any other number of easily vegan dishes, these are just some ideas to get you thinking about vegan food in terms that even the most basic cook can master. Mind you, if the person who's cooking is more creative, please go for the best you can find by all means.


Top 5 Tips for Vegan Thanksgiving Bliss

Even if you won't be joining us here at Chow for your Thanksgiving meal, we still want you to have a delicious holiday. Regardless of how big your crowd is, we have noticed a couple of things that help things go smoothly. Hopefully, they will be of help to you too.
1) Do not try something new for the first time when you have company coming. With dishes that you cook infrequently, you have less confidence in the final product. You haven't seen how the food will react to your situation, to your skills, and to your kitchen. Something that worked great in my kitchen may not work so great in yours if you've never made it before. This is why whenever I am about to try a new recipe for a big day, I'll make a small test batch first to see how the mechanics of the recipe work. This way, if things go belly-up, I'll not have wasted too many ingredients. Furthermore, with my smaller batch, I can make tweaks without using up huge amounts of ingredients.
What am I talking about? Imagine that you have about a cup or so of a gravy. You made it because the recipe looked good. Now imagine that you did like I said, and decided to make only about half that amount, because you're not sure how the recipe will work. You half all the ingredients, and measure them out ahead of time. You survey all your ingredients in front of you, and they look to be reasonable for what you're making. (Yesterday, Bossman came up to me and said, "I'm making a single cheesecake. 2 TB of salt doesn't seem right, does it?" I agreed with his assessment. It turns out that the TB was a typo. In other words, look at each ingredient in the context of the whole recipe and ask yourself if such an amount makes sense for what you're making.)
You go to make the recipe exactly as stated. Midway through, you realise that the recipe never mentioned that you're to turn down the heat. You didn't think to do so, because you're following the damned recipe. All of a sudden, your gravy gets burned, and you're furious. Since it is a tiny amount, you're not that bothered. You can try again, and this time, turn down the heat a bit. Suppose that you did make the gravy, and it turned out great. You taste it. SALT BOMB. You're gasping for water, and the thing tastes just awful. Now imagine what would happen if this is a random mid-week meal. You quietly bin the gravy, and decide to have that dinner with ketchup instead. Again. (Yes, this is personal experience talking.) Imagine the same scenario if you've got guests coming in less than 20 minutes. They won't be as forgiving as your husband, or your dog.
Suppose you make everything as stated, but the end result seems really bland. This frequently happens with pressure cooker or slow cooker recipes. The extreme cooking seems to dull out the flavours. Again, suppose you only have a small batch to fix. A few drops of lemon will brighten any dull tasting dish. A fresh bunch of herbs will do the same. Sometimes it'll take a combination of the two. Either way, if you're dealing with large quantities, you may not have all the ingredients you need to fix the mistake. In small quantities, the small amounts of ingredients you add to tweak something will make a huge difference. All this leads to the second tenet.
2) When you change a recipe, make a note of it. In fact, make frequent notes. Why? Because if it took a few things to tweak a recipe that was otherwise great, you'll want to remember what it is you did to make it work. If you make something truly great, you'll want to recreate it. A piece of paper and a sharpie will work wonders for you.
3) Do as much preparation work ahead of time as is feasible. Or cheat. We're all busy. We have a thousand things to get done in an average day. And I'm sorry, but that cute kitty video isn't going to watch itself. For whatever reason, there will be times when you have time consuming prep work (peeling onions or garlic, chopping root veggies, chopping potatoes, etc) that you'll put off until the last minute. Then the day of comes, and you're about to wind up serving everyone a pizza. Don't do this.
If you go to many Supermarkets now, you'll see pre-diced vegetables of every shape and size. I want you to go to that store, look at what they're charging for those things, and then resolve to do it yourself. If you're a wealthy type, who's getting paid enough at work that your time is worth more than the cost difference of buying pre-prepped versus whole vegetables, go ahead and buy the jars. Either way, figure out what you've got more of, be it time or money, and reach a compromise.
If the time is what you have plenty of, go ahead and set aside about four days before the major event to do the boring prep. Peel and chop your onions. Peel your garlic. Dice the carrots and celery. All these can be done up to four days in advance with no problems. Three days ahead, go ahead and slice or chop the garlic. Dice your potatoes or other root veggies, and leave them to sit in cold water. Soak your beans and brown rice (brown rice cooks much more quickly when soaked ahead of time). Two days ahead of time, drain the soaked beans, and boil them. Cook your root veggies and/or potatoes. They take a long time to cook, so it's great if you can have them pre-cooked. Wash and chop your dark leafy greens. Wash and chop your cauliflower/broccoli.  Drain the brown rice, and let it sit in the fridge. On the day of, bring all the magic together.  
All these little tasks, when taken separately, take no more than 30 - 45 minutes or so to do at the very most. Then, on the day of, when all your ingredients are prepared, you can generally knock out any major cooking in about 1 - 2 hours or so. This also makes it easy for you to do your dishes as you're working.
If you have more money than time, go ahead and buy the pre-chopped aromatics (carrots, celery, onions), the pre-peeled garlic, the frozen chopped kale, the broccoli crowns (some stores even sell florets all chopped neatly), or whatever other ingredient you don't feel like prepping. Heck, Trader Joe even sells these cooked lentils in a vacuum pack. They don't come with all that gooey liquid, so you can totally use them in salads or purees. They cost more than dried beans, but they're still not prohibitively expensive.
Or, if you're like most people, find a happy medium. Do as much prep work as you're comfortable with, and then buy the rest prepped already.
4) If you have the option, delegate as much as you can. If you're standing there over a blazing hot stove, and a screaming hot oven, you're likely going to need some help with the cleanup. Recruit anyone who's willing to help to start clearing up the prep dishes as you use them up. Recruit people who are willing, to chop herbs or keep an eye on the pot. Recruit someone to keep your wineglass replenished. Recruit someone to taste (and if you're making anything with kale, or anything fried, you'll have plenty of volunteers). Treat your kitchen helpers to extra little treats. Anyone who helps me in the kitchen always gets first dibs on the fried food. Only after we've eaten our fill do we call anyone else in to try some.
5) Taste. Frequently. Why? Because the food will change as it cooks. And unlike meat foods, which try to kill you back, there isn't likely to be that much harm in tasting a piece of vegetable halfway through its cooking process. Taste that soup liquid as it begins to cook, and then throughout the cooking process. Not only will it alert you to problems as they occur (such as the soup sticking to the bottom of the pot when you're using ingredients like split peas), it will also get you used to knowing what something should taste like at various points during the cooking. This knowledge will help you to gauge how anything in the pot should taste.
Don't just rely on your own taste either. Ask for feedback from others who are around while the food cooks. If you get multiple opinions, you can tweak the food as  necessary. Or, in some cases, you can beam with pride when everyone raves about how delicious something is, on a one-on-one basis. When someone piles his or her plate with food, and eats it with great gusto, you don't know what they love about each and every dish. When they have a little taste of each thing as it's prepared, you know that they love each thing. OK, so I do enjoy a little ego boost once in a while.

Most of all, relax. People aren't necessarily here for your food (although it is a nice bonus). They're here to see you. The food is secondary. I have had wonderful times with friends when the food was nothing more than a bowl of nuts, some piping hot mugs of hot chocolate, and some fine conversation. That fills me up just as much as a fancy meal in a nice restaurant. If someone takes all that effort to come out and see you, they'll be happy that you made the effort to bring something nice to the table, even if it really is delivery or take out from a restaurant. The meal is the excuse to share the warm feelings and good times.
We love you all, and wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!


Supply Issues

Whenever possible, we try to support companies that are off the beaten path. Be it our wines, our beers, our sodas, (and as of late) or our soy ice cream. Yes, it would be easy to get the mainstream brands, but those mainstream brands already have plenty of exposure elsewhere, and we'd like to provide our customers with something that they won't be able to get anywhere.

Unfortunately, that means that supplies are sometimes (if not frequently, in one case that will remain unnamed) An Issue. It's not that our wholesaler is out of the product, but rather that the company producing it ran out of stock, and isn't able to resupply said wholesaler any time soon. So we're in a holding pattern until more stock appears. This is perfectly understandable (in my head, anyway) with produce, because produce has a very fleeting shelf life.

I just wish I would grant the same understanding to the makers of those speciality vegan products. Again, I'm not about to name names, because I do want to support vegan brands, and hope that they all do well. We take pride in buying products from vegan companies whenever possible. It's just frustrating when you want to give those independent companies a shot, and they have Major Supply Issues. Because then our customers are irritated that they can't have ________.

I guess in a way this is why we're so careful to make as much of our products as we can in-house. The major things on the menu depend on raw ingredients that we put together ourselves. If we run out, it is due to the products popularity, and our own ability to keep up with demand. For example, one week, we'll run a soup special, but the weather is hot, so it lasts a few days. All of a sudden, a cold snap hits, and we can't sell the soup fast enough!

I'm guessing that's the same thing that happens with those other vegan companies that produce specific products. Demand spikes are weird and unpredictable. For no reason, we'll get masses of orders for a random thing. And then it will quiet down. It must be even more tough to run a bigger operation, where you have your cost of operation dependent on commodities costs, weather patterns, and other big factors that are way out of your control. For us, a bag of flour costs as much as it always does, and stays more or less consistent. A case of broccoli will fluctuate very slightly, but we don't use so much broccoli that our entire livelihood depends on it. Tempeh, seitan, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, etc all tend to stay pretty stable on our side.

How terrifying it must be to be (for example) a company that makes beverages from juices (like Maine Root, whom we love) or other raw ingredients, who buy them by the truckload, to have said truckload drastically spike in price, because a nasty rainstorm hit, or there was flooding, or a drought.

What started off as a first world problems type whine has turned into my really having a huge deal of respect for producers of the things we all take for granted. Here's to all the producers of things. Cheers! You're amazing people, and I respect your work.


Learning from others

I had a teacher in 10th grade, who taught English. She was one of my favourite teachers of all times. She not only loved reading, but also writing, and obscure words. She loved going to England every year, and would show us pictures of her travels. She frequently asked us to read, and to encourage it, she would offer extra credit to anyone who chose a book from her personal bookshelf (kept behind her desk), and come back and discuss it with her. The beauty of the deal is that she didn't make more work for herself by having you write a report on it. Instead, it was more like an informal discussion that you'd have with your friend about a book that she enjoyed, and that you enjoyed.

I remember being in her class, and having the infinite pleasure of meeting another book addict. I took her up on her offer. When my 2 books per semester ran out I asked if she didn't mind if I just kept reading, just for the hell of it. She had an extensive collection of Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, Ken Follet, and a bunch of other contemporary writers. They weren't High Literature, because she knew she was dealing with high school kids. Instead, they were just fun reads.

During this time, when I was enrolled in honours and AP classes, after school activities (AKA, drama club, track, and weekly prayer meetings with my parents), I still managed to read through one novel every day. The best part was her delight in giving me a book, having me read it, and discussing it with her the very next day. It's like instant gratification, because often when I reccommend a book to a friend, it takes them however long to read it, and we don't discuss it until weeks or months later. So to have another book addict to chat with was amazing.

She kept giving me thicker and more complex books. Jeffery Archer's As the Crow Flies, and Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth were two such examples. I knocked out As the Crow Flies in a day and a half, and Pillars of the Earth in three.

There was this lady, intelligent, talented, and lots of fun to hang out with, teaching a class of honours English to students who frequently didn't appreciate reading. year after year. I remember asking her one day how she could keep up. "Aside from finding other book addicts like you, I find that every year, I learn more from my students."

I was floored. Here was this woman, who was so intelligent and varied in her interests (and books), who said that she was learning from her high school students! Ever since then, I have made it my personal mission to see to it that I strive to learn from everyone I meet, even when it's me who's the teacher in that situation. One of my cooking students, Ari, mentioned that she hates to wrestle with a butternut squash, because she's not got the arm strength for it. So, she just throws the whole thing into the oven like that, and roasts it until it's tender. This is something she taught me after I'd spent day after day in the restaurant kitchen, wrestling enormous piles of butternut squash, and cursing every minute of it (they really are stubborn). Here's someone who was asking me to teach her to cook, teaching me a new technique to use in my own life!

Never discount the lessons that you learn from others. Even those who are younger, or less experienced, or less talented. All of them have something to teach you.

Thank you, Mrs. Deshong. You are a wonderful teacher, and I hope that wherever you are today, you're enjoying a good book.


Hunger is scary

Speaking of feeling things ...
I have an innate terror about feeling hungry. Call it childhood trauma (NOT from my mother, for the record; she made sure that the house was perpetually stocked with good things to eat) or what have you, but that feeling of knowing that there is nothing for me to eat gives me severe anxiety. I make sure to eat well before leaving my home.
 Anyone who's watched me eat knows that I generally eat very frequently. I could have just eaten a very short time ago, but we pass another bit of food I want later, and I've got to stop and refuel. It's like that initial anxiety you get when you first have your new mobile phone. You're not comfortable with its battery life yet, so you charge it too frequently for that first month. You hate knowing that you'll be without charge at a critical moment. In reality, it's probably not that huge a deal. If the thing is running low, you can really just turn it off and turn it back on when you need it. But until you learn that, you're still in dread of the battery running out.
I guess that because I'm a vegan, my lack of food anxiety tends to be pronounced. I have been places where the only option is a cup of black coffee with some sugar. And no, there isn't bread that I can trust. You see, it's been such a while since I've had dairy, that even a small amount in my food (even when I don't know it's there) sends my digestive system into a violent protest. Eggs can sneak by without my notice. Honey doesn't actually do anything. But dairy, when I accidentally ingest it, has me wrapped around the porcelain overlord, sweating profusely, and blasting from every orifice. Not a pleasant feeling.
So it's especially a nerve-wracking experience to leave my little vegan bubble. You see, I work at a vegan restaurant, am married to a committed vegan, and keep a vegan house. The friends that I socialise with on a regular basis are at the very least vegetarian. Those who aren't generally tend to be respectful omnivores, and are happy to wait until leaving my presence before settling down to animal flesh and the rest. Pretty much every restaurant in my city (including the steak houses, I found out on one particularly annoying night) can and is often happy to serve me something not only filling, but delicious. If I call ahead, I even sometimes get a fairly excited chef, who'd like to try out something experimental to see if I like it. At the local Chinese food delivery place, they have a selection of veggie meats to go with all their dishes. And they know what I mean when I ask for vegan.
When I leave my bubble, however, it's not so easy. These are often places with no mass transit, and I don't drive, and everything is spaced out really far apart. On those occasions, I'll end up at a convenience store or pharmacy, and grab some cashews, or crackers. But frankly, after a few hours, crackers and cashews don't really feel satisfying, dense in calories though they be.
All of this has done nothing at all to relieve my anxiety around hunger. I hate feeling hungry. It's one of those things that I've had to experience so rarely that to actively get myself into a situation where such is the case infuriates me.
But if I stop to think about it, I realise that I'm really being silly. Being hungry is not the worst thing in the world, especially considering that I live in a country where food is readily available to me when I want it. So what if I do have to skip a meal once in a while? More will be waiting later. And maybe letting myself get hungry once in a great while will make the meal at the other end of the experience taste all the more delicious.
It's something I'm working on, and I know I can get through it if I try.
I'm still going to carry a bottle of water though. 



Nobody likes to feel vulnerable, weak, ineffective, or otherwise compromised. Feeling like you're not in full control is terrible. However, it's still feeling, and sometimes it's important to allow yourself to live in your life, and to experience your emotions. Why? Because they're a sign of life.

When I was younger (man, do I sound old when I say that!), I was somewhere between horrified of and terrified by my darker emotions. Sadness, vulnerability, pain, all of them. To try to escape them (before I turned of age), I'd lose myself in books, or ignore them completely. Then, when I got to the age of consent, I'd numb the rough edges with cigarettes, coffee, or alcohol. I would escape into dance clubs, and assignations with men who I wouldn't have chosen to be with had I been in full possession of my good sense. Anything I could do to get rid of those bad feelings would be preferable to feeling them.

And then the health effects began to show up. After a night of dancing and drinking and smoking, I'd frequently end up at horrible chain restaurants (who shall remain nameless), and order things drenched in cheese, or pancakes loaded with maple syrup (which might as well have been called corn syrup), and any number of other disgusting, unhealthy things. I'd wake up feeling like hamsters had done the conga on my tongue the night before.

I'd feel tired all the time, so to combat it, I started drinking a lot of coffee. I became something of a coffee snob, and would only buy whole beans, grind them myself, and brew it up fresh every time I needed some. I started smoking around two packs of cigarettes a day. Then, to counteract the horrible insomnia that would hit, I started taking sleeping pills every night. This meant that I'd wake up feeling even more exhausted, and my body would be screaming for me to just stop the torture.

All so that I wouldn't have to face my emotions head-on.

Finally, when my destructive behaviour had reached a peak, I think my mother sensed something, and cornered me one night. She asked if she could help me get a wife sorted out. She mentioned that she could find me one in any shape, size, or colour I wanted. One who knew how to cook, appreciate good food, loved to travel, loved to read, etc etc. All the things I loved too. She kept coming at me, over and over again, bringing up various different girls she and I knew.

I ended up bursting out with, "Maybe I don't want to marry any girl."

"What does that mean," she asked.

"Maybe I want to marry a man."

It was like something snapped inside me, and my mother and I got me to a place where I could see why I was so angry all the time. Why I was trying to hide from myself by dulling my brain with the endless cycle of alcohol, sleeping pills, cigarettes, coffee, and every other disgusting thing you could find going straight into my body.

I'd like to say that the story ends there. That after I came out to my mother, I was able to live a life of magic and rainbows. Unfortunately, addiction is a difficult thing to conquer. I managed to sort out the coffee fairly quickly. That was easy enough. Once I stopped coffee, I was able to kick the sleeping pills, because I wasn't wired all the time. I didn't quit smoking, but I certainly cut back to a "reasonable" (I put that in air quotes because there is no reasonable amount of cigarettes) amount, where I'd make a pack last me about three days or so. I'd drink on Friday nights, and rarely Saturday nights, and even then, in amounts that my body could handle.

During my journey, however, I started to realise that I was working so hard to hide from and escape my emotions, that I ended up doing more harm to myself than by allowing myself to feel those emotions. I could easily have wound up sick, or in circumstances that I couldn't get myself out of. Part of the impetus for getting myself sorted was in living my life in a way that was honest to myself and others. But more than that was facing myself in the mirror, and letting myself know that I'm a human being, with flaws, emotions, and reason. Everything that I have experienced in the past has helped to shape me into who I am now and has become a part of me, and that's a good thing. Yes, there are bad times, but those helped me learn. If I didn't have those negative experiences, I'd never change, or grow. I'd never learn.

What I'm getting at is that I think that life is a beautiful, amazing thing, and all our experiences are important. Allowing ourselves to really live in them helps shape us into what we are. When you feel yourself getting frustrated at feeling vulnerable, or lonely, or anything else that you're not a huge fan of, remember that it's important to let yourself feel it.


Why care about allergies?

When I started working at the restaurant, I began noticing that in nearly every item on the menu, there were little symbols, like "gf", or "ns", or "sf". Bossman and I talked about it, and I mentioned how amazing I thought that the convention of marking clearly on the menu what is and isn't safe for the big allergens was. It's the same reason that we get the restaurant Kosher. Same reason that we try to aim for making specials that are safe for as many people as possible: it's just good hospitality.

My mother has been cooking for years. She's been cooking for so long that she does little things without even realising that she does it. For example, when it's a new person coming to her house, she quickly assesses who they are, where they're from, what kinds of things they may enjoy, and their level of spice tolerance. She'll still make one or two things suited to the rest of the family. However, for the guest, she'll make sure that the food is accessible to as many people as possible. She won't use the weird, bitter, or strangely textured vegetables. She'll avoid anything too spicy, or too difficult to wrangle. She'll stick with things that have excellent flavour, but don't have loads of hot peppers or black pepper.

Then, once the person has come over a few times, she'll adjust as necessary. However, for large groups of people, such as when she makes food for the temple potlucks, or for large gatherings of friends, she'll still stick to those basic rules: no major allergens (dairy, gluten, soy), no challenging flavours (very bitter, or very hot and spicy), and lots of flavour.

So when I came to Chow, it was like coming home. When I have guests coming over, I do the same thing. I'll ensure that I make something that everyone can enjoy. If a friend of mine is gluten intolerant, I don't make just one thing for that person. I'll try to make the whole meal gluten free. Why? Because to see that look of happiness when they can eat (almost) everything on the very well-filled table is gratifying. You feel good, knowing that you've made that person feel special. Meanwhile, the people who aren't gluten intolerant can still enjoy gluten free food! Everyone wins!

When you do have a friend with a* diet issue, please just challenge yourself to do everything in your power to cater to that person, and have the whole meal follow that plan. At the end of the day, what does it hurt to just try it out for a bit, and see where it leads you?

*Notice the "a" diet issue. I'm not asking you to turn into a hospital, where folks who are deathly allergic to soy, gluten, nuts, grains, raw vegetables, coconut, spices, oil, and herbs ALL AT THE SAME TIME feel like they need to have you jumping through hoops. There comes a point where someone just starts making stuff up, or where you're just not able to accommodate them. If your body hates you that much, I can't really help you. I'm willing to learn, of course. So if you are one of these folks, let me know what you eat, and I'll see what I can do.


Switching it up: Beans & Rice Edition

I saw a complaint from someone who was trying to eat cheaply, while eating healthy, so s/he was going heavy on the beans and rice thing, and starting to get bored. It's a fair enough critique of eating very cheaply: things can sometimes get repetitive or tedious, and you don't know quite how to break out of your rut. There are a couple of things you can get started doing, so that you can add interest to your beans and rice meals, while still keeping on a tight budget. This person said that they'd been able to get enough money to add a couple of spices to their beans and rice, and were able to splurge on adding animal products (which, frankly, are way more expensive than vegetables that will give more bulk and interest to the meal), so I'm allowing myself the addition of a few vegetables into this mix, to keep things interesting.

First, you really need to familiarise yourself with a basic daal tarka. I don't mean the complex ones involving multiple layers of spices, and all kind of vegetables. I'm talking your basic, starter edition.

2 cups of dried beans, soaked and cooked (buying dried beans will drop down the cost considerably from the cost of tinned; if you don't have the time for soaking and boiling, use red lentils, split peas, or brown lentils, which will cook up just as quickly.)
1 TB canola or other vegetable oil (don't substitute olive oil; its smoke point is way too small to allow the popping of spices)
1/2 tsp cumin seed (do not substitute powdered)
1/2 tsp coriander seed, lightly crushed  (do not substitute powdered)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (if you can't find turmeric powder, use 1 tsp of curry powder)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups water (either the cooking liquid from the beans, or fresh water if you threw them out already)

In a pot, add the oil, and heat it over highest heat. When the oil is hot enough that a bit of smoke escapes the surface, you're ready to add the spices. Add the coriander seed, wait about 30 seconds, and add the cumin seeds. These seeds will pop like mad. This is OK. When the popping has subsided, add the onion, and stir well to combine in the fat and spices. Add the turmeric powder after the onion cooks for about two minutes (still on highest heat). Once the onions are softened (not browned), add the cooked beans, the water, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Why did I start in on this? I wanted to start somewhere, so that we're all on the same page when I discuss the variations. Because, you see, the variations are endless.

If you're not able to afford a lot of different things, buy one or two of each veg at the store, which won't amount to much money, and do some of the following.

- When you add the onions, augment it with one carrot, one chopped jalapeno (or other chile) of your choice. I remember when I was really broke one time, and wanted some chile peppers in my daal, and I went to the store. I bought 3. They cost about $1.50/lb, because they were out of season. The 3 chiles came to a few cents. I just needed one or two for each day, and I couldn't afford a full pound at the time. The cashier gave me an odd look, but let me get what I wanted.

- Instead of the chile pepper, substitute a red, green, or yellow pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. It'll give the lovely spiciness of a chile peppers while adding a fair bit more bulk and colour.

- If you see it on sale, add a couple of ears of corn to the pot after you add the beans.

- If you have it, add 2 chopped plantains (skin and all) to the cooked onions, right after the onions are tender. All of a sudden, you'll have a potato-like vegetable added in, while still giving you a lot more nutrition than a plain white potato will give you. The plantain skin, when stove-roasted, gives a very interesting and tasty texture that I really hope you'll try.

- If you can find it, add 3 chopped chayotes to the cooked onions, and sautee them until they're soft.

- Before adding the cumin and coriander seed, add about 1 tsp of black or white mustard seeds to the hot fat, and slam on the lid. The mustard seeds will pop like mad, smell amazing, and add a whole different dimension to the dish.

- After popping the cumin and coriander, add 1 tsp of either white or black sesame seeds. Again, you'll boost the iron content, and add lots of taste. This is such a family favourite that my mother adds sesame seeds to her popping spices quite frequently.

- Add any kind of dark leafy green that you can find at the store, from spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, radish greens, escarole, endive, watercress, etc.

- If you're using large beans (kidney, black turtle, white, adzuki, chickpeas, etc), drain them after cooking, and dry roast them. There's a recipe in the book, but the basic concept is to just pop the spices, add some cooked and drained beans, add turmeric, salt, and chiles, then toss them around in the pan until they're roasted on the outside, and creamy on the inside. The beans get a completely different texture and flavour. Everything takes on a much different feeling.

- If you're using the large beans, and brown rice, try a brown rice & beans salad. Add chopped raw onions, some canned, frozen, or fresh corn, a diced tomato, diced cucumber, diced bell pepper, some shredded carrot, the juice of one lime, some salt, cumin powder, cilantro, and some salt and pepper. The beauty of the salad is that during those hot summer months, you can eat it cold, and add pretty close to whatever vegetable you like in the mix, and still keep things interesting. In fact, you could even toss that salad with a bunch of lettuce leaves to bulk it out a bit, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and you're ready to eat!

- Mash cooked beans and rice together, along with sauteed onion, garlic, a bit of carrot, and seasoning of your choice, then press into flat patties to bake at 350 for like 20 minutes or so. Eat over a green salad.

The sky is the limit when it comes to beans and rice, especially when you start pulling from other cultures, like Jamaican Rice & Peas, or Costa Rican Gallopinto, or North Indian daals, or Louisiana Red Beans & Rice. There are hundreds of other varieties, especially when you expand your budget to include different spices, spice blends, etc, different kinds of interesting vegetables (just buy one or two if you're broke), different beans, and different rice.


You climb to what you think is the peak ...

Yesterday, bossman got a call from his lawyer that something that's been weighing rather heavily on his mind for the past five or so years has finally been resolved, and he can rest easy now. All the hours of time spent on it is finally at an end. He signed the last cheque to the credit card where he charged those fees. He's just waiting for the final paperwork, and he can relax.

Or not. Once that little matter has been resolved, and we think we've reached the top of the mountain, we look up, and see that we've only climbed a fraction of the beast, and we've got to keep going. Fortunately, we've got each other, to support and lend courage to each other when we falter on our journey. Unfortunately, even after all this, it looks like the journey is just getting started.

I guess I'm relieved in one way. It means that we're not going to stagnate. We're going to, as is necessary for any entity, change, grow, and evolve. Things can't (and shouldn't, in all reality) stay the same, or they stagnate, and stifle creativity. With that enormous burden lifted, and the possibility to move forward without devoting a chunk of one's brain to it, we're both able to see more clearly, and to really pull out the vast possibilities of places that we can move into. It's actually exciting in its own way.

It's like, if "all" I have to do is help get the perfect team, help craft a perfect menu, and ensure that every step of a customer's experience from the moment they think of us to the moment they leave is outstanding, I'd say I've got a challenging, but definitely workable road ahead of me. We're surrounded by people who love what they do, and are excited about moving forward too.

Although I can't really see the top of the mountain quite yet, I'm pretty sure it's there, and we'll all keep climbing it together.


Still rainy, still overcast. But warm!

Yesterday, on my way home, I thought that it was going to be cold, so I was bundled up nice and snug inside my coat. Little did I realise that although it was certainly still overcast, it was also warming up considerably. With a joyful shout (in my head, of course; wouldn't do to attract weird stares from strangers) I threw off the shackles of my coat, stuffed said coat into my bag, and bounced all the way home.

When I got in, I noticed that there was scarcely anything around. I hadn't had any time to go shopping this week, so the fridge was more or less empty. My pantry, however, saved me.

I pulled out some leftover rice from the night before, and made a really quick lemon rice. I borrowed heavily from my pantry, because I didn't have much in the way of groceries. D'oh!

2 TB canola or peanut oil
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/3 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp urad daal, split peas, or tuvar daal
3/4 tsp sesame seed
1/2 cup cashews (I used broken cashews, because that's what I had)
1/4 tsp turmeric
Salt, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 lemon, juiced and zested
4 cups cooked rice, preferably chilled in the fridge overnight

Start in a wok (preferable) or a skillet over highest heat. Add the oil, and wait for the oil to get very hot. Add the mustard seed, STEP BACK, and wait for about 30 seconds or so, until they pop and crackle. They will fily all over the place. Add the cumin seed, urad daal, and sesame seed. These will also pop violently. This is good, and means that it'll be giving more flavour.

Add the cashews, turmeric, salt, and red pepper flakes, and turn down the heat to medium. Toss the cashews constantly, to prevent burning. Add the lemon juice when the cashews are toasted, and add the rice too. Stir everything around until the rice is steamy and cooked through. Ideally, eat this dish with a salad, or some other kind of cooked vegetable. Or, if you're hungry now, and don't want to go back down four flights to stairs to walk to the market three blocks away, just eat that by itself, and have a smoothie to drink to get some actual nutrition into yourself.


Sacred Chow: "How a vegan restaurant should be."

SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2012

Which is better? - When you have high expectations and the meal comes just under or when you have no expectations and the meal ends up amazing? I vote for the second.

Sacred Chow is in my work neighborhood and I have seen it come up on my iPhone each time I search for a new vegan restaurant to try. I guess I always thought of this place as take out. You can sit here although there aren't that many tables- it's worth the wait! I was still full from my lunch at SNICE- yes I eat at SNICE minimum once a week. They are a casual easy going almost cafeteria style ordering place with a lot of tables- consistent and dependable! I work equal distance from SNICE and SACRED CHOW- now I have more options- this is very exciting for me. 

I absolutely love this place. 
It's close to my vision of "how a vegan restaurant should be." You can tell they are all about the animals by the logo alone. They care about the quality of their food and service which you can tell once you have dined here. The food is HEALTHY... and their tofu is organic! Relief- finally! Even though I wasn't hungry, I ordered a bunch of tapas with my friend. That's their thing here- VEGAN TAPAS! I tasted everything and brought home a nice plate for the next day!
I ate:  Orange Blackstrap Barbecue Seitan,
Korean Tofu Cutlets,  Shiitake Mushrooms, Mama's Soy Meatballs, Black Olive Seitan, &  Dijon Kale.

Everything was incredible!  My favorites were the olive seitan, the tofu, meatballs and the shiitake mushrooms. I will complete this menu in no time at all. Look how much I ordered when I wasn't even hungry- can you imagine? It may actually take some time though because I will be getting these same tapas again- I can't wait!



Yesterday, before I left for work, my husband had a bit of a sore throat that I didn't much care for the sound of, because I knew it indicated that his respiratory system was about to go on strike if I didn't act quickly. Unfortunately, before I could brew up a pot of herbal tea or something, I realised that I was running dangerously late for work, so I kissed him goodbye, and ran out the door. Last night, I got home, and felt that same annoying scratch. Time for plenty of ginger in the food.

The trick to using ginger in your cooking, so that it tastes its best, is to make sure that you don't overcook it. When you fry it in oil, it tends to get rather sticky, unless you carefully sliver or dice it. Grated ginger and hot fat do not get along very well. What's worse is that when you do grate the ginger, the flavour dissipates into the food, and any ginger lover will tell you that this is a shame. You want to actually taste the ginger, and feel its soothing feeling on your throat.

Here's a couple of things to remember:

1) Don't overcook your ginger. Unlike garlic, whose flavour can be mellowed with early cooking (such as when you add it directly to fat), ginger tends to cook rather quickly, when it's grated. When it's in large pieces, or in discrete pieces (even when said discrete pieces are rather small), it tends to keep it together, and not burn. I'm guessing that it's the rough edges of grated ginger that causes it to stick like that to the pot.

2) Don't put your ginger into huge chunks. For people who purport to dislike ginger in food, the frequent complaint (as my mother found out early on, thankfully) is that they hate to bite into a huge chunk of ginger. The theory that my mother had at the time, however, was that if it was in a large piece, you could easily pick it out. Tell that to a kid who's growing, and used to (more or less) inhaling his food, and you're going to get some choice words. Ginger, being so lightly coloured, tends to blend in with the background, and not stand out overmuch. Because of this, you want to either chop the ginger so huge as to make it impossible to miss (and thereby be able to easily remove it from the pot of food), or chop it small enough that you don't bite into large chunks of ginger, or to grate it.

If you do grate it, please add the ginger at the absolute latest point that you can, and you'll have a strong gingery flavour. If you want it to cook down a bit more to mellow a touch, go ahead and cook it, so long as you've got enough liquid in the pot to ensure that the ginger doesn't stick like glue to the bottom of the pot and burn.

In other words, when you're making a soup, stew, daal, or other liquidy thing, feel free to grate your ginger, and add it shortly before introducing liquid (should you want a mild taste). If you're making something dry cooked, like lemon rice, coconut rice, tomato rice, saag paneer, etc, if you want a mild taste, sliver the ginger as finely as you can, then chop the slivers into as small a piece as you can get it to. If you grate it, you'll have to add it towards the end of cooking, and wind up with a strong taste.

If you want a doubly strong taste, sliver then dice the ginger, and then add it towards the end. It will be dlicious.

But I digress. I told you all of that to tell you this. I made daal last night with obscene amounts of ginger, and it really helped a lot. Here's how it goes.

2 cups red lentils
1 TB canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp coriander seed
4 TB finely chopped (not grated) ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt & black pepper to taste
6 cups boiling water

In a pot, add the red lentils, and the boiling water. Let the lentils cook for about 8 minutes over a full rushing boil. Drop down the simmer for another 15 minutes or so. You want them cooked all the way through. While that's going, go ahead and make the spice blend. In a small pot, add the canola oil, and allow it to heat through. When it's hot, add the mustard seeds, and wait for them to pop violently. When they do, add the cumin and coriander seed, and lift up the small pot to swirl it around to combine the ingredients. When the cumin and coriander pop and sizzle and make a lovely aroma, add the chopped ginger, turmeric, and a bit of the salt. Stir around the ginger for a bit over the heat for about 2 - 3 minutes. If you try this with grated ginger, you'll get a sticky mess. If you try this with ginger paste, or ginger garlic paste, you'll get a bad smelling sticky mess. Please, just use fresh ginger, people.

When the ginger is just softened, turn off the heat. Let the spices hang out until the red lentils are cooked through. You'll know the red lentils are completely cooked when they turn completely yellow. Yes, it's normal for them to get a little broken up. Once the lentils are cooked, stir through the spices, and add pepper to taste.

Between the black pepper and the sharp ginger, your throat will feel a hundred times better.


Vegetable Chili

I got to thinking about expectations of various foods, and how we can challenge them. What's wrong with having Indian food made with South American ingredients (like Coconut Quinoa), or with a sweet chilled soup (Chilled Beet Bisque), or cold steeping ingredients in wine, and making cocktails of them (Hibiscus Sangria)? I say there's nothing wrong with it, and that it should be encouraged! It's fun to try out new things. It breaks the rules, and gives you a chance to explore and enjoy things you hadn't considered before.

There is a school of thought that says that unless a dish has exactly what goes into it traditionally, you're not allowed to call it that thing anymore. I think that's a closed minded way of looking at the world. I believe that there are interpretations on a theme, and that when you're trying to aim for a particular experience, you can reference the inspiration, so that people have something to relate it to.

At the end of the day, it's all semantics and doesn't matter anyway. I'll continue doing things the way I like to do them, and anyone who doesn't like it doesn't have to do it the same way. They're welcome to their own way, just as I am mine.

All this thinking lead me down the path to making a vegetable chili. You heard me right. No beans, no heavy proteins, but the same spices, the same herbs, and the same flavours that you'd get in a traditional chili, but made completely out of vegetables.

Here's what I came up with.

Collard Greens Chili
3 TB olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped roughly
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 tsp thyme
3 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 TB chopped garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup of white wine, in which you've steeped 3 TB of dried red hibiscus overnight
1 large bunch collard greens, chopped
2 potatoes, diced and roasted for 25 minutes at 350F
1 cup apple juice
2 TB brown rice syrup
1 heaping tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed
1 TB cumin powder
1 TB chili powder (optional; if you don't have chili powder, just use a mixture of equal parts cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, and garlic powder).

In a large pot, combine the onion, celery, bell peppers, thyme, and oregano. Cook over high heat, until all the vegetables are softened. If the pot looks dried out, feel free to splash in a little bit of water, and stir it around. When the vegetables are softened through, add the tomato paste, and stir well. Add the chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes, and stir until you see the tomato paste beginning to stick to the bottom of the pot. This is where you're going to get some extremely delicious flavour.

When the bottom of the pot is sticky with tomato, throw in the white wine, and let the wine come to a boil. If you don't have hibiscus to steep in the white wine, the juice of 1 lime will do the same thing. It won't be quite the same as what I made, but it will still taste good in its own right.

When the wine boils, add the collard greens, roasted potatoes, and apple juice. Stir well to combine. By this point, the chili should be getting very thick. Too thick, in fact, to stir. Add the apple juice brown rice syrup, and cocoa powder, and stir well. If it's still too thick, feel free to add more apple juice as necessary. When everything comes up to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Let the collards get tender. Turn off the heat, and stir through the cinnamon, fennel, cumin, and chili powder.

Serve piping hot, over brown rice, or with a side of bread. The recipe makes a fairly large batch of chili, so this is a good excuse to call over your friends, and enjoy each other's company along with the lovely food.


Keep Calm

It was years ago, and my sister and I were both rather young. She was too young for school yet, and I had recently started walking myself to and from school, because it was a short walking distance away. I had come home one afternoon, to see some of my toys scattered about the room that we shared. I got furious and yelled at my sister for a while, which made her cry. My mother came into the room, and said, "OK, now  that you've yelled and screamed, did it make anything better?"

It was her overall attitude towards life: if it's not going to help you, or anyone else, to lose your temper, it's best not to lose your temper. Same thing happens when I am with my angel husband (who is otherwise a level-headed, calm chap). He'll find himself getting flustered about something that's completely beyond our control, and I'll gently remind him, "Is it helping us get there faster by your getting flustered?" It takes him a minute or so to realise that he's losing his usual sense of calm, but once he does, he's able to step back, and (sometimes) even laugh about the situation.

I find myself asking the same question when my own temper starts to skyrocket (as it does). "Is it really going to help anything to get flustered, or angry, or screamy? No? Then what are you doing it for?" Most of the time, I can manage to reel myself in, and face the situation with a renewed confidence in myself. The few times that I do let loose, I use my friend Melissa's trick.

I look at my watch (or phone timer, as the case may be), and give myself exactly one minute to wallow in whatever negative feeling I'm in at that moment. Anger, rage, fear, grief, whatever. Once that minute is up, I let it back out into the universe, to disperse as it will. I'd sooner not hold onto it if I can help it.

When that's done, I find my inner peace returning, and my ability to do my job getting much better.


It's Spring!

The weekend promises to be gorgeous. This is the time to get your hands on some peas, mint, asparagus, and all those other lovely things that grow in Spring. And, since Passover is going to be over as of Saturday evening, peas are back on the menu! Yay!

Asparagus & Peas

1 bunch pencil asparagus, chopped into 2 inch pieces
3 cups peas, shelled
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
juice & zest of 2 lemons
3 TB fresh dill
3 sprigs marjoram
2 TB fresh parsley
3 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced
mint, for garnish
3 TB olive oil
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel and dice the potatoes, and combine with half the oil. Spread onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Toss gently, and turn the pan, then bake an additional 15 minutes.

While the potatoes bake, toss the asparagus in the remaining oil. Throw it into the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. When everything is done cooking, toss together with the shelled peas (if using frozen, just run them under cold running water for about 3 minutes). You want the peas to cook in the residual heat of the hot veggies.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Juice and zest 2 lemons. Add to that the marjoram, the parsley, the dill, and salt and pepper to the lemon juice. Add the sliced red onion, and toss gently to coat. Let the onions sit in the lemon juice until the veggies cool down to room temp. When everything is at room temperature, toss gently with the dressing, and adjust the salt as necessary.

This dish absolutely requires the freshest of peas, of asparagus, and of herbs. When you eat it, you'll have the creamy roasted potatoes, the bright bursting peas, the earthy herbs, and the twang of the lemon. If you have it, this is also an excellent time to throw in some chopped fresh mint to really bump up the flavour.

Enjoy your Spring!


You can learn something new every day.

So I was fiddling around in that Facebook app for the iPhone, and found out that you can apparently upload pictures to your business page directly from the app itself, rather than what we've been doing, which is to take the photo, email it to ourselves, download it, the upload it to Facebook, then post it and put a caption.

There are times when I despair of changes that seem to happen so frequently. Every time I go to visit my nephew and niece in DC, they seem to grow a little taller, and a little heavier. Just this last trip, I was barely able to lift up my nephew into my arms, because he'd gotten so big. I remember when I could carry him around as easily as my backpack, and he'd fit right there on my hip, quite content to hang out with his uncle. Now, the little runt is growing like a weed, and I fear he'll be too big to pick up some day.

However, part of being an adult is embracing the changes that life sends your way. Not all changes are bad, and no new learning is wasted. Even in the books that I re-read a million times (Anne of Green Gables, I'm looking at you!), I notice subtle nuances and vocabulary that I didn't see the first (few million) times around.

I guess, in a small way, it's reassuring, because it shows me that I'm actually capable of learning new things, and that the universe has given me the ability to take it in and share that.


This is how you start dinner at Sacred Chow!

A Week In The Belly of NYC: Sacred Chow.

March 17, 2012

Hot pumpkin wine with ginger, double chocolate stout floater with vanilla
ice cream, hard cider.

That is how you start dinner at Sacred Chow, 227 Sullivan Street, NYC.

These way-more-interesting-than-usual drinks were followed by

the best raw kale we've ever consumed ('massaged' with salt

and covered in Dijon mustard - a crispy, salty, oily mystery),

and a black olive seitan sandwich with low-key crusty bread.

And juicy, strangely fleshy meatballs; Korean tofu cutlets

with garlic, ginger and chilli; tofu with dill;

root vegetable latkes made of dates with date butter;

and barbeque seitan.

Puds were ridiculous with lavender and chocolate cheesecake

(like 'eating soap with a bar of chocolate, in a good way')

which came with a cumulonimbus of coconut creme fraiche

lounging on the top

(unfinished but escorted home through St Patrick's Day

staggerers in doggy bag).

Sarah stuffed in only two thirds of a peanut butter

and chocolate torte, bit delicious,

and Jating's heroic consumption of a Dutch apple pie

with vanilla ice cream and that slightly salty bake-sale crust

embarrassed us both.

We got all this at http://sacredchow.com/ 227 Sullivan Street, NYC.

...oh and the waiter deserves props for barely being able

to conceal his excitement about the food,

but holding it down till he got to the lavender cheesecake.



Gorgeous weather, lovely feeling.

There's something to be said for suffering through the freezing cold winter, only to wake up one morning, and see the sun triumphantly shining out, and the flowers growing again. It's absolutely stunning outside. Everywhere I go, people are out on the sidewalk, wandering about, with a lazy, sauntering mood, rather than the typical high-impact power walk that most New Yorkers adopt out of necessity.

It's times like these that I wonder why they bother having New Year's in January, when everything is still freezing out. Wouldn't it be lovely to watch the ball drop on a gorgeous Spring evening, with a light scent of flowers and green things growing in the air, and an actual feeling of renewal. It's so nice to be able to open my windows wide open, and catch the incoming morning air. The smells of garlic, and cumin, and a bit of asafoetida and curry leaf mingle with the morning breezes (breakfast at my house consists of strong, robust flavours). I can feel the warmth of the sunlight through my window.

I can finally set out bread for baking, and dosa batter for fermenting without worrying about it actually taking properly. I can make pots of soy yoghurt without having to cover the thing with a heavy winter coat to keep the chill out of the pot. Kimchi is going to be amazing, because it'll get good and sour in a short two or three days, rather than waiting with bated breath while the cabbage sits and ferments sulkily in the cold weather.

I am so heartily sick of heavy stews and root vegetables. I want to eat peas, and asparagus, and all kind of other spring greens that are coming into season. I want to eat raw food, for a change. I don't want any more herbal tea. I want chilled beverages, cucumber and avocado soup, beet apple and carrot salad with peanut sauce.

I want to throw gratuitous amounts of herbs at everything I see.

I'm waiting for the summer, and all her bounty.

I'm ready to wake up.


NYU Animal Legal Defense Fund & Sacred Chow!

Meatless Mondays Launch at NYU

MARCH 1, 2012

The launch of Meatless Mondays marks the beginning of the

Climate Change: It’s What’s For Dinner campaign

Connecting the dots between the environmental impacts of the meat industry
and the choices we can make to lower our carbon impact every day, one meal at a time.


Supported by a Green Grant from the NYU Office of Sustainability and in collaboration with the Wagner Food Policy Alliance, the Wagner Climate Coalition, the Department of Food Studies at Steinhardt and NYU Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of Meatless Mondays at NYU


Rudin Forum, Puck Building 2nd Floor
295 Lafayette St. at Houston


Why Meatless? Why Monday?

What exactly are Meatless Mondays? Find out why they’re sweeping the nation, who’s taking part, why they’re doing it, and how you can join them. Take 3 minutes and check out this video, currently a finalist for the TED “videos worth spreading”: Meatless Mondays in a Nutshell

I know, I know – change is hard. But once a week is very doable and your pledge will be counting towards a wider NYU movement to measure our climate impact. Be a part of powerful collective action. (Also known as peer pressure with a cause.) You can be a Monday vegetarian, a weekday vegetarian, a flexitarian or a long-time committed vegan, it all makes a difference. Come join us THIS MONDAY and dig into some free veggie eats.

Never tried fake meat before? OR maybe you’ve tried it and you weren’t impressed? No matter where you fall on the spectrum, (ahem - yes, even if you love meat!), forget the bland tofu and come on out to taste fake meat done right with some seriously delicious food from a popular local vegan bistro, Sacred Chow.

We didn’t skimp on the selections, so come hungry and fill a plate with:

  • Indonesian Roasted Tempeh
  • Orange Blackstrap Barbecue Seitan
  • Root Vegetable Latkes with Indonesian Date Butter
  • Griddled Shiitake Mushroom
  • Shredded Tofu Spa Salad
  • Sliced Ginger Soba Noodles
  • Dijon Marinated Raw Kale
  • Cesar Salad
  • Steamed Brown Rice
  • Banana Pound Cake

Besides the free lunch, come to check out the vegetarian food prep workshop by our very own Wagnerd and Food Policy Alliance Co-Chair, Ryan Brown at 1PM.
Then make your pledge (!) and join the movement to cut the meat once a week. You’ll get yourself a fancy button to flaunt your MM-veg status, tasty recipe ideas and tips on sustainable eats around NYU.

Help us spill the beans: invite your friends!

See you there,

and the crew behind The Climate Change: It’s What’s For Dinner campaign



Sacred Chow, NYC


Last weekend Dave and I had dinner with two dear friends, Ethan and Michael at Sacred Chow, a tiny vegan bistro. There was awesome conversation and tons of laughter… and tons of food!

We started with the Sunflower Lentil Paté.

Yes, it’s as delicious as you think!

Then came my serving tray!

I opted for the Tapas option where you select three items for $18.

Naturally, one choice was kale.

Kale massaged in Dijon mustard = I died and went to heaven.

Next up, Root Vegetable Latkes with Indonesian Date “butter.”


Black Olive Seitan.

Oh, yes, you read that right. Black olives and seitan – destined to be together! Outstanding.

Finally, the Sweet Potato Torte for dessert.

I don’t think my dinner mates were as impressed with this delightfully savory dessert but I didn’t mind because that meant it was all for me.

Sacred Chow is truly a new (to me) NYC vegan favorite! Huge food, reasonable prices and it’s simply YUMMY!