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05/17/2011

Toronto Zoo elephants are getting new digs thanks to Bob Barker!   »

I was pretty sad when Bob Barker retired from The Price is Right, but it’s hard to argue with how he’s spent his time since. He’s an impressive activist for animals [Ed.: Always spay and neuter your pets!], and now he gets some credit for another victory: the three elephants at the Toronto Zoo will soon be moving to a more pachyderm-appropriate location than, you know, Canada.

I love Toka, Thika and Iringa; that’s why I want to see them in a better home. Toronto’s not as cold as some people think—we do not live in igloos here—but it’s definitely a lot chillier than an elephant’s natural habitat. Their current facility at the Toronto Zoo just isn’t cutting it, and a new one would be prohibitively expensive. Also, the three ladies are no spring pachyderms anymore, and as they get older, January in Canada is only going to get rougher on them. Bob Barker agrees, so much so that he’s offered to foot the bill himself in order to get the three Toronto elephants somewhere more comfortable. He’s suggested sanctuaries in California and Tennessee.
That kind of move is closer than ever before now that the Toronto Zoo Board has agreed that the elephants should be moved to a new home, either a zoo or a sanctuary. The board decided last week that their 36-year elephant program should end, but they haven’t yet figured out where its three residents should go. They’ve opened it up to other interested zoos, and the Granby zoo in Quebec wants them. Their facility, which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, certainly seems like a better fit than the Toronto Zoo’s outdated digs, but Quebec’s climate isn’t any better for elephants than Toronto’s, frankly.

Another option that’s being considered is a sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif. run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society, which is the option supported by Barker and the watchdog group Zoocheck Canada. The Toronto Zoo board worries that it’s not AZA-accredited like a zoo can be, but Barker and Zoocheck vouch for the sanctuary and point out that the California climate is certainly a better fit for an animal with a natural habitat in places like Africa and India.

It’s going to take a couple years for the process of finding a new home and moving the elephants to be complete, but the good news right now is that one way or another, Toka, Thinga and Iringa will end up somewhere more suitable for them. A lot of people in Toronto will probably be sad to see them go, but this is my suggestion: once the elephants have moved on, how about putting up a display honoring the elephants’ time in Toronto and explaining why they were moved and where they’ve gone? It’s a great way to teach kids that being a good steward of animals, not maintaining a tourist attraction at all costs, is what’s really important.

Terri lives in Toronto, Ont., where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues. Photo from the National Post.

05/02/2011

Guest recipe: Fresh pasta handkerchiefs with mushroom sauce and really good beans  »

Or, duxelle fazzoletti with scarlet runner confit.

There are three parts to this recipe: the beans, the pasta, the mushroom sauce. Any one of them can be plucked out and used in other dishes. The beans must be started at least one day in advance. This recipe is for two people so you can adjust accordingly, but you may have extra of both the pasta dough and the beans at the end. They both keep very well. Lastly, this is largely a pantry dish but the fresh ingredients—mushrooms, rosemary, greens, onion and garlic—come through so clearly that it still feels springy. I do suggest seasoning to taste and that’s how the recipe is written, but if you‘re meticulous or don‘t know what you‘re doing, a general standard is to salt at .5 percent the weight of the ingredient.

Ingredients
1 cup large dried beans (I use scarlet runners)
½ bunch rosemary
4 cloves garlic
Approximately 2 cups olive oil
6 large crimini mushrooms (about 200g)
2 to 4 grams Dried porcini mushrooms
1 small onion
2 Tbsp. white wine, not a sweet one (get a box or a four-pack of those smaller bottles—you‘re not going to use that much so this way it keeps)
1 Tbsp. any kind of wheat flour
½ cup white wine vinegar
12 oz semolina flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill mainly ‘cause Bob seems like such a nice guy)
Salt
½ bunch greens, stemmed if necessary (I like kale or sorrel for this)
6 capers

Beans
This is a bean confit—in French confit generally means to preserve, more specifically to cook something at a low temperature covered in fat and leave it in the fat in which it was cooked. Most traditionally this method is used for dead duck cooked in the fat of all its friends and family, but more recently it’s been applied to lots of things, from artichokes to tomatoes to garlic to beans to cabbage. You may have leftover beans, and you can eat them at 2 a.m. with a spoon in the light of the refrigerator. Or on a salad, or in another pasta, or on a sandwich.

Soak your beans overnight with a bunch of salt. You cannot over salt them in this state so just put in a handful. The salt will reduce cooking time even further than just plain soaking.

The next day drain the beans and put them in a pot with enough water to cover them by about three inches and add 2 Tbps. of salt. Simmer until the beans are cooked—it could be anywhere from a half hour to an hour. Start tasting at about a half hour.
Drain the beans when they feel cooked but before they‘re falling apart. Now we will make them delicious. Put the beans in the smallest pot that will hold them all. Cover the beans with oil. This may seem like a lot of oil. It is. Fat makes delicious. Don’t quote me. Put in 4 sprigs of rosemary, 4 peeled garlic cloves, and 1 tablespoon salt. Gently stir it up.

Cover with a pot lid or aluminum foil and cook for 45 minutes at 300 degrees. Spoon one out and blow on it or let it sit in a cold place for a solid minute. When they are done they will feel luxurious in your mouth. Season the pot with 2 or more tablespoons of white wine vinegar and more salt if needed. Do this either earlier in the day or like 2 weeks ahead of time, the most important thing being that it needs to cool down in this oil to get the most out of this preparation.

Pasta
If I had to choose one food to be forced to eat every day for the rest of my life it would be pasta. It’s funny and sad that vegan options at restaurants are almost always limited to spaghetti with marinara. While some Italian traditions do use eggs in their fresh pasta, most Italian homes before WWII could not afford eggs and therefore used flour and water as their dough, like in this recipe. Keep this book in your bathroom and you will learn a lot. At home, dried pasta is one way to go, almost all of it is vegan and lots of it is awesome. But fresh pasta is a whole different creature and it only takes them about 5 minutes to make it on Iron Chef.

Take out a scale. Weigh out 250g of semolina, 2g salt, and 100g of water. If you don’t have a scale this will be about 1½ cups flour, a two-finger pinch of salt, and ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. water. I wouldn’t suggest it for this dish, but if you want a slightly richer dough, you can also add 1 Tbsp. olive oil toward the end of mixing.

Use a food processor, a Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook, or a large table and your hands. Mix the semolina and salt. Pour in the water and mix until it becomes a firm ball. Keep mixing for a few more minutes.

Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for about 45 minutes. During this time you may want to make the mushrooms.

Dust a surface with flour. Roll out large bubblegum-size pieces of the dough into 1/8th-inch flatness using a pasta machine or a rolling pin. If you want to cut neat corners do that, preferably with a pizza wheel. Then ball the scraps back up and roll them out again. Sprinkle flour over the top of the rolled-out dough and hang it up on your clothes dryer rack from target, or shower curtain rod so that they don’t stick to anything as you keep rolling out more.

You will want about 5 of these pasta sheets per plate.

Mushrooms
This is called a duxelle.

Put the mushrooms in a food processor or chop them up fine by hand. Small dice the onion or if you’re really lazy put that in the food processor, but separately from the mushrooms. Pick the leaves off a rosemary twig and chop them up too. Break up about four pieces of dried porcini mushrooms into breadcrumb-sized pieces.

Heat up a nine-inch frying pan and put 4 Tbsp. of oil in it. When that’s hot, put in the mushrooms, onion, rosemary and porcinis and season it all with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring every two minutes or so. At every point you want enough oil so that the bottom of the pan is shiny with it.

When it’s pretty dark brown, after say 10 minutes, sprinkle in 1 Tbsp. of flour. Stir it around to incorporate. This will give the final product body and make it more of a sauce  Cook for another two minutes. Pour in 2 Tbsp. of white wine. Cook until it is mostly evaporated and then remove from the heat.

To put the whole dish together, fill a large pot of water and put it over high heat. This is one more thing you can’t really over-salt; make it into the sea—just not the Dead Sea. Roughly chop five big-stemmed leaves of kale or put aside a small handful of sorrel.

When the water is boiling, heat your mushrooms back up over medium heat and drop your greens, 12 capers, and about 15 beans into the mushrooms. Lightly salt your greens. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring so that nothing sticks. Drop your pasta into the boiling water. Wait 90 seconds. Take your pasta out of the water and drop it into the mushrooms. Stir gently or flip until everything is incorporated. Serve.

Mark Tinkleman is committed to a radically better future for all of humanity where borders are replaced by bridges, religions replaced by thriving cultures, and meat and dairy are replaced by beans, nuts, grains and vegetables. He is a cook by profession, was trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute, and has worked at restaurants including Angelika Kitchen, Blossom Café, Counter, and Parc. He lives with his beautiful partner and their cat in Philadelphia. Go Philly!

04/26/2011

LA Folk! Get grub, help PETA!  »


EXCITING NEWS! At least if you’re in the Los Angeles area! On Thursday, Apr. 28, one of L.A.’s best vegan restaurants is donating 50 percent of its beverage and food purchases to PETA. That’s right folks, use this flier at Veggie Grill’s Sunset Boulevard location and they will donate HALF of your order total to PETA. Isn’t that great?!? Some suggestions when ordering: The Santa Fe Crispy Chickn’ Sandwich, the-oh-so-yummy mac ‘n cheese, sweetheart fries, watermelon water, and don’t forget the cookie for dessert. Take my recommendation, swing by Veggie Grill, order some delish vegan delights and you’ll be helping the animals. How could you say no?

This is a guest post by Sawna Guadarrama! Sawna is a Los Angeles native, a fashion/beauty writer for entertainment website www.getitwhit.com.

04/25/2011

Guest post: Captain Marty’s rules for vegan dining in a non-vegan establishment  »

I fly a charter jet for a living and I’m usually in the air 15-plus days a month. Sometimes I fly somewhere, wait for a few hours, and fly home; other times I’m away for a week. Sometimes I spend that week in one place and others I do 14 landings in different cities. I eat out a lot. And I’m a vegan. And the other pilots I fly with and eat with aren’t.

You know when a flight attendant gives that briefing five times a day? That’s the way I feel when I look up into my waitress’ eyes. Well, I might feel some other things too but I hear the same litany in my mind, the one I just gave at lunch and here we are at dinner. Déjà vu all over again. Here’s what I go through to get my vegan victuals while I’m on the road.

I have a few rules:

  1. No one knows what you’re talking about.
  2. No one cares, really. You’re the freak and the pain in their culinary ass.
  3. No one has ever heard of a vegan before. Perhaps the chef read a paragraph about these weird diners he might encounter in culinary school.
  4. When you tell your waitperson you don’t eat any animal products they don’t think about the butter, milk, lard, bacon grease, or chicken stock that the chefs use. They just think, “No prime ribs? OK. Got it.”
  5. You must be patient.
  6. You must be a teacher.
  7. You will get what you want most of the time.
  8. You have to have faith. If you don’t think the waiter asked the chef then you shouldn’t eat the food. If they tell you no animal products are being served in your food, you have to go with it unless you can prove the opposite. (This means finding chicken pieces in your food).
  9. You will with certainty get, “Oh, you know, I never even thought of that!” I’ve learned that this is my fault for not explaining well enough what my restrictions are. (Did you know that Outback Steakhouse cooks their baked potatoes in bacon fat? Now you do).
  10. You’ll get the most amazing vegan fare where you least expect it and get served food with hidden animal ingredients where you least expect it. (John Bozeman’s Pub in Bozeman, Mont. served me one of the most amazing vegan dinners. Bozeman, Montana?)
  11. If you go south of New Jersey there is bacon grease in everything.
  12. If you go south of Virginia there is bacon in everything.
  13. If your server doesn’t speak English as a first language and you don’t speak their native tongue as a second language you should have a copy of Veggie Passport on your phone. This has translations for our needs in a bunch of different languages.
  14. Assume all soup is not vegan.
  15. Read the menu like a proofreader. Sometimes we’re in a hurry and imagine the food is going to come the way we make it at home but you ain’t in Kansas any more—or maybe you actually are! “Who would put butter on THAT?”
  16. Veggie burgers always have egg and cheese in them unless you find out otherwise.

I like to tell my server I’m a vegan and ask if they know what that means. Their answer gives me a good indication of how much explaining I have to do. You’ll get good at judging. “OK, so no meat right? But chicken is OK?” is vastly different than, “OK, so no animals or animal products of any kind, including cheese or dairy?” I’ve had both. In the first case you just have to take a breath, dig in, and start from the beginning. “No, no animals. Nothing that was made from anything that came off of or out of an animal, nothing….” In the second case you can skip the primer and start to ask very specific questions such as, “Is the rice made with water or chicken stock?” Most servers don’t really think in the same terms we do. They never even thought that the rice might not be vegan so it’s up to you to explain it.

I go from the general explanation to the specific questions. Take the Mexican burrito. This should be easy. A no-brainer but right off the bat you have to ask:

  • Is the tortilla made with lard?
  • Is the rice cooked in water or stock?
  • Is there lard or pork in the beans?
  • Is there bacon in the spinach?
  • Is the soy cheese vegan or just vegetarian?
  • Are the vegetables sauteed in butter or oil?

You go through all this and send the waiter back into the kitchen four or five times (you had better leave them a good tip. I think if you get a person working that much above and beyond, 20 percent should be the standard vegan tip rate. Plus, isn’t it nice to create an image of vegans who are generous and appreciative? Pay it forward). You finally sit back with your vegan glass of water and eventually the food is put before you.

Two more rules:

  1. Re-question. This involves asking almost every question again but this time you get to point to every item on your plate. Is the sour cream vegan? What’s in the BBQ sauce? Are you sure they used the soy cheese? I never ask, “Is this vegan?” That’s too easy to just agree with. I will say, “What’s this?” and let the server say, “Oh, we have a vegan mayonnaise, or we use Earth Balance vegan spread.” Of course, sometimes you just get that look and, “Oh, crap. I’ll have them make it over.”
  2. Examine your food like you’re a pathologist looking for a clue on CSI. If you order a veggie burger and they serve the burgers with mayo, guess what you’re going to get with your veggie burger? Yup. Been there, done that and have many t-shirts.

This is by no means a complete list. It’s a good start and if you take nothing else away from the list take this: Until this upside down world changes, if you have a vegan meal in a non-vegan restaurant, they did it right. If you didn’t get what you wanted, just smile, ask for your food to be redone and take away a lesson about how you can do it better in the next place, the next time.

Follow the adventures of vegan pilot Marty on Marty’s Flying Vegan Review!

03/15/2011

More adventures with baby squirrels!  »

Remember the adorable video of the baby squirrel being rescued? Well, I’ve got another story for you! Reader Michelle A. sent me some photos of a baby squirrel she rescued a few years ago. Look at him eating that banana chip! Jesus Christmas!

Here’s the story from Michelle:

I saved a baby squirrel a couple years ago and he was the sweetest little guy I’ve ever encountered! I think squirrels might have the best damned personalities in the animal kingdom! I found him starving in the entryway to my then-boyfriend’s frat house near UCLA. He was shuddering and terrified, and desperate enough to come inside a house. We found his mom and sibling dead outside in the yard (we think they ate poison somewhere). I nursed him for a week before I took him to a squirrel sanctuary where they rehabilitated him and released him back into the wild. Part of me still wishes I had adopted him. Anyway, here are some pics of the little guy. We dubbed him Commodore Nibbles, because he liked to nibble on my fingers. He was also vastly inappropriate and liked to sleep on my crotch or in my sweater pockets. Best. Companion. Ever.

First of all, ew, frat house! Second, aww, inappropriate squirrel! Commodore Nibbles? Hilarious. I’m glad Michelle didn’t keep Nibbles forever because I don’t think squirrels are supposed to be house pets but how fun is that to play Squirrel Nightingale for a week? (Hint: so fun!) There is a serious issue here though: POISON is NOT SO GREAT! There are other ways to deal with “pests” that don’t endanger other animals and kids. Is rat poison even legal? It shouldn’t be. Earlier this year, seven kids in SF had to go to the hospital after eating rat poison at their school—WTF? We should ban that shiz, for real.

If you have any rescue stories to share, email me! I’ll make you internet famous! It’s like being regular famous except totally useless.

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