Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vegan in Rochester, Emphasis on the "Non-Fanatic," IV

Sunday was truncated by our return flight home, but we had just enough time for a last breakfast at the Holiday Inn and lunch with my grandmother. Since my aunt will surely be terrifying her palate with flavors she can’t even pronounce, we decided to do my grandmother a mitzvah and take her to the Cheesecake Factory. Although you wouldn’t guess it, there are several vegan friendly options on that 18th century novel of a menu! We started with the lettuce wraps with mushrooms instead of chicken. Stuffed with shredded carrots, curried noodles, and three sauces, it was literally finger-lickin’ good. The main course was a Thai Peanut Linguine which was actually my favorite dish on the menu even before I became vegan. Happily stuffed and ready for home, we said goodbye to Rochester, pleasantly surprised but not too eager to return. My grandmother even sent us with a parting gift, her specialty: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

Peanut butter & jelly on a paper plate and a placemat, the way my grandmother would serve it.
The point of all this, besides giving you a peek into my enviable jet-setting lifestyle, is to demonstrate that with a little flexibility, you can be vegan anywhere. While not necessarily 100% vegan, we ate compassionately, well, and variedly. And I never once had to eat an iceberg lettuce salad!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vegan in Rochester, Emphasis on the "Non-Fanatic," III

Saturday was a repeat of the pathetic Holiday Inn breakfast. They can’t all be winners, right? We spent the day on a tour of cemeteries, and between Holy Sepulchre and Mount Hope cemeteries, we stopped for lunch at the Olive Garden. This was arguably my grandmother’s favorite meal of the visit, but I did not not go hungry. A huge, colorful plate of capellini pomodoro was satisfying and delicious. Don’t hate on the Olive Garden. There’s a reason they’re everywhere. But, I have to say, dinner was better than lunch. My aunt has less patience with my grandmother’s culinary apprehension, and took us to Aja Noodle. While my grandmother struggled to find something appealing, I was trying to decide between 5 different dishes. After promising each other a taste of our various choices, I settled on the the Peanut Noodle Salad, my cousin Lindsey’s favorite. This was the realization of my dream of a deep bowl piled with “tofu, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, green onions, bean sprouts and noodles tossed in a thai peanut dressing garnished with peanuts, rice sticks, and green onions.” I stole several bites of my sister’s Chinese Black Bean rice noodles, and my mom’s Japanese yakiudon noodles, and wished I was a cow with multiple stomachs. We ended the day with treats from Eco Bella Bakery, a newish gluten-free vegan bakery. I had the chance to chat with the owner who is deeply passionate about giving his customers a high quality, delicious, and compassionate product. We shared the chocolate frosted brownie, german chocolate square, peanut butter oatmeal bar, and the key lime tart. Key lime pie is one of my favorite things and this tart inspired me to work on my own vegan key lime pie recipe.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vegan in Rochester, Emphasis on the "Non-Fanatic," II

Breakfast the next morning was provided by the Holiday Inn Express Irondequoit. I have written affectionate sonnets for the Holiday Inn, but this was not the best representation. A limp english muffin with peanut butter, applesauce, and watery orange juice was the best I could muster. Come on Holiday Inn! You’re better than that! Friday’s highlight was The Owl House. One of two restaurants in Rochester with the word “vegan” on the menu, it’s open to all preferences, vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore. Located in an old house, it was charming and quirky, with an extensive cocktail menu. Yes, vegans can drink alcohol. Hooray! Even though they had several appetizing options, including something with a side of polenta fries (yum!) all the vegans at our table ordered the !Viva Verde¡ Tacos, and were not disappointed: “Three Soft Corn Tortillas with Smoked Tofu, Salsa Verde, Guacamole, Cabbage Slaw, Black Bean & Sweet Corn Salad.” I don’t know how you smoke tofu, but it was genius. Everyone at the table seemed delighted with their dish, and it’s not easy to find one restaurant that equally pleases me, my teenage sister, and my 87 year old grandmother. I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vegan in Rochester, Emphasis on the "Non-Fanatic"

A common refrain in a vegan’s life is “what do you eat?” It’s something I never get tired of answering, because I eat such fantastic food, but it’s something that surprises me. Are people so confused by veganism, and apathetic toward fruits and vegetables that they can’t envision a happy life eating only plant-based foods? But, I am luckier than most in that I live in one of the most beautiful, and vegan friendly parts of the world, the San Francisco Bay Area. Bemused reactions to my diet are surprising because there are so many people here who already feel the way I do about food.

I was particularly reminded of the unique situation of California when I visited my grandmother in Rochester, New York recently. While not Berkeley, Rochester is reasonably sized and relatively progressive, but not exactly the epitome of vegan friendly. But, this vegan does occasionally leave the Golden State, and eating compassionately is a priority even when traveling.

With a last meal, we took the red-eye from San Francisco. What do vegans eat in an airport? Nothing. You bring your own food obviously! Armed with a fresh baked banana bread, we survived our three hour layover in Baltimore quite peacefully. We arrived in New York around lunchtime, famished and pessimistic. Chipotle, my go-to vegan restaurant in every city, was too far from the hotel to be convenient. We kept our eyes open for options, but could see nothing from the highway. The only restaurant by the hotel was an IHOP; no, egg beaters are not vegan. So, we quickly gave up and went to the grocery store across the street. Vegan Life Lesson #1: Everywhere there are people, there are grocery stores, and every grocery store has peanut butter, jelly, and bread. It may not be natural peanut butter, cherry jam, or whole wheat bread, but it’s food. We ended up having a fend-for-yourself lunch of PB&J, chips and salsa, veggies and hummus. Not bad actually. Dinner that night was at my aunt’s house; a longtime vegetarian, we knew we would be well fed by her. And we were, with mixed green salad, stuffed portobello mushrooms, braised kale, and fresh fruit with almond milk yogurt.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Faster but Slightly Less Fresh

I hear from a lot of my friends how challenging they think it would be to eat vegan, or even just to eat healthy. It does take a certain amount of planning to eat good and good for you food everyday, but it doesn’t always mean buying a bunch of ingredients and putting something together from scratch.

I am a huge fan of leftovers; some dishes I can eat for 3 days straight and never get sick of, but sometimes I like to adjust and edit my previous night’s dinner to fashion something new and delicious. Like this meal: not quite enough leftovers of tomato and white bean soup became a tomato bread soup with spinach. In the spirit of Marie Simmons, I wanted to make something fast and (slightly less) fresh. Five minutes made this an entirely different, and entirely delicious dinner!

1 cup cubed bread, toasted
1 cup baby spinach, loosely packed

Heat the Tomato and White Bean Soup. Add the spinach and stir until wilted. Spoon over the toasted bread cubes., and top with spinach pesto. Serve immediately!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Make it a Meal: Tomato and White Bean Soup with Spinach Pesto

Sorry it has been so long since I have posted, dear readers, but I have been traveling, and let’s face it, just being generally lazy. It’s summer! But, back to Marie Simmons, and her extraordinary new book, Fresh & Fast Vegetarian.

One of the things I really appreciated about Simmons’s cookbook is its organization. She has chapters devoted to soups, salads, entrées and more, but she also categorizes things as main dishes and sides, which makes it incredibly easy to navigate your way to a delicious meal. On top of that, almost every dish has a side note, “Make it a Meal,” where she suggests recipe pairings that can take a dish from first course to main course. So, when I made Simmons’s Warm Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Mint, I knew I would need something else to make this a dinner.

Simmons’s suggestion was another salad, but two salads do not make a meal in my mind. Soup and salad however do, so I turned to the soup section and was stopped in my tracks by the phrase “spinach pesto.” Heaven. Make it a meal yourself, and try this delightful soup and salad combination!

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups water
1 15.5 oz can of cannellini or small white beans
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups baby spinach, loosely packed
Salt and pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until tender and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes with the juice, tomato paste, water and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.

While the soup simmers, make the pesto. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the nuts and garlic, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the spinach and process until coarsely puréed. While running, add 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Spoon the soup into bowl, top with a dollop of spinach pesto and some toasty bread. Enjoy!