Vegan in Florence, Part 3

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Well, dear readers, my adventures in Florence, Italy have come to a close, but I still have one more round of vegan Italian cuisine to share with you all. The last few days of my trip included day trips to the nearby towns of Siena and Fiesole, both of which boast magnificent churches and stunning views of the Italian countryside; a dinner party with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin; and a theater jaunt to see the previously on-Broadway show Stomp. And of course…tons of tasty vegan noms. Here are a couple culinary highlights from my final days in Florence:

Il Vegetariano

Via delle Ruote 30r, Florence, Italy 50129

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

I first discovered this 30-some-year-old staple of Florence’s vegetarian scene three years ago when I spent the summer with my aunt, and eagerly returned to introduce this popular, all-organic eatery to my travel companion Gabe. Luckily, from that summer I gleaned the experiential know-how about how Il Vegetariano works, so that I could lead Gabe along in the process. You see, Il Vegetariano’s set-up differs from that of a traditional sit-down restaurant, functioning in a more cafeteria-style manner. Upon entering the restaurant, the diner proceeds past the two dining rooms to greet the kind bespectacled man behind the ordering counter, seated beside a colorful blackboard that lists the daily-rotating menu of small plates, salad bar, entrees, and desserts. The diner puts their order in at the counter, pays, picks up a tray, and stands in the line in front of the salad bar/dessert counter to wait for another kind balding man to grab a freshly made plate from the kitchen, and/or to choose from an array of raw and cooked vegetables to enjoy in a salad. Finally, the diner can choose a seat in one of two mahogany-clad dining rooms with exposed brick walls, or on a covered patio just behind the restaurant.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

During our visit, Gabe and I opted to enjoy the warm weather and took a seat on the patio. Peckish after meandering around the city all morning, we dove into our bowls of immensely savory brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes, cauliflower, and parsley. Herbaceous and full-bodied, the pilaf’s flavor showcased just how complex simple vegetables and grains can taste. Of course, considering that Il Vegetariano describes their wide dessert selection as their specialty, Gabe and I simply had to sample a slice of a crumbly tart jam-packed with succulent pears and apricots. Certainly no complaints there, especially when my entire meal cost less than 10 euro.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Gelateria Perche No!

Via dei Tavolini 19r, Florence, Italy 50122

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Gabe once again serves as my restaurant model.

Venturing out for gelato after enjoying lunch at home became a favorite ritual of mine and Gabe’s during the latter portion of our stay in Florence. While we most often headed to Festival del Gelato due to its close proximity to our apartment, Gabe and I opted on one occasion to sample another of Florence’s famous gelaterias, founded in 1939 and known as Perche No! (aka “why not!”). Upon first entering the small shop, I noticed and hugely appreciated that the gelateria had separated its non-dairy gelatos into a separate cooler, making ordering much simpler for myself and others who avoid dairy. On the day that we visited, Perche No!’s non-dairy flavors included banana, dark chocolate, pear, soy-based hazelnut, soy-based vanilla, strawberry, lemon, and raspberry. Funnily enough, Gabe and I both chose the soy hazelnut and raspberry to satisfy our daily gelato quota. While both gelatos held the exact flavor essence of their respective fruit and nut bases, the soy hazelnut proved less creamy than the rice-based hazelnut that we often enjoyed at Festival (strange, considering that rice milk tends to hold a much thinner texture than soy milk!). Regardless, Perche No! boasts some darn tasty gelato.

The "senza latte" (without milk) case at Perche No!

The “senza latte” (without milk) case at Perche No!

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Miso di Riso

Borgo degli Albizi 54r, Florence, Italy, 50122

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A couple of weeks before arriving in Florence, my mother emailed me to express her excitement that she had discovered a newly opened vegetarian restaurant called Miso di Riso (translated to rice miso) along the main pedestrian street in her neighborhood. As such, I made it a point to accompany my mother to lunch at the eatery during one of my final days in Florence. Brightly lit, filled with verdant potted plants, and boasting a plethora of vibrantly colored décor, Miso di Riso provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere in which to enjoy some macrobiotic-inspired vegan noms.

After ordering, my mother and I check out the dessert case to find such tantalizing creations as two mixed berry tarts, as well one with a semolina crust and chocolate ganache filling. While we opted to head to Festival del Gelato for dessert after our meal, Miso di Riso’s bakery selection definitely impressed me.

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Soon after we had sufficiently ogled at the dessert case, my mother and I received our plates. I chose to sample a savory tart of cauliflower and seaweed with a remarkably flavorful crust, accompanied by a meltingly tender pile of curried cabbage and a lightly dressed salad of gorgeous greens and shaved carrots. As for my mother, she opted for the tofu burger, complete with vegan mayonnaise and coupled with a colorful sauté of mixed vegetables, as well as a salad similar to mine. While both my mother and I “mm”-ed with delight at the features of our plate (the tart and burger) as well as at the impeccably fresh salads, the vegetable side dishes left us unimpressed—though tasty, they struck us as dishes easily made by any home cook. This new restaurant has a great base (and space!) on which to build, but it definitely requires improvement.

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Le Fate

Borgo Allegri 9r, Florence, Italy 50122

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About seven minutes before my mother, Gabe, and I planned to leave to see Stomp, my mother decided to call the restaurant at which we wanted to have dinner, only to find that they had no open tables for the night. Scrambling to find another eatery for the evening, we soon recalled another newly opened vegetarian restaurant that we had passed by on one of our evening passeggiare (walks), called Le Fate (translated to “the fairies”). With moments to spare, we secured a reservation and ran out the door to the theater.

That scramble for another restaurant resulted in one of the best gastronomic decisions of my trip, as the meal that my family and I enjoyed at Le Fate will live on in the Seiter family memory for years to come. True to its name, Le Fate boasts a rather enchanting dining room and a mystical menu: the four appetizers find inspiration in the four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), while each of the entrees corresponds to one of the twelve astrological signs. Upon noticing the struggles of our English-speaking family to decipher the Italian menu, our charismatic waiter called the chef out of the kitchen to explain in detail every dish—VIP treatment, eh?

As a pre-meal amuse bouche, we each received a small crostini of house-made whole-grain bread spread with what I took to be an artichoke pate, served upon a leaf of soft and lemony sorrel. For an appetizer, the table opted to share a platter of house-made vegan cheeses and fruit compotes. Though I couldn’t discern the exact flavors of each of the cheeses, I could tell by the textures that two of them certainly featured agar-agar seaweed as a binder, while the other two seemed to be aged nut spread-type cheeses. Unfortunately, the latter two lacked the creaminess integral to satisfying cheese, though their flavors proved intensely complex. I have absolutely no complaints about the sweet and expertly spiced compotes, however.

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While I found the vegan cheeses a tad lacking, there was absolutely nothing subpar about any of our entrees. Indeed, every bite (both of my own dish and stolen from the plates of others) offered a new flavor and mouthfeel, providing for a hugely interesting and astronomically delicious meal.

The only diner of our party to order the dish that corresponded to their actual astrological sign, I chose the Vergine (Virgo) plate as soon as I heard the chef say “dates,” “fennel,” and “homemade basil tofu.” The bowl of homemade noodles coated in a creamy, succulent sauce of dates and caramelized fennel that I enjoyed that night still enters my dreams. Providing textural contrast to the silky pasta were leaves of bitter radicchio spread with house-made basil tofu and topped with orange segments and toasted hazelnuts. An inspired dish.

My mother opted for the Gemelli (Gemini) plate, which featured a bowl of fluffy-on-the-inside-crusty-on-the-outside biscuits in three savory varieties, accompanied by a number of spread and toppings: a mild golden chutney of onions and apples, a rainbow-colored salad of minced peppers, a fluffy and cloud-white vegan mayonnaise, oil-marinated heirloom white beans, and quenelles of smooth hummus. Um, wow.

Finally, both Gabe and my father chose the Capricorno (Capricorn) plate: creamy black lentil soup topped with a puree of white root vegetables, served alongside perfectly round balls of falafel with carrot-tamarind spread, and rounded out by a salad of mixed greens and ripe berries. Need I say more?

Though we all found ourselves too full to enjoy dessert, we did end the meal quite enjoyably by speaking with the bubbly owner of the restaurant—a longtime vegan and astronomer who gave us each our horoscopes before leaving. Le Fate’s inviting atmosphere, it’s enormously hospitable waitstaff, and its inspired and tantalizing culinary creations have earned a top spot on my list of most memorable travel restaurants, and I can hardly wait to return during my next trip to Italy (crossing my fingers that it’s soon!).

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Though I probably experienced one of the more perfect spring breaks of my entire life during the past two weeks, I’m happy to find myself back at school and among the community of my on-campus vegan living cooperative. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the spring on Farmers Market Vegan!

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 2

Welcome, dear readers, to round two of my special post series for the month of March: “Farmers Market Vegan Goes to Italy”! My last post, reaching you from the art-filled city of Florence, offered you a taste (pun very much intended) of the first of my vegan adventures during my two-week stay in Italy; check it out to fulfill your daily quota of quaint cafes, traditional Neapolitan pizzas, and dairy-free gelato.

In the days following my last post, I and my travel companion Gabe have continued our slow and steady touring of the city, journeying to Piazzale Michelangelo, an elevated square in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city (and the trek up the steep winding roads to the Piazzale will also take your breath away).

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In addition to the sightseeing above and the restaurant exploration below, I also discovered a storefront of the vegan cosmetic company LUSH, which practices ethical product sourcing and actively combats animal testing. Further evidence of a growing consciousness of animal rights in Italy!

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Of course, Gabe and I have also continued our survey of Florence’s vegan scene. Our second round of culinary gems include:

Mercato Sant’Ambrogio

Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, Florence, Italy 50121

Touted as Florence’s second-best open-air market (close behind the Mercato Centrale), Mercato Sant’Ambrogio offers a colorful bounty of fresh produce alongside artisanal bread, marinated jarred veggies, and other goods. Open everyday except Sunday, the market is located just around the corner from my parents’ apartment, and my mother and I pay it a visit on most mornings (in much of Europe, grocery shopping happens on a daily rather than weekly basis like in the U.S.). Spring has arrived here earlier than in the States (not too excited about returning to a snowy New York in a couple of days), and the market accordingly boasts piles of green goodies like artichokes, fava beans, delicate greens, and Romanesco cauliflower alongside early fruits like strawberries and pears. Much of the produce has made appearances in the dinners that I and my mother have cooked at my parents’ apartment, including steamed artichokes served with vegan aioli; platters of roasted veggies; crisp and simple salads; and breakfast bowls of fresh fruit, granola, and hazelnut milk.

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From top right: globe artichokes, zucchini with blossoms, Romanesco cauliflower, enoki mushrooms, mixed lettuce, and fava beans.

La Raccolta

Via Giacomo Leopardi, 2r, Florence, Italy 50121

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The La Raccolta storefront.

The La Raccolta dining room.

The La Raccolta dining room.

A natural foods store complete with non-dairy milks of every ilk, ancient grain bread, dried seaweeds, and a well-stocked bulk section comprises the front of La Raccolta, while through a doorway in the back you’ll find a macrobiotic restaurant in an inviting dining room with walls lined with brightly colored art of various African animals. Along with the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, the grocery section of La Raccolta has provided an almost-daily destination for me while in Florence, fulfilling all of my soy yogurt, non-dairy milk, granola, and apple cider vinegar needs. Due to the pretty steep prices of La Raccolta’s restaurant, however, I’ve only dined there once during this particular stay in Florence—but boy, do I always enjoy my meal there.

Vegan items make up the vast majority of La Raccolta’s impressive menu, complete with whole-grain pasta dishes, seitan scallopini, and macrobiotic-style vegetable dishes accompanied by lip-smacking sauces. Despite such an extensive menu, however, I’ve ordered the same dish on all three of my past visits to La Raccolta (I first ventured there three summers ago when I lived with my aunt for three months): the mixed platter. This substantial plate is composed of 7-10 separate preparations of roasted, steamed, and sautéed veggies embellished with creamy sauces, accompanied by fresh raw salads and more hearty grain and bean dishes. On the platter pictured below, I found (from the top of the plate and working clockwise) a gingery sauté of cabbage and carrots; herb-roasted potatoes; a crisp salad of lettuce and shaved carrots in olive oil and vinegar; a delicately flavored mash of fava beans; parsley-packed orechiette (ear-shaped pasta) with broccoli in a creamy sauce; herb-roasted kabocha squash; steamed purple cabbage in a bright yellow-orange sauce; and steamed broccoli and green cabbage in a tahini sauce. All so simple, yet so lovingly prepared and bursting with freshness.

After such a pleasant savory experience, I couldn’t help but sample one of La Raccolta’s many vegan dolci (desserts): a multi-layered pastry similar to phyllo dough stuffed with almond cream and topped with caramelized pears (known in Italy as mille foglie, or “cake of one thousand sheets”). A transcendental experience.

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Festival del Gelato

Via del Corso, 75r, Florence, Italy

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Gabe and I have made a point of enjoying una coppa of gelato once per day, for no afternoon ritual can beat reveling in creamy, artisanally prepared yumminess that tastes exactly of the real fruit, nut, or other edible that comprises its flavor. One of Florence’s most popular gelaterias, Festival del Gelato finds itself right next to the Duomo, one of Florence’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to a number of fruit-based gelatos that contain no dairy (including mango, strawberry, and lemon), Festival boasts two rice milk-based gelatos (cappuccino and nocciolia, aka hazelnut), neither of which, as an added bonus, contain sugar! Surprisingly, Festival’s rice milk gelatos prove creamier than those based in soy milk that I’ve enjoyed at other gelaterias, though their fruit-based gelatos tend to harbor an ever-so-slightly more diluted fruit flavor than other gelatos I’ve sampled. I feel like the spectacle of their neon lights make up for this disappointment, though.

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That’s all for this round of vegan Florentine extravaganzas! Look out for my next post on eating vegan in Florence.

Until next time, Ali.

Vedge Cookbook Review + Spanish Roasted Brassicas Recipe

As I mentioned in my last blog post regarding development and consumerism, I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable during the holiday season—a time of family, love, generosity, and unity that our modern Western culture has overshadowed with greed, overconsumption, material accumulation, and Black Friday casualties. These disconcerting cultural tendencies, magnified during the holidays, bolster my urge to live simply, with minimal possessions and producing minimal waste. My view of living simply, though, does not necessarily mean living without gifts—indeed, they can provide a heartwarming medium through which to foster community and relationships—but rather prompts a rethinking of gifts and gift-giving.

My discomfort with our current mainstream notion of gifts stems from the attitude surrounding them. As a child, I judged the quality of my Christmas by the number of presents I received, even having the nerve to cheekily ask my mother, “That’s it?” if I felt dissatisfied. But would I ever feel satisfied if the importance of gift-giving lied in accumulating as much as possible? Could I ever escape the power that possessions wielded over me if the absence of the latest Apple product in my Christmas haul inspired in me resentment toward my mother?

Gifts with which I can feel comfortable stem not from the desire to own the latest technological gadgets, nor from a false need to surround oneself with “stuff,” but from a genuine feeling of love and gratitude between both of the gift-givers, and between them and the earth. In the dire state of our world, we must imbue all of our actions with a consciousness of alleviating our impact on the planet, and gift-giving proves no different. In my view, loving and earth-friendly gifts include those that the recipient can put to good use, and those that generate little to no waste. For example, the bulk of my Christmas list comprised of donations to various organizations such as Our Hen House, and Kindle cookbooks, which require minimal resources to produce as opposed to print books, and which I use every day.

But literally…every day. Not an exaggeration in the least. Because I view the act of providing non-vegans with flavorful, hearty, and unique food as integral to animal activism, I constantly look to my collection of virtual cookbooks for inspiration in such endeavors. I also view my cookbooks as helpful in honing the skills necessary for my ideal career path—one that creates a livelihood out of the aforementioned activism. Thanks to my dear mother, the latest additions to this Kindle cookbook collection include Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby; Vegan Secret Supper by Merida Anderson; Dirt Candy: A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen; Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry; Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon; and The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook by Jere and Emilee Gettle.

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So that the section of my brain devoted to culinary creativity would not explode from all of the tantalizing recipes within the pages of these six cookbooks, I decided to limit my kitchen experimentation first to recipes from Vedge, since it comes from the masterminds behind my favorite restaurant. Featuring 100 recipes from the Vedge menu tweaked minimally to suit the home kitchen, Vedge perfectly reflects the sophistication, beauty, and locally sourced/seasonal philosophy of the highly acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant. Organized in a manner similar to that of the restaurant menu, Vedge starts off with “Small Bites and Small Plates” such as olives, salads, and light vegetable dishes; moves on to “Soups and Stews” that span from brothy pho to creamy parsnip-chestnut bisque; includes a “Dirt List” with preparations that maximally highlight seasonal and specialty varieties of vegetables; offers heartier “Plates” that hire beans, lentils, and grains as backup singers to the superstar veggies; appeals to the baker in all of us with creative fruit-based desserts (can you say Strawberry Sorrel Bread Pudding?) and unpretentious breads; and finishes with unique cocktails.

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Since Christmas, I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating four of the book’s recipes, two of which my mother and I first enjoyed at the Vedge restaurant itself. The Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce constituted the appetizer of my family’s two-course Christmas dinner, though I used a homemade silken tofu mayonnaise instead of the Vegenaise recommended for use in the recipe (many of the recipes in Vedge call for vegan mayo, and Rich and Kate recommend Vegenaise. However, I found that homemade mayo provides a quality substitute in the recipes for those of us who like to avoid prepackaged products). A dish just as tasty as that we remembered from our visit to the restaurant, the smoky, just-charred sprouts with the tangy mustard sauce created a winning combination. My mother also noted that the texture of the shaved sprouts harbored so much substance that she almost mistook them for pasta. I have a feeling that we will be making this dish often.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

The night after Christmas, Vedge once again graced our plates with Celery Root Fritters and Remoulade (a pseudo-play on crab cakes and tartar sauce). Fostering an intense love of the knobbly, underused root, I found myself immediately taken by its double use in the recipe: once, roasted with onions, mashed, formed into patties, coated with chickpea flour and Old Bay seasoning, and pan-fried; twice, grated, blanched, and combined with vegan mayo, capers, dill, mustard, shallots and tarragon to create a tartar sauce-like spread, the taste of which you’ll never want to leave your tongue. I only wish that the recipe had specified to squeeze the excess moisture out of the grated celery root after blanching it, for the remoulade turned out a bit waterier than I would have preferred. All in all, though, a fabulous dish (the veggies you see in front of the fritters comprise a simple sauté of brussels sprouts and sunchokes, not featured in the cookbook).

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Celery Root Fritters & Remoulade; Brussels Sprout-Sunchoke Saute.

To please the ethnic food-loving palate of my best friend Maddie, whom I invited over for dinner one night, I played with Vedge’s Squash Empanadas with Green Romesco—homemade dough encasing a mash of squash roasted with coriander and cumin, accompanied by a bright yet deeply flavored sauce of roasted green peppers, garlic, cilantro, and toasted almonds. I substituted spelt flour and coconut oil for the all-purpose flour and vegan butter/shortening called for in the recipe, yielding flaky, toothsome results. However, the saltiness of the dough proved a bit much for my saltily sensitive palate, and I would probably omit the salt altogether as I usually do if I decide to recreate the dish. The other qualm I have with the recipe comes from the amount of roasting time specified. The recipe calls for roasting the squash at 400°F for 8-12 minutes and the peppers for 6-8 minutes, yet with small-diced veggies and an oven that errs on the side of too hot, the veggies required about double the time specified to adequately cook (I experienced the same problem with the celery root in the fritter recipe above). If you find yourself with the Vedge cookbook, I would recommend planning on roasting the veggies in any recipe for longer than specified, and to plan the cooking of your meals accordingly. Recipe technicalities aside, the dish proved crowd-pleasing and flavorfully stunning. I served it alongside a recipe of my own creation for Spanish Roasted Brassicas (recipe below).

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Finally, I tried my hand at another recipe with which my mother and I fell in love while dining at Vedge: Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade. Between bites of the soup, my mother and I could not help but exclaim, “This tastes exactly like bouillabaisse. But there can’t be fish in it…dear goodness, I hope there’s not fish in it…”. Rest assured, the folks at Vedge had not decided to renounce their morals in a single dish, but they sure created a memorable gastronomic experience for my mother and I. The soup features simmered cauliflower crushed to a rice-like consistency surrounded by a tomatoey broth spiked with white wine and Old Bay seasoning, complimented by a gremolata-like topping of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. My version of the recipe increased the amount of rice called for and added chickpeas for substance, substituted brown jasmine rice for white, and (sadly) omitted the veryveryveryveryvvery pricey saffron. While I quite enjoyed the texture of the soup, I found its flavor a bit lacking, and I doubt that this unfortunate occurrence owes itself completely to the omission of the saffron. Unfortunately, this particular dish might be best left in the hands of the Vedge team (or in the hands of someone with some damn saffron…).

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Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade

Tomorrow, I plan to experiment with Vedge’s Soba Bowl with Shiitake Dashi and Market Greens (a dish that authors Rich and Kate purport to enjoy every morning for breakfast with their son, Rio), adding a bit of pan-fried tempeh for some good old-fashioned protein. Beyond this surely warming and grounding soup, recipes I’d still like to try from the Vedge cookbook include a dish of peeled-open, marinated, and grilled portobello stems known as anticuchos; the Napa Cabbage Funky Kimchi Stew; the Warm Ramp Hummus; and the Whole Roasted Carrots with Black Lentils and Green Harissa.

If you enjoying playing around in the kitchen with involved recipes that feature the best produce the earth has to offer, then I would highly recommend picking up a (digital!) copy of the Vedge cookbook. With that, I shall leave you, dear readers, with the simple, Spanish-inspired dish I created to accompany the empanadas featured above. Enjoy.

Spanish Roasted Brassicas—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat.

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

1 small/medium head cauliflower, chopped into smallish florets
2 small/1 medium head broccoli, chopped into smallish florets
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and broccoli florets with the oil, paprika, and sherry vinegar to coat.

Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the brassicas are tender and golden-brown. Serve.

Until next time, Ali.

The Myth of Development & the Harms of Consumerism | Brussels Sprouts & Sunchokes in Green Curry Sauce

On this day—the fourth day after Christmas, the 30th day after Black Friday, the 106th day after my birthday, the whatever-th day after everyday on which we in our culture expect to spend money or receive gifts—I find myself once again pondering consumerism. As a Geography major, I often encounter the notion of “development-as-progress” in my studies at Vassar. By development, of course, I don’t mean the implementation of running water or basic social services—these sorts of developments almost certainly serve as markers of societal progress. No, the development that I’m talking about, the kind that keeps me up at night, regards economic growth as essential for prosperity, and thus encourages us to consume (natural resources, money, animal products, land) more than we ever have before. It subjugates the earth by regarding our life-sustaining planet at a commodity. It contributes to ever-intensifying class disparities between Western and non-Western cultures by deeming earth-friendly indigenous modes of production as “inefficient” and “unproductive,” insisting upon the necessity of technologically mediated modes of production for “progress.”

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But considering that this “development” has manifested in resource depletion, climate change, social division, mass extinction of species, factory farming, and more, do we really want to “progress” in this manner? Do we really want to invest ourselves in a lifestyle that, by valuing the pursuit of wealth and possessions as an end unto itself, “is associated with lower levels of well-being, lower life satisfaction and happiness, more symptoms of depression and anxiety, more physical problems such as headaches, and a variety of mental disorders”? (Macy & Johnstone 46). The time has come to realize that our consumptive habits enact profoundly negative consequences upon the earth and all of its inhabitants, rather than asserting it as an unquestioned “American way of life,” as did President Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer in May 2001 (Macy & Johnstone 13). In the words of feminist environmental activist Vandana Shiva, we must “redefine[e] [...] growth and productivity as categories linked to the production, not the destruction, of life [through an] ecological and a feminist project which legitimizes the way of knowing and being that create wealth by enhancing life and diversity, and which delegitimizes the knowledge and practice of a culture of death as the basis for capital accumulation” (12).

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By necessitating that I carefully choose the food I consume, veganism has familiarized me with the practice of analyzing my own consumption and that of our broader culture. This awakened consciousness about consumptive patterns has prompted me and others—such as my housemates in the vegan co-op in which I live at Vassar—to buy food in bulk so as to reduce packaging, to reuse plastic bags for vegetable storage, to drink only out of reusable water bottles, to purchase used items rather than buy new ones, to donate used items, to not flush after every trip to the bathroom, etc. These practices may seem like insignificant behaviors in the face of an enormously destructive Western system of consumption—and we also engage in harmful practices such as using computers, etc.—but they are indicative of the growing popularity of modes of intentional living that re-envision “development” and “progress” as symbiotic earth-human relationships similar to that described by Shiva above.

Of course, veganism does not automatically lead to a sense of urgency in combatting general capitalism and consumption. Indeed, innovative vegan companies have recently taken the market by storm—offering humane versions of meat, cheese, and eggs, yes, but also playing within our problematically capitalistic system. Towards these companies, I find myself in a state of ambivalence. On the one hand, I worry that they embolden our consumerist culture by adding new products to the market and encouraging customers to “buy into” veganism. On the other hand, I wonder if these companies provide a business model in harmony with the aforementioned modes of intentional living, in that they offer animal- and environmentally-friendly alternatives to astronomically destructive industries. Clearly, I’ve still got some thinkin’ to do, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, as well.

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A new endeavor that gives me hope in the face of all this mythological development, consumerism, and ambivalence comes in the form of a self-sustaining vegan eco-village based on a gift economy, named Eotopia. Conceptualized in large part by Raphael Fellmer and Nieves Palmer—a German couple who has thrived living completely without money for over a year now—Eotopia defines four main objectives of the project: creating a sustainable village through permaculture, reuse and recycling, self-sufficiency, and a vegan diet; forming a functional gift-economy; providing a system of free education; and cultivating a community of love, trust, and personal change. Eotopia currently lies in the beginning stages, seeking both community members and a viable piece of land on which to construct the community, but has laid out a timeline that expects to achieve 50-100% self-sufficiency by late 2015. Ideally, I would love to participate in such a community in my future life, but that will have to wait at least another two years until I wave goodbye to Vassar.

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To provide some levity on this weighty, thought-provoking topic, I give you, dear readers, a plate-lickingly scrumptious recipe that puts the “reuse” part of intentional living in action by employing the sweetened condensed coconut milk leftover from making my famous holiday “butter” pecan rum balls. Enjoy.

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Brussels Sprouts & Sunchokes in Green Curry Sauce—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium.

Serves 2-3.

Ingredients:

3/4 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1/2 lb sunchokes (aka jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed and cut into small chunks
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight (be careful not to shake during or after refrigeration)
5 tbsp green curry paste (about 3/4 of a jar of Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tbsp maple syrup (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, toss the brussels sprouts and sunchokes with the melted coconut oil. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, open the can of refrigerated coconut milk, taking care not to shake it. Scoop only the top layer of coconut cream into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, saving the coconut water at the bottom of the can for a later use (great for smoothies!). Add the curry paste and the maple syrup (if using) to the saucepan with the coconut cream, and gently stir the ingredients together as they melt. Allow the sauce to simmer while the veggies roast.

Once the veggies are tender and nicely browned, add them to the saucepan. Stir together and allow to simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Serve.

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Until next time, Ali.

Works Cited

Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Print.

Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. London: Zed Books, 1989. Print.

Catering Adventures: An Autumnal Menu for Fifteen

As the fall semester nears its conclusion, I find myself in the midst of a catering quasi-business. My position as co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) has developed to include (and I’m thrilled that it has) the responsibility of event-catering alongside speaker-coordinating, meeting-facilitating, campaign-organizing, and conference-planning. Indeed, in the past three months, I’ve provided quality vegan grub for two campus lectures hosted by VARC: the first delivered by the ubiquitous Carol J. Adams (author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, don’t-cha know), the second by thought-provoker extraordinaire James McWilliams (can you say vegan pizza buffet?).

Most excitingly, my burgeoning catering skills have begun to elicit requests from other student organizations to provide fabulous animal-free goodies for their events. Doing so works to cultivate my ideal role as an animal activist of opening individuals’ hearts and minds to veganism through bountiful, flavorful, satisfying, and creative plant-based foods. Not to mention, it offers me a legitimate excuse to devote my time and energy to experimenting with new recipes and cooking techniques…for a profit, no less.

My first non-VARC catering request came from the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC), who planned to host a spoken-word poetry night with the two queer activist poets (and gluten-free vegans) Alok and Janani who comprise Darkmatter, and wanted to host a small dinner for the artists after the event (funny how many individuals who fight for other forms of social justice also lead a vegan lifestyle…). Check out a couple of Darkmatter’s powerful performances here.

Stipulating only that I not use any walnuts and include a kale salad, QCVC bestowed upon me full reign over the dinner menu, with a budget of “not ridiculously expensive.” Turning to my infamous 49-page “Recipes to Try” Word document, I formulated an autumn-inspired catering menu to satisfy the vegans in the group and wow the non-vegans.

The meal began with a succulent, creamy Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup, inspired by the Parsnip-Chestnut Bisque in the newly released (and positively magical) Vedge cookbook. With only olive oil, onions, parsnips, hazelnuts, coconut milk, salt, and pepper as ingredients, the soup highlighted the sweet, earthy flavor of the parsnips, accentuated further by the toasty richness of the hazelnuts. Though I would have loved to create the original soup recipe with chestnuts, the natural foods store I visited for catering ingredients did not carry them. Thus, I turned to nuts of a similar sweetness as chestnuts, and ended up immensely pleased with the modified soup’s final flavor. Served in a slow-cooker, the soup remained steaming hot throughout the entire dinner.

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To provide textural contrast to the smooth soup, I roasted up two trays of chickpeas coated in maple syrup and cinnamon, inspired by My Whole Food Life. Proteinous croutons, no?

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Next to the soup sat a big ol’ bowl of kale salad. Though I didn’t follow an exact recipe for the salad, I did draw inspiration from this salad featured on Choosing Raw. My method of salad creation follows: cut three bunches of lacinato kale into chiffonade; massaged said kale with the flesh of two avocados, two tablespoons of olive oil, four tablespoons of maple syrup, and two lemon’s worth of juice; stirred into the massaged kale one kabocha squash’s worth of roasted squash cubes and 1 1/2 cups of toasted pumpkin seeds. The resulting salad featured an amalgamation of flavors and textures, with the melt-on-your-tongue, succulent squash; the crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds; the rich, creamy avocado; the complexly sweet maple syrup; and the tanginly acidic lemon. Honestly, though, how could a dish that incorporates kabocha squash, maple syrup, kale, and avocado not inspire gastronomic nirvana?

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As per the request of my VARC co-president Katie, the meal’s vegetable side dish comprised of meltingly tender roasted sweet potato fries, accompanied by the oh-so garlicky cashew aioli from Christy Morgan’s cookbook “Blissful Bites.” One spoonful of this aioli and it became all I wanted to put in my mouth for the rest of my life (well, until I remembered kale…and roasted brussels sprouts…and kombucha…okay, the sentiment didn’t last very long). I only wish that my blender could have pureed the aioli into a smoother consistency, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for perfectly silky cashew creams until I receive a Vitamix for my college graduation gift (some students ask for cars, Ali prefers blenders).

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QCVC catering (5)

Because I’m familiar with the sheer joy of encountering good-quality gluten-free bread, I wanted to bake up an artisan loaf for Alok and Janani. I had seen this recipe for Farmhouse Seed Bread circulating all over Pinterest and garnering rave reviews for months, and yearned to experiment with it myself. Since the natural food store I visited did not carry teff or sweet rice flour, I substituted equal amounts of buckwheat and tapioca flours, and experienced fabulous results. The boule featured a crackly crust and a moist, dense interior—ideal for soaking up the Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup.

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Finally, to round out the meal, I made the dessert that never fails to impress any eater, no matter how picky or averse to veganism: a raw cheesecake. With a silky smooth filling and a simultaneously crunchy, chewy, and caramely sweet crust, it’s no wonder that of all of the catered dishes, only the cheesecake did not produce at least a small amount of leftovers. I employed this basic raw cheesecake recipe, layering thin slices of crisp apples on top along with a scant drizzling of maple syrup.

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The dinner guests offered only positive feedback about all of the dishes. I can hardly wait until my next catering gig, and in the meantime, will plan to engage in some publicity measures in order to gain attention for my…business? Wish me luck!

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #27: A Day with Carol Adams & Catering Her Vegan Reception

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Well, folks—the time has come to conclude the festival of Ferry dinners, Vassar Animal Rights Coalition shenanigans, and vegan-related musings that constituted Vegan MoFo 2013 here on Farmers Market Vegan. After one month and 27 posts, I’m thrilled to have set a personal Vegan MoFo record, failing to post on only three days out of the whole of September. While most of my posts proved quite short (though not lacking tantalizing photos and much culinary creativity), I feel that this final post of Vegan MoFo will adequately conclude the month with an exciting, action-packed summary of Carol Adams’ visit to the Vassar campus to present her acclaimed Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show.

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Taking place yesterday evening, the event attracted 80 students, faculty, and members of the Poughkeepsie community (thus garnering a larger turnout than any VARC event in the past four years), and analyzed images in popular culture that animalize women and sexualize animals. During the Q&A session after the lecture, the audience asked curious, genuine, and non-antagonistic questions, such as “Is it hard to go vegan?” The smiling audience then migrated to an adjoining classroom to chat with Carol, have her sign their newly bought copies of The Sexual Politics of Meat, and nosh on a smorgasbord of vegan hors d’oeuvres, all prepared by yours truly with the help of a couple wondrous VARC members. A handful of event attendees approached me during the reception to offer their high praises of the food and the lecture, and to inform me that they were planning on transitioning to veg*nism. On the reception menu

–Homemade seitan (based on Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipe) marinated in a chimichurri sauce, skewered, and broiled.
–Mini sundried tomato, spinach, and mushroom tofu quiches (inspired by this recipe from Oh She Glows).
Crostini with cashew cheese, pesto, and tomatoes.
–Peanut butter-coconut cream tarts in a raw date-nut crust.

Preparing the lecture food.

Preparing the lecture food.

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Attendees of the lecture gobbled up nearly all of the 500-some bites that we prepared, and my Ferry housemates happily devoured the rest.

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VARC’s Carol Adams experience did not begin with her lecture, however. The same morning, a handful of VARC’s most devoted members plus my fabulous Gender and Nature professor met Carol in front of Main building to drive up to New Paltz and visit Lagusta’s Luscious, the vegan/fair trade/ethically sourced/power feminist/activist oriented chocolate haven of my life (Lagusta makes the only chocolate that I feel 100% confident about eating in terms of ethical considerations). Lagusta contributed a beautiful piece to the Defiant Daughters anthology inspired by The Sexual Politics of Meat, and has a long-cultivated relationship with Carol. As such, Lagusta volunteered to lead VARC and Carol on a tour of her small (yet hugely inspiring) shop in celebration of Carol’s visit to Vassar.

Lagusta's also sells Treeline cashew cheese!

Lagusta’s also sells Treeline cashew cheese!

Tiny, rich hot chocolates courtesy of Lagusta.

Tiny, rich hot chocolates courtesy of Lagusta.

A vintage, yet still functioning, (vegan) milkshake machine.

A vintage, yet still functioning, (vegan) milkshake machine.

Lagusta's makeshift tempeh incubator.

Lagusta’s makeshift tempeh incubator.

Gifting our group with chocolate vulvas and rich, whipped cream-topped hot chocolates, Lagusta welcomed VARC and Carol into her eclectic shop, chatting about how she cultivated a responsible, non-hierarchical business model that subtly promotes the importance of veganism, feminism, and social justice to an ever growing demographic. After touring the shop—which boasted a 25-pound bucket of coconut oil, caramel simmering on an induction stovetop, a homemade tempeh incubator, and a pastry dough sheeter used for creating vegan croissants—I and the rest of VARC eagerly purchased a hefty amount of the darn best chocolate in existence.

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I myself partook in four truffles—a cantaloupe pâté de fruit, a plum anise pâté de fruit, a thyme lemon sea salt caramel, and a strawberry cream bon bon—as well as a “grown up tootsie roll” spiked with whiskey and chiles, and a vegan, authentically French, pillowy soft, absolutely magical macaron in apple-cinnamon flavor. Though I’ve visited Lagusta’s shop once before, I had never fully appreciated her business model or integrity-ridden success story—I can only hope that my own vegan entrepreneurial endeavors will provide me with just as much fulfillment.

Chatting with Lagusta and Kate.

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After congregating for a group photo and bidding goodbye to Lagusta, VARC and Carol took a short walk to Karma Road, New Paltz’s vegan café. Over a kale salad massaged with avocado and sprinkled with cashews and raisins with a side of homemade hummus, I enjoyed a thought-provoking conversation about the history of ecofeminism and how its tenets still hugely resonate in today’s society.

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I’m honored and humbled to have the support of two monumentally influential figures (Carol and Lagusta) in my own vegan/activist evolution. Yesterday proved truly unforgettable and will undoubtedly shape my advocacy for years to come.

VARC Exec Board with Carol Adams.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #26: Mini Tofu Quiches & Chimichurri Seitan for Carol Adams’ Campus Lecture

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Over the last two days, I’ve found myself in an extravaganza of vegan hors d’oeuvres, preparing gourmet plant-based finger foods for the approximately 100 people that I expect to attend Carol Adams’ campus lecture tonight. This whirlwind of cooking should adequately account for my absence from Vegan MoFo yesterday—after spending a good couple of hours in the kitchen, I felt the need to take a quick mental hiatus from thinking about food (otherwise I probably would have dreamt of dancing seitan skewers and crostini). The culinary efforts of myself and my fellow VARC members paid off hugely, though, as all of the food turned out beautifully. Today requires only a bit more prep—including assembling the crostini, broiling the seitan, and cutting the coconut-peanut butter tarts—to ensure the immense success of Carol’s talk and subsequent reception/book signing. I’ll leave you with a couple tantalizing photos of tonight’s almost-ready hors d’oeuvres. Stay tuned tomorrow for a full summary of Carol’s talk as well as VARC’s trip with Carol to New Paltz.

Mini sundried tomato, mushroom, and spinach tofu quiches--adapted from Oh She Glows.

Mini sundried tomato, mushroom, and spinach tofu quiches–adapted from Oh She Glows.

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Homemade seitan marinated in chimichurri sauce--adapted from the Candle Café Cookbook.

Homemade seitan marinated in chimichurri sauce–adapted from the Candle Café Cookbook.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #25: Teriyaki Veggie Rice, Kale Salad, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Green Beans

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Ferry Dinner last night came courtesy of Hannah and Matt—two of the house’s newest members, who have acclimated quite well to the egalitarian, consensus-based, hippie-loving, kale-worshipping, nutritional yeast-devouring Ferry community. Indeed, all of the Ferries who moved into the house at the beginning of this semester have integrated themselves snugly into the Ferry lifestyle, leaving friendly post-it notes on room doors, baking bread, and discussing urgent social issues. The new Ferries, too, have become accustomed to the inner workings of the Ferry Kitchen, in which our entire stock of spoons disappears in the span of a single day and the refrigerator overflows with leafy greens. Last night marked the first Ferry Dinner made by only new house members, and Hannah and Matt ensured the success of this landmark event with a unique, flavorful, and well-crafted meal.

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The main dish consisted of an Asian-style not-fried rice—more of a pilaf of impeccably cooked brown rice mixed with sautéed carrots, mushrooms, and teriyaki sauce—that boasted a tangy umami flavor. Brussels sprouts and green beans roasted with tamari provided a similarly profiled side dish, while a salad of kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers in a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar offered a fresh, bright accompaniment to the many unctuous flavors in the meal.

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In Vassar news, I recently crafted an infographic for my Cities of the Global South geography class that highlights why radically shifting away from animal agriculture constitutes a necessary step in maximizing global food security and minimizing environmental impact as the world rapidly urbanizes. Many of my courses at Vassar present me with opportunities to incorporate animal/vegan activism into the classroom—a rather unsurprising (yet no less exciting) fact given the college’s largely activist-oriented student body. I become heartened every day as I witness social justice activists from all movements beginning to consider animal rights, and hugely value the immense amount that I continue to learn from the activists surrounding me. Ah, Vassar.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #24: Balsamic Veggie-Bean Salad, Roasted Brassicas, & Quinoa

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Over the course of last semester, I became relatively familiar with each of my Ferry housemate’s individual cooking style: Gabe D. favors casseroles; Alan likes to get fancy with veggie burgers and pizzas; Gabe B-G prefers simple three-part meals of veggie, grain, and protein; Franny serves as Ferry Soup Master; etc. While I appreciate the creativity, skill, and uniqueness of every Ferry cook, I do tend to become particularly excited every two weeks when Eric takes over the kitchen. Sharing a deep adoration of well-seasoned dishes, simply roasted vegetables, and generous amounts of tangy salad dressings, Eric and I jive quite well in terms of our outlook on cooking and what constitutes high-quality food (though Eric carries out the whole “seasoning dishes well” thing much better than I do). Indeed, for Ferry’s house-wide Valentine’s Day gift exchange last year, Eric presented me with a copy of one of his favorite cookbooks—The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley—and forever solidified our cooking-style solidarity, which revels in fresh, deeply flavored, unpretentious, nourishing, and simple fare.

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Last night, with the help of fellow healthy eating enthusiast Tamsin, Eric produced a dinner perfectly suited for my palate and preferred style of eating. A zippy salad of navy and pinto beans mixed with a medley of tender and finely diced green beans, carrots, and eggplant constituted the highlight of dinner, shining in all of its balsamicky glory. Accompanied by golden brown, impeccably tender, and nicely oiled roasted broccoli and cauliflower, as well as a pot of impressively fluffy quinoa, the salad offered a meal to satisfy my soul as well as my taste buds. Eric and Tamin’s dinner—rife with minimally manipulated fresh veggies, ample seasoning, and a cold composed salad—reminded me quite closely of the meals that my mother and I enjoy preparing together, offering a taste of my Madison home in my Vassar home.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #23: Peanut Butter Noodles with Veggies and Beans, Garlicky Green Beans, & Roasted Sweet Potatoes

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Last night’s dinner, artfully prepared by dearest Alan and Rhyston, featured a sumptuous noodle dish inspired by Veganomicon (the inimitable vegan cookbook tome) and two flavorful vegetable sides.

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Brown rice noodles coated in a creamy peanut sauce and tossed with a mix of navy and pinto beans as well as roasted broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini provided a savory meld of toasted, caramelized, nutty, and umami flavors—though also one that proved quite difficult to stir, according to Ferry cook extraordinaire Alan. As a one-pot meal, the pasta could have easily constituted dinner all on its own, but Veggie Master Rhyston had other plans…

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Simple roasted sweet and Yukon gold potatoes with garlic served as one side dish, while tender green beans sautéed with ample amounts of garlic provided the other. I also added a bed of mixed greens to the meal to meet my daily leafy quota. A quite well-executed dinner, I must say.

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In Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) news, tomorrow marks the onset of my weekend whirlwind of cooking in preparation for Carol Adams’ campus lecture, during which she’ll present her renowned Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show. After the Slide Show, VARC will host a book signing and vegan reception, featuring the following menu of homemade hors d’oeuvres:

–Crostini with cashew cheese, kale pesto, & heirloom tomatoes.
–Grilled herb-marinated seitan skewers (get excited to hear all about my first experience making seitan).
–Mini sundried tomato, spinach, & mushroom tofu quiches.
–Coconut-peanut butter tartlets with raw date-nut crust.

Seeing as her mother works as a pastry chef, my VARC co-president Katie has easy access to a large number of mini tart pans, hence our decision to include mini quiches and dessert tarts on the menu. After grocery shopping tomorrow with money from VegFund (one of my all-time favorite vegan organizations), I’ll spend the vast majority of Friday and Saturday in the Ferry Kitchen, whipping up gourmet vegan appetizers for about 100 people. Wish me luck!

Until next time, Ali.