Tuesday, September 6, 2011


What impresses me most about other human beings are their principles. Whether or not someone is intelligent or filled with knowledge to me is rather irrelevant. We all have the capacity to learn, grow, and to develop ourselves into what we want to become. However few of us have the resolve to see those goals through and truly make ourselves. Those that do stand out of the crowd.

When I decided to become a vegetarian a few years ago, I was met by many comments or questions that I felt were somewhat curious. Sure, most vegetarians get the typical "Where do you get your protein?" or " I could never do that" comments, but the ones that I found intriguing are those who would comment on how they don't agree with the practice of how our culture raises farm animals. They profess that they love animals, or perhaps certain animals, and that they could never kill a cow or a chicken themselves. They will go to zoos, aquariums, or even animal shelters because they can feel a deep connection to animals. They may even have animals like cats or dogs at home which they love with all of their heart. But when it comes to the food they eat they still love to eat hamburgers, fish, chicken, or other forms of meat. 

This was me for the first 19 years of my life. I find that person interesting because I was that person. Even though I ate chicken or other meat nearly every day I swore I loved animals and that I would never harm anything. I had heard about vegetarianism and I believed it to be something too radical or even extremist and that "I could never not eat meat." It wasn't until I was chose to see for myself what life is truly like for farm animals did I change my diet over night. I'm sure that most people have heard of PETA's Meet your Meat, or other exposes of factory farms and the cruelty that ensues there on a daily basis. This is where most people draw the line in their attempt to learn more about vegetarianism. They refuse to watch any of this footage because something inside of them is hurt. It's a truly nauseating pain that is riddled with guilt, anger, and grief. 

This is where your eggs come from....

And for those who prefer "Cage-Free"eggs

I believe that if someone is impacted by seeing farm animal cruelty they feel that they are betrayed in some way. That they had 'no idea' that it was 'that bad.' Or that 'we allow that to continue.' In that moment, they would turn to policy makers and express those feelings. But once it is mentioned that this is a problem of the consumer, they again want to turn a blind eye. We are a culture of convenience, laziness, and we strive for little when it comes to our conscious selves. Sure, we all work hard 'all day long,' and we're very tired when we get home from the office. But what happens in between? We like to take a load off, wind down, we like to escape. We turn on tv, eat a quick dinner, relax and perhaps with a little dessert or a night cap. We give in to our addictions, because they make us feel something different than the usual daily grind. We are each a product of a culture that thrives off of wasteful and materialistic economics. And we will stop at nothing to defend that way of life. 

This is a 'downed' cow, one that was too sick for auction so she was left to die out in the cold...

It's not hard to turn a blind eye to our treatment of other animals. But it is hard to look inside of ourselves and judge what we absolutely can and cannot support. This economic system we are a part of is a soulless juggernaut that doesn't have an ounce of morality, especially towards sustainability or the environment. If you're playing by its rules, you support everything, every practice, every action, every employee involved each time you make a purchase. And when you buy meat, you wholeheartedly support that industry for every possible aspect and all of their potential impacts. And those impacts are vast. Raising animals for slaughter is one of the largest consumers of oil, fresh water, crops, and sheer land space. It takes massive amounts of energy, and thus resources, to grow a cow, and so we all must pay the price, as consumers and more importantly, the environment. 

Chickens that were freed from torment and now live at Farm Sanctuary

In the face of so much personal judgement, people's true colors begin to shine. People will make all the excuses they can to avoid confronting their conscious. They'll lie to themselves and say that they can't afford the diet, or it's too hard to learn how to cook vegetarian, or that they wouldn't feel comfortable going home for thanksgiving as a vegetarian. To me the truly remarkable are those who in the face of adversity stay strong and challenge what they believe to be wrong. They do not make excuses, they do not settle, and they strive for something better. They are idealists and I believe that they will change the course of our future. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No room to grow?

Living in a condo in Miami does have some advantages, albeit few, to living in a house with a yard. We were really lucky to find a place that not only allows 'real' sized dogs (bigger than 25lbs) but also is in great condition and has a screened in balcony. The screened-in balcony is great for keeping out mosquitoes, which is really quite fortunate because we live right next door to a huge mangrove preserve which is home to trillions of mosquitoes, among other more amazing creatures. Believe it or not, having a balcony is perfect for growing some edible plants, herbs, and vegetables. And if your's is also screened you don't have to worry about pests eating your plants. We not only want to utilize the space to produce some food, but also to provide an area to break down our food scraps using vermiculture. With a goal to eliminate landfill input, it really helps to have a place to get rid of your table scraps and turn it into a rich source of nutrients for your garden.

I came across an idea to utilize vertical space by creating a garden out of a pallet. I decided that I wanted to change the shape of one of my pallets to accommodate taller plants, like scallions, broccoli, and large leafy greens. so I took out the boards and arranged them to create four squares.

I made the beds by cutting out rectangles of weed cloth, and stapling them to the inside of the boards. I didn't pay attention to the  measurements of the cloth because I wanted different sized beds to hold deeper rooting veggies/plants. The top two beds were much more shallow for smaller herbs and seedlings. I'm going to use this pallet to grow mostly leafy greens, salads, and pepper plants. The weed cloth material was only $12 for a 150 sq feet, which gives you a lot of left overs. In total I would say this cost me $3 to build because the pallet was free. This is another good example of scavenging.

Look, I've already got plants growing on it too...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waste not, want not

There's nothing quite like the joy of opening the door of your fridge and finding leftovers, especially when they're good. The black beans and sweet potatoes that we had the other night were begging to be eaten the next morning. But who craves black beans and sweet potatoes for brunch? Back when I was vegetarian, I would have just cooked up a few over easy eggs and served them on top, as a sort of impromptu huevos racheros. But we haven't had eggs in years and we wanted something a little more innovative for brunch that morning. We had made sweet crepes the night before for dessert and we had left over batter in the fridge. Diego decided to make sweet potato and black bean crepes, successfully using up all of our left overs. Now this certainly topped that burrito I had back in Gainesville all those years ago. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mac'n Food Truck

Say hello to one of my new favorite vegan restaurants, one that has wheels... 

I've been waiting, not so patiently, to try this food truck for months. I haven't had mac n' cheese in over 3 years, since I first became vegan, and the thought of trying a vegan version sounded really intriguing.  And by some stroke of luck, they were right down the street from me this evening. Dreams can come true. 

I admit, I have quite a soft spot for southern fare. I grew up in the south, so fried green tomatoes, mac'n cheese, and BBQ remind me of my not so culinary refined childhood. I went with the Portobello, Pea & Mozzarella Mac'n Cheese with a side of Fried Green Tomatoes (w/ remoulade). 

and the Fried Green Tomatoes...

Diego tried the BBQ Pulled 'Pork' Jack-fruit Sandwich which was topped with apple slaw. 

This food will make anyone believe that comfort foods can be full of flavor. I was expecting the cheese sauce in the Mac'n Cheese to be flavored like soy or Daiya or some other well known vegan cheese. While, I admit I haven't have had 'real' mac'n cheese in a long time, I would swear that their mozzarella cheese sauce tastes just like the real thing. The Fried Green tomatoes were divine :) the best I've ever had, and they paired really well with the slightly spicy remoulade sauce. Now, the most intriguing and delicious item I had tonight was the BBQ Pulled 'Pork' sandwich with appleslaw. I thought it was really unique to use Jackfruit as the 'protein' in this dish. The texture was very fleshy, but the slightly fruity flavors paired really well with the apple slaw. It reminded me of what I wanted to eat in the Bahamas, something I would have enjoyed on a nice evening by the beach. It was really great for this constantly hot weather in Miami. This Food Truck knows what they're doing, and please, keep it coming :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Playing with textures and flavors

Ever since I had a black bean and sweet potato burrito at Burrito Brothers in Gainesville, no other combination will work for me. It's very rare that you ever encounter a culinary marriage made in heaven like black beans and sweet potatoes. Sure, beans and rice will always taste great together. There's just something about the smokey and sweet/savory taste of a sweet potato coupled with the mellow heat and spice with perfectly seasoned black beans.

I'm learning as I become a more seasoned foodie that textures are also important to me. Gone are the days when I would just inhale my food if the first bite tasted good. I've learned to slow down and enjoy the food for what it truly is, no extra baggage. I found that a lot of the things I used to eat I could never touch again and a lot of the foods I never wanted I crave all the time.

This evening I would have traded my first born for that black bean and sweet potato burrito up in Gainesville. Thankfully, I had both of them on hand. Diego, (my partner in crime) helped me cook and plan out the meal, making all my dreams come true.

The Production - The idea was to utilize what we had on hand, some sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and fresh kale. We wanted to prepare the black beans like traditional Venezuelan caraotas. We loosely based the seasoning choices off of Terry Romero's recipe in Vive la Vegan. The simple green pepper and onion sofrito
adds a sweet savory flavor to the caraotas. I wanted to pair them with fresh tomatoes because I thought the acid from the tomatoes would go nicely with the beans. The sweet potatoes were going to be served on the side with caramelized onions and an herbed butter made out of Earth Balance.

While the sweet potatoes were baking, we prepared the rest of the food. Efficiency is another kitchen virtue I have learned over the years. There's always an order of operations in this kitchen :) Next, I diced some fresh tomatoes and seasoned them with salt, fresh black pepper, fresh thyme and a little bit of olive oil.

With the tomatoes set aside, Diego started the green pepper and onion sofrito mixture. This was sauteed until caramelized lightly to give a sweet smokiness to the beans.

In a separate pan, I began caramelizing the onions.

 * I just really wanted to take a picture of caramelized onions, one of my favorite foods in the world

I took a huge shortcut in Terry's recipe and just used canned black beans. I'm trying my hardest to get away from canned beans once and for all, but I'm a sucker for convenience. I managed to use the three cans as planters for my pepper plant seedlings. So I didn't waste anything this time. The beans only took a short amount of time to heat through and were ready to serve. We decided to try the new Daiya Pepperjack Cheese on top of the caraotas. We also threw together a small batch of roasted Kale chips. I just sprinkled chopped pieces of kale (chip size) with sea salt and black pepper. I very lightly coated them with a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and them roasted them for 10 minutes or so until they were crispy.

This was the finished plate...

It was even better than that burrito. This was hands down one of the best dishes we've made in a while. It was nice to have so many flavors and textures all in one dish. I think the Daiya cheese was unnecessary but it was fun to try, I think it would go better melted on a burger or a pizza.

A lesson in scavenging

Scavenging- it sounds so dirty and low class. When we think about scavengers we usually envision vultures, crows, or other 'undesirable' creatures that live off free pickings. A lot of us can't stand the idea of buying second hand or shopping in thrift stores, the very idea that someone else owned something before you seems offensive. Who wants to go through garbage to get free things that could otherwise be valuable? A lot of people, especially those trying to be green, creative, or both and enjoy finding used, cheap, or free things and making them their own. One man's garbage is another man's treasure. 

A lot of people are finding that they can make use of things that would be deemed garbage. One of my goals is to develop a program for dealing with my own household wastes. Ideally, I would like to have zero landfill input. I have to avoid buying any food or items that are sold in materials that are not recyclable. All of my biodegradable trash, such as food scraps, paper rolls, and cardboard, I will turn into soil using a worm bin. And other items that are recyclable such as glass or aluminum cans, I want to make use out of in innovative ways. 

As for scavenging, I decided that when I moved to Miami, I would not buy any furniture while I am here. I wanted to challenge my creative side by utilizing thrown out furniture and making it my own. And why not? I love the idea of getting free furniture, and believe me there is plenty for the taking in a materialistic city like Miami. 

When I moved into my new apartment, I found this gem next to the dumpster of my apartment complex. I snagged it with no shame, took it up to my place and dusted it off. It was hand made by someone out of solid wood, not particle board. How often do people throw out real wood furniture? It looked pretty bad with the two colors being cheap red wine and some sort of off white that was tinted with bile. I wanted to get rid of the colors and make it a lot darker. I like the look of aged worn furniture but I wanted to add an edge to the color.  I sanded most of the paint off, the edges of the shelf where I wanted to stain it with red mahogany. And on the insides I wanted it to look like tarnished copper, with the 'metal' oxidized so that the blues and greens come out. 

 I got both the stains and the paint from Home Depot, totaling $12. I put two coats of the red mahogany stain on the wood bordering the shelves. I painted two coats of the copper paint on the inside. Once the copper paint dried, I took some old oil paint (Green, Blue, Silver) that I had lying around and I lightly painted all over the insides of the shelf. To get the oxidized rusty look, I watered some of the paint down and let it drip down the inside, then I went behind with a small artist's brush and blotted the drops, so that it looked like the tarnished metal was spreading from the drip marks. After I finished this, I stained my old coffee table to see how it would come out. Once it's done drying, I'll post a picture. It's a lot of fun once you finish your first piece.