Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In the Interim

My life is full of in-betweens at the moment, so I feel as if I have nothing of significance to share (other than an awesome dessert, which I'll get to momentarily). I was home for one week before driving 13 hours across the Eastern US to Cornell for my chemistry TA training program (TATP), which lasted three weeks. I had an amazing time getting to know the incoming first years as well as revisiting the older students that I had previously met. Ithaca, NY is such a beautiful and surprisingly vegan friendly place. Sadly, I did not take many pictures to document my time there, but you can be sure that I'll do a better job when I return there for good in two weeks.

I was able to do some vegan cooking while at TATP because some of us were being put up in a dorm which had a common kitchen area. Along with many of the other chemists there, I joined a dinner rotation that we formed to help make things less chaotic in the kitchen as well as to get to know people better by eating dinner together. It was a little sketchy in the beginning, but people really stepped up in being accommodating for me since I was the only vegan and respected the fact that the knives and pots I brought were not to be contaminated with non-vegan things. I couldn't help but feel proud one of the last nights when one of my new friends commented to me at how surprised he was at how much he was enjoying the meals without meat. Kudos to not only myself but the other cooks whose dinner skills shined without the meat or dairy (or in the least, far less of it).

As you can tell, I like being a good influence or a way for people to look at their meals differently. I get so much satisfaction when I cook vegan for my family while at home, and it makes me feel as if I am doing something to help them eat healthier. In the past two years since going vegan, I've noticed small ways in which my eating habits have rubbed off on them (switching to whole grain bread and pasta, eating more veggies) and hope that I can continue to be a good influence. Now, I've actually got two dishes to share that I made for my family a little bit ago. The first, seen above, is the pineapple quinoa stir-fry from Veganomicon. You know it is good when my teenage brother insists on seconds and tries to claim the entire leftovers for lunch the following day.

What you see here is a dessert that I insist people try. I modified a recipe that was posted on the veglicious blog for strawberry quinoa bars and used raspberries instead since my parents' bush was overflowing at the time. The only other alteration that I made to the recipe was that I subbed agave for maple syrup in the filling and raspberry layers. This dessert is addicting, as I have become quite the fan of the raspberry and lemon combination recently. Because there wasn't too much added sugar and it contained oats, almonds, and quinoa, I felt as if this was quite the healthy dessert in comparison to other chocolate laden things that could have been made.

Hopefully other relatively simple summer treats will be in the near future as well. This week, I've enjoyed my fair share of fresh watermelon and blueberries, and this weekend my family is going on a vacation where we will be acquiring fresh Michigan cherries. Got to love the fruits of summer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Along the Necker

(The back streets of Heidelberg)

Finally, here is the last installment about my Europe trip (finished, oddly enough, four weeks to the day since returning to the States). The last stop on my trip was Heidelberg, Germany, which has a special place in my heart. This is where I studied abroad for the first time after my freshman year in undergrad. I struggled with the German during my time there, but I learned a lot of other things that helped my language acquisition later on. I was only in Heidelberg for six weeks about three years ago, and going back makes me feel both as if I never left and that so much time has passed.

The strange time-feel paradox was especially felt when I spent time with my host family. I think that one reason that I remember my time spent there so fondly is because of my wonderful host family. My visit with them lasted four nights, and once again they welcomed me with open arms. I was given a key and bike and told to treat their home as my own. So much kindness in that house, and just as before, I found myself enjoying a relaxed breakfast with my host mum almost every morning.

(View of the Schloss and Alte Brücke from Philosophen Weg across the Necker)

Another great feeling during my stay was that I had a great time reveling in the German tendencies that I have picked up during my various stays. Since I was given a bike to use, that and walking were my only methods of public transportation while I was there. It felt great to bike to the health foods store as I stocked up on German goodies to take home or going to park near the Altstadt before walking or hiking somewhere. Plus, I was able so speak so much German with my host family. I struggled to string together a few sentences three years ago, and this time, like last summer, I was able to carry on long conversations about my future plans, my family, politics, or describe all the things that I did that day. Knowing that I have a decent grasp on the language is a wonderful feeling, even though I know that I still have lots of work to do before I become truely fluent. Another highlight of the visit consisted of briefly meeting the program director of my old study abroad program. She was just as energetic as I remembered her to be and so proud of my language improvements and impressed with my graduate study plans. The visit was great fun but almost embarrassing at times since she gushed over me so much, but that is why she is such a great director, I suppose.

(Directional stone on the trial while hiking Heiligenberg)

Eating vegan in Heidelberg wasn't any harder than eating vegan in any other part of Germany. I found a health foods store located between my host family and the Altstadt, and I visited there several times during my stay. I honestly didn't do much eating out because my host mum insisted that I join them for many of the evening meals and was amazing about accommodating my diet preferences. Even if dairy or meat were eaten at a meal, the other components were prepared separately so that I could eat a majority of the meal as well. Such great hospitality has been a trend that I have seen in most of the Germans that I know, and it makes me what to emulate that kindness for any future house guests of mine.

(View from the Königstuhl Bergbahn looking down on Heidelberg)

Another thing that I did plenty of in Heidelberg, if you haven't guessed yet from the pictures, is hiking. Until my Europe trip, I had not realized how much that I enjoy hiking. Cinque Terre was great, and Heidelberg was as well, but it held a different kind of beauty since I was already familiar with the area. Most people know of Heidelberg because of the Schloss and being the home of the oldest University in Germany, but not everyone realizes the great hiking that can be found in the area. With mountains on either side of the river, there are plenty of forests and trails. I had hiked parts of Heilingenberg three years ago, but this time I took a different way up and went even higher. The trails were great because not a lot of people were on them. It was great losing myself in the nature as I went without a map, only knowing that if I kept going up I would be fine. Hiking up to the Königstuhl was quite the feat as it 1436 feet above the town, and even my host family was quite impressed with me when I told them that I hiked up to the top.

(Monestary ruins at the top of Heiligenberg)

All in all, I had a wonderful trip. Visiting new and old places as well as getting to know both new and old friends better was a great way to reset my mind before graduate school. Even though I have no idea when I'll get to go back and miss it already, being on my own for a month has helped me relax enough so that I'm excited for what is to come in the next five years that I've got ahead of me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cooking with Chemists

Even though I cooked simple meals both by myself and with friends on the trip, my favorite kitchen time was spend with two chemists in Göttingen. Cooking itself is a sort of chemistry, but I often forget that when I am doing things other than baking. Outside of the kitchen, Göttingen itself was a quaint little place. It was most definitely a university town, so, if you don't happen to have any friends to visit there, you might not spend more than a day there. The altstadt was nice, and I managed to buy several books at used book stores which required me to mail them home at almost a higher price than the books themselves!

I was visiting fellow students, and of course we can be ever so resourceful when it comes to cooking on the cheap. My friend had only about six weeks left before he was to return to the States, so he was happy for suggestions on how to whittle down what was in his pantry. As soon as I saw the red lentils and curry powder, I knew we had to make a dahl. With eggplant, tomatoes, and the surprisingly tasty addition of carrots, we had the perfect simple meal to serve with rice and soy yoghurt.

The next night made use of his angel hair pasta. A very veggie filled pasta dish is easy to make and delicious. This one contained mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, and basil tofu. The secret to the great sauce was using white wine and some spicy flakes. (Don't you love the plates of my friend's friend? I thought they were absolutely adorable.)

Dorky moments can abound when you spend time with fellow chemists, and we had plenty of those. Above, was such a moment when we stood there for five minutes postulating why the salt in the pasta water left the marks at the bottom of the pan... Other moments included talking about Bier's Law when drinking beer (translation: the size of a container can effect how light reflects/travels through the container's contents), and the discovery that a gin and tonic faintly glows blue under a black light.

I'm going to look back fondly on my time in Göttingen. It was also pleasant rediscovering to realize that cooking with seldom seen friends can be great fun and give you some interesting memories to take with you after you leave.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Whirlwind Berlin Foods

First of all, I realized today how behind I was about recapping various aspects of my Europe trip. Whoops. I'll blame it on the fact that I'm currently in my Teaching Assistant Training Program. One week down and two to go. Some of us are together in a dorm, and we have been doing some cooking together. (I was also smart enough to bring quite a bit basic cooking things.) Sometimes people have been accommodating about my veganism, other-times not. Monday I'll be making the Greek spinach pie from Vegan with a Vengeance, so that could be interesting.

Now on to the food of Berlin! Because I was there for such a short time, it was intense revisiting many of the vegan spots that I loved from the previous summer. Vöner was first on the list, though I got both the spicy and garlic sauces this time. I wasn't as impressed with the spicy sauce and very much preferred to only have the garlic as it was very tomato tasting and not spicy enough.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I had to stop by Carmello Eis to compliment my Vöner. Sadly, I discovered that the prices had gone up quite a bit since the previous year, but it was still very tasty. Lucky for me, the chocolate soy flavor was available that day because when I went back during my second visit there were no soy flavors. The huge cone pictured also contains blueberry and sour cherry, the latter of which turned out to be surprisingly delicious and a great companion to the chocolate.

Other highlights included stops by Hans Wurst and Maja's Deli for some quick sweet treats, but the best was from Cupcake. There I got to enjoy a chocolate cupcake with raspberry icing. I was very excited to get a cupcake because on several occasions last summer there were no vegan cupcakes to be had when I visited.

Even though I ate a lot of sweet things while in Berlin, I made an attempt to be healthy as well. After so much sugar, I decided on my last night there to improvise some sandwiches with things that I bought at the natural foods store. I had this great tofu product that contained lots of vegetable bits. Got to love the sheer number of specialty tofu products that you can find in German biomarkts. Sometimes the number of choices makes it hard to decide. I also am officially in love with the Streich spreads. Most are vegan, and I bought several of the smaller sample sizes so that I could try different flavors to see which ones I should take home. One of my favorites surprised me by being the apple and onion.

Other tales that I shall be recounting later this week include cooking with chemists in Göttingen and my return to Heidelberg, where I did a study abroad program 3 summers ago.