Friday, May 29, 2009


Cake! I saw a recipe for lemon raspberry cake on Vegalicious, the first vegan recipe blog I subscribed to way back in the day when I was learning vegan basics. Although the recipe was posted in early March I immediately sent it to Jeff and told him that this is the cake I would want for my 25th birthday. (Jeff and I don't buy each other gifts, instead we make each other baked goods for birthdays.)

The cake is absolutely divine. Jeff made it with limes instead of lemon, and the entire kitchen smelled like key lime pie while it was baking. The frosting was a bit thick, I like creamier frosting, but it was still delicious. I had just purchased a pastry decorator and had a hard time piping it through the nozzle, and it was my first try with the decorator. Hopefully I'll get more practice with decorating baked goods in the future. (I was also only able to take one or two photos because my parents, Jeff and I wanted to eat it instead of waiting forever for me to get a lot of shots.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Baby Lettuce!

Lettuce The bucket full of lettuce seeds out on my fire escape has grown into a bucket full of baby lettuces! Jeff and I have been eating away at these since they were wee sprouts, and now they are actually big enough to make a somewhat substantial salad.

I'm excited that they're so big. My parents are visiting tonight, and I plan on making some mushroom risotto (easily veganizable recipe courtesy of Joy of Cooking, my favorite cookbook ever), seitan and a salad including our baby lettuce, and some tomatoes and pepper. Maybe the locally grown lettuce will almost offset the fact that our rice was imported from Thailand.... Or maybe not. But home grown lettuce is really easy to grow and certainly tastes better than anything purchased in a store!!

[More Photos]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Plastic Waste (May 13-19, 2009)

I know that plastic waste may not seem to have much relevance to food, but for me it does. I don't buy much stuff, but I do buy a lot of food. Until recently, when I started reading the blog Fake Plastic Fish, I just bought whatever was cheapest in the store without giving much consideration to the overall impact of that decision. Although I have been using plastic tote bags for about 5 years, and rarely used plastic produce bags, I didn't think twice about using plastic bags to fill up on bulks at the co-op. I didn't take into any consideration if my condiments were packaged in glass or plastic bottles.

When I started to read Fake Plastic Fish, it turned on a light bulb in my brain. It made me realize that while I may complain about plastic packaging, it's ultimately my decision to purchase (or not purchase) plastic packaged items. Yes, this is much easier said than done, but I have been in the process of changing my purchasing habits over the past few months. I have a long way to go but have already made a lot of progress.

I have a list on my freezer of a lot of food items I use that are made with plastic, and while I don't have alternatives for everything yet, there are some things (like pizza dough) that are so easy to make that I instantly made the switch.

Recently, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish issued a challenge for her readers to tally up their plastic waste for one week. I have wanted to do something like this for a while, but I feel like now is the perfect time to finally get around to seeing how much plastic I go through in a week.

I have to preface this list by noting that this is only household waste (nothing from work is counted, although I had a lucky week where I created no plastic waste, I have a very eco-unfriendly job). This is also waste generated by two people - Jeff and me.

Here is the tally for May 13-19, 2009:

May 13:

  • Tempeh Package - I love tempeh, and as a vegan it's one of my main "meat" sources. I don't tend to like faux meats -- tofu and tempeh pretty much do it for me, and tempeh is my absolute favorite. I know this is something that I can eventually learn how to make myself, and I will, but for now I am scared off by the idea of fermenting my own soybeans. For now I will continue to buy tempeh, and it is unfortunately packaged in plastic. (Although, I do feel like I have done a little bit to help by purchasing Soy Boy tempeh, which is a great small company, and I boycott LightLife products, which are made by the Evil Empire ConAgra.)

  • Scotch Brite Sponge - Jeff (who is also eager to help catalog my plastic waste) asked me if a sponge is made from plastic, and if not, could we compost it? Apparently the disgusting smell coming from my sink wasn't coming from my sink, it was coming from my sponge. Gross. I tend to use sponges over and over for several months, and it's high time I get rid of this one. I looked online and while the spongy base is made from wood pulp, the green scouring top is made from nylon fiber. In the future I will make the switch to Skoy Cloths, but in the mean time I have several more sponges that I bought over a year ago sitting in my pantry waiting to get my dishes clean. (For the record, I intend to put the spongy bottom into the compost and see what happens.)

  • Scouring Pad - I've had this thing sitting around for ages, and I don't know why I didn't get rid of it awhile ago. It long since lost its ability to get my cast iron skillet clean (and I've since switched to a grill brush which should last much, much longer than scouring pads). It's also Scotch Brite, so it's similarly made from nylon fibers. Needless to say I won't be buying these again.

May 14:
  • Tempeh - Again.

  • 5 Soy Sauce Packets - I'm not sure if these are made out of plastic but I think so, and am going to include them. I usually always have tamari on hand in the fridge, but I was out, and had these soy sauce packets from take-out sushi way back when, so I used them while making fried rice.

May 15:
  • Nip Guards - I'm an avid runner, and even though I wear a sports bra, it's not enough to prevent painful chafing during my long runs (>6 miles). Unfortunately I haven't found anything better than nip guards, and not only is the packaging (not present) plastic, but so are the things that the nip guards are on. I'm not sure if the nip guards themselves are plastic but I'm including them just in case.

  • Tempeh - Yep, I love tempeh.

  • 2 Drinking Straws & 2 Small Cups - I went back to my hometown to visit my family, and that means I went out to eat. (I almost never go out to eat when I'm home in Boston.) I meant to ask for no straw, but I forgot. This is my straw, Jeff's straw, and the mixing straw (talk about useless plastic!) from my gin and tonic. The two cups are from asking for BBQ sauce for my french fries (both me and Jeff). I thought I'd get a bottle.

May 16:
  • 2 Drinking Straws - Went out to eat AGAIN and I ordered a drink and got another straw. Oops. Also, they put whipped cream on top. I get so lazy in my veganism here in Boston where I only go out to eat at vegan restaurants that I forget that "normal" restaurants put whipped cream on things like Piña Coladas. The other straw/stirrer is from Jeff's margarita. (You can't even drink through those tiny things, so it baffles the mind why they give them to you in the first place!)

May 17:
  • 2 Plastic Windows - I came back and had a lot of mail. One piece was a solicitation from a local charity that came with a plastic window. I have mailed them back asking to be taken off of their mailing list. One was a mailing from an insurance company from when I got hit by a car door last year. I should hopefully never be getting any mail from this insurance company ever again.

  • 2 Plastic Bags - I ordered two books from two separate people. I bought them used so I didn't think I'd get any plastic in the packaging. So I was surprised to find these two book sized plastic bags enveloping my books inside the bubble wrap mailers. These are books, they don't need to be housed in three layers of protection!!! I don't order books often but when I do I guess I need to ask for no plastic.

  • 2 Chopstick Wrappers - I go to Grasshopper's buffet every month. Sometimes I remember to bring my own chopsticks. Sometimes I forget and use their chopsticks, which are packaged in plastic. Grasshopper is currently the only place I've been to in the Boston area that has plastic (instead of paper) chopstick wrappers. Genki Ya on Harvard Ave is the only place I know of that has reusable chopsticks. (One of the wrappers is missing from the photo, it's probably in my pants pocket somewhere.)

May 18:
  • Plastic Wine Thingy - I love wine, and it seems that the cheap wine tends to have real corks. However, this one also had a stupid plastic thingy around the cork, that I thought was foil when I bought it. It's hard to tell what you're going get, sometimes it's foil, sometimes the cork is cork, and sometimes there's foil around a screw top.

  • Ice Cream Lid Seal - One thing I can't live without is delicious vegan ice cream, and Trader Joe's Soy Creamy Black Cherry Chocolate Chip is about as good as it gets. When I first bought this ice cream I'm pretty sure they didn't have plastic seals, but now they do. I'm not sure this is something I could give up, even though there is plastic involved.

  • Pasta Box Window - Why do these windows exist? People already know what pasta looks like, and on the off chance they don't, like 99% of all other products out there the company could just put a photo of pasta on the cardboard box. Jeff has a pasta maker, so we will definitely start to make our own pasta. At least the windows on boxes are better than the plastic bags of pasta they sell at Whole Foods.

  • Corner of Plastic Package - I just wrote a detailed post about my stance on food products, and then I went and bought vegan butterscotch chips at Price Chopper when I was back home this past weekend. They are definitely not food by any real definition, but sometimes a vegan just misses eating butterscotch! I'll figure out a recipe for the stuff but in the mean time I'm going to make some mean cookies.

May 19:
  • Plastic Baggie - This is from a razor Jeff just bought. Yes, the razor was packed with plastic and had packing peanuts (not sure if they are starch or polystyrene) but this is going to prevent the future consumption of plastic disposable razors. I will probably also use it, so that will be less plastic razors used by two people!

While this isn't a lot of stuff, this is certainly a lot of stuff that I could live without. I do think that it reflects an outlier week, in that I went home and that accounted for a lot of waste (6 straws and 2 plastic cups out of 30 total items), but I can't just make excuses. I have learned to be more vigilant about packaging in online orders (I made an order for some personal care products yesterday and asked for them not to be packaged in plastic), I have learned to be more vigilant about asking not for straws (although I normally eat out three times a month, and neither place I eat out at uses straws).

I have also continued to make some lifestyle changes. Jeff purchased a real razor. I bought a grill brush for my cast iron skillet (it's plastic, but better and more robust than sponges). I recently purchased cloth sanitary napkins and am excited not to have to purchase any more of those awful plastic ones from CVS.

And there are some things I still have to learn. Making tempeh would probably cut my normal plastic waste by half. Learning how to make large batches of pasta for consumption over the course of a few weeks or months would also lead to less plastic from the pasta containers. Maybe if I ever learn how to make soy ice cream, I can reduce my plastic tally even further!

One final thing is to note that I don't think that any of the stuff in this tally is recyclable here in Boston. I will probably put the two plastic cups (labeled as #6, polystyrene) in the bin, but everything else is not specified on Boston's recycling website, and I know they don't recycle plastic bags. So unfortunately they will go out with my trash, which is, sadly, in a large plastic bag (I will switch to paper bags in the future).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Great Michael Pollan Article

I just came across a great interview between Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and Michael Pollan on Alternet this morning.

The two books that made the biggest impact on the way I eat are Tom Robbin's The Food Revolution and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. (His book The Omnivore's Dilemma was also great but didn't really change the way I ate.)

Michael Pollan's main thesis in In Defense of Food is that people shouldn't eat too much food, they should eat mostly plants, and they should eat only things that actually are food. In other words, don't eat food products. He goes on to define food products, and basically they're the product of industrialized food. High fructose corn syrup (and many other corn products made cheap by corn subsidies) is a big indication of processed food. As are many other chemicals.

Being vegan also helped me to recognize the disgusting ingredients that are in foods these days. As a beginner label reader, I at first only looked for ingredients that would make me re-shelf the product, whey, casein, milk, butter, gelatin, lard, etc. But after reading Michael Pollan's books, I became a more avid label reader. Why should I eat something that contains Polysorbate 60 (an ingredient in Cool Whip and Twinkies)?? I even try to limit my consumption of Soy Lecithin, which is prevalent in more foods than you would think, because it's made using hexane, an industrial solvent.

(Not to mention, many foods that use cheap corn (or soy) products are probably using genetically modified corn (or soybeans), and I hope to write a post about that in the future.)

Back to the article. It's a really great overview of Michael Pollan's arguments about how the food system really affects us in ways that may not be immediately apparent. A large part of the health crisis is likely related to food (and another large part in industries creating all of these toxic chemicals in the first place, and being totally unregulated, but that's another rant for another day).

It amazes me to think of how much effort went into mandating companies to put ingredient labels and nutrition information onto foods, and how much of an enlightening thing that can be for consumers if we only LOOK at it. But so many people have bought into the idea that we don't have enough time to read labels, or cook healthy food, that people don't read the labels, or don't care what the ingredients are. We've been sold on the idea that we can live better through science that we may be wary of giving a critical eye to what's in our food. For me, it's scary to think that I ate so many food products for so much of my life, but ignorance isn't bliss. Read the labels, and start eating real food!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Garlic Shoots

One thing I really love to do (although not more than eating) is reading. I can easily go through 10 or 15 books in a month, and I started saving oodles of money when I made the switch from bookstores to my local library (or three local libraries, to be more precise). I read a lot of nonfiction, and one subject that I read a lot about is food. I'm interested in the industrial food complex, and how to avoid it as much as possible. This includes being vegan, eating as much organic produce as I can afford, avoiding food products (read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food for more information on food products), and trying to grow as much food as I can indoors.

It's amazing how simple it can be to grow some things indoors. I have north facing windows, a tiny apartment, and until recently had quite the black thumb, but I have still managed to produce quite the little indoor garden. However I didn't know until last summer that it was possible to grow a few veggies with little to no effort involved.

The first thing I learned how to grow was scallions. This is real simple: take the bottom part (with the root attached) and either plant it in a small pot, or stick it in a jar of water. They'll grow really big, and you can just cut the top off when you're ready and eat it. It'll grow back. I'm not sure if there's a limit to how often it'll grow back, but it's certainly better than going to the store to buy more!

Garlic Shoot The second thing I learned was in an awesome resource, Urban Homestead. It was a short paragraph on growing garlic. Similarly to the scallions, you simply plant the garlic clove in some dirt and prune and eat the shoots. I had my first garlic shoots yesterday and they were simply delicious. They are very garlicky, without going through the effort of peeling and chopping up a whole clove.

I've also planted an onion (it was sprouting an awful lot in my fridge), but I have no idea yet if the shoots are edible. But it looks cool and hasn't died (yet), so I'll keep it going for as long as I can. Also indoors I have some peppers sprouting (thai, ho chi minh and habañero) as well as some seeds just planted (red, green and jalapeños). On my fire escape is a bucket full of lettuce plants that are somewhere between a sprout and baby lettuce. They're still delicious (just slightly spicy) in a salad.

I've probably sunk about 20$ into the whole deal, mostly the lettuce seeds (which were 7.50$ at Whole Foods) and also including potting soil. But if the pepper plants grow to produce actual peppers, I'm sure this is money I'll easily be saving by not going grocery shopping as often. Also, it's cool to grow your own food!