Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Big Up, Dymocks, or: Veganic Literature Abounds

A small but heart-felt hands-in-the-air to Dymocks in the Australia on Collins Arcade, who are currently stocking 13 - THIRTEEN - vegan cookbooks. And that's not vegetarian, not general vegetables, bot philosophical analyses by Pollan, Schlosser et al. Vegan Cookbooks (and two and a bit shelves of vegetarian ones too). 

I bought* Vegan Yum Yum by Laren Ulm, notwithstanding PPK scragfights about it. I am a big fan of cookbooks with pictures and colour - is there anything that makes you feel less like creating food than a dull page with dull font and dull black ink and no illustrations or even a little swirly decoration? This book is full of photographs of the food on every single page - very helpful when you're trying to work out what your meal should ideally look like -  and easy to read instructions. Having had some success with Vegan Yum Yum pasta and tarts before, and having seen the many posts debvoted to her Hurry Up Alfredo, I'm looking forward to giving this one a whirl. 

*I have acquired three new cookbooks in the last week. But no** new handbags so it's ok.

**Just one very cute, very useful tote for carrying all my extras to work, at a reduced price, with Rs all over it and kanagroos.

Lisa's Vegan Murphy's Law, or: But I ...

In response to Lisa's Vegan Murphy's Law:

But I only eat salad.
There is no protein in my diet.
I am anaemic. So wan.
I cannot lift the spoon to my mouth because I am so weak.
I have wasted muscles.
I only eat organic, biodynamic fruit that has fallen from a tree.
I sneer at Level 5 vegans.
I crave bloody flesh and secretly devour it at any opportunity.
I cannot truly envisage a life without chocolate and cheese.
I am mightily tempted by "but it's a just a little bit of ...".
I cannot cook.
I do not enjoy eating.
I do not understand the Circle of Life (although Simba has promised to explain it to me).
If only I got to raise a lamb as a child and then slaughter it for Sunday dinner I wouldn't be squeamish.
I cannot satisfactorily answer the question "But if we all stopped eating meat then what would happen to all the cows, huh?".
I am swayed by your arguments about our dominance in the food chain.
Because I care about animal rights I automatically do not care about human rights.

I am "just going too far".
I enjoy criticising my hosts and their food.
I love to preach and lecture.
I never encounter obnoxious omnis who bait me and wait for just one response, which qualifies as preaching and lecturing on my behalf.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Korean Vegetable Pancakes, or: I cause an oil-slick in my stomach

I can't pretend this was a success, in either execution or taste. Excited by the new cookbook that Father Christmas brought me - Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh, which is filled with a huge variety of recipes from across Asia and beautiful photographs - we chose the Korean Vegetable Pancakes as our first foray.

Oh sigh. We got all prepped for this one, with ingredients for the batter, the veggies and the kochujang sauce. The batter recipe called, amongst other things, for rice flour and potato starch. Although the rice flour was easily found, after three supermarkets yielded mountains of potato flour but no starch (which the interwebs informs me are quite, quite different), I subbed arrowroot as a replacement starch.

I couldn't find any kochujang sauce or paste, which I suspect is much more common in the US than Australia. A quick Google revealed that the key ingredients were soy sauce and chilli, and in the interests of breaking 'same same cookering', we subbed Sambal Oelek for crushed chillis. Oh, throw caution to the winds!

My first gripe was making the kochujang sauce. It took Buzz as long to prepare the sauce as it took me to saute the veggies, whisk the batter and cook four pancakes, and not because he's slowpokish. The sheer number of ingredients and steps in the process were just too many to make this sauce worthwhile (although it was yummy ... just aggravatingly labour intensive).

The recipe called for you to pour the batter (which required much more water than stated), frizzle it for a minute, and then press some of the previously sauteed veggies into the top before leaving it another minute, flipping it over, and frizzling it again. Here is the pancake with the veggies patted into the top ... but there is no picture of when I flipped it over because the veg fell off! This technique was not particularly effective and very, very annoying.

I made two pancakes following the recipe, which turned out slippery and pale despite a lot of frizzling.

Frustrated, Buzz called for a radical rethink and suggested that we mix the veggies and batter together to make fritters. We gave it a go, and the new mixture did stick together pretty well. However, it did require masses and masses of oil to keep frittering, so let's not pretend that this is in any way a healthy kind of veggie dish. Look at the sludge around the edge of my poor Magic Pan!

The huge quantity of oil we used in the sauces and the pan was enough to make a whale feel sludgy. To add a bit of blandness to fatness, the batter itself was as blah as beige can be, despite the addition of my lovingly toasted sesame seeds. I ate these pancakey-fritters with a growing sense that I was heavily moisturised and had slapped on a full tube of lip gloss as the oil started seeping out of my pores. I am completely uninterested in your feedback that it was I who poured the oil into the pan. Don't care, won't care, will complain.

In all, the idea of fritters came out a winner, with Buzz declaring an intention to make some again soon. However, out will go the sesame oil, sesame seeds, sauteed vegetables, floury batter, and the death of a whole field of canola to contribute the amount of oil needed to mix and fry. In will come more vegetables, a soy-flavoured batter, and spray oil. And out with the rocket-science level sauce-making.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tom Yummo, or: I swish open a packet sauce and put an end to 'same same cookering'

When Lunchering with Lisa as CityWorkers, one of our favourite kitchens is at Chatterbox. Lately we've been gulping down the Tom Yum soup, made with huge chunks of fresh tomato, tofu and very orange indeed.

Chatterbox's Tom Yum

It was with great excitement that I seized this packet of Tom Yum paste at the supermarket, noting with glee that it was approved by the Vegetarian Society and displayed their tick. Further inspection proved it vegan friendly as well, which was miraculous given the ever-present fish sauce, shrimp paste or other fishiness in most Tom Yum sauces. In line with my policy of giving products which choose to present their veg credentials as a selling point, I chucked it in my trolley.

Although I'm generally loathe to resort to pre-packaged meals, which taste even more of plastic than the masses of it that they are covered in, a bit of ready-made sauce is hardly a Lean Cuisine. Having this packet on hand, for all of $1.99, allowed me to make something new very easily that I otherwise wouldn't have even begun. As far as a bit of a helping hand in the kitchen goes, I am choosing to place this sort of pre-prepared package on the same level as readymade pastry: a bloody useful convenience and a boon in the busy kitchen.

I assembled some simple ingredients, wary of my tendency to throw all my favourite ingredients into everything I make, regardless of cuisine, dish or intention. This is known as 'same same cookering' and it pervades my kitchen. To wit, I am quite capable of making tofu scramble, roast veggies, pasta, cous cous and a curry with exactly the same veggies and spices, rendering any difference between them negligible and me highly annoyed and eating the same dinner like Groundhog Day.

I selected some fresh chillis from the plant given to us by our friends Jess and Lachie at our housewarming; fresh tomatoes; fresh coriander; kaffir lime leaves (which I feel really uncomfortable about saying); rice noodles; red capsicum; lime juice (which didn't make it in after all); and field mushrooms. I left out the baby corn and bok choy of the Chatterbox version because they ain't much loved around these here parts (by which I mean my tummy). Next time I'd add some tofu and onion as well, but I'd probably ignore the broccoli and carrot of the Chatterbox version as they don't strike me as very Thai.

Although the sauce packet called for four cups of water for the stock, I used six knowing that I'd be adding rice noodles whereas the packet's recipe did not. This was an excellent amount and didn't dilute the sauce too much at all. I added Vegeta stock and dropped in the tomatoes so that they'd start peeling nicely. The tomatoes are the only vegetable that you actually want cooked; the rest should all be fresh and only a little soft. I let the stock come to a boil and then stirred in the the Tom Yum sauce. Taking it off the heat, I added mushrooms, finely chopped chillis, capsicum slices and some torn up lime leaves. I threw the rice noodles in at the last minute with a handful of chopped fresh coriander, letting them cook for just a couple of minutes. I garnished with some more fresh coriander, fresh chillis and lime leaves. You may discern a red-and-green theme here; I wonder if Tom Yum might replace biscuits and milk (or gin in my house) as the food left out for Father Christmas? Oh, facetiousness.

And here it is. No coconut milk, and less orangey and more browny than the Chatterbox version, but absolutely delicious nonetheless. The packet sauce was extremely well balanced and hugely easy to use. I can't really imagine preparing the sauce from scratch on a lazy Sunday or a frantic Thursday, but I can imagine tearing open the packet and adding a few readily available fresh veggies and noodles to some hot stocky water.

This one will go on regular rotation in our house, although I'll be careful not to remove my contact lenses while I still have chilli on my fingers (hours later, I might add)! It was a quick, easy and enjoyable meal to make, and I'm very pleased that I succeeded in not turning it in to my usual variation-on-a-theme cookering. In fact, there are now two more of these sauces in the pantry, along with a couple of other V-ticked sauces from the range.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shout Outs to Omni Cooks, or: A Christmas Miracle

Today is a shout out. My cousins Heath and Kes, along with Heath's rockin' girlfriend Claire and our cousin Gregor, pulled off a family Christmas today that was just about as good as it gets. In particular, I wanted to give them public snaps for the extra effort they put in for me and my food - almost everything came in vegan and omni varieties, including grilled eggplant, salads and gravy, as well as two meat alternatives for mains. It was a massive undertaking to feed our our entire family let alone making sure that almost everything had a veganised option. I think perhaps that because Heath and Claire appreciate good food, they can also appreciate that vegan food can be just as good.

In general, I've found that people with limited variety in their omni diets and not much interest in good food are the ones who can only imagine that I eat lettuce leaves and carrot sticks, whereas people who explore and enjoy food can much more easily see the vast array available to me because they are used to exercising their palates and experiencing new things.
So thanks, guys. It was a lovely, special day anyway, but the extra effort you put in for me was was really touching. (*also, credit to Heath for finding the right name for the Where's The Beef vegan sausage rolls: vausage rolls!)

My plate - oh so so good.

Here are some table shots:

Monday, December 14, 2009

I want to shop vegan, or: Comrades, Viva the Consumer Revolution!

I’ve sounded a little like a roadshow soapbox spruiker lately, sharing my favourite shoppering. I maintain that having vegan labelled products available in commercial shops is a great thing – it normalises veganism, it brings the idea that consumers should think and care about what goes into their products and what they are tested on back on the agenda, and it makes the idea of vegan products more accepted and acceptable. Also, I like to shop. I want to be able to shop vegan.

I am a fan of the Organic Care range of shampoo, conditioner and hand wash, and of the other household products made by the same company, Nature’s Organics. I like that they have great (and biodegradable) packaging, are widely available in commercial supermarkets, and are not too pricey for the average shopping trolley. For me, this shows that it is possible and profitable to produce high quality, vegan, eco-friendly and non-toxic products at a reasonable price, and as I peek into other people’s laundries, bathrooms and kitchens, I see these products abounding which is testament to their broad appeal (in our house the Earth Choice brand t gets a pounding, but they also have ranges that don’t look quite so hippie-ish, for those who prefer their dishwashing detergent vividly fluorescent).

I have always preferred the Organic Care brand of the Nature’s Organics range as they are free from SLES, SLS, ALES, ALS, parabens and petrochemical cleansers (these things are really worth a Google). Until recently there was a great range of haircare (I know Tahn has tried them and that some people find them too scented, but for my very thick mane of 80s style boofiness, they’re fantastic) and handwashes under the Organic Care banner, but no body washes. No more! I found three varieties at Woolworth’s (are any other Victorians as excited by the rebranding of Safeway as I am?) and bought them all. They don’t yet appear on the Nature’s Organics website, but there is a deep clean, an exfoliating and a moisturising wash, and for a little over $5 each, they’re not a special purchase buy.

And that’s what I like best: these are normal, everyday products for normal, everyday people with normal, everyday budgets who shop at normal, everyday stores. I love supporting small and new brands, but I am lucky enough to have the resources and interest to do so. I am thrilled that products which tick so many of my important purchasing boxes – vegan, eco-friendly, and not afraid to say it – are available in the mainstream. Surely this is how our message will reach more and more people who will casually reach to pick up a nice looking product, see that the manufacturers are proud to say that their product is cruelty-free, and realise that this is something desirable that other products don’t have. And they’ll buy it. And they’ll look for it next time. And eventually more and more producers will cotton on to the importance of these qualities, and they'll follow suit. And I think that's important.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Warming at the T-House, or: we make and eat yummeries to celebrate

Buzz and I had a party to celebrate both my renovations and that we are living happily in lovely sin.

With a strict schedule of cooking and cleaning we managed to tidy up the T-House and prepare enough food for an open house on a sunny Saturday.

Table, laden, groaning.

I cooked a variety of foods and supplemented them with plenty of Ninja Vegan goods, viz: Skittles, Allen's jellybeans, Arnott's Jam Tart biscuits, Arnott's Nice biscuits, Oreos, Coles salt'n'vinegar and BBQ chips, Turkish Delight and mini spring rolls.

Veganomicon hummus.

My beetroot dip.

Handmade with love were: hummus from Veganomicon and my own beetroot, tofu and sweet basil dip on veggie platters; a fruit, nut and dried fruit platter; Cindy and Michael's vegan sausage rolls; gluten-free rice paper rolls; peanut butter blondie from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar; and two types of chocolate peanut butter balls from VCIYCJ and me.

Peanut butter blondies from VCIYCJ.

The PB blondies were enough to make you cry. I was very chuffed when my friend Miss Carly, baker extraordinaire and foodie supreme, asked me for the recipe. You'll note that they are in crumbly pieces in a bowl. Despite my efforts to pretend that this was how they were meant to be, donchaknow, the fact was that I was too impatient to let them cool properly after baking them and started trying to cut them while they were hot. So I could eat them. Let this be a lesson to you, Greedyguts.

Above in the foreground are some of the chocolate peanut butter balls from VCIYCJ. These are an adpation of a recipe that I first tried when Caroline made them for a potluck, and I immediately set about making my own. I found a recipe, and through trial and error made my own notations to the original recipe. In the renovations I lost my recipe, which absolutely galls me.

When I first bought VCIYCJ I was thrilled to see a take on the Choc PB Balls. I made a batch following the recipe exactly, but found it much too oily (1/4 cup of canola). In fact, not only were my hands covered in oil after kneading the dough, but the dough wasn't stable enough to roll, squash and wrap around the PB filling. Reducing the PB filling enough to allow the chocolate dough to enclose it left me with half the PB filling left, so I made up my own dough and held a bakeoff with myself (you can see the Choc PB Balls that I made in the blurry background below). On the whole, I still preferred the VCIYCJ version (although Clag was kind enough to give mine a win), as they were chocolat-ier and mine, although much easier to make, were a bit plainer and doughier. Next time I would halve the canola oil!

Cindy and Michael's vegan sausage rolls, served with sweet chilli sauce and Fountain Tomato & Onion Sauce - which as far as I can tell is only available in the Balnarring IGA. I've looked all over Melbourne, so last time we were in Balnarring we came home with five bottles. Yup.

I can't tell you how many people have been infected with the obsession that invades the mind after eating those sausy rolls. I have been sending links to the recipe left right and centre, mostly to omnis (ahahaha!) and even though I must say that Buzz and I are smugly pleased with our now-standard substiution of Orgran corn crispy crumbs for breadcrumbs, full and fawning credit must go to where's the beef for this unbelievable, lip-lickin', tongue-smackin' recipe. Snaps!

My rice paper rolls, with tofu fried off in tamari to make them gluten free. I had plain tamari and a chilli dark soy mix for dipping.

We had a lovely, happy afternoon with our friends and family, sitting in the warm sun with a cool drink and nattering. Thanks everyone!

Sam awaiting the guests at his party.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gourmet Pearl Cous Cous, or: A freebie came in the post

In the grandest traditions of journalism, I was offered the opportunity to try out a new product by an old school friend who is now in marketing. Awooga Awooga! Yes I got it for free. Yes I am blogging about it. And I liked it. Otherwise I would have quietly 'forgotten' to post about it. Unlike Cindy and Michael, who put on their scientists' hats and devised some fiendish experiments to compare various cous cousses (cous cousi?), I am not so gifted, and so I merely present my cookering. Deal.

The blu Gourmet Peal Cous Cous, with a picture of the dashing Gabriel Gate on the packet, is, somewhat oddly, subtitled, direct quote, "A unique Mediterranean toasted pasta Specialty". Uncooked, the grains are much larger than the standard cous cous, and quite pale. Cooked, they're creamier and yellowier.

Not being much of a cous cous cook myself - mine always turns out a bit gluggy and stodgy, never fluffy and light like when Lisa makes cous cous, parsley and cucumber salad - I was a bit apprehensive about my ability to cook the pearls. Thankfully, it was extremely easy - I poured boiling water on (the packet recommends 1 cup of pearls to 1 1/4 cup of water, but there's about 1 1/3 cup of pearls per packet so I used a bit more) and let it simmer. Ta dah - gave it a stir and done.

We cooked it in some Massel stock, which I'd go easier on next time. I think it'd be fine on its own or with just a little salt. The pearls expanded by about a 1/4 to a 1/3 in cooking, so the one packet made a quite substantial serve for me and Buzz. We served it with a red cabbage and various veggie fry. Pretty eh?

Freebies aside, I really enjoyed this. The mouthfeel is soft and round, quite different to normal cous cous, and softly smooth like well-cooked pasta. It didn't feel too filling like an equivalent amount of pasta or normal cous cous, although I note that the servings per package is meant to be 5: well not in this house!

There is no ethical ice cream, or: Knock it off, Nat

Natalie, Natalie, Natalie.

I love you. I loved your vegan shoe range fo Te Casan - I bought two pairs in New York. I love that you went vegan after reading Jonathan Foer's book 'Eating Animals' (a copy of whoch sits pristinely on my bookshelf, awaiting my consumption) and I love that you wrote an accessible, sensible and intelligent piece for the Huff Post about how the book turned you into an activist. And you're pretty.

I thought it was great that in this (admittedly fairly insipid) interview by Australian Brad Blanks you directly credited what you learnt about factory farming from Eating Animals with turning you vegan. I like - a lot - that you said you were "horrified", because horrible and horrific it is.

It was also good that when you were asked "So no more ice cream?" you said there was rice cream, and soy ice cream, and having seen the incredible, knock-your-socks-off range available in Whole Foods, I know there is no shortage of vegan frozen desserty things available to you.

So why did you follow it up with this: "But if you can find dairy that's ethically produced, then that's ok and you can have some then".

It's not ok. It's not ok in my opinion at all, but it is especially not ok to say that you're vegan and then make exceptions for "ethical ice cream".

I doubt you would make an exception for "ethical meat'" (happy meat, schmappy meat), so I wonder if you have in fact grasped that it's not only huge factory farming operations that exploit, abuse and discard dairy cows and their offspring. An ethical cow in an ethical field eating ethical food milked with ethical hands producing ethical milk has still been kept in a state of perpetual and enforced pregnancy so that she will lactate; had her male calves taken away and killed as they are useless; her milk which is intended for her babies taken away for your ethical ice cream; and at the end of her milking life - which, like human women, is long before the end of her natural life - she will still be taken away to die. Not so sweet.

And in any case, on a purely pedantic level (because I know you are a bright person who is multilingual and went to university and is not a fool), you can't be vegan-except-for-when. You can be a vegan who makes mistakes. You can be a vegan who is learning. You can be an aspiring vegan. You can be a vegan who accidentally ate dairy and egg-filled cake at Vegie Bar when they got her order wrong and her poorly attuned palate didn't pick it up. But you can't be a vegan with permanent non-vegan exceptions.

Knock it off, Nat.

U Little Beauty, or: I shop and consume in a rainy lunchtime

Although I'm a low-maintenance kind gal, I am a sucker for a beauty product. During a lunchtime whizz around Priceline today I came across, in their excellent organic section, a brand called U Little Beauty.

(image from the U Little Beauty website in the interests of me not having to load photos)

On principle I tend to give anything a whirl that actually has the word 'vegan' on it, in the interests of promotion and support, and U Little Beauty has it in droves. It's vegan credentials are plastered all over its products and website. As well as being cruelty-free, the it's SLS and Paraben free; has no artificial preservatives, colours or fragrances; has no petrochemcials; is made in the capital of hippiedom, Byron Bay; and carries the 'against animal testing' bunny and the vegan sunflower logo on its recyclable packaging.

I bought the 'kiss me quick' lip balm - something that usually has beeswax- and it tastes delicious. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's lemony-sorbety and not too greasy, not too thick.

The 'butter me u' body butter looks and smells like chocolate mousse, and unlike some that seem to waterlog your skin, sinks in quickly and lightly.

So another addition to the overflowing bathroom cabinet- but a nicely smelling one that's not afraid to use 'vegan' as a selling point.

My first-born for a pair of shoes, or: Stella and Morrissey, Shoe Elves

I'm not sure what to make about the tone of this article, but if the Shoe Elf saints on high wish there to be another celebrity-led range of vegan footwear, then I promise them my first-born.

McCartney and Morrissey: a match made in heaven?


Stella McCartney and Morrissey team up to produce a line of vegan footwear Stella McCartney and Morrissey. Photograph: Ferdaus Shamim/Alex Sudea/ Features

What's the best designer collaboration of all time?

We heard something amazing this week. And when we say amazing we're not talking vaguely interesting water-cooler conversation about X Factor Olly's tight, shiny trousers. We're talking earth-shattering, jaw dropping, 'I've found life on Mars'-type news. See if you can guess who it's about from the following quotes (although the picture and the title of this piece MIGHT have given you a clue):

I do maintain that if your hair is wrong, your entire life is wrong. (1984)

As I grew up I used to love stationery and pens and booklets and binders. I can get incredibly erotic about blotting paper. (Star Hits, 1985)

Yes I have had a tan, actually. I went to Los Angeles and got one there, but it didn't make it back to Britain. You're not allowed to come through customs with a tan. (i-D, 1987)

Oh, the wit! It could only be that super vegetarian and songster of high renown, Morrissey (or Mozza to those who adore him and are too lazy to say his full name). And the big news is that APPARENTLY he is teaming up with Stella McCartney to produce a range of vegan footwear.

We're finding the whole thing quite hard to believe. Especially as Stella was also said to be in talks with warbling vegetable - sorry, we mean vegetarian Leona Lewis (who we couldn't give two hoots about), but this turned out to be just a rumour. Now we're praying to all the gods on our radar - currently Zeus, Buddha, Shiva and the Almighty - that the same is not true of the McCartney-Mozza collaboration.

According to the blogosphere (I think that's the first time we've used that word in Fashion Statement), the footwear will be leather-free (nothing that died with a face, we assume) and they hope to launch it next year. Stella's known for refusing to use leather in her collections, but Mozza has not had quite such a clean track record, as we were helpfully informed by Grazia:

"Despite being a staunch supporter of animal rights, the singer was often spotted wearing leather and suede footwear, and once said of his favourite shoes, (a pair of suede moccasins that were a gift from Pete Burns) 'I find shoes difficult to be ethical about - one just can't seem to avoid leather. One is trapped, ultimately.'"

Trapped, like a wild bear, caught in the barbarous toothed grip of an iron clamp, perhaps. Unable to break free from the allure of a soft, foot-cushioning animal skin … the poor man.

Despite his shady past, Mozza was honoured at Peta's 25th anniversary celebrations in 2005, where he was awarded the Linda McCartney memorial award for acts of kindness towards animals (one of which including calling for a boycott of the entire country of Thailand because of its mistreated elephants).

Anyway, we're expecting great things from the man who came 45th in GQ magazine's best-dressed chart, and the woman who single-handedly brought us the boyfriend blazer.

We'll leave you with a verse from Mozza that we're sure Stella will appreciate as she slices into her nut roast Yule log this Christmas.

And the calf that you carve with a smile
Is murder
And the turkey you festively slice
Is murder
Do you know how animals die?

(From Meat is Murder)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dear The Retreat, or: no peskytarian sauce

Dear The Retreat, Sydney Road, Brunswick,

I would email this to you directly, but Google tells me that the only way to contact you is by the tellingphone or MySpace. I don't do MySpace.

I ate at the Retreat on Sunday afternoon and wanted to tell you how great it is that there are a number of vegan options on the menu. It certainly makes pub meals a lot easier!

I also wanted to mention that I was surprised to learn that the 'Vego Curry' has fish sauce in it. Given that the title of the dish makes it appear that it's a vegetarian meal, putting fish sauce in it is definitely not! If you stopped using fish sauce, not only would the curry actually be vegetarian, but vegan too. Can I suggest that you make this small modification and add the Vego Curry to the impressive list of veg options at the Retreat?

Miss T

*peksytarian = pescetarian. I can spell, losers.