Sunday, December 28, 2008

Attempting to Fool (or rather, Outsmart) the Omnis

Stops you right in your tracks, doesn't it? This is the vegan version of my dad's amazing lasagna, which we have always had on Christmas Eve since I can remember.  It is pretty basic with whole wheat noodles, cashew tofu ricotta from Veganomicon, bell peppers, an improvised tomato sauce, and a secret ingredient or two.  Even though my brother complained about the lack of meat, he still went for seconds.  Wouldn't you?

We served a similar lasagna last year when we had family friends present for dinner in addition to my family.  It was my first holiday season as a vegan, and I was nervous as to how the improved version of this tradition would be received.  I was amazed when one of our guests was raving about it and totally blown away when my dad revealed that it was vegan, and thus non-dairy.  Such a reception is what any vegan would love to have from the average omnivore, and I'm glad to have gotten it during  my first vegan Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Not enough sugar?

The holiday baking has begun.  Just about all the sweets that my family will have this week will be made by me (excluding the apple pie tomorrow, which, luckily, is vegan).  Monday was round one with me baking the YRR spice cake for my mum when she went to a get-together.

Then, of course, can't forget about the peanut butter pie.  This stuff is seriously addicting. It wasn't quite as good as when my roommate made it, but it was still tasty.  The rest of my family loved it and would never have guessed that the main ingredient was tofu.  I'm not sure if my brother actually did figure it out since I never told him nor did he complain (as is the case whenever I serve him something with tofu).

Tonight, the sugar coma was induced by chocolate white chocolate chip walnut cookies, which was a variation on a recipe in Veganomicon.  I got some white chocolate chips in a care package swap on the ppk in October, and I was so excited to finally get to use them. (I had been saving them for something special.) These were amazing, and my brother could not stop eating them. I started to get scared that there wouldn't be any left for tomorrow!

Tomorrow I'll show off the vegan lasagna that I made, which bended the usual Christmas Eve tradition just a bit.  Plus, I'll be making falafel for myself and hopefully making the rest of the family jealous.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Old pictures and Plans

In my attempt to take pictures of desserts today, I found some old pictures from Thanksgiving.

Here is the pumpkin pie I made at the last minute because my dad didn't tell me that he wanted a pumpkin pie until there was no time to make a better one. This is from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen and is without a crust. Not sure if I am a big fan of the lack of crust.  On top is some Soyatoo straight from Deutschland that I brought home just for the occasion in August.

This is just a basic scrambled tofu from VwaV with homemade vegan sour cream plus hot sauce on the side. The pancakes are from VwaV as well and are banana walnut.  Not a bad way to start the day if I do say so myself.

With the semester done and finals finished, I won't have to worry about school for three weeks. This means that I'll be at home trying to get my very omni family to eat vegan food.  Next week we'll be on vacation, but I managed to sit down with my dad and sketch out a basic menu.

Monday: Non-traditional pizza with roasted eggplant and garlic hummus from YRR, homemade 2/3's wheat crust, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and Trader Joe's soy chorizo.  Very different but very tasty.

Tuesday: Southwestern bean chili in the slow cooker. Then I'll make corn bread to serve with it.

Wednesday: Our traditional Christmas Eve lasagna made vegan. Whole wheat pasta will be coupled with cashew tofu ricotta, tomato sauce, bell peppers, possibly spinach and some other secret ingredients.

Thursday: I'll be trying to ignore the very non-vegan slaughtered pig that the rest of my family will be eating. The sides will be vegan though, and I have decided to make myself falafel since I have a ton of chickpeas from tonight's hummus as well as parsley.

Friday: Tempeh Shepards Pie. This will be a good way to use the mashed potatoes from the day before and the tempeh that I brought home with me. Plus, a vegetarian friend highly recommended the Veganomicon recipe.

Hopefully there will be plenty of pictures and updates in the next few days and couple of weeks!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The resurrection of roommate bonding Wednesdays

Wednesday has returned with a vengeance!  Even though I am busy preparing from finals last week, I took a well-deserved break from Physical Chemistry homework to cook the main portion of dinner. (Two of my roommates helped as well, and the other vegan made this wonderful peanut butter pie with chocolate. You would not even guess that it contains a whole block of tofu!!)  We felt so fancy tonight with a main course, appetizer, and dessert.  The meal consisted of the penne vodka sauce from Veganomicon and spinach artichoke dip (except with Swiss chard instead of spinach) from Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk.

Wow. Just wow. If you haven't made the penne vodka sauce yet, do it now! I added a bit more garlic than the recipe called for and guessed on most of the measurements, but it was so flavorful.  We usually don't keep much hard liquor around the apartment, but one of my roommates hosted a party over the weekend and was left with an unopened bottle of vodka.  We weren't sure what to do with it until I thought of this pasta sauce.  The dip with chard was an excellent variation, though next time I might add even more chard than I used.  The pie was unbelievably peanut buttery.  I cannot wait to make it at home during the holidays because my family would never guess that it contains tofu.  (Score one for veganism!) Plus, drizzling chocolate on the bottom and on top makes it absolutely irresistible.  All of this was rounded out by a bottle of red wine.  It was a most excellent combination, and I am absolutely stuffed.

Coming soon: This weekend I will be baking chocolate stout cupcakes and cookies for two friends who have had recent birthdays.  Yay for pre-final exam stress reducing baking!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Beginning to a Birthday Extravaganza

As I mentioned previously, my friends and family have a lot of birthdays during this time of the year.  (My younger brother has one today, actually.)  Two of my best friends have birthdays within a week and a half of each other, and I usually bake them something while I am at home during Thanksgiving break.  Last year I actually made two different sets of cupcakes, but this year I said that I would make one big cake if they could agree on the flavor.  Tiramisu was requested, and here is what I came up with.

Is that enough of a close up for you? I took the cupcake idea from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and ran with it. I apologize of the poor qualities of the photos. It was nighttime when I took the pictures, and my camera was about to die.  (I really need to look into getting a new camera...)  The one below was also taken after I had delivered the cake, hence the plastic wrap, random booze bottle, and star wars lego in the background.

Basically, I followed the recipe for the cake exactly. The middle layer is actually the dark chocolate Chocoreale that I still had left from my stay in Germany.  For the coffee/Kalua soaking, first I lightly cut off a thin layer from the top of the cake so that it could soak up the mixture better. (This also gave me an excuse to try the cake before delivering it.)  Because I used the Chocoreale to keep the layers together, I only needed one batch of the cream cheese frosting, which was good.  The cake was very well received (as can be seen since only half is left), and a few of my friends could not believe that it was vegan.

Coming soon will be what I made for my family for Thanksgiving.  (Sadly, they insisted on cooking their own dead carcass, but one can only do so much.)  I am also being rather lazy this year and am not going to make my own main dish.  (I'll save the fancy stuff for Christmas, I suppose.)  However, all of the sides and desserts will be vegan.  This morning, I did make banana walnut pancakes and scrambled tofu with Trader Joe's soy chorizo mixed in. Hopefully I'll be able to snap a picture of the leftovers tomorrow. Other pictures to come will be a crustless pumpkin pie, multigrain rolls (yes, from scratch), and the veganized version of my dad's mashed "party" potatoes.

And what about birthday cakes? Well, my brother has requested Coconut Lime Cupcakes (but I'm not sure when I'll be baking them if we are taking a mini vacation tomorrow.)  A good friend of mine from University has a birthday this next week as well, so I shall be baking her something next weekend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Failing at VeganMoFo

Yes, so my apologies for dropping out of VeganMoFo as it was reaching the final stretch.  School and life just started to get way too crazy, so I didn't have much time to cook awesome meals (only simple things).  With the end of the school semester approaching, things are liable to get just as crazy, but I'll probably be doing lots of baking to help de-stress.  Plus, holiday foods will be coming. To make up for my lack of activity, here are two pictures.
This falafel and tahini sauce was made sometime during VeganMoFo, but I never had time to blog about it. (The picture is actually taken from a reheated meal. *gasp*) Needless to say, I almost considered using this recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance as my meal on Thanksgiving.

This is a double layer cake of red velvet with cream cheese frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World, naturally. I made it for the birthday of one of my roommate's, who was quite obviously turning 22. I was actually going to write happy birthday, but I ran out of time and was going to be late for work. The writing was made of quick melty ganache and set up quite nicely after being in the fridge.

That recipe is absolutely amazing, so, if you haven't tried it, you better get to it soon. So good. It took a lot of control for me to let the birthday girl have the final piece when it got to that point.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

VeganMoFo: Roommate bonding Wednesdays

I am not sure how this started, but it has become a thing for the roommates in my apartment to all have dinner together on Wednesday nights. What makes it even more special, is how it will be one of us cooking for the other three. Last week, the volunteered cook wasn't even vegan, but she cooked a vegan meal since two of us in the apartment are vegan. I hadn't cooked a Wednesday dinner yet, so I volunteered for this week.

Last time my other vegan roommate cooked, she make pasta, so I knew that I wanted to make something different.  I didn't want to make something overly vegan (just yet).  Thus, I wanted to avoid tofu or tempeh.  Luckily, my parents went to the Farmers' Market for me at home while I was taking the GRE Chemistry subject test last weekend, so I had some fresh produce like butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, and green bell pepper. I was initially thinking of a lasagna of some sort, but after seeing the Pumpkin and Black Bean Casserole on Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, I knew that I had found the perfect dinner.

Do yourself a favor and make this soon while squash is in season! I used butternut squash instead of pumpkin, and it turned out amazing. It is very flavorful even if I went a little heavy on the cumin and paprika.  The nutritional yeast gives it a little something without tasting overly vegan-y.  Everyone loved it and ate it so quickly that I forgot to get a picture! Like Susan says, it does look a lot prettier in the pan than it does on the plate, but the taste certainly makes up for that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

VeganMoFo: Care packages are the best

Over at the ppk we had a care package swap for the month of October.  I had never participated in such a thing before, but I can officially say that I am hooked!  I got some really awesome stuff, and it wasn't all food.

In the box are some green tea walnut biscotti from Isa and Terry's upcoming cookie book. (I've already had two pieces, and the flavor is interesting and hard to describe.) There is also some ginger pear jam, which I will try for breakfast tomorrow. I had heard of the mythical vegan peanut chews, and I now have a bag of my own. Oh my. So addicting. I also got some white chocolate chips. Now I just need to decide what wonderful baked goods I will use them in. That scarf is so long and amazingly soft. I wore it this evening and already got complimented on it. What fun. The mug is adorable with a sun on it and is filled with (mostly vegan slogan) pins. Oh, and I can't forget the cute card!

I knew it would be coming any day now, but it definitely made my evening.  I can only hope that mine was well received too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

VeganMoFo: Blowing the Socks off of Omnis with Cookies

Last night I went to the party, where one of the hosts had a birthday a few days ago. Naturally, I decided to bake him some cookies as a present.  After double checking to make sure he had no food allergies, I decided on Isa's Peanut butter oatmeal cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance.

These cookies are seriously addicting.  He hid the cookies after I arrived and didn't reveal them until late in the night. Everyone was raving about them and couldn't believe that they were vegan after that little fact was revealed.  One girl asked me what made the cookies stick together if I didn't use eggs, milk, or butter.  I find it interesting that people don't realize how vegan baking is so similar to non-vegan baking.  (Admittedly, I felt the same way before I was vegan.) Yes, some recipes might call for tofu, but they really don't call for obscure ingredients.

What lovely peanut butter goodness resides in these cookies. I saved three for myself (hey, they couldn't fit on the plate!) and managed to eat them for breakfast this morning. Well, I ate two, had a hot chocolate, and then ate the last one right after taking that picture. They are definitely my favorite, and my go-to recipe whenever I want to impress omnivores. In all seriousness, I have never met an omni who didn't like these cookies. Score for veganism!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

VeganMoFo: Pseudo-Thai for Omnis

Sadly, my trip home has coincided with the seeming demise of my camera.  I will see what I can do to revive it, or maybe temporarily borrow my mum's.  In the meantime, tonight's dinner will have to go without a photo yet again. (Hopefully I can figure something out by lunchtime tomorrow when I reheat leftovers.)

Even though I wasn't able to get to the Farmers' Market last weekend, I still had an eggplant and a few small bell peppers which needed to get used.  As in as soon as possible. I had been thinking about this dish for the past few days and it is a hybrid of sorts of this dish from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen and this in the PPK recipes section.  I was inspired by a late night (not entirely sober) snack of the original quinoa dish that I had doused in store-bought peanut sauce and extra hot sauce. It was so good and addicting.  Having my eggplant made me think of making it again.

I simplified the recipe a bit since I am at home.  The only seasoning that I used for the 1 1/2 cups of quinoa was 3 cloves of minced garlic. I used coconut oil when I sautéed an eggplant, a yellow summer squash, 3 small zucchinis, and 3 small bell peppers.  When those were done, I combined it with the cooked quinoa.  The peanut sauce was run through a blender before being poured over the dish and consisted of the following:

spicy peanut sauce 
 1 cup peanut butter
 1 cup hot water
1 tsp ground ginger (had none fresh)
1 bunch of scallions with a few of the green stems added in for good measure
zest of 1 lime
juice of said lime
a few squirts of sriracha hot sauce (I couldn't be too liberal with it since my mum can't handle hot stuff.)

I was really pleased with the dinner, and my younger brother even got seconds, which is always a good thing since he can be such a picky little omni.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

VeganMoFo: Green smoothies, the sequal

I know that I talked about green smoothies a week or so ago, but I mixed up my recipe again with interesting results.  This time I halved the amount of water and ice that I used previously, froze the banana first, and used two kiwis instead of a kiwi and raspberries.  I will say that I missed the tartness that the raspberries added.  Plus, I had no idea how hard it was to peel a frozen banana. What a pain. It did add a thicker consistency to the smoothie that I liked though.

(See that book underneath my smoothie? I'll be taking the Chemistry GRE subject test in 3 days.  So, even though I am going home for my Uni's fall 'reading' break, I will be doing lots of studying. Yikes. Hopefully I'll be able to fit in a few good vegan meals for my omnivore family.)

I don't have any excited meal updates because, even though I planned on making a fun dinner tonight, one of my roommates ended up cooking for our entire apartment (which includes another vegan in addition to me).  Here is the quick picture that I took before my camera died.  She didn't do too bad, and I didn't find her Moroccan stew as spicy as she seemed to think it was.  I think it is my turn next Wed. to cook for the entire apartment. Any suggestions would be welcome...

Monday, October 13, 2008

VeganMoFo: The sweet versus savory breakfast conundrum

Sorry about the lack of picture again, but let's face it; toast is not very photogenic.  You might have guessed it from my previous statement, but I did in fact have toast this morning for breakfast.  Not that it was totally boring, mind you. One slice had a generous helping of crunchy peanut butter, and the other had roasted garlic hummus with tomato slices.  Hopefully such a simple meal gets bonus points because the bread is homemade.

But what is this breakfast conundrum? I often wonder whether or not I will be appealing to my sweet or savory side in the morning, and sometimes I have to appease both.  Usually, toast is my fall-back, but I can easily vary it with different toppings.  The two mentioned above are regulars, but I also have been known to just eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, have toast with chocoreale (at least, until it runs out), or spread with tofutti cream cheese and toasted a second time with raspberries on top.

My other usual breakfast is much more filling and consists of steel cut oats.  Early this year, I read this post over at the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog, and I figured that I should give steel cut oats a try. Up until then, I had only had steel cut oats after soaking them overnight in soymilk and then just heating up the bowl in the microwave in the morning.  As low key as this method was, it made for some chewy oatmeal.  After reading the post, I decided to try steel cut oats in a more authentic manner.  I had several unsuccessful stovetop attempts, but I finally found out that the slow cooker method works best for me.  It is great because I can just set it up while I do homework and just randomly stir it every hour or so.  The method that I used came from here. Note: my slow cooker takes longer than the time listed because it is rather old (aka it was a wedding present of my parents, which I got to claim after they got a new one last year).

But what do I do with all those oats after I cook them? I simply let them cool and stick them in a tupperware container.  When I cook 2 cups of oats, I get enough cooked to last me for a week.  Morning preparation is easy. I just scoop some out into a bowl and pour a little soymilk on it because it will have congealed a lot.  Zap it in the microwave for 1 minute or so then take it out and mash it up with the spoon so that the oatmeal clumps break apart.  I add in my other flavorings (lately, I have been favoring ground flax, maple syrup, and raspberries) and heat it up for another minute or so. Stir vigorously and enjoy!

So as you can see, my breakfast choices lean on either the sweet or savory side. I have been known to make pancakes, but only when I have a lot of time to spare.  Cinnamon rolls would also hit the spot, but the infamous pumpkin ones of Don't Eat of the Sidewalk fame have yet to be made. (Perhaps I'll finally do it this weekend when I am at home for Fall Break aka get all the loads of homework done that you have fallen behind on.)  As for other savory items, I do love my scrambled tofu, but I usually fix it for dinner and rarely for my morning meal. I prefer to get a huge helping of fiber/grains as opposed to protein.

And, to make up for the lack of photos, I will leave you with the (mostly) whole grain bread that I have fallen in love with.  It is a hybridization of several have cake, will travel recipes, though the identities of them have become unclear over time.

(Mostly) Whole Grain Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
~1/2 cup rolled oats
~1/2 cup 7 grain mixture (I found it in the bulk bins at my local (very hippie) health foods store.)
2 tsp vital wheat gluten
2 tsp soy milk powder
1 1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp yeast

I use a bread machine (stolen from my parents as well due to a lack of use), so I just toss in the wet ingredients, then the dry (make sure to put the oats and grains in first so that they are mixed in better), and finally the yeast on top.  Don't for get to set it to a whole wheat setting so that it kneads it properly. Sit back, relax, and become hungry as your place fills with the amazing scent of baking bread.

 I am too lazy (and have too much homework aka Physical chemistry and German exams this week) to write out what to do sans bread machine. Go to the above mentioned have cake, will travel blog, and you will find some wonderful directions there.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

VeganMoFo: Experiencing an underwhelming vegan option

No, I have not disappeared from VeganMoFo, in case you were wondering. I just haven't really done much cooking since Wed, and I have been super stressed and dealing with a lot of school work.  I did bake Veganomicon's Chewy  Oatmeal Raison Cookies (with added chocolate chips).  It is going to take all of my will power not eat yet another one right before I go to bed.

But what I really wanted to talk about is an interesting experience that I had today.  I am the President of my University's Environmental Concerns Organization this year, and even though I went vegan partially because I wanted to reduce my environmental impact and be less wasteful in terms of how and what I eat, I really do not try to be a total push-over about this aspect. People can become easily offended when their diet is on the line, but I am glad to talk to people about my veganism in depth if they are curious after discovering this facet to me.

But I don't want to get off topic about what I wanted to discuss.  Today I went to an Indiana Climate Change Summit (which happened to be taking place at my Uni) sponsored by Earth Charter Indiana.  This is a very interesting organization, and I actually would like to take more time (eventually) to explore the international website because they have many interesting facets involving sustainability and social justice/cooperation.

I was so excited when I signed up for this Summit because the two lunch options online were Vegan and Non-vegan. Sounds promising, doesn't it? I was a little apprehensive when I heard that the catering would be done by my Uni's dining services. I had a hard enough time eating there when I was vegetarian (let alone as a vegan).  It turned out that I was right to be apprehensive. They did not make much of a special effort for the vegan lunch at all. It was a sandwich bar with plenty of meat and tuna salad (not to mention a very dairy-filled pasta salad). Good thing that they had hummus and veggies, but that seems like they didn't feel like making much of an effort. Sure, there was a fruit salad, but no vegan baked good options. Thanks for tempting with brownies and cookies that I could not eat.

I should have known better than to get too excited.  You would think if they acknowledged the existence of vegans and it was one of two lunch options that the spread would be more easily balanced. Such was not the case, and it saddened me. I went in with so much hope only to be disappointed. So, lesson learned today.  Just because there may be a published vegan option, it does not mean that a lot of care and thought was put into it.

And don't get me started about how diet was never mentioned today in regards to global warming.  They had so many other facets covered but not that one.  At least CAFOs (Confined Animal Feed Operations) were mentioned, albeit in passing.

And now I am done with my little vegan rant as I run off to get a cookie and go to bed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

VeganMoFo: A taste of fall

Tonight's post will be brief because I have a ton of homework for Inorganic and Physical Chemistry classes that is calling my name, but I wanted to share tonight's dinner.

What you are looking at is the Beet, Barley, and Black Soybean soup from Vegan with a Vengeance, albeit with a few alterations.  I don't usually plan out all of my meals for the week because sometimes I just do not know how much time that I will have to cook.  However, I try to have a particular dish in mind during the weekend for when I go shopping and visit the Farmers' Market in case there is a special ingredient or two that I would need.  This soup was what I had in mind for this week.

I have only made this once before, and it was probably about the same time as now last year.  I had noticed that beets were appearing at the market, and I figured that I should give it another try.  Oddly enough, I did not have the main herb ingredients of fresh dill and dried tarragon for which the recipe called.  Good thing that my roots are strictly German and Hungarian or else any Russian ancestors would be rolling in their graves.  (Yes, somehow the combination of beets and barley makes me think of Russia.) I substituted an Italian spice mix as well as marjoram not to mention doubling the garlic from 3 to 6 cloves.  I also tossed in a vegetable bullion cube for extra good measure.  When I was adding the beans, I felt as if I should add a little more color, not to mention healthiness, to the soup. So, I quickly chopped up some swiss chard to add to the pot.  (Yes, I hadn't used up my batch from Saturday's market yet, and I need to get my weekly fix on almost a daily basis while the cheap market chard lasts.  Store-bought just doesn't even compare.)

But how did it taste?  Amazing.  The chard adds a little something, and the barley still has a bit of bite to it and isn't mushy at all (which is a problem I can have with barley sometimes).  The wholesome feeling almost makes up for the overly large amount of chocolate that I consumed this afternoon for no good reason. Almost, but not quite.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

VeganMoFo: What to do with a plethora of apples

Back home at my parents' house, we have an apple tree in the backyard.  It is a cute little thing, which grows rather crooked since my dad didn't stake it up properly when it was little. Regardless, we have been getting a lot of fruit this year after smaller harvests for the past two years. (With apples failing to grow due to buds falling off or early freezes.)  So much fruit, in fact, that my parents gave me a bucket full of apples three weeks ago. Yes, it was literally a bucket.  I had so many, that I was worried about them going bad in case I could not eat them fast enough (even though they are residing in the pantry closet, which is both cool and dark).

My solution: bake the gingerbread apple pie from Vegan with a Vengeance.  I had had my eye on that recipe for a while, and using up apples and going to a potluck was the perfect excuse to use it.  As you can see by the picture, I was a bit lazy and didn't bother to peel my apples. I don't really think that it made much difference in the final product. I would recommend reading the directions though, because I definately was all ready to roll out the dough for the crust, and then I realized that you crumble it on instead. Whoops.

I also ended up having more filling than would fit into my pie pan.  As you can see, I improvised and put it in a few cupcake liners in a muffin pan. I even saved up some of the crust so that I could sprinkle it on top of these so-called mini pies as well.

I took this pie to a potluck as soon as it came out of the oven, and it was an amazing success.  Everyone loved it, and I didn't bring a single piece back with me. (I guess it was a good thing that I had extra filling for the min pies then.) Everyone was complimenting me on it and asking for the recipe.  The taste was even better after I let it sit since I felt as if the spices weren't as strong right when it was still really warm.  It definitely feels like a quintessentially fall recipe, and I would strongly encourage using it when you need to impress people.  I can't even begin to imagine the amazingness if I were to have it with a scoop of soy ice cream.

Coming Soon: I will be making another very fall-esque dish tomorrow- VwaV's Black Soybean, beet and barley soup with beets fresh from Saturday's Farmers' market!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

VeganMoFo: In which I proclaim my love for zucchini bread

There, I said it. I love zucchini bread.  I have some very fond memories of eating it as a child because my grandmum was always making it.  Even when we weren't visiting, she would always give some for use to take back and stick in the freezer.  I used to think that zucchini bread would be healthy, but having a veg in the name is a little misleading. My grandmum's original recipe is practically more of a cake than a sweet bread.  Here it is in all of its non-vegan glory:

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini

When I finally got my own kitchen at school last year, my dad let me take a lot of grandmum's old recipes that he had sitting around.  I have really played around with the zucchini bread recipe and have finally found something that is actually reasonably healthy without tasting too healthy.  

Tip: If you have a food processor, use it to shred the zucchini.  It is amazing.  I used to do it the hard way, and it would take a half hour (or so) to shred a large zucchini.  Now, it just takes me five minutes. Also, I like to leave the skin on the zucchini.  For some reason, I get a little kick out of seeing those green flecks in my bread.

Tastier and Healthier Zucchini Bread than Grandmum used to Make

-Preheat oven to 350 F

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all purp. flour
3-6 tsp cinnamon (yes, I get a little liberal with it sometimes)
pinch nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda

-Take those dry ingredients and sift them together into a large bowl.
-Take 3 Tbsp ground flax seeds and combine with 8-9 Tbsp water in a small cup or bowl. Whip/stir vigorously with a fork. Let sit while you prepare the wet ingredients.

1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup canola (or veg) oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 cup soymilk (or whichever non-dairy you prefer)
2 cups (or slightly overflowing 2 cup) shredded zucchini

-Combine the wet ingredients, mixing in the flax and the zucchini last.
-Pour the wet into the dry.  Mix until everything is combined. 
-Pour batter into two good-size loaf pans.
(Also fits into 2 small loaf pans with extra for 6-8 muffins)
-Bake for 45 minutes. Check if done with a toothpick or knife. It may need another 5 minutes.
-Leave in the pan for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
-Keeps at room temperature for 3 days or up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

How good is it? Well, it passed the taste test with my dad. (Who is still trying to come to terms with my veganism. Seriously, it has been 17 months already!)  Also, I have a few friends who purposely invite themselves over when they know that I am making it.

Zucchini are in season right now, but whenever I bake a batch I make sure to shred extra zucchini. Measure out in 2 cup portions and freeze in plastic  bags. Then you can have zucchini bread in the winter as long as you remember to let the zucchini thaw out during the day first.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Veganmofo: Can one really buy too many vegetables?

This answer to this would be yes; yes you can.  (Trust me because I have done it.)  I know that I have discussed it before, but I am a big fan of Farmers' Markets. The one that I frequented in Berlin this summer was amazingly huge AND only a five minute walk from my house.  I also went to Berlin's (in)famous Turkish market once as well. That one was not quite as close to home for me. I had to take a street tram, subway, and walk quite a bit in order to get there. Luckily the unique atmosphere and cheap fruits made up for the trip length.

One problem that I have is that I like to buy too much produce at the market. I don't know what it is about local produce, but it gets me insanely excited.  Pictured here is my load from two weeks ago.  Yes, I really did buy a large  amount of red bell peppers like you see better in the second picture.  One booth was having a sale where they sold them by the pound, and, if you bought more than 3 pounds, they were only $2.50 per pound. Not a bad deal at all.  Even though I love peppers, I couldn't eat all of those in a week, so I froze them.  Peppers freeze surprisingly well, so I stock up in the fall when they are cheap at the market so that I can enjoy them all winter.  It is so easy to grab a bag from the freezer and toss a handful or two into a recipe.

With this particular catch, I was also able to get some fresh basil.  That huge stalk next to the Mangold, erm chard, was $3.  I was worth it because I made a batch of pesto using the recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance.  Sooo good. I hadn't enjoyed homemade pesto in a long while.

What did I do with my pesto? Make pizza of course.  I love the crust in VwaV so much.  I've been making it even healthier recently by substituting 2 of the 3 cups of flour with whole wheat flour.  It gives the dough a nice little crunch and makes me feel less guilty when I eat practically half a pizza in one sitting.  (This really did happen later in the week when I made the second pizza with the remaining dough. Just in case you were wondering.) 

My parents visited me the day after the market, so I put my dad to work making Veganomicon's Cashew Ricotta Tofu.  Putting some fresh tomatoes and bell peppers an top, and you have one very satisfying meal.  So good that my omnivore parents don't care that their pizza is devoid of cheese, which I consider to be a very good thing.

Coming soon: Gingerbread apple pie because I am going to a dinner/potluck tonight (where sadly, I won't be able to eat most things that others bring), so I decided to make up for it by baking a kick-ass dessert.  We'll see how that goes...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Veganmofo: Do you know what mangold is?

I don't expect you to because that is the German name for what we Americans know as Swiss chard. Honestly, I think the German name is so much better. But back on topic... I am constantly thanking my turn to veganism since it has helped me discover so many new foods. Yes, this sounds silly but is entirely true.  One example of this is, in fact, Swiss chard.

My favorite is the rainbow verity. It just looks so pretty and irresistible. I discovered it at the farmers' market a little over a year ago, and I have not ever been able to get enough of it since then.  I have used it in so many dishes.  Examples would be making an Indian-spiced side dish along with chickpeas or as an addition to Veganomicon's chickpea noodle soup. (Why, yes, it does go well with chickpeas in case you were wondering.)  Despite those amazing dishes, 
I had been wanting to branch out...

As usual, the ppk was a great source for ideas. I don't even recall why I clicked on it, but after reading a thread about green smoothies, I knew that I just had to try one with Swiss chard.  I love to eat it cooked, but, just like any green, it shrinks so much as it cooks, and what once looked like a lot of chard turns into not so much.  Plus, I figured that eating it raw was a little bit healthier as well.  After stumbling upon this site, I came up with this recipe.

-1 banana
-6 or so stalks of chard (more/less depending on how green you feel)
-1 kiwi (I just cut off the ends and don't bother with taking the skin off. More fiber never hurt anyone...)
-handful of frozen raspberries
-1 glass water
-1 glass ice

Do not forget to put in the water. I did this the other day, and my roommate's blender was not very happy with me at first.  And to think that I started to wonder why it wasn't blending correctly...
Here I am trying my very first homemade green smoothie. I may not look it, but I was a little nervous about the taste.  Luckyily, I really do love chard, and my taste buds have changed so much since my conversion 16 months ago.  I didn't think that it tasted overly healthy at all. And to think that I was all set to make myself drink it or add some agave if it tasted off.

The only downside to this recipe is that it makes a ton of smoothie. About 2- 2 1/2 glasses worth, well of the size glass that you see me holding there anyway.  Plus, the first time or two that I made it I had to use the loo a bit more frequently than usual.

Since my discovery, I have been trying to have a smoothie about twice a week or so. It really has made me feel quite a bit healthier.  Because it makes so much, sometimes I use the smoothie as an entire meal.  Well, at least as  a lunch.  If I make it as a dinner, I usually need to have a piece of toast with hummus or peanut butter later.

I don't want anyone to get tired of seeing all of this Swiss chard, so I have only one more photo/meal idea.  Even though I love to cook and try new things, I am still a university student, so I do not always have a lot of time for meals. (My parents pay for my food, yes lucky me, but I am a total cheapskate, so I like to try to eat cheaply a lot as well.)

Here you see my dinner from tonight. Homemade bread from the bread machine that I stole from my parents. (Hey, they weren't using it!)  One slice has hummus and the other, which was already in my stomach, had Veganaise.  I just lightly sautéed some yellow summer squash, zucchini, yellow pear tomatoes, and (surprise, surprise) chard.  Oh and don't forget the Thai chile hot sauce. I just bought a bottle two weeks ago, and I absolutely love it. I try to sneak it into so many dishes, it is crazy. But this meal was very filling and satisfying. Sometimes, I just feel like I need a veggie overdose, and this hit the spot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Let the VeganMoFo-ing begin!

Because I do not have any photos from tonight's dinner (and it was really easy anyway), I will start off the month with a review. 

Soy Creamy Mini Chocolate Sandwiches from Trader Joe's

I would like to say straight up that I love shopping at TJ's, and I am lucky enough to have one 20 minutes away from where I live. I cannot believe that it has only been a year and a half since I learned about this place. They have a lot of packaging on their produce, but I go there consistently for their cheap (not to mention tasty) soy milk, tofu, chocolate chips, and wine. (Hey, what a combination!)

I manage to stock up every trip that I make, so I only need to go about every two weeks or so. I am not a huge fan of driving a ton, even if I only do it on the
 weekends, and I don't really eat so much that I need to make a weekly trip to go there. About a month ago, I ran across that box you see there. TJ's is pretty good with vegan options, and I just had to check out this dessert. (Notice how it has a convenient little V for vegan in the lower left corner! Things like that make my job of checking ingredients so much easier.)

This next picture is a really burry, but
 it gives you an idea of the size of one sandwich. 
The size ends up being not too big to make you feel guilty and not too small that you feel unsatisfied. (Though, I will admit to sneaking a second after my first initial tasting.)  

These little novelties are pretty good.  I feel as if the chocolate taste could have been more pronounced considering how the coloring is so dark.  It had a slightly rich taste and was neither too bitter nor too sweet.  A lot of people complain that non-dairy ice cream can taste too beany, but I did not have that problem.  The soy flavor was not too pronounced (but what do I know since I don't eat that other junk anymore?).

I am actually considering buying another box when I make my biweekly trip this Friday.  It will help me with my chocolate cravings since last time I bought the Pounder dark chocolate with almonds and managed to inhale it in 9 days. (That may seem like a long time, but that chocolate bar is HUGE.)  I am also curious as to how this sandwich would taste if I spread a little bit of peanut butter on it, which is something else I cannot seem to get enough of...

In case you are wondering...
Coming attractions:
talk of green smoothies
farmers' market loot
zucchini bread
and possibly, an apple pie (because my parents brought me literally a bucket of apples from the tree in our backyard at home)

Oh, and Happy World Vegetarian Day (for at least 9 more minutes anyway)!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What to do with an eggplant

What is this you may ask? It is the Eggplant Paprikash from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen. It was amazing. It was suggested to serve it with noodles, but I was lazy and had it with couscous instead. (Plus, I had eaten pasta the previous day.) I pretty much followed the recipe except that I omitted the onion and only used 1/4 cup of sour cream, if that, and I ad-libbed with soymilk for the rest of it. 

This stuff was absolutely amazing. I actually made it almost two weeks ago, and I am planning on making it again with the eggplant that has been sitting around my kitchen. It was so savory, and the eggplant practically melted in your mouth.  The sour cream/milk combination was definitely the element that gave it a little something that you couldn't quite put your finger on but that pulled all the flavors together.

I have lots of other backlogged post ideas, but I may or may not be waiting for VeganMoFo to start so that I can be ahead before I get behind...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What is to come...

I have been super busy, but I have been taking pictures of food and thinking of future posts.  If the lack of updates has been noticed, there is no need to worry. I will be joining in on VeganMoFo for the month of October! What is this? It is something that was started over at the Post Punk Kitchen website and is a vegan version of NaNoWriMo. This means that I will be positing on an almost daily basis about a variety of topics. If you want to check out the other participating blogs, then go to the Post Punk Kitchen Blog.

Trust me, updating my blog (with an actual food post) is on my list of things to do this weekend. That, and update my flickr.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

All things ECO

Things have been very busy for me with Uni starting up again.  I've been doing a reasonable amount of cooking, but nothing too new or exciting.  I managed to re-tweak my vegan version of my grandmum's zucchini bread. I still have two zucchinis that need to be shredded, so expect a photo and recipe sometime this weekend.

However, the theme that I wanted to talk about today is the environment. This year, I am the President of a student group called Environmental Concerns Organization, ECO. Now I consider myself to be a very environmentally aware person (examples include, oh well, me becoming vegan partially for environmental reasons, driving my car only once/twice a week, recycling like a fiend, and many more), but, since I fully took over my duties, I have been thinking about it even more so. I've been doing so much more reading online than normal as well as having my opinion asked of me.  Which is sort of cool, actually, and brings me to my next point.

Cafeteria trays. Seem sort of innocuous, don't they? I don't eat in the Uni cafeteria anymore, so I hadn't thought about them in a while.  A writer from the Uni newspaper asked for my opinion about the trend of Unis going trayless.  Can you guess whether I'm for it or against it? 

Did you even need to guess?  I love the idea of going trayless for several reasons.  First of all, it helps in reducing the water and energy that would normally be used for cleaning the trays. Secondly, it helps reduce the waste of food because people will not be piling food on multiple plates since they are forced to take only what they can carry.  Having less room by not having a tray really helps people to think about the amout of food that they are consuming.  Sometimes it seems like many people do not realize how wasteful our society can be in such manners (which is something that irritates me to no end), and going trayless would help people be more conscious about such things.  The issue of overeating is another issue that can be alleviated in the same manner.  No tray, means (hopefully) a more appropriate amount of food is eaten.

I especially loved my clincher sentence (yes, I realize that makes me sound like a dork).  Part of it was used as a highlighted (and bigger) excerpt, though I feel like they didn't use the most important part. Here it is in its' entirety: Going trayless would be a bit of an adjustment to make, but I think the positive ramifications of being more environmentally conscious and more aware of our society's (not necessarily positive) habits far outweigh any possible complications during the onset of such a practice.

Now, I feel as if I should go search out other seemingly innocuous things and expose them.  That, or go hug a tree or something of that sort.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Not really new but different.

Readjusting to life in the USA has been rather interesting. For one, my hometown seems even smaller now after my summer in Berlin.  Driving a car for the first time in 3 months seemed a bit strange as well.  I still miss different little quirks about life in Berlin, and some of the amazing people there, but it has been nice to see people here again. Also, I love having a bigger kitchen with a lot more different foods and appliances.

I have been cooking for my family a lot, and I 
absolutely had to make pizza.  It doesn't look that beautiful, but it tasted delicious. Making whole wheat pizza from scratch was something 
that I really missed doing this summer.  The white stuff is the amazing cashew ricotta style tofu from Veganomicon. The tomatoes and bell pepper are fresh from the Farmers' Market.  (Sadly, mine back home is practically nothing compared to the one that I frequented in Berlin. I can't wait for the one in Indianapolis. It isn't as
 big as the Berlin one, but it is just as good.)

Speaking of produce, my parents have a small garden in the backyard.  Lucky for me, our raspberry bush has really taken over.  I went outside rain or shine just about every morning in order to pick my favorite berries.  (Sometimes even facing off against the bugs that loved to take bites out of my legs and arms!) The bush is so big that you can easily miss perfectly ripe berries, so you have to take your time looking at the branches from all angles.  See how they like to hide behind some of the leaves!

Fresh raspberries and some strawberries that were looking a little worse for wear in our fridge provided the perfect excuse for me to make something from Yellow Rose Recipes.  The picture of the lemon almond cake in the book looked decent, and the recipe is deceptively simple, but don't let this fool you. 
This cake is absolutely delicious.  Just look at the moist lemony goodness. So good, that I almost forgot to take a picture the next day.  With the help of my family, this simple but pretty creation was gone in 24 hours.

So light and moist, this is the quintessential dessert for summer.  I cannot believe that I did not try it sooner.  Next time that I make it, I might try to use less sugar in the cake because the glaze makes it rather sweet.

Being back in the USA, my entries are going to be a little less exciting from now on. Plus, I will be very busy seeing as it is my last year for my undergraduate degree. I have lots of things to do ahead of me: taking two GREs, writing a thesis, and figuring out which graduate schools to apply to. The observations of some posts might be more political with comments on the upcoming election or environmentalism (I'm president of my Uni's Environmental Concerns Organization this year.). 

Don't worry, I will still be cooking.  I am going to try to eat healthier because sometimes I ate way too much vegan ice cream, chocolate, or falafel in Berlin.  Next up, zucchini bread. That is healthy-esque, right? I mean, it has a vegetable in it. Ok, well maybe I'll try to tweak my recipe a bit and use no unbleached flour and a healthier sweetener, or something like that.  After all, one can't really use the vegetable excuse to claim that carrot cake is healthy, though one can certainly try...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Unintentionally Filling the Vegan Stereotype

One thing that I find rather annoying in regards to veganism is that many people assume that eating out is too difficult to do. This idea does have some truth, since eating out can be tedious when one has to constantly ask questions about ingredients or scour the menu.  Regardless, I usually have had positive experiences in restaurants, especially if the food is something other than home-style cooking (be it German or American).  

Yesterday I learned that Berlin has, in fact, been spoiling me with so many vegan options and vegan-friendly places.  I actually was in an Italian themed restaurant where I could hardly eat anything there.  Normally, the thing that I have to watch out for in Italian places is if the pasta has eggs or not. At first, I got so excited when I asked about the pasta and discovered a lack of eggs. There was even a special of the month that was a green curry and specifically a vegetarian option.  Upon seeing the sauce, I figured that I should check to make sure that it was with coconut milk since it looked rather creamy. To my surprise, it was with regular milk. Seriously? I could not believe it since I usually associate coconut milk as being the milk of choice for curries.

With my original idea being thwarted, I go back to the allergen listing just to see if there was some other hidden dairy that I had overlooked. Unfortunately, such was the case, and I was startled to discover that even the normal tomato sauce contained dairy. Tomato sauce! Why they would put dairy in tomato sauce, I do not understand. Plain tomato sauce should just be tomatoes, spices, and a little oil. Keep it simple and save the dairy for a creamy tomato sauce or something.  I would have hated to have eaten there if I was lactose intolerant because then I would have been even more frustrated.

The option of getting a pizza sounded unappetizing because not only would I have to omit the cheese but the sauce as well. I can get better and cheaper veggie pizzas elsewhere in Berlin. Thus, my final choices consisted of bruschetta and a small mixed greens salad. Thankfully, the balsamic dressing was vegan. Actually, I am pretty sure that it was the only one without dairy.

Needless to say, I was not very happy about the salad being just about my only option.  I enjoy my veggies, but I can just as easily make a salad at home for cheaper. At least it was with mixed greens and not iceberg lettuce, an entity that I refuse to eat due to its amazing lack of nutritional content.  That fulfillment of the stereotype is even worse.

Thus, going to my last brunch at Hans Wurst Vegan Cafe was the breath of fresh air that I direly needed after having such a frustrating dinner last night.  I also was once again reminded that preconceptions of some of the simplest dishes can be deceiving when dairy is involved. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How to make a stuffed vegan and find a lose of inspiration

Today I met up with a friend and we decided to go to the Sunday brunch at Hans Wurst Vegan Cafe. Let me tell you, a brunch buffet on Sunday is a really big deal here. You can walk down streets lined with cafes and just about every one will be offering a brunch on Sunday.  In my 10 weeks thus far, I still have not managed to actually go to one.  Unfortunately, I found out too late of the amazing offerings at this particular buffet.

(Shown here are our loaded plates and me having a third helping of pancakes.) 

There was so much good food. The favorites were the pancakes with the chocolate mousse, and the tomatoes with the feta style tofu. It was really fun and low key. It was also really neat how the pricing was done. Basically, after you were finished eating, you pay somewhere between 7-12 Euros based on how much you ate or how good you thought the food was. I think that is a really good concept, and I will definitely be going next weekend for my last Sunday here. Plus, I ate so much that I wasn't hungry for the rest of the day. (Yes, that is indeed possible.)

The somewhat disappointing aspect to my day was my visit to the East Side Gallery.  I was there three years ago, and two years ago during my previous stays in Germany. On both occasions my group made trips to Berlin. The East Side Gallery is a large section of the wall that was painted by artists as a memorial and source of inspiration after the fall of the wall. Today, many of these amazing murals have been lost to time and graffiti. Some portions are hardly recognizable as how I re
member them a few years ago.

Usually I am a big fan of street art. It can be really interesting and makes you think on occasion, but there is also a big difference between street art and graffiti.  Graffiti I do not admire as much because I feel like it does not usually have an artistic purpose and mostly only a form of vandalism. In the case of the wall, the graffiti is more akin to vandalism and has ruined large sections of what was once a source of inspiration.  I walked along the whole 1.3 kilometer stretch, and just seeing the extent of the damage just made me want to cry. The artwork on the wall had a message of freedom, hope, and overcoming what was once thought to be impossible. 
Here you can see a portion of the wall, and how badly the original artwork is covered up. This was actually a favorite section of mine when I first saw the wall.  In my picture from three years ago, almost none of that graffiti is present, and the message is still easy to read. 

It really does make me sad that the young people have chosen to rebel in this way. I am all for going against authority and rebellion, but, when you destroy a message of hope such as this, I think it is in bad taste and shows a poor understanding of the bigger rebellions that have already been accomplished. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Learning from Experience

I learned two semi-important things today.

1. Do not go to Vöner after 7:30 pm. You will be too late and may have to face the possibility of them having run out of Vöner for the day. Then you will be obliged to buy a Wagenburger, but it is nothing special in comparison to the amazingness of Vöner.

2. Buying vegan eis after the Vöner failure is perfectly acceptable. Getting two scoops with double chocolate and lemon is not. No wonder the guy behind the counter double checked to make sure he heard me okay. Lemon has no place being eating before (an amazing) chocolate. Orange might go with chocolate, but the flavor of lemon just puts everything else off.

Ah well, sometimes one just has to learn things the hard way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren

So goes the line of a famous folkslied. If the past weekend has taught me anything, it has been that even though Heidelberg is fast a kitschy typical old castle/uni town, it still has a special place in my heart because of the great memories I have and the people whom are there. I cannot believe that I was there for only a mere six weeks two summers ago. At the time, six weeks seemed like a long time to be studying abroad. I know so much better now, and I am amazed at all the things I managed to cram into that short time.

Visiting my old host family was amazing. They are such nice and helpful people, which is probably why I recall my time in Heidelberg so fondly. Sadly, I did not get to see their two songs who are a little younger than my own brother. (They are hosting a student right now, so the reason that I was able to come this weekend was because the boys were gone and I could use one of their rooms.) I did get to speak with the younger one when he called his mum's handy. His voice is lower (though not too much), and he sounded so much older and more mature than the cute/curious youngster that I remember. We did not discuss anything complicated, but it made me feel good that I was able to talk to him all in German.

The weekend went by so fast, but we managed to actually do a few things and relax a bit as well. Friday was a little exciting on my end since I almost did not make my train. I did not want to get into Heidelberg very late as a courtesy to the family. My problem was that I did not wake up early enough to finish packing and needed to have a few minutes between getting home from my internship and going to the hauptbahnhof so that I could throw my stuff into my bag and backpack. (At least I already had everything scattered haphazardly all over my couch.) Of course, this was the time when the S-bahns in Berlin were not punctual. Due to waiting for 15 minutes for one that usually comes every 5 and then other ones being a minute or two late, this really adds up. Upon reaching the hauptbahnhof, I literally jumped into the first open door of my train that I saw just as they were issuing the final boarding call. We left not even two minutes later. Talk about cutting it close.

At least the rest of the night was low key, and we went to a neighbor's birthday party when I got there. I of course had a 'how stupid of me' moment when, while discussing something food related with my host mum, I recalled that I had not mentioned of my switch to vegansim. Whoops. Last time I was there, I had only been vegetarian (of which she had been lovingly accommodating to). I had eaten a few quick things on the train, but at the party I discovered how tasty wasabi peanuts are and that basmati rice with fresh squeezed lime juice and Thai hot sauce is actually really good.

Saturday consisted of a nice leisurely breakfast in the small garden out back. Then we went into the old part of the city by bike (I borrowed the younger son's), but took our time on the way there. Ate Italian, where the noodles had no eggs in them (score!), and the tomato sauce was amazingly fresh. This was followed by a 1 1/2 hour boat tour on the Neckar, the river that runs through the town, adding to its quaint charm. By the time our tour had ended, there were some massive storm clouds that were approaching, and the wind was already starting to make the formerly hot day seem rather cool. We booked it on the way back home, as we did not want to get wet. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing. We had an outing to the grocery store and media store later in the evening, but it was fun to ride around on a bike again. Plus, the grocery run was insisted on by my host mum so that we could get some soymilk so I could have it with my muesli the next morning. Isn't she the sweetest? Dinner was rather late, and, sadly, we ended up not watching a movie together as the parents were tired and ready for bed.

Sunday began with a relaxed breakfast as well. (Yes, I loved how my family was all about the relaxed breakfast. Even on a school day, I would sit down for 25 minutes or so and chat with my host mum.) I got educated and was given a copy of the Goethe poem that inspired the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment in Fantasia. It was funny how we got onto that topic after discussing politics and the actions of people and needing to think ahead. Then, I was told to take a quick ride to the old city by myself via bike because, according to my host mum, I could not visit and not go into the old city. (We had only been on the river the day before and not actually in the old part.) I was proud of myself that I was able to remember the way to get there and back. It was a quick trip because I did not have much time, but fun nevertheless. So many tourists, but I was able to smile at the memories.

By the time I had come back, my host mother had managed to cook up something for lunch. (I hardly had any hunger yet, despite my bike ride, because I had eaten such a big breakfast.) It was so simply vegan orientated that it made me smile. Rice and (boxed) falafel with a coconut milk curry sauce. (She and her husband had fish as well.) But regardless, her flexibility was greatly appreciated despite my earlier absentmindedness.

So there was another amazing weekend away from Berlin visiting acquaintances. Plus, I got to use so much German. Yes, I could not recall a few words every now and then, but I was glad that I could converse more than my last time in Heidelberg. (Sometimes, while we were talking politics, I was unsure of what exactly my opinion on something was, but I was able to, for the most part, understand the views that my host parents were explaining.) It is actually surprising how much over the state of the world and politics that we talked about. Last time I was there, we talked about a lot of stuff, but it was mostly me listening, trying really hard to understand half of what was being said, and not really participating in actual conversation. I can only hope that they were pleasantly surprised by my improvement since last time (even though there are times when I question how much that I have improved, but such is the nature and tribulations of learning another language.)

The rest of Sunday was spent in Tübingen, visiting a friend who was an exchange student at my Uni this past year.  Tübingen is not too far from Heidelberg, and I figured that I ought to go because I had heard, like Heidelberg, it had much old-world charm as well.  The afternoon was a great success, and I rather enjoyed the tour of the town that I was given and speaking about so many different things with my friend.

I got back to Berlin at 1:30, which means that I just missed the last S-Bahn out of the Hauptbahnhof. Just my luck. I managed to take a night bus for a few stops and just walked the rest of the way home. It was not as bad as I thought it would be and only took 45 minutes.  I had eaten so much earlier in the day and had slept on the train, so I had plenty of energy for my trip. It made Berlin seem smaller by the fact that I could actually do something like that.

All in all, this weekend has been a great change of pace, and I was reminded how I need to always remember to mention my (maybe relatively new to my hosts) dietary status. It was even cute how my host dad looked up veganism online so that he could ask me a few questions about it Saturday morning. If only everyone could be so open-minded and accepting, this world would be so much better in dealing with all sorts of differences.

(How is that for ending an insanely long post on a philosophical note?)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ob nur für einen Augenblick

(If only for a moment)

(Originally written on the train from Berlin to Heidelberg yesterday)

Sometimes that seems exactly the span of my summer. With two and a half weeks to go, I am constantly in disbelief of how fast the time passes. (Yes, this is going to be a constant theme until I leave Berlin.) This past week has been a gift in the fact that I have been getting to leave work relatively early in comparison to the long hours that I had previously been keeping. Getting to go home at 4 (or even 3 on one occasion) makes me feel like I am being lazy or something. Such is the way things go when you are doing more with peptide (biochemistry) synthesis and not organic synthesis. This week in the lab has been interesting (though slightly monotonous at times) and has reinforced the feeling that I probably will not go on to study biochemistry. Even though some ideas might be interesting on paper, the work in the lab has to be so meticulous and is often don on a smaller scale. Such an attention to detail is not for me. (Do not get me wrong, I have to pay attention to stuff in organic synthesis as well but I feel like you can have a little more leeway with things there.) At least working with a different chemist has proved to be funny even if we are speaking auf Englisch and not auf Deutsch since he is French.

Actually using my German handy on a regular basis has also helped me keep in contact with other students so much better this past week. Except for one day, I think that I have gotten to hang out with other students every evening. Not too bad. This was especially good since I have gotten to know some more of the newer people as more and more of the people that I met early on are leaving.  And to think that it won't be long until I join the ranks of those whom 'sind weg.'

As for vegan food, whittling down my small stash of food is proving to be interesting. I basically only have lentils (red and brown) left and a bit of brown rice. (Well, I still have agave, soy sauce, cumin, and coriander but those aren't hard food staples.) I might be giving the brown lentils away to a friend since even though Isa's Snobby Joes might be amazing, I must not have cooked them right and have been having digestive issues afterwards. Not very fun. I plan on using the rest of the red lentils to make a very vegetable filled dahl later this week. As for the rice, I think that I am going to splurge on nori and try sushi. I have never had sushi before (cue gasp here) and there is a neighborhood grocery down the street owned by some oriental folks. The nori seemed to be pretty cheap there (cheaper than back home), and I know that my host family does have a sushi mats o that I could roll them correctly. I am really curious as to the taste of it, and I think it will be a great way to use up my rice. 

Also, it will prevent me from visiting Vöner again. That place is dangerous, so cheap and so good. Though replacing my Pfefferminz Ritter Sport addiction with Vöner might be better since I am unable to visit Vöner as often.. Not to mention Carmello Eis Cafe nearby. Berlin is spoiling me with vegan options, and I do not know how I am going to adjust to being so limited for dinging out once I return back home. (Though, I might try to try really hard to get my parents to eat tat the Chicago Diner after I fly back before we drive home. I don't think it will be that easy to convince them though. Perhaps I can swing it as a late birthday present...)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A jam packed weekend a.k.a. be ready for a really long post

I love how good intentions never really make it sometimes. That was my day yesterday. I planned on making a day out of thrifting and markets, but I got a rather late start. As in me not waking up until 1:30 pm. Ah well, I guess that is what I get for staying up until 4 am with friends.

Unfortunately, I have been getting home late from my internship this week, and, as a consequence, I have hardly been cooking. Plus, midway through the week I completely ran out of produce due to not being here over the previous weekend. Oh horrors! Needless to say, I have eaten several falafels and much bread this week. Probably not the best thing, but this next week is going to more than make up for it (hopefully).

As usual, I visited the market on Kollwitz Platz to get my week's produce on Saturday. My 10 Euros worth of produce this week is 6 carrots, a zucchini, small garlic, red bell pepper, 3 apples, small container of raspberries, and a large (500g) container of red currants. Not too bad of a haul. I wasn't sure what to expect with the red currants (johannesbeern here) because I have only eaten them (or their black relatives) in  jam or cake. I ended up being pleasantly surprised, and they might be going on my favorites produce list because of their perfect amount of tartness. I rather enjoy fruits that are more tart than sweet (proved by my love for raspberries and lemons). Red currants are in season right now here in Germany, but I am not sure how long it will last. Hopefully long enough that I can make them as an addition to my usual breakfast of muesli, fruit, and soymilk. Until now, I have been switching between strawberries and raspberries (and even a peach on a few occasions). My purchases at the market also consisted of two homemade jams (strawberry and a black currant with mint) for my host family in Heidelberg when I go visit them next weekend.

As for the rest of the day, I had only eaten a light brunch, so I decided to start things off by heading to Vöner first. Wow is that place addicting. I bet most people would not have guessed that vegan döner can be so filling, but for a mere 2.90 Euros, I walk away feeling rather full. I got to visit a few smaller second hand shops in the area between Vöner aznd Carmello, but I did not find anything good. At Carmello Eis Cafe, I proceeded to get a cone with two scoops of vanilla and chocolate with chips soy ice cream. Sooo good and the chocolate was a new flavor as well. Enjoying my good vegan ice made up for the fact that it had started to rain rather hard.

Sadly, I got to my main thrift store destination too late and discovered that it was only open until 6 on Saturdays. I will try to go back sometime soon because it looks promising. Four floors of second hand goodness. That is correct- four floors. See why I was excited?

Sunday was also started a little late (but not due to my laziness this time) but because of me doing laundry. Then there was the other complication of the other student doing laundry as well and not enough drying racks to go around. (What to do? My host just took me to visit some neighbors upstairs and borrow two from them.) Then I had to spend a bunch of time going to/from the laundromat, hanging clothes, etc. But that is all boring stuff no one wants to hear about.

As for fun things, I went to the Flohmarkt (flea market) in Boxhagener Platz for the first time. As usual, there was so much absolute junk like the one in Mauer Park. Strangely enough, I did manage to buy a few things. The first of which was Flintstones wallpaper. Exactly, and it was only in black and white, so I guess that I could color it if I wanted to. I paid too much for it (6 Euro), but I just could not pass it up. I could make a banner or two with it, use it to cover boxes, or as wrapping paper. My other purchase was some cool patches cut out from used clothes. Two are very vegan. One is a chicken that says, "Isst mehr tofu!" (Eat more tofu), and the other has a sheep saying "Friends? Not food o.k.?" The third is a heart surrounded by the triangle recycling symbol. Because I was in the neighborhood, I stopped by Carmello again and got the same flavored cone as yesterday because it was just so freaking good.

Diner was fun as I actually cooked Isa's Snobby Joes, albeit a totally bastardized version. They were still amazing though. I also got reminded of how I need to be more careful when guessing amounts. (That's right. Since I have been in Berlin, I have not been measuring anything at all.) I did the 4x water ratio to the lentils correctly, but I had way too much water in the pot that I was using. Oops. It proceeded to overflow a little several times in the cooking process, and I was afraid that my host was going to come home at any moment and complain about the mess I was making on the stove. I also spaced out and did not pay attention to the time when the lentils started to cook, so after a bit, I just tasted a few to make sure they weren't too crunchy before proceeding with the recipe. Apparently, using a load of cumin makes up for not having chili powder, oregano, or salt. Ha.

Sorry about having no pictures to go along with these adventures, but all the ones that I took ended up being blurry. Schade. To make up for it, here are two pictures of a new friend of mine. He was worried that the Ritter Sport Pfefferminz that I was eating was not vegan and insisted that he had to double check the ingredients for me. Here are the before and after expressions because they are just too cute. They make me smile every time that I see these pictures.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Little Things

A single weekend is too short of a time to visit a friend that you have not seen for two years. This, I have discovered. My time in Köln was short, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Also, getting falafel at 3 a.m. is worth it when you say no yogurt sauce, and the guy questions you so that you have to clarify by saying no milk products. Then his answer sort of made my night because he asked if I was vegan and said that the garlic sauce was, in fact, vegan. So random and so great.

Visiting my friend was great in that we just enjoyed being around each other. I also got to meet one of her best friends from Uni and ta
lk German with him. I was actually surprised at how much German I understood when it was being spoken around me. (This is a very good thing.)

I feel like have a renewed sense of energy now that I am back in Berlin. Strange how getting away for a weekend can do that to you. Whatever the reason, I am ready to throw myself back into the last 30 days that I have here (why yes, I am counting, but only because I want to cherish the few that are left).  The time is going by so fast that I can scarcely believe it.

I have so many things to do in my time before I leave Berlin, plus, I have a ton of lentils and quinoa that I need to eat before leaving as well. Clearing out the small pantry that I have should be interesting, and I will have to try to not eat out much until my last week here when I will hardly have any food left.  How sad that I actually have to start planning ahead about this sort of thing.

Na ja, the summer of adventures still will continue.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Oh der Regen

This post is brought to you from the cheery kitchen of a good friend of mine in Köln. She goes to Uni here, and we have known each other for a three years after my Sister City exchange when I stayed with her. (Then of course our excursions to both sides of the Atlantic the following summer.) It is very interesting that this is my first weekend actually adventuring a ways out of Berlin.  Last night was rather long in getting here since I did not get off work until 6 and had less than an hour to catch my train. Lucky for me, we ended up having technical problems on the way, and a 4 1/2 hour ride turned into a 5 1/2 hour or so one. Apparently this is to be expected since there was some sort of minor train accident in Köln last week. I definitely did not hear about that...

Regardless, Köln has been rather nice. My friend and I have a good system going on in which I speak auf Deutsch for the most part and she auf Englisch. We walked around the older part of town for a bit and saw the overly tourist-y dom.  I had seen it two years ago when I was here for a day with my mum, but this time I took way better pictures.  The weather has been playing games with us all day, though. At first it was sunny then rainy and has been switching between the two all day. Then we went to an art museum that was down-right strange. It had modern art next to older pieces from the baroque or middle ages. It made us laugh quite a lot.

Tonight we will go to a local band's concert, and I hope to speak a lot of German when I meet more of her friends. Other than that, we are just relaxing, which is nice. Catching up. Sharing pictures, music, and stories.

This week has also been my first week in the lab at my Praktikum. It has been rather interesting.  The days are rather long since I do not start until 10:20 and stay until 6 or 7.  I have learned a lot, made a few mistakes, the usual. The first few days my graduate student mostly talked auf Englisch when we discussed what I needed to do for reactions or in getting data. Later in the week, she started talking mostly auf Deutsch and only switching over when she wasn't sure if I understood directions. It makes things very interesting that is for sure. Plus, I am still trying to build my German chemistry vocabulary. Many words are similar, but many are also very, very different. I enjoy being back in a lab, but I did not have any chemistry practical last semester (only physic), so I am a little rusty in some techniques. 

The time here is going so fast. I have been in Germany for 7 weeks and have only 4 left. Unbelievable. I am not sure if my German has been as improving as much as I would like, though my friend argues that fact. She claims I could hardly understand people and her friends last time that I was here, and she can tell things are better this time around. Plus, the fact that I am speaking mostly German with her and talking faster then last time.

This weekend is good since I have spoken so much English the past week or so since a friend at the school had friends from Britain visiting, and I got to know them reasonably well. I had a lot of fun, but it is time to get back into German mode.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


As promised, I am going to wax a little about farmers markets.  Back in the states, I go to markets almost religiously.  In Illinois, there is a reasonably good market downtown where I go in my attempts to get my family to eat more local produce. At University, I am very lucky that there is a market only 10 minutes away. It has even more vendors than the market in IL. I was such the atypical college student in that I would get out of bed early on Saturday mornings so that I could be at the market between 8 and 8:30 to get my weekly produce fix. Yes, you heard correctly. I would wake up early for fruits and vegetables.

But what about the cost? It may not always be cheaper than the grocery store, but it also depends on what you buy. Regardless, I do not mind paying a little bit more because I know that what I am buying is locally grown, usually with less chemicals and such than you would find in the store if not organic. My favorite thing about the market is how I can browse around and try to find the best prices, especially for things like bell peppers. It might have driven my roommate a little crazy last year, but I really do love red bell peppers. I could eat them just raw all day. Sadly, this vegetable can be rather expensive when it is not in season. What I discovered is that after you chop it up, bell peppers freeze really well. Just spread them out on a cookie sheet or pan and stick them in the freezer. After they are frozen, you can transfer them into plastic bags. This enables you to have peppers to add to dishes all year around. I bought so many when they were only 75 cents or $1.50 for the really large ones.

Here, the market is a little bit different. Not quite all of the produce is local. Some of the more 'exotic' fruits have been shipped in by the farmers from other places such as Spain. For this reason, I try not to buy peaches or nectarines too much. I have typically been spending 10 Euros each Saturday when I go. This is not too bad at all, though sometimes I have less produce because I buy most of it organic. What I like about Germany is that most of the produce is pre
tty reasonably priced, (not to mention the bread).  Today I got 2 containers of raspberries (I couldn't resist my favorite fruit, and the last of the seasons strawberries didn't look as good), 1 small zucchini, 315g cherry tomatoes, 1 red bell pepper, and 3 apples.  This is pretty
 good considering I still have a few things left over from my trip last week. 

 Naturally, I used some of my goods to make pasta with garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and bell pepper. Not too bad of a way to get my vegetables, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thrust into the (semi) real world

Things have been changing around here. Last Friday was my last official day of classes at my language school. It was very bittersweet for me since I always enjoy school. But, it is time for me to move on to better things. This week, I have officially started my internship at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie. This week is going rather slow because I am working in the office. (My first assignment is to randomly go up to everyone in the department, take their picture, and have them say a few things about what they do here. Then I am supposed to make a collage of sorts.) Next week, however, things will start to get really exciting. I will get to be in a lab doing organic chemistry research! I am a little rusty, since I have not thought much about chemistry for the past 7 weeks or so. Nevertheless, I am really excited to be in a lab and assisting a grad student.

What has also been interesting is how my days have become so much longer. This week, I have to be at work at 9 am. This is the same start time as the language school, but it takes me 50 minutes to travel here by tram, S-bahn, and bus! The days are longer since I do not leave until 4:30. Next week will be even more interesting since I will have a start time of 10, and my end of the day is more open-ended. I have to make sure my reactions are completed, and I have done the work up. Unlike last summer, these reactions cannot be paused overnight and finished the next day.

Also, I had forgotten how non-teachers speak German really, really fast. That, or they have interesting accents or do not enunciate the best. Needless to say, my brain has been going into overdrive trying to keep up. Even then, I am not always able to catch everything. I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I will be able to adjust quickly.

I already miss my friends at the language school because I only see them in the evenings if I see them at all. This week is also sad because several of them are leaving to go back home this week. At least I have a few things to look forward to in the near future. This weekend I will be going thrifting in Berlin and will take some pictures of the farmers market near my house so that I can talk about how much I love them.