A Vegan Year

Day 16: Schmancy Sandwich (Takeout)

Day 16 Pic 1 Schmancy Sandwich
I didn’t have time to cook last night, so dinner was the delicious “Schmancy” sandwich from Clementine, a local vegan bakery. The listed ingredients are “baked and seasoned tofu, pesto, spinach, avocado, tomato, and hollandaise sauce” on a rosemary roll (and I’m not sure if it’s obvious from the photo, but it’s served hot). I’d like to try and make this myself; it sounds like a bit of a faff, but if you prepared the tofu and vegan pesto in advance and used store-bought vegan hollandaise, I imagine you could then throw it together pretty quickly.

A sandwich might not seem like much for dinner, but this was really filling, and I’d already eaten a big bowl of leftover Thai Red Curry for lunch (I apparently made an infinite amount, because there’s still some left). I also think it helps make your vegan life a little easier if you stop thinking about breakfast, lunch, and dinner as “something sweet / something small / big meal.” So long as you’re eating enough—that’s really important—it doesn’t matter whether your food conforms to some odd notion of traditional mealtime fare.

And speaking of that “local vegan bakery”—I want to acknowledge how bloody lucky I am to live somewhere with plentiful vegan food options and decent supermarkets. More than 23 million Americans live in “food deserts,” areas with limited or nonexistent access to healthy food (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables). According to the Food Empowerment Project, in New York alone an estimated 750,000 residents lack access to well-stocked food stores:

Supermarkets throughout New York City have closed down in recent years due to increasing rents and shrinking profit margins, but the disappearance of urban grocery stores has had the most serious impact on low-income communities, especially those that are predominantly African-American (such as East/Central Harlem and North/Central Brooklyn).

It’s obviously going to be much more challenging to adopt a vegan diet when the only food store near you is a Burger King or a bodega. Not to mention—if you live miles from the nearest supermarket (and can’t afford the gas to drive there) and you come home from work every night utterly exhausted and worried about where your next meal is going to come from, you’re unlikely to have the time or emotional energy to think about animal rights or the health benefits of a plant-based diet. And if you did find yourself looking online for information about veganism (assuming you even had access to the internet), you might be a little put off when you discover that so many of its proponents are rich white people who seem to care more about sheep and cows than their fellow humans. So when some vegans insist that, since rice and beans are plentiful and cheap, everyone can be vegan, no excuses—well, that seems woefully simplistic to me. This video from A Privileged Vegan sums it up much better than I can:

[The “rice and beans are cheap” argument] is typically used by vegans who, like myself, did not have to surmount any meaningful obstacle when going vegan. It is unfair to benefit from a bounty of support all along your journey to becoming a vegan and then, once you are thriving on a plant-based diet and have developed a strong ethical connection to animals, turn around and pretend like none of that process existed and that ‘poor people’ really have no excuse not to go vegan.

Of course, this is not to say that members of disadvantaged socioeconomic groups are incapable of or excused from engaging in ethical reasoning—that would be a ridiculously condescending position. It’s simply to acknowledge that becoming a vegan is going to be a hell of a lot easier for some of us, and if we really care about advocacy for animals and people, we should be talking about the systems of oppression—not freaking rice and beans.

A Vegan Year

Days 14 & 15: Thai Red Curry With Tofu & Veggies

Days 14 & 15 Pic 1 Thai Red Curry
Another day, another bowl of tasty goop. This Thai Red Curry recipe comes from The Vegan Slow Cooker cookbook. I can’t find a link to the cookbook recipe online, but this one is identical, except that the cookbook suggests adding the coconut milk and broccoli only twenty minutes before serving rather than an hour. As for adaptations: I used nearly three tablespoons of the red curry paste to make it decently spicy, and I substituted the bamboo shoots and broccoli for carrots and sweet potatoes, because that’s what I had on hand (and I didn’t fancy bamboo shoots). I left out the basil because apparently I can’t read. I’d give this recipe… 6.5 out of 10? It was easy to prepare—hurrah for slow cookers—and the flavor was very nice, but the curry was a bit watery and had none of that oily creaminess you associate with deliciously shitty Thai takeout. I suspect this was down to the use of light coconut milk; I wish I’d ignored the recipe and gone for the full-fat kind. I’d try making this again, using proper coconut milk and maybe with vegetable stock (or vegan ‘chicken’ stock) instead of water.

In other news: I’ve finally encountered some meat-eatery nonsense that earns me a square on the Defensive Omnivore Bingo Card! Since becoming a vegan, I’ve mostly kept quiet about it IRL (I’m slowly gearing up for the role of bold and articulate animal rights advocate, but since I’m naturally meek and prone to mumbling it’s going to take me a while). However, veganism occasionally comes up when you’re at a restaurant with friends and there’s nothing remotely leafy on the menu and you have to mutter what-can-you-do-that’s-vegan? to the waiter. In that situation, most people have expressed mild interest—”Really? For your health? Or for ethical reasons?”—and then gone back to the odd business of eating carcasses. But over a recent lunch, one friend greeted the news with a dramatic eye roll and then wondered why it was okay for me to be eating those cashews—wasn’t I worried about causing them pain? And there’s my bingo square, just like that! I feel like a real vegan now.

After he’d expressed his, like, totally legitimate, not-trolling-at-all concerns about plant suffering, he then observed me putting almond milk in my coffee and told me that almond milk was causing the drought in California. I looked into this claim and wish I’d been able to quote this article:

While almond critics like to point out that 10 percent of California’s water goes to almond farming, they don’t tend to mention that 50 percent goes towards livestock.

Other excellent resources I wish I could’ve quoted: Emily’s Everything Wrong With Environmentalism In 11 Minutes Or Less video, and this 4 Reasons Why The ‘Plant Sentience’ Argument Doesn’t Work article. Ah well, I’ll be better prepared next time.

A Vegan Year

Days 12 & 13: Red Lentil Dal with Cilantro Rice

Days 12 & 13 Pic 1 Red Lentil Dal
If you’re wanting to whip up an elegant gourmet meal to show the meat-lover in your life that vegan food is not the lentil goop they imagine—don’t cook this. This is lentil goop. It’s quite nice, very healthy, and undeniably… vegan. If you asked professional Beef Douche Guy Fieri to draw you a picture of a typical vegan dish, this is what he’d draw (although he wouldn’t draw it very well, because he’s probably more used to sketching food shaped like horse poops). 

This Golden Red Lentil Dal with Cilantro-Speckled Basmati recipe is from Oh She Glows, whose cookbook I heartily recommend. I made a few changes: I didn’t have basmati, so I used regular white rice, and I added a sweet potato, because we had one loafing about in the back of the cupboard. My finished dish doesn’t look anywhere near as pretty as Angela’s because I failed to notice the word finely in her carrot-dicing instructions, and thus my bowl has giant orange chunks in it (and, as she helpfully notes, the larger your carrot chunks, the longer the dal will take to cook; this took ages). Also, she served her meal on a fancy plate, whereas I like to eat out of old bowls. I freakin’ love bowls. I have to be physically restrained from mashing up all of my food and serving it in a bowl. I once asked my husband if he’d ever get some romantic reminder of me tattooed somewhere on his person—I was picturing, you know, my name etched in a charming script—and he said, “Maybe a picture of a bowl?” My middle name is not Sophistication (it’s Rae).

I’m not sure I’d make this again; I found the dal a little bland (thankfully, as per my earlier note to self re. seasoning, I did remember to douse it in Sriracha sauce, and that made it pretty tasty). In any case, the recipe gets an average of 4.9 out of 5 from other reviewers, so take my opinion with a grain of salt (or, as is apparently my preference, 63,000 grains of salt). It made enough for two dinners and a lunch, so it’s certainly economical. And I really liked the cilantro rice; I’d make that again to serve with something else.

I noticed that I cropped the photo so the book title reads The Science of Goo; then I googled “the science of goo” and found this. Isn’t the world a marvelous and unfathomable place?

A Vegan Year

Day 11: Zucchini Burrito (Takeout)

Day 11 Pic 1 Zucchini Burrito

Last night I had a ginormous takeout zucchini burrito from Villa Pancho Taqueria. No cheese, no sour cream, lots of guac, totally vegan—although it pays to double-check, since some places have a funny idea about what constitutes vegan food (e.g. another local Mexican place lists a shrimp burrito amongst their vegan options).

The mustachioed would-be burrito thief is Tycho, a former Red Hook stray. Our friends T & C took him in when he walked into their apartment one day, drooled happily all over them, and refused to leave. He was skinny, had worms, and had been declawed by his cruel and moronic previous owners. T & C put up Found Cat posters but no one came forward. They were pretty attached to him by now, but their landlord wouldn’t let them have pets, so we said we’d look after him. We already had two cats, so the way Rob tells it, we were just fostering this third cat until we found him another home—after all, once you have three cats in a small Brooklyn apartment, you’re those people. However, I suspected we were those people, and sure enough, cat #3 stayed.

Tycho has a few odd habits we attribute to his life on the streets: he acts desperate around food and will eat all sorts of crap, the grosser the better. A sink baffle covered in disgusting gunge is his idea of Fancy Brunch. A few months ago he threw up half of a large piece of black rubber, and after a day of searching we finally figured out that he’d crawled into the dishwasher, ripped out a washer, and eaten it; I’m not sure where the other half went. He’s also utterly fearless (possibly because at this point he’s 23% rubber). And you can tell we love him because he once turned on a faucet while we were out and flooded the apartment in such a dramatic way that we had to replace half the living room floor—and yet he’s still alive!

You’ll also notice he’s on our kitchen counter. That’s a bit gross. The other two cats know not to get up there, but Tycho is always so nuts around food that we’ve never been able to keep him from jumping up. Rest assured, however, that he did not get his sad, clawless mitts on my burrito. (And if you ever come over for dinner, please know that I pick every individual cat hair from each plate before serving. JK! I totally leave that shit in there.)

Day 11 Pic 2 Tuxedo Cat Tycho

Assorted Piffle

Rubbish Bags

Would you look at this silly shit? This is a Louis Vuitton advertisement from October’s British Vogue. The photographer is Jürgen Teller; the model is Jennifer Connelly.

British Vogue Oct 2015
A French fashion house chucks money at a world-renowned photographer and an Oscar-winning actress—and this is what they come up with? What was the brief for this dreary nonsense? “Make her look like she’s been waiting for the methadone clinic to open for hours”? Ah yes, so luxe, very aspire! I know 1993 is happening all over again in fashion-land, but can we not add anything new to the drug chic oeuvre? (At least the original perpetrators knew to crack a smile now and then.) And with all the resources and talent involved, they could have come up with anything. Anything. Jennifer Connelly in a diving bell at a diner on Mars. Jennifer Connelly laughing riotously while clutching an iguana. Jennifer Connelly disappearing into a sinkhole in Buttslap, Idaho, while a million tiny totebags tumble after her. Jennifer Connelly looking radiant and happy. Anything. And we got this, a tired and tacky antonym for joie de vivre. A portrait of a woman whose spunk has fallen down the back of the sofa. The gaunt last gasp of a shabby bag company desperate to make itself seem exclusive again—because too many of us Regular Folk have been splurging on their wares, and nothing scares a so-called luxury brand more than the day a legal secretary from Des Moines plops her credit card down on your counter and says, “I’d like a bag, please!” (c.f. Coach, Burberry, Gucci). Away with you, Louis Vuitton! Your demented douchery is shining wanly through poor Ms. Connelly’s eyes. Mind you, if I had to stand around in an abandoned auto-parts warehouse holding a dead cow, I’d probably look a little sad, too.

A Vegan Year

Days 9 & 10: Eggplant Potato Moussaka

Days 09 & 10 Pic 1
Something odd has happened: I’ve started to enjoy making dinner. How can this be?! I’ve always hated cooking. Hated it. Spending time in the kitchen made me angry. On the rare occasions I bothered to cook, people knew to stay out of the way because there’d be a lot of seething and swearing and general f*ck-this-shitting going on. And when friends invited us to potluck dinners, it took all my willpower not to respond, “Thanks for the invite to a party that apparently requires me to perform tedious labor. I’m not making food—and to make it fair, I won’t eat any of yours, either!” (No, I’m not socially awkward at all… why do you ask?) But ever since I went vegan, I’ve been cooking a lot more, and I’ve found myself sort of tentatively looking forward to it. I think this is partly because a lot of vegan food is really good. There’s this misconception that we live on lettuce and lentils, but I reckon ditching the meat and dairy forces recipe makers to be a bit more creative. And, since they also want to show diehard omnivores that vegan food can be just as delicious as their meaty nonsense, there’s a real emphasis on rich, flavorful meals.

And speaking of rich and flavorful—here we have my attempt at Eggplant Potato Moussaka with Pine Nut Cream (another recipe from Isa’s Post Punk Kitchen). It’s photographed from above because my layers didn’t look quite as neat as Isa’s—but apart from a little…sloppiness, this turned out NICE, and made enough for at least six big servings (it only lasted the two of us two nights, as Rob had several helpings). I followed the recipe pretty closely, although I left out the arrowroot—didn’t have any and didn’t want to buy any—and I don’t think it made much of a difference. Rob made a romaine and red pepper salad to go with the moussaka; the dressing was a mix of lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, and white pepper.

I made a small sauce blunder when I started assembling the moussaka: because I’d just finished making the pine nut cream, I mistakenly read “spread 1/4 cup of sauce in the pan” as referring to the pine nut goop and so I used some of it as the bottom layer, when of course it was actually referring to the tomato sauce. But no harm done, and it didn’t seem to cause any catastrophic structural issues. Both the pine nut “Béchamel” and the tomato sauce were delicious, and I think you could easily incorporate them into other recipes.

Worth noting: Isa mentions that the recipe is a little labor intensive, but I didn’t find it too bad. It’s supposed to take one and a half hours to make; it took me two (I only have one baking tray, so I had to bake the potatoes, zucchini, and eggplant one after the other). I guess two hours might sound like a long time, but most recipes seem to take me at least an hour—I’m a leisurely cook—and an extra hour for something this delicious was well worth it.

Days 09 & 10 Pic 2