Tuesday, January 26, 2010

christmas crafts

it took me almost a whole month post-holiday, but i finally finished making all the xmas gifts i needed to make. here are some highlights.

jason wanted a tree pillow like the one i made myself a few months ago, so i did basically the same thing, just with different styling around the edge and a different fabric on the back.

laura sent me a pic of an old navy bag she liked, so i made her a custom one with her favorite colors.

diamonds are a pain in the ass shape! i don’t like them! they look simple but they’re very tricky! i could have simplified my life by printing out a diamond shape to use as a pattern, but no, i had to cut them out freehand like a dumb idiot.

i inadvertently stumbled upon a pretty decent sock monkey hat design while trying to make a cap for laura’s miniature dachshund. rusty (the dachshund) has eye problems and always squints in the sunlight, so laura asked me to sew him a hat for protection. i took his measurements beforehand and did my damnedest to fashion a tiny cap, then i wanted to take a picture of it so i went to my room to find a stuffed animal and discovered that sarsaparilla (the sock monkey) was exactly the right size to model.

unfortunately while it's just the right size to shade a sock monkey's eyes, it doesn't quite cover a dog's. laura sent me a cell phone pic of rusty wearing the hat...

and his brother dexter being tortured with it.

i made a sock monkey for my cousin lauren. i like how the eyes turned out on this one.

after i took a picture of it laying in the snow this cute imprint was left:

i made a few things for my parents: huge, framed 11x14 prints of b&w portraits i took of the dogs, a photo calendar, and this mosaic frame i put together specifically for a photo i took of them riding their bikes in front of the cabin in mccall:

i made a bag for reed’s sister asta, with a big bisected nautilus shell design sewn on the front pocket:

finally, my favorite piece: a messenger bag for reed, embroidered with an illustration and lines from this amazingly beautiful poem he wrote me.

it reads “if you can share my carrots / i’ll carry your marigolds”. the whole thing took me about 12-13 hours to finish, once i moved out of the never-ending development and design stage and finally began construction. i severely pricked myself with pins at least four times in the process but luckily avoided bloodying the fabric. the obsession, the backbreaking labor, the massive injuries...they were all so worth it because he loves it.

i designed it so that the strap is easy to replace--it can be changed to any neck tie or belt or whathaveyou without adding any hardware or altering the tie/belt. and i even added a special inside pocket flap:

my sewing machine was pissed at me--first i made her pretend to be an embroidery machine, then i made her pretend to be a heavy-duty industrial machine and sew through up to eight layers of heavy cotton duck cloth at once. but my trusty fifty-year-old new home, she prevailed! with minimal thread jams and without catching flame! hooray!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

chocolate cake with the puddin’ an’ the coffee an’ the hippin’ an’ the hoppin’

now you will get ready for the zim-zam and the babbity-bippity, and you will take off your clothes like VOOO! and VOOOM! and get ready for the most splendiferous pudding cake you have ever eaten.


¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
½ cup soy milk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ cup coffee (or water, if you don’t like coffee)

preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

in a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients from the “bottom” list (sugar, cocoa, flour, baking powder, salt).

use a liquid measuring cup to measure ½ cup of soy milk; add the oil and vanilla and stir.

combine wet and dry ingredients and stir thoroughly. taste-test the living hell out of it because this batter is sex for your mouth.

spread what remains of the batter into the bottom of an ungreased 8” or 9” square glass baking dish.

in a separate bowl, mix the dry topping ingredients together (brown sugar, sugar and cocoa powder), then spread the dry mixture evenly over the top of the batter. slowly pour the coffee (or water) on top so that it’s a big soupy thing--don’t mix it at all.

bake for about 40 minutes. you’ll know it’s done when you touch the top and it feels decently crusty and springs back at you. let it cool, and don’t even try to remove the contents from the pan en masse because the bottom layer is now a runny pudding. scoop pieces out with a large spoon instead.

i got fancy and made a three-berry purée (raspberry, marionberry and blueberry) to decorate the dish. i cut the solid part of the cake into a triangle and rested it in a pool of its own shame, then added sugared berries on top. dusting it with cocoa powder is another tasty idea.

this dessert is basically pure sugar. what i like, though, is that there isn’t awfully much fat, so unlike a lot of desserts that are high in both fat and sugar, you really only have to think about the sugar here. that simplifies things. i wouldn’t call it healthy by any means, but it’s not the worst.

quinoa with sesame kale and cabbage

i was all proud of myself thinking i invented sesame kale, and then i found recipes for it in two different books. but as far as i know, combining it with quinoa and cabbage is original to me.


minced garlic
sesame seeds
sesame oil
raw purple cabbage

quinoa: boil 2 cups water and add 1 cup quinoa. low boil, covered, 12 minutes. turn off the heat, fluff with a fork, cover again and let sit 15 minutes.

kale: wash and dry kale leaves and cut out the tough stems. rip the leaves to approx. 3” pieces.

in a saucepan, heat up a splash of sesame oil. add the kale, a clove or two of minced garlic, and a crapload of sesame seeds. stir it all about.

cover for about 15-30 seconds, then stir again. repeat until the kale is an even, dark green, ever so slightly wilted, with no brown spots. i like my kale just barely cooked, so it usually takes less than two minutes, but you can keep going longer if you want it more tender and wilty.

plate the quinoa first. carve a little hole in the center and pile up the kale, then add sliced raw purple cabbage on top.

toasted sesame and flax cheesy crackers

another recipe from vegansweetie.blogspot.com. i added flax seeds.

olive and herb beer bread

recipe from vegansweetie.blogspot.com. i’m not going to post the whole thing, but i do have a few amendments specific to the bread i’ve made:

-i use 1 ½ cups of wheat flour and 1 ½ cups of oat flour
-i warm the beer to room temperature before mixing it in, and i typically only use about 10oz rather than 12oz
-instead of all the herbs she uses, i just put a bit of thyme and some rosemary
-as a topping, i use rolled oats and olive oil instead of vegan butter
-i haven’t tried these ideas yet, but i think this would make a wonderful cinnamon raisin bread, or lemon poppyseed bread.

garlic and herb stuffed mushrooms

this recipe is a veganized amalgam of my favorite bits of 5 or 6 different stuffed mushroom recipes. i’m choosing to completely forego measurements with these ingredients, because it varies so much according to what size mushrooms you use, how many, etc. like most of my favorite recipes, it’s all about approximation.


small mushrooms
bread crumbs
minced garlic
vegetable broth or water
olive oil
lemon juice
onion powder
garlic powder
italian seasoning
salt and pepper

preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees.

twist the mushroom stems out of their caps. wash everything thoroughly, but try not to get the undersides of the caps wet. set caps aside, trim the tough bottoms off of the stems and discard. mince stems.

in a bowl, combine minced stems, fine bread crumbs, minced garlic, and seasonings. i like to smoosh up the rosemary into smaller pieces, and use a lot of it--rosemary is the most excellent seasoning in this recipe and its flavor should stand out.

add just a bit of olive oil and lemon juice to the mixture. stir with a fork until everything is just barely moist. add some vegetable broth or water--enough to make the mix stick together. it shouldn’t be wet, but you should be able to mush it into a cohesive ball.

line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with a substantial amount of olive oil. i use my hand to spread the oil across the foil, then with the remaining oil that soils my hand i rub the outsides of the mushroom caps and set them down on the sheet, gills-up.

scoop the stuffing mixture into the undersides of the mushroom caps; pack it in gently to fill the cavity without breaking the cap. let the caps overflow with stuffingy goodness. if you’re left with too much stuffing, as is usually the case, just spoon it out onto the baking sheet in a thin layer and bake it next to the mushrooms as a dressing.

bake for about 10 minutes, then scoot the mushrooms around with a fork (so they don’t get stuck) and stir the dressing so it cooks evenly. bake another 5-10 minutes, or longer if you’re using large-ish mushrooms. i like to wait until the sides of the caps get just a little bit wrinkly and the stuffing is nicely browned.

"cheesy" zucchini and carrot noodles

this is a rich, filling, comfort-food kind of deal. if you prefer not to eat cooked foods it can also be prepared in a food dehydrator. this recipe makes about one serving as a main course or two as a side dish.

1 zucchini
1 carrot
as much red pepper as you please (use as an ingredient or as garnish or both)
1 lemon, freshly juiced
a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast
sesame seeds
garlic powder
onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
(optional: vegan parmesan cheese)

grate the zucchini and carrot separately. lay the zucchini out on a paper towel, sprinkle salt over it, leave it a few minutes then blot off as much water as you can. slice the red pepper into thin strips or chop it up.

in a small saucepan, mix the lemon juice, nutritional yeast, sesame seeds, and as much of whichever seasonings you want to use. cook until it evokes the essence of cheese sauce. to prevent a loss of nutrients, juice the lemon just prior to serving, add enough nutritional yeast and seasonings to produce a proper cheese-sauce consistency, and skip the cooking step.

in a medium pot, heat up a bit of olive oil, then add the zucchini. stir it and let it cook a minute or two, then add the carrot, and if it behooves you to use red pepper toss that in too. cook another minute or two, until things start to look noodle-y.

plate the noodle-ish mixture and drown it in cheese sauce. i love it with vegan parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

vegan flour power tortillas

these tortillas remind me of the gyro and falafel flatbread wraps you get from vendors at summer festivals. they’re nothing like the dry, starchy, pale, preservative-laden splats you find in plastic bags at the grocery store. these are moist, slightly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, and astoundingly ingredient-simple. flour, salt, olive oil and water. that’s it.


-1 cup flour
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 tablespoons warm olive oil
-1/3 cup water

mix the flour and salt in a bowl, then add the oil and stir. add the water and mix it up some more. you’re going for a dough that’s very elastic and just slightly less than sticky, so add more water or flour if the consistency isn’t right.

knead the dough for a couple minutes, clump it into a ball and cover with a damp kitchen towel, then let it nap for about half an hour.

pull back its covers and roust the dough with a forceful knead or two, then divide into four or five little balls. on the stove, start preheating a cast iron pan on medium-high. no oil necessary.

roll out the dough on a smooth surface using a rolling pin and tons of flour. it wants to stick to anything it can get its hands on. it also wants to shrink down every time you roll it out, so do it fast, and get it as thin as you can.

take a dinner plate about the size of your tortillas and place it in a plastic bag that can be sealed. you’ll be tossing the tortillas straight from the stove into the bag to steam.

once the pan is really hot, lay down your first tortilla. it should take less than a minute for brown spots to start forming underneath. flip it over and cook on the other side. place the cooked tortilla on the plate and seal the bag.

repeat for the rest of the dough balls, then seal up the bag and let them steam for at least ten minutes. i like to eat them warm, filled with hummus and salad greens.

vegan hummus is yummus

hummus is a dietary staple for me. i use it as dip, spread, salad dressing, topping, you name it. sometimes i just eat it by the spoonful. in the above picture, i spread it on cucumber slices, topped with carrot shavings and dusted with paprika. one of my favorite snacks is cucumber hummus slices with huge mounds of alfalfa sprouts on top.


2 heaping-ass tablespoons of raw sesame tahini
juice of one lemon
15oz can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans (“gonzo beans,” as i call them)
large clove or two of garlic, minced
olive oil
a ton of fresh italian parsley (the flat kind, not curly)

put the tahini, lemon juice and a couple tablespoons of water into a food processor or blender. mix them for a few minutes until you have a frothy liquid.

drain and rinse the gonzo beans, dump them in the machine and continue blending.

in a small pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil then add the minced garlic. shimmy it around into a single layer and cook only a minute or two, until the garlic just starts to golden. it wants to burn. don’t let it.

stop the machine and add the garlic and olive oil from the pan into the mixture. also add a whole bunch of fresh parsley leaves, stems removed (i use a handful, probably 1/4 cup worth. it’s hard to overdo the parsley.) add fresh dill too if you have it, otherwise use dried. add a teaspoon or two of cumin and paprika and a pinch of salt.

blend for another couple minutes, then do a taste test. add more of whatever you think it needs. if the mixture is a little dry, add more water. blend again. it should be very smooth and creamy, so don’t hesitate to add more water; this is hummus, not gonzo paste.

feel free to try substitutions and additions. olives are great in this; chop them up separately and add them in towards the end so they don’t get blended into smithereens. roasted red pepper? yeah! roasted eggplant? hell yeah! one time i added way too damn much raw garlic, and i didn’t want to open another can of gonzo beans, so to balance it out i put in a whole bunch of cucumber. it helped.

Monday, January 18, 2010

prelude to vegan recipes: kitchen theory and practice

i’m planning on posting a series of my favorite vegan recipes. they’re more like approximations and suggestions than recipes, really. some of them will be adaptations from books and websites and other sources. almost all of them will be highly adjustable, with some conceptual information, and visuals, of course. a little different from how recipes are usually presented, i think.

before i post the recipes, though, i thought i’d preface with a little vegan kitchen primer. it’s not exhaustive and i don’t even consider myself particularly qualified to write something like this, but something compels me... there’s this weird phenomenon: in my experience it seems like people tend to perceive vegans as being good cooks, regardless of whether it’s true. it’s happened to me a lot, and maybe some of that undeserved praise has gone to my head, especially now that i’m experimenting so much with food preparation. so, here’s what meager vegan wisdom i have to offer.

pantry prerequisites

milk substitute: i buy both rice and soy milk in huge bulk packages from costco. i like rice milk on cereal, soy milk for drinking, and a mixture of the two for cooking. if you have a blender or food processor and a bag to strain it through you can easily make your own milk from a variety of nuts and seeds.

yogurt: there are some disgusting vegan yogurts out there. wholesoy is not one of them. i love wholesoy raspberry yogurt. it’s delicious mixed with fresh berries, or with grape nuts or granola. grape nuts and soygurt makes a highly nutritious breakfast full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and iron.

bread: my new favorite is dave’s killer bread in “good seed.” it’s healthy and scrumptious. local breads are great too, because they usually don’t contain preservatives and other bad badness, they’re fresher, and they didn’t have to be shipped. in boise there’s zeppole, a bakery that makes wonderful artisan breads, many of them vegan.

oil: i use organic extra virgin olive oil for about 80% of my oil needs; 15% canola, and 5% other random ones like sesame. i typically don’t use vegan butter, so i substitute with oil. i just read a book called “olive oil from tree to table” by peggy knickerbocker, with beautiful photos by laurie smith. it gives a brief history of olive oil, traditional methods of harvest and pressing, grades, taste, and how to buy, store and use the oil. it’s fascinating, and it makes oil appreciation (snobbery) seem appealing. the rest of the book is recipes, many of them non-vegan, but the photos are so gorgeous it’s worth looking at them anyway.

baking: wheat flour, oat flour, ener-g egg replacer, vegan white-ish and brown sugar.

produce: frozen and fresh vegetables, frozen and fresh fruit, as much organic as possible.

other: firm/extra firm organic tofu, beans (canned and/or dry), TVP, quinoa, pasta, hummus, nuts, seeds (for eating and sprouting), raw tahini and nutritional yeast flakes.

weird ingredients

i get pissed when vegan recipes call for all kinds of exotic shit. i like to cook with what i have on hand, and no, that does not include umeboshi paste. however, there are a few weird ingredients that i’ve discovered to be pretty unavoidable and/or awesome, so if you haven’t used any of these before, i think it’s time to step outside your comfort zone. none of these expire quickly so you can easily keep them in stock:

nutritional yeast: great for scrambled tofu, sauces, and for lending a mild nutty/cheesy flavor to things. it's high in b vitamins, and has complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. i like to use flakes rather than powder. find it in the bulk foods section.

nori: seaweed sheets for making veggie sushi. also useful as a garnish.

quinoa: a fabulous whole grain (“pseudocereal,” actually, because it doesn’t come from a grass) that has basically replaced pasta in my diet. it’s like rice or couscous, but better, and better for you; quinoa contains complete protein, has tons of minerals, and is lower glycemic than a lot of grain-ish foods.

light agave nectar: sweeter than sugar or honey, low-glycemic, wonderful in tea, and can replace sugar in many recipes. a bit controversial, though, same as practically any sweetener.

ener-g egg replacer: a powder (mostly potato and tapioca starch) that you mix with water to replace eggs in baked goods.

TVP/TSP (textured vegetable protein a.k.a. textured soy protein): made from soy, high-protein, high-fiber, low-fat. can be cooked and seasoned to make faux-meat crumbles. good in chili and for taco stuffing.

often when i’m cooking i’ll spend five or ten minutes popping open a dozen or so herbs and spices, sniffing them, contemplating, sniffing again, even if i basically already know what they smell and taste like...i need to experience what they smell like in the context of whatever i’m making, so i have to smell them in the moment. that’s how i decide what seasonings to use. here’s a list of what i consider to be the essentials:

garlic powder
onion powder
parsley (fresh)
italian seasoning

i try to keep a vase full of organic italian parsley on the counter at all times. it’s so decorative, practical, and cheap--about $1.50 for a large bunch, and it will stay fresh for a couple weeks if you change the water frequently. in the summer i grow my own, along with rosemary, oregano, chives, thyme and basil.

sprouts and wheatgrass

sprouts are one of my favorite raw foods. i constantly have at least one tray of alfalfa growing, and i sometimes do peas, sunflower and broccoli. it’s like an indoor mini-garden.

i use a 3-tray “biosnacky” germinator, but you can also just use a glass jar with a draining lid or fabric rubberbanded around the top. it took me a while to get the hang of rinsing and draining properly. here’s a basic formula for alfalfa:

-soak a couple tablespoons of seed in a glass jar for about 24 hours, rinsing and draining them until the water runs clear at least seven or eight times.
-spread the seeds in a closed container with proper drainage.
-keep the seeds just damp, not in standing water, and give them ample indirect sunlight.
-gently rinse and drain them a couple times a day. this is the step that requires finesse if you’re using a sprouting tray, because you have to try to retain all the seeds while dumping out the water. once they sprout roots they’ll cling to the grooves in the bottom of the tray and it won’t be as tricky.
-you should have mature alfalfa sprouts in just a few days. it takes longer in the winter. keep rinsing them every day so they don’t go peculiar on you.

i also like to have a pot of wheatgrass growing for adding to juices and smoothies. hardcore wheatgrass junkies grow it in huge trays. i’m a very casual user.

it is one of the greatest tragedies of my life that there has always been a food processor in the house and i never used one until recently. food processors are fucking indispensible. they allow you to make hummus, nut butters, sandwich spreads, thin/evenly-sliced veggies, and even things you’d typically use a blender for, like smoothies, nut milks, vegan mayo, etc.

processors can be expensive new, but they’re cheap and somewhat abundant at thrift stores. i went looking for one for reed and found the above-pictured old moulinex, perfectly functional and still sharp, at savers for 99 cents.

it sounds kind of incongruous, but now that i’m hardly eating any (commercially) processed foods i’m using my food processor constantly. it’s wonderful for raw foods.

juicers are not essential, but i absolutely love having a juicer. you can get masticating or centrifugal juicers--typically centrifugal is faster, easier to clean, less expensive, and maybe a little more compact, but with masticating you can do other things like make nut butter. i have a centrifugal “juice fountain” by breville, and i have no complaints.


i’ve been using nonstick pots and pans forever, but i’m going to make the switch to stainless steel because i’m paranoid about the chemicals in nonstick coating. right now i only have one 2-quart stainless steel saucepan that i found at a thrift store. it heats up quickly and evenly, and i love that i can use metal utensils on it.

it is different, though, cooking without the nonstick coating. my first attempt was a huge disaster, everything stuck, i had to scour the pan. my mom told me you have to heat up the pan first, then add the oil, and i don’t understand why that would make a difference but since i started doing that i haven’t had any more catastrophes.

reading up on copper-clad pans i picked up a neat trick: if the copper gets really grimy and discolored, salt half a lemon and rub it on the copper to remove stains. it works well, although i like leaving it stained, the colors are pretty.


j.a. henckels has spoiled me for any other knives. i recently thrifted a few 69-cent kitchen knives to use on fruits and vegetables for juicing so that i can cut on an easy-to-clean glass cutting board. (glass cutting surface = knife damage). they’re decent knives, actually, made in japan, full-tang/triple-rivet, stainless, somewhat heavy, and sharp enough. but they’re nothing like what i’m used to.

the knife i use more than anything is the above-pictured twin pro s high-carbon stainless steel 8” chef’s knife. so if you’re thinking about investing in moderately expensive cutlery and you only have enough money (about $100) for one knife, get that.

other advice:

use an oven thermometer. i recently discovered my oven is about 40-50 degrees too cool, unless i use convection, in which case it’s inexplicably accurate.
keep a (preferably filtered) compost bucket near your kitchen sink. i have a stainless steel pail with a carbon filter so it doesn't smell gross or sprout gnats.

pick up a variety of non-matching plates, bowls and glasses from thrift stores. i think eccentric dinnerware enhances the eating experience and can even inspire you to be more creative.

play around with garnishes, even if you're only cooking for yourself. i like the look of fresh herbs, vegetable confetti, julienne veggies, chiffonade leaves, sprouts, colorful seasonings, sauces... so many possibilities! i can’t wait to grow edible flowers this spring.

find a quality scrubbing brush that will help strip down the wax on apples and other produce. i don’t ever peel carrots anymore, because the outer layer is so full of nutrients--i buy organic and i scrub them within an inch of their lives.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

bunnicula: a vegan treatise (today vegetables...tomorrow the world!)

i’m in the process of developing a whole new personal eating philosophy.

a little history: i went vegan when i was 16, living in an omnivorous household, in a strongly omnivorous environment. i didn’t know *how* to eat a balanced vegan diet, i only knew that i didn’t want to eat animal products anymore, for ethical reasons. so i made my own meals, relying too heavily on grains, not getting enough fresh produce, with little nutritional knowledge to guide me.

i feel like i spent seven years stuck in this convenience mindset. food should be fast and easy. preparing food is not fun and i don’t have time for it. but i was so wrong!

before i go any further i should address the aspects of privilege at play here. not only am i unemployed and graced with ample time to read about nutrition, experiment with recipes and cook nutritious meals, i’m also very lucky to be able to afford nutritious food, to live in a place where unlimited supplies of nutritious foods are available, to be healthy and free of severe food allergies or other dietary restrictions, able-bodied and capable of fixing and eating my own meals, et cetera. i am absolutely not judging anyone for not eating the way i do, for making different food choices; nor am i saying that this is the best way to eat for anyone other than myself.

my new way of eating is based on mostly organic, mostly whole, non-commercially-processed foods that are vegan, and i’m attempting to eat approximately half raw (by volume). i want to eat foods that nourish my body. i want to get pleasure from trying new types of food and new recipes. i want to learn as much as i can about the foods i eat, what they contain, and what they do for my health.

in advancement of these goals i’ve been reading a whole lot of books: about nutrition, veganism, the western diet, food culture and more. i’m trying to gain a well-rounded education on food, although i’m probably not going to pick up any books on the atkins diet or any of that sort of garbage. some of what i’ve read lately:

in defense of food: an eater’s manifesto (michael pollan)
foods that harm, foods that heal (reader’s digest)
fast food nation (eric schlosser)
skinny bitch (rory freedman and kim barnouin)
vegan: the new ethics of eating (erik marcus)
macrobiotic diet (michio and avaline kushi)
the juiceman’s power of juicing (jay kordich)
the juicing book (stephen blauer)
juice alive: the ultimate guide to juicing (steven bailey and larry trivieri)

everything has an angle, and different sources contradict each other (and/or themselves) constantly. and of course there’s bias in what i choose to pick up in the first place (notice all the juicing books--i got a juicer for christmas--more on that later).

the only books on that list that i didn’t read thoroughly were "vegan" (because it’s just not terribly compelling to someone who made the choice to go vegan long ago), and "macrobiotic diet." i picked up the macrobiotic book because that diet is a mystery to me, but within the first few pages i could tell that the authors were somewhat unhinged, making all these bizarre doomsday predictions, using creepy fear-mongering language that didn’t sit well with me. so i still don’t know too much about macrobiotics, other than the fact that there are levels, and the ultimate level is basically subsisting on brown rice; there’s also a philosophical/spiritual component, and it reminds me of scientology. i think that’s all i need to know.

i’m passionately ambivalent about the book “skinny bitch.” it’s written in the most annoying voice possible--the book is basically an asshole. however, it has a lot of good, concise information, well organized; it’s the best book about the basics of veganism i’ve ever come across. for those reasons i grudgingly, apologetically, and optimistically begged reed to read it.

he did, and he hated it even more than i did, but then he went vegan! not only that, but his sister read it as a “joke,” and now she’s gone vegan too! it’s magic! it is a horrible, wonderful, magical book!

i am so proud of reed for going vegan. he’s doing an amazing job of it, eating much, much healthier than i did when i started out, and he says he finds it easy to eat this way, which is not usually the sort of thing you hear from previously-omnivorous vegans.

another standout book is michael pollan’s “in defense of food.” i like a lot of his advice. pollan recommends eating things that have essentially been tested in the real world by real humans under real conditions--foods that have existed for centuries, that haven’t been broken apart, stripped down, and generally fucked with. he says to bring (the idea of) your great-grandmother along on grocery shopping trips, and not to buy anything that she doesn’t recognize as food. he categorizes most of what you’d normally call “packaged, processed food” as “edible foodlike substances”--not even worthy of being classified as food.

his basic philosophy is "eat food. not too much. mostly plants." by "food" of course he means non-processed food. he’s definitely a high-minded purist, and a lot of his advice is impractical for most people. he writes from a place of extreme privilege without acknowledging it.

also, i think his basic assumption about how americans choose what they eat is wrong. he seems to think that we're all obsessed with what he derisively terms ideological "nutritionism": we’ll only eat food that we believe is healthy (i.e. "let thy food be thy medicine," a quote he invokes with disdain), however we get so much conflicting information and misinformation about what food to eat (based on each food’s content of "mysterious," "invisible" nutrients) that it ends up screwing us over. he constructs a mythical majority that is obsessed with nutrition, that hangs on every word of science and medicine journals and studies. maybe our culture is obsessed with nutrition, but i seriously don’t think you can extrapolate that obsession to the average individual and assume dietary trends are the result of that obsession. it’s flawed logic, and sociologically ignorant, i think.

pollan makes frequent reference to "the western diet," which i tend to think of as ultimately one of convenience: we eat too much and we eat unhealthy food because it’s available, it’s cheap, and it tastes good. sure, a good portion of the population is on a weight-loss diet at any given time, but are these dieters really dwelling so heavily on complicated nutritional advice that it leads to their undoing? or are they mostly experimenting with fad diets, following the advice of some popular author or infomercial personality, having only a very basic understanding of what their new food choices are doing to their bodies? because i think it’s mostly the latter, but judging from his book, pollan thinks it’s the former. he goes so far as to say that "we americans have always had a problem taking pleasure in eating" (54). us gluttons? come on now.

(i shouldn’t take that quote out of context--i think he was referring to the difference between enjoying food and appreciating the eating experience, much like the distinction between enjoying/appreciating literature...still, i think it was a silly thing to write, further evidence of his superior attitude).

without pollan's assumption that people strictly control what they eat according to scientific nutritional advice (an assumption the author actually contradicts a bit himself, when convenient), some of his theories and recommendations fall flat. he wants people to just eat healthy, dammit, and forget about micronutrients, disregard nutritional absolutism (“some foods are always bad, some are always good”), and pay no attention to any of that crap that even scientists don’t fully understand yet, EXCEPT, oh my god, get your omega 3 fatty acids, because omega 3 is god-juice.

pollan is an omnivore. as an herbivore, i can’t really forget about nutrients. i have to take b12 supplements because the only reliable food sources of b12 are from animal products. i have to make sure i get enough iron, and vitamin c to help absorb it, because apparently non-heme iron from plant sources is not absorbed as well as heme iron, which is only found in animal sources. i have to eat a variety of foods to get complete proteins with all the essential amino acids. and so on and so forth.

all that said, "in defense of food" is an elegantly-written, fascinating, well-researched, informative and very worthwhile book to read, and i can’t recommend it enough, honestly.

pollan makes an important point when he writes about scientists and nutritionists not knowing all there is to know about the complexity of nutrients and food. the result, unfortunately, is that there is so much junk science surrounding food and nutrition that there are entire books, articles, websites and blogs devoted to debunking junk nutritional science using junk nutritional science to do so (case in point, junkfoodscience.blogspot.com --a noble cause, judging from the mission statement, but many of the posts are complete crap, the author apparently having no sense of irony).

i think the best conclusion to draw from all the contradictory information is that there are a lot of well-meaning people out there who think they have the answers, but most of it is theory and conjecture, based on incomplete evidence, and flawed. there’s plenty of good advice, plenty more bad; and the only thing you can really trust is first-hand, empirical evidence. every person is an outlier in one way or another. we aren’t mice, or individual cells, or anything confined to a laboratory. we aren’t even other people, we’re just ourselves. our individual bodies and the things we classify as food are both incredibly complicated.

my parents gave me a juicer for christmas. it’s been so fun creating various concoctions from fruits and vegetables. i don’t do it to excess, i know i need to eat nutritious foods as well, and i’m not a total convert to the religion surrounding juicing. there are so very many crazies in every nutritional movement, especially raw foods, good lord...

speaking of crazies, jay kordich’s “juiceman” book is great. it has a bunch of juice recipes, and detailed information on what nutrients can be found in a whole list of fruits and vegetables, how to tell when each type of produce is ripe, how best to store it, how to juice it, and so on. he’s an extremist, though, and some of his claims are pretty wild.

i have a good time making and drinking juices, and it supplements my diet with all kinds of nutrients in a far healthier way than taking vitamin pills.

in grade school, the librarian used to read to us in a tiered "reading well," pausing at every page to hold up the book and scan the pages across our little faces so we could view the colorful illustrations. one of the books she read to us that made an impression on me was "bunnicula." it’s the story of a vampire bunny that sucks all the juice out of vegetables, leaving whole gardens full of pale white husks. when i juice, i like to think i’m like bunnicula, sucking the life force out of healthy foods.


i don’t find anything wrong with hippocrates’ "let thy food by thy medicine." i love thinking of food as nourishment rather than a simple source of pleasure; nutritional considerations enhance my appreciation rather than detracting from it. eating the way i do now makes me feel good in every way, and that is so damn important.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

do not scowl, it's ultra-cowl!

yes indeed, i have knitted a giant-ass cowl. two, in fact.

i made this one out of some chunky acrylic yarn i found at a thrift store over a year ago. do you realize how difficult it is to find super chunky vegan yarn these days? it seems that caron has discontinued its simply soft thick & quick line, and every goddamn other non-novelty, super chunky yarn has animal fiber in it.

since the red yarn wasn’t exactly what i was picturing for this cowl i kept searching, and i finally found “now i know” yarn, from knit-for-brains.com. knit for brains is a fabulous resource--their selection isn’t huge, but they have bamboo, banana silk, corn fiber, cotton, hemp and soysilk yarns, all vegan, all the time.

i bought four skeins of nik organic cotton yarn in “wise.” details, from knit for brains website:

Now i Know! Organic Cotton is made in Peru: handspun using a traditional Pushka spindle, and dyed using eco-friendly vegetable extracts.

After harvest, the cotton fiber is brought directly to the spinners to prevent commute time and transportation costs, workers are paid a fair wage and guaranteed an 8-hour workday and an hour lunch break, and gifts and incentives are awarded to higher-than-average quality work.

isn’t that great? the yarn is nice and chunky (not *super* chunky, but i made peace with that.) it comes in twisty hanks, so i used my kitchen chair/toilet paper roll method to spin it into cakes. illustration:

i’m not sure if this is how other knitters who aren’t equipped with a fancy yarn swift or ball winder deal with the problem of hanks, but here’s my jimmyrigged method: i unfold the hank and wrap it around the backs of two chairs, cut it loose, and use an empty toilet paper roll to slowly and methodically wrap a proper center-pull yarn cake.

the yarn was a bit thick-and-thin and irregular, which i wasn’t expecting, and the stitches ended up looking kind of funky...

but i don’t mind, it adds character. plus, it only took two skeins to make the cowl, so i have two left over to make some other piece of fabulosity. here’s the finished cowl, secured with three vintage buttons my grandma gave me: