Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Farmer's Market Fun: Taste of Life, krispy kale, and samples galore!

My weekly routine is to go to the Hollywood Lemon Grove farmer's market on Wednesday and to the Silver Lake farmer's market on Saturday. But this Sunday, Kirby Von Scrumptious, The Food Monster, and I piled into a car and headed out into the warm sunshine to THE Hollywood Farmer's Market. Because of my frequent trips to the two other closer markets, I haven't been to the Hollywood market in a few months but I'm glad my two fellow bloggers brought me back because I had forgotten how absolutely awesome it is.

First of all, the weather was perfect. The weather in L.A. is pretty much perfect all the time, but it was extra perfect on Sunday. Because I had just stocked up on produce at the market the day before, I didn't plan on buying anything. I mostly went to try the free samples and to get some Taste of Life vegan delicacies. The Food Monster and I definitely tried produce samples from every vendor in the whole place (and trust me, there are a lot). After all the avocado samples we ate I'm pretty sure we probably ate the equivalent of two whole avocados each. We also sampled a refreshing corn and basil salad that I will definitely be recreating in the near future. Because I just couldn't control myself, I ended up picking up some pomegranetes, limes, kale, and yellow tomatoes (I was so happy to see these babies aren't totally gone for the season!!!).

Yesterday I was in the mood for something crunchy so I jumped on the baked kale bandwagon and made some kale chips. At the last minute I decided it might be fun to try using my Sesame Ginger dressing from Trader Joe's on the kale instead of the usual oil, vinegar, and salt. To be honest, I wouldn't do that again. The chips weren't inedible but the dressing made them too tangy and a little bitter. But they were still good enough for me to happily stuff it all into my big face! Here's how I made the chips:

Tangy Kale Chips
Spray oil
one bunch kale
sea salt, to taste
2 tbsp sesame ginger salad dressing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with the spray oil. Tear the kale off its stems into shreds and put in bowl. Toss with the salad dressing and the sea salt. Spread onto cookie sheet and cookie for 15-20 minutes or more depending on how crisp you like your chips. Remove from heat, cool, and enjoy!

After drooling over pictures of Taste of Life's vegan soul food on many other blogs, Kirby Von Scrump and I finally got to take some drool-worthy pictures of our own. A Taste of Life is a regular stand at the market but they also have a restaurant on Fountain, not far from my casa, but because of my Pure Luck addiction, I haven't made it over there yet. I first sampled their vegan lasagna which was absolutely delicious and I am fairly positive it would totally fool an omnivore. After debating with the insanely friendly and funny server, I opted to go for a side of Mac N Cheez instead. My last taste of vegan mac and cheese was not good at all so I was skeptical, but it looked so good and gooey bubbling on the buffet. I got a slice of cornbread and was ready to go.

Except for wait--what would I wash all those carbs down with? I needed some watermelon agua fresca of course!!! Watermelon agua fresca--let's call it WAF--is my beverage of choice at every given moment. It is basically like heaven juice sent from the gods. So I hopped by a kabob stand that had a big ole vat of it, threw the guy two dollars and was on my way. Lucky for us, we were able to snag some of the few seats that are provided next to where the Thai food stand is.
Taste of Life's Mac N Cheez was absolutely amazing. I think it could maybe possibly even trick an omnivore just like the lasagna. Maybe that is a little extreme, but regardless, the stuff was finger lickin' good. A "side order" of it is also enough to put you into a serious food coma. Kirby got the same thing and we both had to keep taking breaks from eating because we were stuffed, but we are no quitters. We polished that stuff off like champs!!!!! And then we wanted to die. But in a good way. Ya know? The cornbread was also absolutely delicious and was on the sweet side. I absolutely cannot wait to go back to the Taste of Life stand and to try out their restaurant. I think next weekend Kirby and I are going to split the dinner platter which gives you a sample of four different dishes and will surely force us to loosen our belts. Three cheers to the Hollywood Farmer's Market! Just another reason to fall in love with this fabulous city of ours.

A Taste of Life

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crazy for Caponata

Every time my dad and step mom come into town, they drag me to Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills for dinner. Ok, so they don't exactly drag me--Il Fornaio is super tasty, pretty fancy, is surprisingly very accommodating to my vegan self, and--best of all--they foot the bill. The menu changes often but we always, always order caponata for the table. Sometimes this amazing eggplant appetizer isn't on the menu, but the restaurant must keep a secret stash of it somewhere for people like us who cannot stand to have an Italian meal without it.

When the farmer's market was teeming with gorge eggplants this week I knew there was a big batch of caponata in my future. Most caponatas usually have a few more ingredients, such as red peppers and capers, but I just used what I had on hand. Try your hardest not to eat the whole batch right away--this stew gets even more delicious after sitting in a fridge overnight. It's usually served cold and tastes great as an alternative to bruschetta, but I like it so much I just throw it on a plate and call it a meal. Enjoy!

CrazyGood Caponata

1 large eggplant
1 medium onion, sliced into short strips
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 can tomatoes
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a fork to pierce the eggplant all over. Create an aluminum foil cradle for the eggplant and roast in oven for 40 minutes. While the eggplant roasts, saute the garlic and onions in the olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat until the onions soften. Add the tomatoes (along with any juice), the red wine vinegar, and the sugar to the pan.

Remove eggplant from the oven and cool until it can be handled. Cut into small chunks (leave the skin on) and add to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer the mixture for another 20 minutes. Remove from heat and chill overnight.

Makes 4 side-dish servings or 2 main course servings.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Meanie

I recently picked up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book follows Kingsolver's family's year of eating as strict locavores--they farmed a lot of their own food and sought to obtain all other food items from sources less than 100 miles away from their home. I enjoyed the book but was highly perturbed by Kingsolver's attitude towards veganism. She describes vegans by relating a story of she and her daughter reading about a vegan starlet in a gossip magazine. She basically equates all vegans with moronic, superficial, stereotypical Hollywood types. Her argument is that it's crazy for the celebrity (or any vegan) to expound the advantages of a vegan diet and the benefit to animals while buying products such as tofu that are shipped from god knows where and wrapped in loads of packaging, thereby having a big ecological footprint.

She also provides all the scientific evidence that humans are not designed to consume milk after infancy and completely acknowledges the adverse health affects of eating dairy (According to a Cornell study, between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant), and then proceeds to describe the great lengths she goes to to make her own dairy products that her lactose-intolerant-self can stomach. Of course it is her prerogative to knowingly consume something that she knows her own body rejects. It's also my perogative to find it irritating when someone is educated about an issue and doesn't have a proportional, sensible response. It's kind of like if you knew John McCain was terrible but voted for him anyway.

I cannot fathom how Kingsolver, who is so conscious of the major environmental and social impacts of what we eat, someone who went to such extremes as to be a complete locavore--which is not an easy task in the slightest--could fail to acknowledge the environmental and social benefits of veganism. This uninformed view of the vegan diet really bothered me and made it very difficult to relate to the book's main message.

A few days after I finished the book, I got to thinking. I realized that, although I'm still annoyed by Kingsolver's vegan stereotyping, she actually has a point. I thought about all the vegan products I buy like tofu, tempeh, canned soups, soy ice cream, et cetera and started thinking about the fuel and packaging they require to be shipped from wherever the product originated (which I'm sure in most cases is nowhere near my L.A) So I have made a conscious decision to, from now on, be as local of an eater as possible. I have stopped buying all the pre-made meals that I have relied on from Trader Joe's and I am ready to start eating seasonally, even if that means I can't have my beloved watermelon year round. Our world is in dire straights and it is simply irresponsible to blindly contribute to our own demise.

Ok this is sounding a little intense for my happy vegan blog. I know I won't be able to stay totally locavore--there are gonna be times when I'm working long hours and just need to nuke some veggie patties for dinner. But I am making a conscious effort to get all my produce from the farmer's market and to never ever buy those fruits and veggies at TJ's that come in tons of totally unnecessary plastic packaging.

On my first trip to the farmer's market after returning from Michigan, I was thrilled to find these yellow bell tomatoes. I really don't like eating regular raw tomatoes, but for whatever reason I can eat these little yellow suckers like candy. I was first turned on to them when our on-set caterer had them one day at the salad bar. They advised me how best to prepare them: slice them in half, splash them with red wine vinegar, some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I could eat a whole carton of these babies for a meal.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen these at the market since, so I guess I'll have to wait until next summer to have another heavenly bowl! I'm ok with that--it's getting to be root vegetable season and potatoes will hold me over until next year. Hopefully the return of the yellow bell tomatoes will coincide with the Dodger's pre-season so I can bring them to the stadium for a snack. Oh my Dodgers...so close, so close. But I sense that 2009 is our year!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Californians: Vote Yes on Prop 2!!!!!

Hey California voters! The new president isn't the only important vote you'll be making in November. There are some really important propositions on our state ballot and I want to make sure you all know about Prop 2.

Proposition 2 requires that "calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely."

Here is how pigs are kept today:

Imagine how you would feel if, for the duration of your life, you were kept in a space where you couldn't fully extend your limbs.

This is an important piece of legislation which, if passed, will help improve the lives of the 40 million animals raised for commercial purposes in California. Hopefully the proposition's passing will also create momentum for similar laws in the rest of the country.

The law is just common sense if you ask me but if you need more reasons to convince you to vote yes here are a few:
* The risk of salmonella poisoning will decrease
* The law favors family farmers who already practice better farming practices and will force giant factory farms to have to compete with the better quality family farm.
* By phasing out the worst animal confinement practices, there will be a reduction on the intense pollution of our waterways and groundwater by contamination from untreated waste.

Are there any negative consequences of Prop 2? Yes--the price of eggs may increase by less than a penny per egg. So you may have to fork over an extra 12 cents per dozen at the store. Something tells me your budget can handle it though.

More information can be found here. Please spread the word to other Californians to VOTE YES ON PROP 2!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

These October Days Really Rock my Socks Off!

Sunday was the perfect day for pumpkin picking: it was sunny but a little cooler than usual and it's early in the season which means the pumpkin selection is at its best. So Kirby Von Scrumptious and I, along with a couple other jokers, trucked down to Orange County to Tanaka Farms. When we got to Irvine, however, we were famished, so before we could play in the hay bales and get lost in the corn maze, off we were to one of the best vegan joints in SoCal: Veggie Grill.

Veggie Grill's concise menu is entirely vegan so there is no need to ask about which dishes contain what products, although I asked anyway because their dressings looked to0 thick and creamy to not be made with eggs. I have been dying to try the Baja Fiesta salad since drooling over a photo of it on another vegan blog (can't remember where exactly). Delightful is the exact word I would use to describe this mix of romaine, papaya, avocado, quinoa, roasted corn salsa, cucumber, cilantro, and tortilla strips. The ginger-papaya vinaigrette was perfectly light and tangy.

We got an order of Sweetheart fries for the table. They were delish but it's pretty difficult to make sweet potato fries that aren't. My sweet-potato-fry-heart will always belong to Pure Luck where they are actually baked, not fried, and are thick and super chewy and come with the world's best special sauce. But Veggie Grill's own special sauce--a tangy, vegan ranch-style dressing--was also very tasty and were great on the fries. I washed everything down with a combo of iced teas (black with sweetened peach for me, please!).

Everyone else also really enjoyed their meals. My meat-eating friend Derek even questioned whether the "chicken" was real or not--and everyone knows an omnivore being tricked by fake meat happens about as often as Sarah Palin kisses a polar bear.

I might not drive all the way down to Orange County just for Veggie Grill, but it is so good that I just might consider driving to the west side to the El Segundo location--which says a lot because y'all know how much I don't like going west of Vermont!

P.S. Look how cute we are in that picture at top. I <3 my fellow pumpkin-picking amigos!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vegan Comfort Food + Exotic Soy Gelato = One Happy Vegan

Here I am, back from a wonderful weekend in Detroit. Luckily I got there just in time to make it to the cider mill which is a Michigan tradition. Apple orchards across the state crank out hot batches of their own homemade spiced ciders and I assure you there is no better beverage on the planet. Now I'm back in L.A where it is 92 degrees today. Lame! Oh well, it hasn't been that hot all summer so I guess one little heat wave in October won't kill me.

Right before I took off on my trip, I had a little Pure Luck/Scoops excursion. There has been some discussion lately about Pure Luck's decline, but I think they are as amazing as ever! (Excuse the crappy photos--my camera is broken so I have to resort to my friend's iPhones.)

We started the meal off right with an order of pickle chips. The only way to make a near perfect food like the pickle taste even better, is to fry it. These are self explanitorily delish.

Lately I haven't been able to make myself order anything besides "Kristen's Carnitas Wrap." Juicy jackfruit and Pure Luck's spot-on Caeser dressing knock off is a winning combo in my book. Add chewy sweet potato fries and magical tangy BBQ sauce to that equation and I am over the moon. (My order is the one at top).

My friend ordered rosemary fries, but alas, there was not a trace of rosemary to be found on the fries. They were good fries, it was just kind of a bummer that they didn't come as advertised. Luckily the rest of our food was so good we were willing to overlook this omission.

I find it physically impossible to leave Pure Luck without being sucked into Scoops like Ahab getting sucked into Moby Dick's giant whale mouth. This time around I ordered a scoop of Salty Chocolate and a scoop of Banana Oreo. T'was orgasmic as usual!