It’s been a while since I’ve last posted. Since then I’ve been to Thailand and back to conduct research on elephant sanctuaries. And for all you elephant fans, don’t worry, I’ll be posting about that next! In the meantime I’ve also been thinking and reading about food sustainability. One thing I came across is this helpful website that allows you to calculate the carbon footprint of your diet. I discovered that the difference between eating avocados and citrus fruit 1-2 times a week amounts to the difference between driving a car 39 (avocados) and 6 (citrus) miles in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. If you would like to give it a try, visit the BBC Climate Change Food Calculator.
The Climate Change Food Calculator made me think about the role that transportation plays in the carbon footprint of my food. But as often as I shop at local farmers markets, I’m often tempted by exotic fruits and vegetables when I shop. In order to guarantee a that a sizable portion of my weekly groceries were local, I signed up for a CSA with Highland Orchards. Highland Orchards has a table at the farmers market closest to my house, which makes pickup really easy. They also post a list of the week’s share and helpful recipe ideas on the Facebook page, so subscribers like me can start planning ahead. Pictured above is most of what came in my first share: sweet potatoes, garlic, spinach, red-skinned potatoes, two kinds of apples, onions, carrots, and a huge head of escarole!
One of the first things I made was roasted sweet potato slices and carrots. The carrots were lightly drizzled with blood orange olive oil and then seasoned with whole cumin seeds, marash pepper, and sea salt before roasting. This is a variation on a simple but delicious recipe by Mark Bittman. All you need to do is peel and slice carrots, drizzle with oil, season, and bake in a 425 degree oven until done (check after 20-25 min). I love roasting vegetables on a Saturday or Sunday night, because it means I can mix and match them during the week to create endless variations on Buddha Bowls.
For this bowl I used chile-spiced sweet potato slices, broiled mushrooms, blanched kale, and “bulldog tofu” over quinoa. Granted, I’ve been feeling pretty guilty every time I cook quinoa, but everything else in this dish was locally produced. Bulldog tofu is what I call nutritional yeast seasoned tofu, because the first time I ever encountered nutritional yeast and tofu was at the legendary Bluebird Cafe in Athens, Georgia in a dish called, you guessed it, Bulldog Tofu. If you would like to try making these delicious bites, simply mix about 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce and your favorite cooking oil (I used coconut oil, which gave the entire dish a great flavor). You can marinade cubes or slabs of tofu in this mixture, roll in nutritional yeast, and then bake them on a sheet at 350-375 degrees for about 30 min. OR you can add 2-4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the marinade to make a pasty coating for your tofu, place the tofu on a sheet, and bake the same way.
For a midweek dinner of red-skinned potatoes and escarole, I kept it simple but rich in flavors and textures. I baked the potatoes in one of Sambar Kitchen’s wonderful cooking sauces. I love the Lemon, but they are all very tasty and can even be used by themselves as a dish over rice. Because the potatoes were so flavorful, I simply blanched the escarole, then gave it a quick sauté with olive oil and garlic. You can see more of my cooking and eating on my Instagram account.
What a difference a week can make! I often end up eating on the run. Sometimes I pack a snack, but often I end up patronizing a favorite food truck or grab a salad from somewhere like Honeygrow or Sweetgreen. In the past I’ve reused utensils from a food truck multiple times. More often than not, I’ve lost or broken the utensil and ended up having to grab a plastic fork or spoon from supplies lying around the office, essentially offsetting my own efforts. In the spirit of progress, I decided to order a set of portable utensils by Numu Goods and keep them in my backpack. The set comes, as seen above, with a spoon, fork, and chopsticks—all rolled into a handy carrying case. They are made out of organic beechwood, which is supposed to be more durable and harder than bamboo (I read many reviews complaining about bamboo forks splitting). I’m happy to report that since the set arrived, no plastic utensils have touched my lips!
I’ve also found that just starting this action plan has made me think twice while meal planning. I was out quite late Saturday night, and it would have been very easy to justify ordering Sunday night delivery from any number of local restaurants. But just thinking about not cooking made me feel pretty guilty. I decided to use the opportunity to try a new grocery store that opened up fairly close to where I live. It’s called Sprouts Farmers Market, and people have been raving about it ever since it opened. While I wasn’t blown away by the selection, I did manage to pick up organic cauliflower, kale, and sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, the source or location wasn’t listed, so I have no idea how far my veggies had to travel to get to Philadelphia.
While reading about invasive species for this week’s homework, I roasted both the cauliflower and sweet potatoes in coconut oil, stir-fried tofu and a zucchini that had been sitting in the produce drawer of my refrigerator and with ginger and sesame oil, blanched the kale, and made brown rice. I laid everything out, made a quick Thai red curry sauce, and my boyfriend and I put together brown rice bowls for dinner. On Monday, I reworked the sweet potatoes, tofu, and zucchini into a hash that I seasoned with Sundry Mornings JHC Spice Mix. We had that with tomato soup and a toasted “Philly Muffin” (like an English muffin—but square). Philly Muffins are made by the Philly Bread Company, which sources heirloom grain directly from the farmer and mills on site. They’re also really tasty!
All in all I’d say that my Sustainability Action Plan is off to a solid start (I’m giving myself a generous 5 out of 10). I’ve cooked more, ensured that “emergency plastic” will no longer be a problem, and am trying to meal plan more effectively. Next week I’m hoping to present some of the information I’ve gathered from reading about the sustainability of various diets.
Back in October I wrote that I had recently enrolled in a new degree program, and right now I’m deep into my second full semester. One of my courses is Issues in Biodiversity. In addition to doing a lot of reading and writing, we have all been tasked with designing a personal Biodiversity or Sustainability Action Plan for the semester. Some of my cohorts are elementary school teachers, and they’re devising wonderful projects that involve their students, such as planting a pollinator garden or creating compost for a community garden.
The assignment directions note, “Making a behavior change that positively impacts sustainability can be done simply through your choice in which products you buy, or how much you use your car.” As someone who doesn’t own a car, is an all-weather bicycle commuter, shops at farmers markets for a lot of my produce, carries all my groceries in my backpack, keeps my thermostat set at 65-67 degrees in the winter, and refuses to install central air conditioning, I jokingly said to some classmates, “What? I have to give up more?” But the idea of making a personal change struck me as a terrific challenge.
Lately I’ve been coming across articles claiming that veganism was less sustainable—less eco-friendly—than several omnivore diets. In some cases, the conclusions were based on false comparisons, like imagining that vegans lived solely on exotic foodstuffs with high carbon footprints (avocados, for example) and pitting them against omnis subsisting on locally grown organic meats and vegetables. Still, I found these articles to be somewhat troubling. Cowspiracy (2014) contributed to my decision to go vegan. Since its release, critics have debunked several facts presented in the documentary, especially the percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by industrial farming. Nevertheless, it still seemed—at least to me—to make implicit sense that eating a plant based diet was more environmentally sustainable than one including animal products.
For my Action Plan, I’ve decided to investigate the sustainability and carbon footprint of my diet and see how many positive changes I can make. I’ll be blogging about my discoveries, the changes I make, and posting recipes here. This blog will also be linked to my Instagram account, so that people who like my food photos will have the opportunity to learn more about the ecology of their diet. Wish me luck!
During our fourth Saturday meeting (at the end of week 3), we were treated to a second cooking demo, this time by vegan Chef Lenka Zivkovich. Pictured above are some of the wonderful treats she prepared for our lunch: veggie hummus wraps, bbq jackfruit sandwiches on mini bagels, and cumin-spiced carrot “meatballs” ringed with crostini. When we entered the kitchen, much of what you see above had already been prepped in the interest of time. One think that I found particularly wonderful about both Chef Lenka’s and Miss Rachel’s demos was that although both work as professionals in the cooking industry, they provided us with easy and low-cost options. Both of them passed around ingredients with which we might not be familiar (like canned jackfruit), but they also used items they had picked up at the local Trader Joe’s (like raw cashews and barbecue sauce).
Chef Lenka devoted most of her discussion to, you guessed it, cashews. And I just couldn’t resist, the photo above is of a cashew fruit – the stem-like growth on the underside of the fruit is the nut. Lenka first made a thick and creamy custard of cashews and water in a blender. She explained that the cashew to water ration could be altered to produce a variety of basic products. A 1:2 ratio yielded a creamy custard that could be flavored with a little vanilla and used as the “batter” for french toast. Since Chef Lenka offers a wildly popular vegan brunch at a local restaurant, you know this recipe is winner! If the water content is increased to a 1:3 ratio, the result is a vegan substitute for half and half. Lenka made us a quick smoothie with this creamy base, bananas, and spinach.
One of the amazing things about the pledge meetings is that there are always surprises. Local sponsors have donated wonderful items, such as the tempeh wraps above from Hip City Veg – and mentors have taken it upon themselves to make additional dishes like the gorgeous salad above or the tempting desserts below.
One of the biggest surprise treats came when our organizer mentioned that Chef Lenka had offered to create a late afternoon Happy Hour for our group at Plough and the Stars, where she works. Not only did I immediately sign up for the event, but I emailed some of my vegetarian and “veg-curious” friends to invite them.
When we arrived, Chef Lenka welcomed us and explained what she had prepared. She had organized the dishes on a beautiful buffet table and portioned everything small so that we could try a bit of everything. The dishes included inventive items like a “crabcake” made of both artichoke and palm hearts and a savory grilled watermelon.
Some of my favorite items included (pictured below, clockwise from the left) a truffled mushroom bruschetta, the “double-heart crabcake,” a mini kebob with king mushroom, mock chicken, and fresh papaya, and a fried “shrimp” with a creamy sriracha sauce.
Although the buffet was so bountiful, Lenka had one more surprise in store for us: her celebrated raw, vegan creme brulée. Not surprisingly, she used a cashew base. But the dessert also included hints of coconut and vanilla. She browned the raw sugar topping on site with a portable torch and brought the custards to us herself.
The happy hour left us all completely sated, and we vowed to return to Plough and the Stars for one of Chef Lenka’s prix fix vegan dinners once she returns from a well earned summer vacation.
In honor of National Farmers Market Week, I’m posting two recipes that spotlight vibrant, local summer produce.
First up we have an Arugula and Beet Salad Plate with Chick-Pea Tabbouleh that I made last Sunday. For the tabbouleh, I simply added diced fresh tomato (in this case 4 small Indigo Rose beauties that were red on one end and black on the other), about half a bunch of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, a cup of rinsed canned chick peas, the juice of 1/4 a lemon, and a generous tablespoon of olive oil to a box of Near East Tabouleh (this would work just fine with a cup of plain bulgur, you would just need to add salt to taste).
For the salad I boiled some gorgeous and strikingly pale chioggia beets, peeled and sliced them into eighths, and arranged them over a bed of arugula. About a week ago I had bought Kite Hill’s Truffle, Dill, and Chive almond-based “cheese”; this salad provided the perfect setting for it. Although the texture reminded me a bit of silken tofu, it crumbled well and had a mouthfeel reminiscent of fresh goat cheese. Coarsely chopped pistachios added salty, crunchy goodness – and seemed more interesting than the usual almonds. Because the plate already contained so many flavors and textures, the salad needed nothing more than some olive oil, a bit of aged balsamic vinegar, and freshly cracked black pepper for dressing.
Fast forward to later in the week when I was home alone (my boyfriend flew off to visit his family) and feeling hungry and lazy! For some, the mouse surely plays while the cat is away – but this little rodent’s idea of “play” usually entails eating her way through as many perishable odds and ends as possible, cleaning out the refrigerator, and maybe indulging in a night of Netflix and take-out on a Friday night. Although I was tempted to call out for Thai food, two small but gorgeous eggplant sat waiting in my refrigerator. So I put down the laptop, picked up my knife, and put together a simple meal of Soy and Citrus-Glazed Eggplant With Baked Marinated Tempeh.
Because this striped variety of eggplant tends to be less bitter than the more common dark purple variety, I simply sliced them crosswise, placed them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, and put them under the broiler for a few minutes (turning once after about five minutes) with the oven set to 400 degrees. For the tempeh, I placed thin slices in a baking dish and poured about about a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of liquid smoke over the them. The tempeh baked uncovered while the eggplant broiled below.
In the meantime I made a simple glaze of a tablespoon each of soy sauce and mirin (Japanese rice wine, but you can use cooking sherry), squeezed in a bit of orange juice (about a tablespoon), and added brown sugar to taste. This lent the eggplant both sweetness and sheen. Blanched baby kale and brown rice rounded out the plate. And that dollop of spicy goodness you see? That would be my new favorite condiment, Trader Joe’s Sambal Matah. After I finished my first jar back in March or April it disappeared from the shelves, and I panicked. When it miraculously reappeared in June I bought 3 jars. If you enjoy chile and lemongrass and live anywhere near me, you might consider doing the same!
So what do you do for date night when one partner has joined the Vegan Pledge and the other has not? Interestingly enough, topics like this were covered at one of our Weekly Meetings. A panel of long-term vegans answered questions like, “Do you only date vegans?” One young panelist answered something along the lines of, “If I did, I’d be single for the rest of my life!” Another panelist noted that, while she doesn’t date vegans exclusively, a prospective date’s response to her lifestyle can be a good litmus test. In other words, if you potential date says, “I hope you like ketchup and fries, because we’re going for burgers!” you might want to pass. In other words, regardless of the issue, a red flag is a red flag. Lucky for me, my steady date isn’t a very picky eater and is usually game for any new food experience.
So last week we decided to pay a long overdue visit to Mama Palma’s Gourmet Pizza, an intimate brick-oven pizzeria with an extensive and eclectic menu that offers everything from Peking duck to cajun shrimp to smoked asparagus tips on a pizza. Mama Palma’s also happens to be owned by the family of one of my most energetic and enthusiastic Sunday 9 am fitness participants (her mama is the Mama). And since Brunella’s photo stream suggests that she has enough energy to work out all day (that’s us in the photo below) and then work all night (she’s their hostess), you know there must be magic in those carbs.
Like many small restaurants in Philadelphia, Mama Palma’s allows patrons to bring their own wine (they also have an extensive beer list). In keeping with the spirit of the Pledge, I decided to bring a bottle of Vegan Vine Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany our meal. Vegan Vine wines are produced by Clos LaChance Winery, a family-owned and certified sustainable operation in Northern California. Right now they seem to be producing 2 varieties of 100% vegan wine: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This Cabernet was more fruit-forward, less tannic, and overall less complex than that varietal is capable of producing. I’d place it in the “easy drinking” category with plenty of bright fruit on the palate but not much in terms of a finish. In all honesty, I had wanted to bring a Brunello di Montalcino or even an old-vine Zinfandel, but I had a horrible time cross-referencing Barnivore’s list with what was available and appealing via the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s product search page.
As we browsed the menu and sipped our wine, Brunella sent over one of the evening’s specials: an overflowing plate of fresh asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, and olives all sautéed over the oven flames and accented with garlic and fresh basil. I could easily have made a meal out of the vegetables, but I had spent so much time ogling Brunella’s food photos on Facebook that I couldn’t not order pizza. Since Mama Palma’s offers pizzas in three sizes, my boyfriend and I decided we’d each order an 8″ pie. I went with the Grilled Eggplant Parmesan and simply asked them to replace the mozzarella with non-dairy cheese and hold the grated parmesan. My boyfriend ordered the Nonna, also a red-sauced pie, topped with grilled eggplant, grilled chicken, capers, homemade fresh buffalo mozzarella, and garnished with basil.
We had strategically used the appetizer’s cornucopia of vegetables as an excuse to order pizzas that featured grilled eggplant, which we both love. As you can see from the photo, the crust was thin and temptingly charred and the eggplant beautifully browned. Ladling the sauce on top kept the crust crisp and the eggplant moist.
As we bicycled home full and happy, we started listing the pizzas we wanted to try during future visits. “I want to try that one with the lemon and wine roasted garlic.” “The polenta bread, people keep raving about the polenta bread online!” “Did you see that guy’s salad?” “Did you see the piece of vegan cake at home in the refrigerator? I got it for us to share.” “I’m too full to eat dessert.” “Me too.”