Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Feed a Vegan: Passover Seder

Check out this great post by a friend on how to plan a vegetarian and vegan friendly Passover/Pesach meal! Having only ever attended one seder in my life, I didn't really think I qualified as any kind of authority on the holiday, so I deferred to an expert.

Family/friend gatherings are super important to me. They can be so fulfilling emotionally and physically (I just want all that yummy food in my belly!), but a delicious meal is definitely the crux of the experience. As an Italian/Sicilian-American, food as glue that binds us together has been ingrained in me since the beginning of my existence. 

The frustration, disappointment, and feeling left out of these large special meals is something I've struggled with for over a decade. Even if I spend boatloads of $$ and make my own entirely vegan meal, it still feels substandard to eat re-heated food served in tupperware containers rather than the decorative holiday plates with heaping piles of fresh-out-of-the-oven scrumptiousness that everyone is practically bursting with excitement over. Now I don't expect my family or any other host to make an entirely vegan meal on my account, but my mind has always been boggled by how even the vegetable side dishes that could easily be made vegan are slick with butter and covered with cheese. 

I'm really NOT looking to be a whiny "cater to meeeeee" vegan. I just hope to inspire others to create veggie-based dishes that are super yummy while still remaining simple. Hopefully my "How to Feed a Vegan" posts will help the larger families/communities of vegans/vegetarians find accessible and enjoyable ways to make meals that everyone can truly enjoy. 

Vegan Thanksgiving!


Monday, March 25, 2013

How to Feed a Vegan: Easter Family Dinner

Got a vegan friend or family member coming to dinner or perhaps an upcoming bunny-tastic celebration at your place? Are you a new vegan unsure how to broach the subject of holiday dinners with your vegan-clueless family? Or maybe you just appreciate undoubtedly delicious recipes. Well whatever you've got going on, you should seriously consider making these foods.

I promise this meal will be more delicious than the usual bread, iceberg lettuce salad, plain pasta with sauce meal most vegans get at large holiday functions. Each dish is simple and fresh yet still special enough to be a real holiday treat for all your guests - vegan or not. 

Roasted Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 table spoons extra virgin first press olive oil
sea salt to taste (or smoked salt --oooo so yummy!)
fresh ground pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the stumps off the ends of the asparagus stalks. Lay asparagus in roasting/baking dish, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle on the minced garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Toss to ensure all asparagus are coated evenly. Roast for 20-30 minutes, depending on whether you prefer your asparagus soft and tender or with a fresher crunch. 

Roasted New Potatoes or Mini Potatoes 
1 bag of new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, or mini mixed color potatoes (red, blue, gold).
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 table spoons extra virgin first press olive oil
1-2 table spoons of Earth Balance soy butter - optional, but it makes the potato skins crispy
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Scrub and clean those little taters. Put into a roasting/baking dish, drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle on rosemary, olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Toss to ensure all potatoes are coated evenly. Roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.

Blood Orange Fennel Salad
3 large blood oranges
1 large bulb fennel
2 table spoons extra virgin first press olive oil
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley to taste

Halve, then quarter the blood oranges. Slice carefully along the bottom of the wedges to cleanly cut off the rind. Break oranges into slices, cut each slice in half. Cut off the very bottom of the bulb of fennel, and cut off the stalk of green stuff growing. Slice the bulb into rings, then chop those rings into smaller chunks of fennel. Toss fennel and oranges in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, and parsley. 

Curried Zucchini with Almonds and Mint
1 large zucchini
1/2 cup almonds (raw) - whole or sliced
2 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped
1/2 - 1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
2 big cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin first press olive oil
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste

Slice the zucchini into circles, then cut those into half-moons. Sauté in curry powder, garlic, and olive oil for at least 5-10 minutes on low-medium heat. Add in almonds and mint, sauté for another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

These recipes use found produce easily found in-season at most grocers or markets. Since they are simple vegetable dishes that steer clear of vegan faux meats or cheeses, they should be pleasing even to the pickiest meat-loving palates. If you are serving the traditional ham or lamb Easter meal, you can non-vegan entree with these lovely colorful dishes that are basically different vegetables covered in high-quality olive oil and fresh herbs to make them super-delicious. 

Time to put your pomegranates and seitan away --it's Spring! 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Savvy NYC Vegan Livin'

NYC is partly a magical land filled with some of the most delicious and creative vegan food in the world and partly an intensely expensive place that is alienating and exclusionary towards anyone that isn't making at least a six-figure salary. Navigating this city and earnestly trying to enjoy it for its positive qualities is not a simple task, especially because simply sustaining a life here can be utterly exhausting or near-impossible.

Much of my excitement about being here is to learn that balance - to  appreciate what this city has to offer without idealizing it while remaining conscious and supportive of the struggles of so many inhabitants of these five boroughs. 

Okay, so with all that being said, let's get back to being vegan in NYC. THERE IS AWESOME VEGAN FOOD EVERYWHERE! Like, seriously, everywhere! That bagel store over there? It's got like six flavors of vegan cream cheese! That little bakery across the street? It's got two different kinds of vegan donuts. Oh, that seedy looking diner? Yea they have totally awesome veggie burgers!

However, as a new New Yorker, I find that I don't have the time or money to waste on crummy vegan food. I'm super stoked about trying all the tasty vegan-friendly fare NYC has to offer, while weeding out the rip-offs and spreading the word about the best deals. I'm Italian, I love to cook, and I've been (mostly) vegan for over 10 years. You can definitely trust my judgement. 

This past Sunday evening we were completely pooped after a busy day of sight-seeing and sale-shopping. On our trek home, we decided to hop off the subway at Grand Central (our favorite!) and take a trip down to the snack area on the lower level. They have a Two Boots pizza shop tucked all the way into the back left corner. Two Boots is a local pizza chain that's been serving yummy pizza in decidedly eclectic settings in neighborhoods all over NYC for decades (and now has actually spread to other cities including LA and Baltimore). It features two different kinds of vegan pies on a daily basis, plus you can customize your own if you order a whole pie.

The two vegan standards are the Earth Mother and the V for Vegan. The Earth Mother has a marinara base and is piled up with fresh veggies. There's no vegan cheese, just veggie-tastic. Our favorite slice is the V for Vegan. I may be swayed because of my deep love for the Alan Moore comic "V for Vendetta" but really it's because this pie is unbelievably delicious. This pie's got it all: marinara base, artichoke hearts, red onion slices, mushrooms, gobs of melty gooey Daiya cheese, and criss-crossed lines of red-pepper pesto and basil pesto. WHAT?! I am not the biggest fan of onions and my partner could do without mushrooms, but we both gobble up every crumb of this pizza - onions and mushrooms be damned. EAT IT! 

The V for Vegan is not a cheap pie, at about $24 for a large pie and about $4 for a slice. However, it is VERY delicious and quite filling. Perfect for an under $5 pre-dinner snack if you're out and about, or as a nice delivery-treat if you've had a long day and can't bear thought of cooking. Make a cheap salad at home, drink water from your Brita filter, and you've got a reasonably priced meal for sure.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Thirty on the Horizon

The other day marked exactly three months until I turn thirty years old. Honestly, I've been dreading this for a while now. Turning thirty has been looming in front of me, like this big flashing sign that says "HEY YOU- You're getting older! You are never going to be young again. And you know what?! You're going to DIE someday!" I know how absurd this is, being that thirty is actually still young. But still, my twenties will be over and there's nowhere to go from here except 40, 50, 60...

Wee baby Melanie. Amsterdam, 2005.

Thirty seems like one of those pressure-y holidays, like New Years and Valentine's Day, where you are supposed to have things be this shiny ideal way. Have your career at least figured out, school done, etc etc etc. I've given myself deadlines for specific things I've wanted to learn/do/see by thirty, but was too lazy to actually hold myself to it.

I'm mostly very proud of my experiences and what I've accomplished this far. I have no major regrets (because what's the point of putting energy into that kind of stuff anyway) and am grateful for all the fun adventures and weird shit and hard times. Even so, I'm frustrated.

I'm frustrated that I am still trying to figure out my career, with too many schemes and dreams for one lifetime, and no real idea if any of this is actually feasible and if so how to even start to make it happen. I'm frustrated that I have been dawdling about going back to school, and that the longer I wait the more frustrating it gets. This feeling like I'm short on time is new.... I no longer have a decade to dick around.  If I'm going to do something I need to commit and just do it. Easier said than done.

NYC is the perfect place to be for me right now. I know this. There's inspiration and opportunity everywhere, but there's also fierce competition everywhere.  People are focused, decisive, and serious. All ways of being that are rather foreign to me. This city is going to kick my ass, in a way that I really need. Every day I'm taking steps closer, trying to take my life seriously, be intentional, and break outside my comfort zone. There's no time to be comfortable here. If you stop, complacent and full and sleepy, that intense current that this monstrous city thrives on will just go right by.

Italy, 2012.

My love. Italy, 2012.

All from last year's European adventure. Italy, 2012.

Friday, March 1, 2013

One year later...

One year ago today we had just arrived in Paris, settled into our gorgeous, sweet Parisian flat just 10 minutes from the Eiffel Tower, and finally got to breathe and fully exhale after months of insanity. It was amazing. We had just begun our two-and-a-half month trek through Europe. I miss our trip all the time.  I miss that unfettered adventure and risk and new-ness and wonder. I want to travel like that regularly or at least half of the time and the fact that I'm not kind of makes my blood burn.

But hey, now we live in NYC and living here is pretty much like travelling. Every day is an adventure, something unexpected happens, you see something you've never seen before, and your world is opened on a daily business.

Tonight's celebration thus far has involved champagne, fancy vegan chocolates, Whitney Houston dance parties, playing dress up, and watching Seinfeld. We love whipping ourselves into a frenzy and making a special occasion out of just about anything - from some anniversary to it being a Tuesday.