Adventures in flora, fauna, food, and the great unknown.

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Vegan/vegetarian harvest festival a la Doyle

Happily, the non-Thanksgiving feast was a success—although I admittedly made way too much food (in particular the squash; I could have made half, and we still would have had enough leftovers to satisfy). Most of it is long gone now, but I did freeze a good portion of the cranberry sauce, which we’ll surely enjoy against soon. Weirdly enough, I’m thinking cranberry sauce + latkes. Yum.

Everything set out on the table (it almost looks like we're real adults, doesn't it?). This isn't all of the food I made, but it does show a sampling of each dish.

Everything set out on the table (it almost looks like we’re real adults, doesn’t it?). This isn’t all of the food I made, but it does show a sampling of each dish.

The first course was dilly stew with rosemary dumplings, a vegan dish taken from Post Punk Kitchen. We both absolutely loved this, and I’ll definitely be making it again. (Pro tip: When you’re reheating it as leftovers, definitely add some water to thin out the stew.)

The first course: Dilly stew with rosemary dumplings.

The first course: Dilly stew with rosemary dumplings.

For the main/feature dishes (in lieu of turkey, I felt the need to have some sort of focal point), I made  roasted butternut squash with quinoa salad, modifying a recipe for delicata squash with quinoa salad. The squash substitution was only because I could not find delicata anywhere—which is a shame, because it’s delicious, and it would have done really well with this dish. I also subbed in cider vinegar for the sherry vinegar, which worked okay, but in retrospect I should have used a bit less (or just gone with the sherry, which I didn’t feel like buying).

The second feature dish was a spinach and sweet potato gratin, based on the swiss chard and sweet potato gratin recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The only substitution here was spinach; frankly, I was just trying to reduce the workload, given how many different dishes I was preparing. In any case, this was absolutely delicious, and I can’t wait to have it again. (Luckily, I bought far too many sweet potatoes.)

"Main" dishes: roasted butternut squash with quinoa salad and spinach and sweet potato gratin.

“Main” dishes: roasted butternut squash with quinoa salad and spinach and sweet potato gratin.

And now for the sides—generally speaking, the best part of any Thanksgiving feast. Cranberry sauce is one of my favorites, and for a vegan version, I used Alicia Silverstone’s recipe for quick and easy cranberry sauce. This picture is a bit out of focus, but trust me when I say that it was delightfully tart and delicious.

Cranberry sauce!

Cranberry sauce!

As a kid, I didn’t really like mushrooms unless they were raw. Luckily, I’m finally growing out of that a bit, and it just didn’t seem like Thanksgiving without something gravy-like. However, since there wasn’t anything for gravy to go on in this particular meal, I took a recipe for mushroom gravy (from Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet) and thickened it up, turning it into mushrooms in a sauce. Extremely simple, yet still extremely tasty.

Mushrooms in a sauce.

Mushrooms in a sauce.

Thanksgiving tends to be filled with orange and lacking in green, in my experience (the common green-bean casserole aside), so in addition to the spinach in the gratin and the arugula in the quinoa salad, I wanted to add something else. Cue the brussels sprouts! (And, of course, more cranberries. This is Massachusetts, after all.) This recipe came from Everything Vegan, a book that a friend gifted to us recently. I haven’t yet mastered the art of perfectly cooking brussels sprouts, but I’d still call this one a success. Besides, who doesn’t love toasted walnuts?

Brussels sprouts with walnuts and dried cranberries.

Brussels sprouts with walnuts and dried cranberries.

When all was said and done, about 8 hours of cooking (including prep.) went into this meal, but it was well worth it. I made the cranberry sauce ahead of time, froze it, and then unfroze it again after we returned from visiting family. The brussels sprouts and mushrooms were made the day before the meal, and the gratin was prepped the night before. That left just cooking the gratin, and making the stew and stuffed squash for the day of, which was still a fair bit of work, but manageable.

An appropriately colorful meal, don't you think?

An appropriately colorful meal, don’t you think?

Since we’ll be spending our first married Christmas at home together, the success of this meal has inspired another (somewhat) elaborate meal plan for Christmas day. It won’t be quite this intense, and most of what I’ll be making for that is stuff I’ve cooked before (unlike this meal, where everything was a first), but I’m still extremely excited for what’s to come.


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Just to say hello

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I hadn’t forgotten about this blog; I just haven’t had the time to focus on it, considering my other projects (plus that whole “getting married” thing). The last time I posted, it was about my conversion to a (primarily) vegetarian diet. I’m pleased to be able to report that the experiment continues. I’ve eaten fish maybe twice since this whole thing started, and at this point I don’t eat eggs very often, either. I’m drinking almond milk instead of cow’s milk, and I just recently bought my first “buttery spread” (which I realized contains fish oil, alas; I need to find a local supermarket that sells Earth Balance). So, although by some definitions I’m still not a true vegetarian, I’ve ventured slightly into the vegan world, too. Labels aside, I’m doing my part, and I continue to feel great about this choice.

A meal entirely from Veganomicon: chick pea cutlets, marinated portobellos, and risotto with roasted red peppers (those aren’t the exact recipe titles, but you get the idea, yes?).

There was… an incident, though, at a family gathering, wherein out of a meal of sauerbraten, gravy, dumplings, and red cabbage, I assumed that the latter two were safe to eat. Unfortunately, I later discovered that there was bacon in the red cabbage, and I can only say that I was not particularly pleased. Lesson learned. The unfortunate thing is that this particular family gathering has had the same menu for the entirety of my life, and it’s not about to change. So I guess that means I only get to eat dumplings next year. Fun.

In further food-related atrocities, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, my family has had to effectively cancel the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, in favor of a small group of us going out to a restaurant that I’m pretty sure only one person in the group actually enjoys. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but the menu offered by the restaurant probably means that I won’t be having anything even remotely traditional unless I suddenly decide I want to eat meat again—which I don’t. In light of this (and because I enjoy cooking), I’ve decided to whip up something delicious and elaborate when M and I return. So, this morning, I went shopping.

The results of today’s shopping trip. Considering that I still need to pick up a few more things and that this photo doesn’t include the stuff we already had, I think it’s safe to say that we won’t go hungry.

I suspect that I’ll post about this after the fact, so I’ll leave the menu a mystery for now. I will say, though, that it’s mostly vegan, and all delicious. (You’ll notice the cheese, of course—that kind of ruins it—but there’s only one other dish that calls for an animal product, butter, and I might just use the buttery spread instead, even though we do have some butter in the house. Time will tell.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The name Floraphage has recently taken on new meaning. When I originally titled this blog, I was (mostly) thinking metaphorically—as in, “I love leaves and flowers so much, I just want to eat them up!” But after seeing this article on pig factory farming (warning: graphic) from The Humane Society of the United States on May 9, I decided it was time I stopped eating meat.

Tell me these aren’t the cutest pigs you’ve ever seen. What sweet faces!
(Image copyright Sarah Willis/courtesy Niman Ranch, via NPR.)

I’ve had an experiment in vegetarianism before—two summers ago, for about two months. The beginning of my graduate school program and a new relationship effectively ended that experiment, however; I just simply didn’t have the time to do much cooking myself, and I was dating a meat eater. It was just easier. Still, for years now, I’ve been limiting the amount of meat in my diet, and there’s been more that one occasion where I went a week or two, unconsciously, without consuming a bite.

This time it feels different, though. This time I’m giving it an official label, and I’m not making exceptions. For a long time, I’ve only been able to consume meat by not thinking about where it came from, what went into getting it onto my plate, and at 28 years of age, I guess I’ve finally decided to grow up. If I eat meat, I’m going to have to be comfortable about where it comes from instead of just sticking my head in the sand.

So, I’m a vegetarian—specifically, according to the chart in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Vegetarian,* a lacto ovo vegetarian. That means I’m still eating dairy products and eggs. Additionally, I’m still eating fish. (I know—there’s no “pescatarian” in there. It’s an imperfect world, with imperfect terminology. How about “lacto ovo pescetarian”?) However, even with those products, I’m trying to be more careful about where they’re coming from, selecting farmers’ market (cage-free) eggs over less-humanely produced ones, and making sure that fish is sustainably sourced (thanks, Trader Joe’s, for heading in that direction—and for stocking cage-free eggs and not using genetically modified ingredients, to boot). For the moment, I’m saying no to crab and lobster entirely, as much as I love them—that whole boiling them alive thing is a bit too much for me to handle. And milk is next on my list. (In this case, I’ll be looking into direct alternatives, to see if I can’t accustom my palate to different tastes.) That still leaves cheese and other dairy products unchanged, but I’m trying to cut myself some slack as I transition into this new way of life.

I’m sorry, does this vegetarian brown rice salad not look completely delicious?
(little blue hen, “brown rice salad,” May 20, 2010, Creative Commons Attribution.)

All of that said, I honestly don’t know how long this will last. There are some dishes that, whenever I think about never having them again, become a sort of torture—the marinated flank steak that my parents make, a good burger (I haven’t yet met a veggie burger that really satisfied), the chicken tikka masala at my favorite local Indian joint. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if I eventually go back to eating meat while just being extremely picky about where it comes from. For the moment, though, I’m happy with my decision, and I want to see this through.

And you know what? So far, it’s been pretty great. I feel better about myself, and in the long term I’ll be healthier for it. (Do you realize how unhealthy we are as a nation—and, increasingly, as a species? I urge you to watch all for episodes of HBO’s excellent documentary The Weight of the Nation.) Besides, all of those fools who think vegetables and whole grains are boing have got it all wrong. Taco night has already evolved from a ground-beef affair to a black-bean (and whole-wheat tortilla!) one, and I was pleased to discover that Smart Dogs** are actually reasonably tasty—so much so that, with some ketchup and mustard, I could barely tell the difference. (Besides, isn’t half the joy of a hot dog in the condiments?) I’m looking forward to exploring the virtues of almond, soy, and coconut milk; tofu, tempeh, and seitan; and the numerous other foods out there I’ve yet to even hear of. I picked up The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet and Veganomicon recently, and I can’t wait to try out all of the delicious recipes therein. Until then, I’m contentedly anticipating Taco Night Part III: Return of the Taco… coming soon to a Friday night near you.

Phew! If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I now return you to your regularly scheduled (veggie) programming.

*Yes, this really is the first book I read upon making this decision. It seemed best to start with the most basic thing imaginable, because I figured there was a lot of baseline information I was probably missing. And I was right. For instance, did you know that many restaurants cook rice with chicken broth? I didn’t… but I’m glad I found out.

**Yes, I know they’re slightly orange. I think that’s a ridiculous complaint. Here’s another factoid I recently learned—that pretty-pink hot dog color is chemically created. Given the choice between completely unnecessary chemicals in my meat and something slightly orange, I’ll choose slightly orange. Besides, the texture of the Smart Dog is actually pretty close to what you’d get in your typical cheap supermarket hot dog (although it’s definitely far off from the really high-quality stuff you might get at a farmers’ market), and each one has 50 calories, 7 grams of protein, and—as you might expect—no cholesterol.