Thursday, November 27, 2008

Memed, or: I write a little about myself, as though I don't usually

I was tagged by Lena in a very roundabout manner, and during this long and rainy afternoon at work where the humid morning threw itself before the oncoming train of a drizzly afternoon, I spake thus:

1. Go down to this post. That’s a picture of me. See my hair? It may come as a heart-stopping shock, but that colour ain’t real. The tan is, although it is sadly depleted and dry as I have not yet emerged from my winter burrow.

2. When I was born my father called his Tibetan teacher in Dharamsala, India, and asked him to give me a Tibetan name. The usual way to do this is for parents to ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama to name their newborns, so Tenzin ran up the mountain and asked for a name for his new daughter. I was named Tenzin Lhamo. Most Tibetan children are given a first name which accords with that of the current Dalai Lama (currently Tenzin Gyatso), and Lhamo means goddess. It was also the birth name of the current Dalai Lama, so he gave me his own childhood name.

3. When I was in Prep I was a head and shoulders above the other kids. I had reached down to achieve average by about 17, but I still have an internal image of myself as clunkily towering over everyone like a giantess and taking up more room than I should.

4. I always wanted to be a historian, and I was fascinated with what I learnt in my super-major at uni. I was also very very lazy and very very isolated, and realised that I have neither the intellectual shininess nor the grit-teeth tenacity to succeed in academia. Also I have forgotten almost everything I learnt so I now know I have a memory like sieve with a hole punched through the bottom, except for anything useless or celebrity-gossipy, where I have a God-given gift of lifelong photographic recall (enhanced by my many years of poring over my grandma’s Woman’s Day).

5. I am terrified of slipping and falling, and of spiral staircases. I'm not afraid of heights, or of just falling, but of the slipping and the falling. Spiral staircases are my undoing. I was at Blarney Castle in Ireland in 2000, and a staircase there is so steep that there's a rope (a rope!) instead of a proper metal handrail. There's one tower to go up, and one down. Upon beginning my descent I ran into some people (idiots! nasties!) coming up. I yelled at them until they turned around and went back down again, cos there was no way I was moving in any way even an inch except slowly, slowly, step by step, to the bottom.
6. I have a feeling that this is related to my first memory. I was one. I was wearing some green woolly tights and a dress. My uncle carried me to the top of a wooded tipi in a park. My mum said "Hold on to her tight!". My uncle said "She's fine! She's a good climber!" and
he let go of my dress
all the way on to the ground.
My uncle says the moment I started to cry was the best moment of his life. I remember lying on the ground, seeing my mum and my uncle's faces, and although I'm sure that chatty as I am I had no conversational language skills at 12 months, I'm sure I remember thinking something like "Don't worry! I'm ok! Don't look so worried".

And then I felt the most splitting pain the back of my head and I started to cry.

I realise I must be recreating some of this. But that's what I remember so that's what I'm sticking with.

7. I need laser eye surgery. R: -5.00; L: -5.25.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trying out TVP, or: I am a little unnerved

I did not blog about the vegan yum cha/bike ride at Vegie Hut, Box Hill. I did not take any photos either. I did however kick myself very hard under the table because I forgot to put the battery back in my camera, so I am obliged to leave recording of the day in the hands of Michael & Cindy, Lisa, and Kristy & Toby who were not so stupid. Suffice it to say, the food was varied, the company grand, and the ordering prowess exhibited by the experienced Kristy and Toby more than fit the bill (which ended up ridiculously cheap).

After the lunch we had a wander around Box Hill, visiting a vegetarian bakery (vegan items indicated with two - not one, but two! - blue Winne the Pooh stamps) and a vegetarian grocery, the name of which escapes me.

I made a number of mockery purchases there, in line with my recent exploration of mock meat, lugging home some items which will be the subject of a future Mockumentary post and also a very large, very cheap bag of Textured Vegetable Protein.

The TVP, defatted soybean for those who read labels, has to be reconstituted with boiling water before being added to cookering. To begin the experimentation I thought it safest and most palatable to add it to dishes that I was already confident making, so I whacked it in a pea and mushroom rogan josh curry, and a pasta (oh! What a surprise! Miss T eating pasta!).

My first mistake was overestimating. The packet said X cups TVP to Y cups water; I decided that (2 x X) would require (2 x Y). Duh-doooowwww! I ended up with an enormous, enormous, humungo-plus, super-size me bowl of wet and sloppy this:

To make the curry I used about 3/4 of a jar of Patak's Rogan Josh sauce. Quelle surprise! I used a pre-prepared sauce! I am a shopper not a cooker. My forte is purchasing. Anyway, it's relatively cheap, tastes good, is low in calories and fat, and requires a whole lot less effort and mess to prepare. Moving on!

Usually the sauce and a tin of minced tomatoes, combined with mushroom and pea, is red and sloppy enough. The addition of the TVP resulted in:

Aha! The addition of more tomatoes resulted in:

... and finally, joined by the love of my herby life coriander, this:

The curry was very good, but I was unnerved by the chewy minceyness of the TVP. It was interesting but, as I should have expected when cooking a dish that I cook often and happily enough, I didn't feel that the TVP made my curry so-extra-fantabulous-I'll-never-make-it-any-other-way-again. I will make it again, just not exclusively. TVP and I will have an open relationship.

With a ridiculous amount of TVP left in the fridge, I knocked up my neverfail can't-be-arsed dinner, generally comprising pasta, tinned tomatoes, whatever veggies are in the fridge but preferably eggplant, and two-day-tongue-burning quantities of fresh garlic. Buzz assisted me in his capacity of general helperer, photographer and passer-of-things-to-me/substitute-pot-stirrer-when-I-need-to-leave-the room guy. I like to think that when cooking I look serious, professional and tidy. This photograph should surely disabuse anyone else of that notion too. Note green sparkly glasses (with non-prescription lenses as I had just bought the frames and hadn't been to the optometrist, but wanted to wear them around anyway); peachypinky t-shirt; hot pink kitchen accessories and nasty kitchen tiles. Nigella I am Not!

As with the curry I needed to add a considerable amount more of tomatoeyness to compensate for the physical bulk and lack of distinct flavour of the TVP. Here I added a tin of minced tomatoes, a tin of cherry tomatoes and a good few dollops of tomato paste.

I can't really remember what meaty spag bol tastes like, but the texture of the TVP in this sauce was eerily familiar. There were a considerable number of veggies in the sauce which offset the mince-like texture and added more familiar flavours, but the TVP added a certain creaminess which reminded me of the cashew cream pasta from Vegan YumYum that Buzz and I made a while ago.

Again, I really enjoyed this pasta but didn't really feel that it added much to what I normally make. I suppose that in general this is my position on meat alternatives/substitutes/replacers - having not eaten it in so long, I really have no need for it. It is more like one of a number of different kinds of artillery in my cookering arsenal rather than my secret weapon. It's something I use sometimes like I use basil or pastry or sugar, not something I rely upon to recreate a dish I only know how to make with the real thing. With that in mind, in the future I think I'll use the rest of the dried TVP sitting in my fridge to make something new, rather than use it to augment dishes that I already think taste just fine without it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MediaWatch: Cleo magazine, or: where did all the animals go?

While I'm on media reviews, this month's Cleo (yes, I buy it sometimes; yes I tear open the sealed sections with undue haste; no I don't take the quizzes unless I think I'll come out looking good) has an article by Bessie Recep entitled "The Meat Backlash", which is situated in the extra-special-super-duper freebie Body magazine.

It's not a bad article; I quite liked the handy field guide to veggies, although I was unaware of the species Demi Vegetarian, who apparently "stick to a vegetarian diet most of the time", and a couple of other genii which I suspect were cobbled together by a well-intentioned but somewhat confused omni. They included some boxed quotes from poster children Leona Lewis, Alicia Silverstone, Natale Portman and Kristen Bell - nothing like a celebrity endorsement!

The article focusses on the environmental, health and financial reasons for turning veggie, and it does that well. It flat out denies the myth that you need meat for essential nutrients, states clearly that meat farming is ecologically disastrous, and points out that meat is also more costly (in the casharoonie sense).

However, the article leaves out almost any mention of the animal-related reasons that make so many of us choose to ditch the meat and more. Jackie O is quoted on what I will choose to interpret as the farm to fork continuum:
"Some people think it [meat] magically appears on their plate, but there are a lot of processes an animal has to go through along the way. When I thought about it in depth, I thought 'This isn't how I want to eat'."
But that's about it. I realise that in this forum an in-depth, gory, no-holds-barred description of all the details is inappropriate - Cleo is marketed to 18-34 year olds but is frequently read by younger people, and I'm pretty wary of exposing very young people to things they may have had no previous awareness of. I don't think making a little girl cry is really the way we should want to go. Also, the article is placed within a health supplement so a health focus is certainy appropriate. However, having virtually no reference to the animal welfare/rights concerns that are so influential in so many peoples' decisions seems to me to be a bit of a cop out.

Still ... it's nice to have a positive, sensible, accessible and otherwise pretty accurate article out there in a magzine with wide circulation and readers who most likely are as yet unexposed to veg*ism.

Yoga & Yoghurt, or: Channel 7 should get some better researchers.

Hey, Packed To The Rafters, honey & yoghurt are not vegan. Especially not when blended together instead of cake icing. Nor do vegan cakes necessarily have to be made without suagr, and if we were going to use a fruit-based sweetener it would probably be maple or agave syryp, not just fruit juice. Also, not all of us are sanctimonious yoga freaks like the (embarassingly named for me) Rachel character. Just fyi.

The Farm to Fork Continuum in print

This article cropped up today in The Age’s epicure. Following on the heels of their two page spread on veganism, and with a whisper in the wind about a feature on vegetarianism en route, one can’t help but wonder whether someone over there is running a line.

The article by Necia Wilden addresses the gaps and blindness in the farm to fork continuum, and her attempt to face her dinner. Necia travels to an anonymous farm to watch the slaughter of a 14 month old lamb by Farmer Rob.

It’s a thoughtful piece, which raises questions which beyond the scope of the article to answer, and she is honest with herself about many things:

- Her ‘prejudice’ in favour of pigs:

Irrationally, the only thing making me feel a little better about being here is that it's a sheep and not a pig. This is partly because of something Rob had said earlier, that the saddest place to visit is a pig abattoir, "because pigs are sensitive and intelligent animals and you can hear them screaming".
- Her underwhelming reaction to the slaughter and how it may have been different :

Would I have reacted differently if I'd gone to an abattoir? What if it had been a pig? Or it had endured a less merciful death?
Yes, you would. This lamb’s comparatively quick and easy death is no match for the bloody, torturous, and cruel slaughterhouse where sheep are often still alive and aware as they have their throats cut, plunged into boiling water, their skin torn off and their limbs torn off. But you won’t be allowed in a slaughterhouse – and that should tell you more about the disconnection between farm and fork than anything else.

The article pricks a number of myths dearly-held by many omnivores, hauling them out into the sun:

The fact is we live in an age that has taken us further from the source of our food than any other in history. … An age in which we have forgotten - or are choosing to ignore -where all the truckloads of meat we eat really come from.

Or even the simple fact that many people see no contradiction in voicing outrage at cruelty to dogs and cats while they're enjoying a breakfast of bacon from factory-farmed pigs and eggs from battery-farmed hens.
However, there are a number of assumptions and prejudices that Necia does not confront, or indeed even acknowledge. One is her belief that by simply being able to face the death of an animal, or to know that it was killed ‘humanely’, it entitles her to eat it without compunction:

I wanted to reconnect, if only fleetingly, with the culture of my grandparents' era, when wringing a chook's neck in the backyard was no big deal.

We saw no evidence of suffering. I don't believe she knew what hit her. As Rob says afterwards: "The most traumatic thing for this sheep was being photographed."
Presumably it was a big deal for the chook. All this, of course, leads to the ‘happy meat’ conclusion:

I do, however, make a pledge to myself to be stricter in my policy of eating only organic or genuinely free-range animals, in the hope that the improved quality of their lives translates to an improved quality of death.
… and the self-justifying comment:

There is also, as our photographer Simon Schluter says, an amazing display of skill by Rob.

"If I were a sheep," he says later, "I'd want to be killed by this bloke."

Wow. Lucky sheep.

Throughout the article a number of logical voids appear which are not recognised. The presence of Meg, the anthropomorphically-named sheepdog, is one darkly ironic one. Meg, of course, is not food.

For example, Rob’s position on which sheep are fit for slaughter:

He wouldn't harvest a pregnant lamb. Neither would he harvest a baby, despite the fact suckling lambs are said to be great eating.

"Morally it doesn't seem right to harvest the ones that are four weeks old," he says. "I won't do that."

Presumably morals, like lifeboats, are only for women and children. You may also note the term ‘harvest’.

His opinion about pigs:

… something Rob had said earlier, that the saddest place to visit is a pig abattoir, "because pigs are sensitive and intelligent animals and you can hear them screaming".
The argument about intelligence is surely over, or do we need to repeat the Singer/newborn/mentally challenged argument?

… and his unintentional flash of insight:

"Can you see that what has happened here is a crossover, a transformation?" he says. "It is no longer something that's living and growing but a food."
Exactly. I believe this is what Necia is actually trying to get at. The salient point is that it is no longer something that’s living and growing because he slit its throat, not because it is inherently intended to be food.

Rob continues:

He has never focused on cutting the throat. "You would be a bit sick to focus on that little bit. You're focused on creating food for the table. It's just a job that needs to be done.

"When you hunt and gather, that's a normal part of life. If you didn't grow the vegetables, if you didn't kill the animals, the cupboard would be bare."
Neither of these statements stands up to even the lightest scrutiny (except the bit about being sick to focus on the throat slitting. Dare I suggest that you must be something else to actually do it?). You do not need to create food for the table in this way, nor would the cupboard be even slightly bare without it. We are not hunter gatherers, nor do we think with our canine teeth (thanks for that one, Janice). What's more, the inestimable difference between vegteable and animal militates against any comparison. We live in a time and place where we are in no way obliged to rely on meat to sustain us, nor is it a necessity for our health. Using this kind of utilitarian argument is an emotional shield against the sheer needlessness of slaughter.

Necia ends with a number of interesting comments. She writes, quite correctly, that:

the food industry will continue to avoid scrutiny only for as long as it can depend on a quiescent public.

I would add to that also that the meat industry will avoid scrutiny as long as it refuses access to its operations by journalists and authors; continues to spend vast amounts of money on lobbying, ‘research’ and advertising; and continues to help us move further and further away from the farm by presenting us with pre-slaughtered, pre-butchered, unrecognizably-presented, euphemistically-named, shrink-wrapped trays in the supermarket at artificially low prices.
I am somewhat confused by Necia’s closing statements:
For me, I am aware, like never before, that I am eating flesh. This is not an unpleasant sensation, and it certainly adds another dimension to dinner. … To paraphrase the old adage: Hunger is probably still the best sauce. But now I know that gratitude runs a close second.
Perhaps if she had engaged a little more with the lamb that was to become her dinner; read a little more about practices in commercial animal raising operations, and done a little more questioning of her positions on the role of animals as food, she would have come to a different conclusion. Perhaps I am just too revolted by the idea of finding the sensation and thought of eating flesh pleasant … but then I’m vegan. Grateful though, I cannot understand. There was no need to eat the lamb; its body did not sustain you in a time of famine, nor did it willingly go to the slaughter (excuse the awful pun). It, like all animals, did not allow itself to be killed. I am reminded of the recent German case in which it was found that a person cannot consent to being killed and eaten.
Despite the limited scope of the article, I feel that had Necia looked and thought a little harder she may have interrogated her own prejudices a little more deeply. Nonetheless, this is an article that actively looks at, thinks about and talks about the farm to fork continuum, and makes a number of interesting comments about the increasing alienation of most people from the source of their food.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Mockarena, or: I cook a whole lot of mock meat

I've never really been the biggest cheerleader for mock meat. It's usually a soy-based, chemically attempt to replicate something that I find revolting, and I think it a gives the wrong impression to oblivious omnis - either that all veg*ns really really want to eat meat; that we will do anything to substitute it; or that they'd be better off sticking with the real flesh if that's the alternative.

But that's not to say that I wouldn't give it whirl. I discovered the Fry's range in my Safeway up in the very top left corner of the top shelf in a freezer far far away ... but they did have the sausage rolls (already eaten and blogged by Pip), schnitzels and cottage pie, and also three kinds of Syndian burgers. I got stupidly excited and bought everything except the pie, wanting (natch!) to help Safeway know that there were customers for these products regardless of the Freezer Siberia they were banished to.

All this made for a night full of mock meats and chewy protein.

Buzz and I had one schnitzel, one sausage roll and one country style veggie burger each, with a satay tofu mix that I made up from our pizza leftovers (satay tofu, onion, garlic, capsicum and a dash of lime juice ... God I felt thrifty!). I added some coriander, and just fyi, people who don't like coriander are not my friends.

I found that the sausage rolls cooked a lot quicker than the estimted 40 minutes, which threw my (already poor) timing out. The schnitzels, yay me, came out crispy as intended. The veggie burgers, however, responded poorly to baking. They collapsed and thawed unevenly, and I was forced to put them in a pan with some olive oil to help then fry up a little and bind the outer bits together. Even so, they were still crumbly and I think they'd be better used thawed.

I served them with two sauces - a sweet chilli soy and a mustard/tomato relish. I tried to make the photos below look a little Nigella-organic-ceramic but with my usual slatternly housekeeping there are splatters all over the bowls. Nonetheless, I'm posting it because of my darling little avocado bowls - aren't they fantastic?

The veggie burgers, despite their unauspicious beginnings, tasted very fresh and full of parsnip. I've just noticed on the Syndian website that their formal name is 'Country Whispers', which does nothing to make me do anything but snigger, but I was touched by this little statement:

Original products with true flavors: we do our best to bring out the original flavors of the ingredients and do not attempt to imitate another ingredient, for that reason we have no meat or cheese like products, or imitation to those flavor. Given all possible ingredients we will continue to produce our products the way we are producing them now. Enjoy what is real, not what is make believe!
Awww! And that's all (sic).

Of the Fry's range, I could tell that the sausage roll was my favourite because I found myself leaving it until last. Like Pip points out, they're more in the pig-in-a-blanket mold than Four'n'Twenty. The pastry was flaky and light whilst the filling was lightly spiced and nicely chewy without ickily bringing to mind tendons and ligaments.

My grandma was Viennese, and as an omnivorous child I loved to get dressed up in my little red dirndl and go with her to the Austrian Club where I would get to order schnizel and chips off the kids' menu. Although I don't particularly recall the taste of schnitzel it's one of those childhood dishes that is inextricably bound up with love and family and excitement. Schnitzel has always occupied a little warm place in my heart for the link it provides with my grandma and the family before her that we never knew.

This Fry's schnitzel, however, had crispiness as its main virtue (and I was pretty darn proud that I got that first go, which sadly illustrates the extent of my cookering skills). The texture was thick and rather realistic I think, but was thin enough not to overwhelm. The taste was a bit forgettable, but not at all objectionable and I think I might even have a go at a parma with the leftovers (a meat parma being one of my many uneaten meaty meals ... when you ditch the flesh at 10 you don't really get to get into those pub meals).

So, after the mock-meat feast, the sausages will definitely be making a repeat appearance, although I suspect that that the recipe in Tempting Tempeh could give them a run for their money. Perhaps that's where I can next put my pastry to use...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Instalment of Two of I Know What You Ate Last Summer

Ta Da! More from London.

I was staying in a hotel with only a kettle, so I bought myself a bowl and spork and tried to enjoy my picnics on the floor. I got these things from the WholeFoods/Fresh'n'Wild in Soho.

My breakfasts - coffee and a Laura's muesli/tofu/strawberries pot - it was delish.

I loved this place - Ha Ha Veggie Bar in Camden Lock Market. Everything was vegan except the cheese, and it had some rocking vegan mayo. My friends Jess and Lachie ate too - we had felafels and burgers (with seedy handmade veggie pattie on a wholemeal roll) which were made when we ordered them by a lovely guy.

Ha Ha Veggie Bar: Camden Lock Market, Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London NW1.

From Planet Organic - a forgettable Laura's Sunball (sticky icky sweetness) and a really godawful sandwich - dry crumbly bread, dry beetroot, a swish of hummus and a real waste. Boo!

Some real junk (but good junk) ... RedVeg Burgers in Soho. Most things - burgers, fried, felafels, hot dogs - can be made vegan. The best thing about it is that it is a real fast-food style burger (if that's what you're after) - soft bun, textured dark brown pattie sans lentils or tofu, a bit o' lettuce, tangy mayo - but with coriander. The fried look like Macca's (good or bad - you decide!) and come in an open top cardboard cone.

Two things annoyed me about RedVeg. As the name implies, the shop is festooned with images of Che Guevara and Lenin, which I found a bit disturbing. I was uncomfortable with the conflation of veganism with controversial far-left figure, even if in a wry, trendy Soho way. It seemed like a) a blunt marketing tool, and b) a good way to continue the "veggie eating commie hippie" stereotype.

The second thing that got my goat was that the vegwursts and hotdogs were listed as vegetarian on the instore flyer, but vegan on the board above the counters. In a vegetarian shop this is not on.

You might note that the packaging changes from red to blue to red - ahh, EagleEyes, it is indeed form two different meals, carefully selected by your guide to demonstrate the wrapped, closed and open versions. The red versions had hickory sauce - sweet, smokey, real Down South ma'am.

RedVeg: 95 Dean Street, London, W1D 3TB.

Sheese from World Vegan Day. Meh. (Actually, the smoked cheddar was good enough for me to cart all the way home, so that was preemptive. The rest of it still didn't ring my bell though).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday night - Pizza & Beer, or: I get into the satay tofu

Entranced by our new MacBooks (you can't see it, but I'm typing on it right now! Yes I am!) Buzz and I decided to stay in on Friday night and play with them. We had joked that the advent of a two-person-laptop-couch would mean that we would end up sitting next to each other entranced in our own online activities, ocasionally grunting or IMing each other in lieu of speech. This was prophetic and we now never need talk again.

We did break off to make ourselves pizza, in the very best tradition of computer geeks. I had been to the supermarket (I know it's really sad that I enjoy going to the supermarket on a Saturday night, I know it is) and I really wanted to try the white asparagus I had seen perched next to the green and purple. I got some satay tofu and coriander to complement it, although naturally I ended up totally forgetting about the coriander and left it sitting on the kitchen bench untouched.

I made two little pitas for myself, one covering off on the Thai-style satay-asparagus combo and the other in the style of the traditional vegetarian, sans pineapple, in case the other one was blech.

My experimental Thai one began with some pizza s
auce and Mature White Cheddar Cheezly. I chopped the satay tofu and scattered it over the base along with some diced zucchini (less and less Thai by the minute!). I topped it with the white asparagus, which all looked very fancy wood-fire-oven if I do say so myself.

The backup option began with the same pizza sauce and Cheezly, layered with sliced mushroom, onion, green capsicum (the funny long ones tht look like witches' claws) and sliced black olives.

Nice! The satay pizza was great, forgotten coriander notwithstanding. The zuchinni and asparagus helped give the pizza some bulk and contributed some smoother flavours and texture to contrast the distinctive peanut and chewy tofu.

The traditional veggie one was also well-finished, and the Cheezly really melted well on each. I had placed in in little lumps rather than grating it, and I think this helped give small shots of flavour rather than an overall base taste.

Yes, we ate them in front of the computers, not talking and typing away!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Instalment One: I Know What You Ate Last Summer

Having fallen shamefully behind with my overseas blogging, despite having faithfully recorded almost every mouthful I consumed, I now admit defeat and present a montage of New York and London eatering (is that jumping the shark?).

There are still a few proper reviews in the works, but to make sure that I didn't dutifully, publicly and sometimes a little embarassingly record and note every forkful and track down like a bloodhound all the eateries that I went to, here is the first instalment of an abridged, abbreviated and written-without-my-dear-notes series entitled "I Know What You Ate Last Summer".

This brand "Laura's Idea" was available in a number of supermarkets in London, including Planet Organic where I would plonk myself with my morning unsweetened-soy-latte and tofu-muesli pot. Not all of the products are vegan, but those that are are clearly labelled and you can tell that they're produced each day because the labels contain adorable and inconsistent typos. Bless!

in Soho, London. My Bloody Mary -type juice took ages, but being entirely grumpy and cranky from the flight made me too grr-grr to complain very loudly. The selection of salads varied nicely and was served directly from pot to bowl.

A pita-pocket-sort-of thing from a deli on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. It was a bit like curried tofu and although soggy and falling apart, was surprisingly nice.

I was determined to try as many of the soy cheeses form WholeFoods as possible, blithely unaware that quite a lot of the soy cheeses contained casein, thus vastly reducing the number of vegan soy cheeses and really making me cross.

Tofurkey and Follow Your Heart soy cheese - chemicals on a plate.

That's all for Instalment One, folks.
More slack writing and vague musings to follow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tart'n'Round, or: I eat a lot of chocolate and remain defiant about it.

When I said that I ate the Tart'n'Round goodies that I bought at World Vegan Day before I could take photos of them, that was true. But when I went to Allergy Block on Saturday 'just to look', and came away with not only more of the same things I bought before (the caramel slice wedgey thing and chocolate peanut butter balls) but also with some cherry ripe balls, I made vast strides in my gobbling therapy and remembered to take some shots before I ate them. All. In three days. But mostly by the end of Sunday. Saturday.

(Just to note, in the interests of full confession ... there are three each of the cherry ripe and peanut butter balls in a packet - making six chocolatey balls all up - and the caramel wedge is huge. Just sayin').

Tart'n'Round's sweetie goodness is rich, almost too rich, but they totally avoid the dreaded "It's good ... for vegan confectionary" tagline. They are just damn good on their own.

The peanut butter balls are peanutty rice bubbles with a sticky binding encased in good dark chocolate, and the cherry ripe balls fulfilled an embarassingly intense yearning for a Cherry Ripe bar that I'd been secretly nurturing for some time and then some (does it strike anyone else as stupid that what should be cherry, coconut and dark chocolate is not vegan?). The cherry innards tasted almost the same as the real Cherry Ripe (as far as I can remember) but less sickly, and had a lovely rough mouth feel contrasting with the chocolate shell.

The caramel slice was perhaps a little too rich, but from what I can remember from the non-vegan ones, they were always a struggle to finish anyway (I said struggle. And I always overcame).

Not only did the Tart'n'Round products I tried taste like a whole lotta greedy-time, as far as I can tell they taste very much like the not-vegan stuff too.

They're a little pricey for everyday eatering, and more difficult to find in VeganVille than in the south-eastern suburbs, but geez Louise, they're worth it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thinking, thinking, or: I wonder some thoughts and think some things

I've been thinking a bit recently about what it is that makes people decide to go veg*n, and, more importantly, what it is that stops them.

I know many people - caring, intelligent, aware people - who have a little place in their hearts that makes them sigh and say "I wish I could go vegetarian", or "I cry when I watch RSPCA Animal Rescue!", or "I wish I could; it's just too hard", or makes them rush to assure us of their credentials with "I only buy cruelty-free meat!" , "I only buy organic!" or "I only eat a little bit!" or "I only buy free-range!". I don't really want to knock these statements (although I really don't think the cow cares that much that you think when a bolt was put through its brain it was 'cruelty-free'), because misguided and diversionary as I think they are, they demonstrate an awareness of the farm-to-fork continuum and it's certainly better than not giving a toss at all.

But if you have that awareness, if you actively consider the choices you make in the supermarket or at the butcher, if you genuinely do not want animals to suffer, if you believe that intensive animal breeding is environmentally disastrous, if you think that eating animal products is unhealthy, and really wish you could go veg*n - what stops you?

A good friend of mine has recently made this choice. She has become increasingly uncomfortable with her growing knowledge of what happens to animals bred for meat, and is now unable to reconcile this understanding with meat-eating. She came to this position all on her own - her family are not veg*n by any means, and she only spoke to me about it when she had almost entirely made the decision by herself. I commend her for making that conceptual, emotional and intellectual connection all on her own, and I’m really proud of her.

Other people, though, often tell me how they wish they could. This could be that they wish they could stop eating meat, or they wish they could drop dairy, or go vegan altogether. It’s hard for me to understand this both on a personal level and on an ethical one. I don't think that when I was vegetarian I ever went through this - when I opened my eyes (or had them opened), there was no wish, only do (thus spake Master Yoda). This fits in with my general approach to most things - I am impatient, avaricious and once I have made a decision I have to put it into action right that very moment.

But I am genuinely intrigued about how people who know, understand and reject animal breeding practices (or poor environmental practices, health issues or whatever the issue is that speaks most to that person) can in effect sit on this information while they make wishes. I really don' t mean to make that sound critical - I was vegetarian for almost 17 years before 'upgrading' to veganism, and I as I have written before, towards the end of that time vegetarianism was more of a habit than an ethical choice or conscious decision to me. But now that I am here, I cannot understand how people who see the truth can continue to ignore it because it is difficult, or inconvenient, or because they're 'just not ready'.

So what to do? I don’t want to lecture or harangue, patronise or critique. I don’t want to make people feel guilty or uncomfortable, meaning that they wouldn’t want to talk to me and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to explain or encourage. But I do want to say something – to feel that I have not stood idly by, to encourage someone along a path that they have stumbled upon, or just to, excuse the horrid Americanism, ‘represent’.

I'm not a big fan of calling people out (well, I might if they said something unutterably stupid like “You’ll die without meat” or “But the fox likes to be hunted!”. But not if they were just trying to help). If someone said to me that they buy only organic meat, I wouldn't blast them with stories about crating, milking or slaughter. Although there is a place for shock tactics and brutal honesty, that isn't it. Shock tactics are justified and necessary in the face of knowing and deliberate cruelty, or heartless disregard and callousness. It is not ok where there is ignorance, fuzzy-minded thinking or misguided good intentions. Not where someone is struggling to recognise and overcome a lifelong, societally-enforced paradigm of animal exploitation. Not where they have tried to be polite and friendly and connect with about something they think you have in common.

In my opinion, it is more productive and strategically long-term in outlook to commend that person on actively thinking about their food, and test whether they are receptive to hearing a bit more (and it's also just better manners!). They have demonstrated that they are thinking and exercising their conscience and doing what they think is a good thing - to become derisive or dismissive is counter-productive and more likely to stop their efforts right there, mister. By speaking to them in a manner which respects their choices so far and the efforts they have made, it establishes a dialogue which is not marred by hostility, confrontation and rudeness, and sets the scene for future discussion and debate.

And without creating that space, we will be forever on the outer and too marginalised to connect with the mainstream. We will be unable to explain, encourage, and educate about what we believe in. And that, dear friends, is just plain dumb.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Playing with Pastry, or: I get all experimenty and thrifty

After I attempted Lolo's White Bean Pesto & Asparagus Tart for the recent potluck, which some people were kind enough to say they liked, I've been trying to both expand my pastry experience and use up the rest of the pastry in my freezer! (It was Borg's, by the way. They have three kinds at Leo's Fine Food and Wine - puff, canola, and shortcrust - which are vegan. Awesome).

And so, drum roll please, Miss T presents Playing With Pastry, a retrospective of her recent forays into the freezer. Miss T declines to enter into detailed descriptions of individual items, most creations having been made from a combination of ready-made pestos, tomato paste, Dijon mustard, asparagus, tinned cherry tomatoes, olive oil, Maldon sea salt, cracked pepper and whatever else was in the fridge, thus creating a generally uniform taste.

Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe has written a lovely and very informative post about asparagus over here. She has included some wonderful recipes and fascinating historical detail - just my kind of thing! Unfortunately I am only capable of one contribution on the subject of asparagus and it's not nearly as tasty or well-researched as hers (but in my opinion, quite intriguing): did you know that not everyone can smell asparagus wee? If you are arching your eyebrows in surprise, then you can smell it. If you don't know what I mean and wondering what kind of foul troll I am, you can't. Wikipedia has even mentioned it so it must be true.

So without further ado ... Playing with Pastry!

Attempt 1: I used lotsa asparagus ...

... and lots of sea salt ...

... and this is what happened when I put cashews and King Valley coriander pesto in the food processor! Tee hee!

Attempt 2: Here is a more pie-like pastry which I had fun wrapping up and pretending I was being all homey and hearty like Nigella (but without the kitchen food porn).

Attempt 3: A very Christmassy looking tart. Got a bit soggy with all the tomato juice but it made me feel all cheery and geometrical. I used chilli and tomato King Valley pesto with Dijon for the base and sprinkled some Parmazano on top.

Attempt 4: Using up some antipasto and piling on the pepper. King Valley watercress and cashew pesto, tomato paste and Dijon mustard for the base.