Friday, April 28, 2006

Food for Thought

In the interest of reducing my ecological footprint, I'm finally getting around to making my very own vermicomposter. What does this have to do with food, you ask? Well, according to the EPA, food waste accounts for almost 12 percent of the garbage generated annually. Add lawn clippings to that, and we're up to one-quarter of the municipal solid waste stream.

So, I bought two 35-quart bins and tonight I'll drill holes in the bottom and sides of one, and set it inside the other. Hopefully this will keep the compost from becoming a soupy mess. Oh, yes, and I have to buy worms - red wiggers (eisenia fetida) to be precise. In six months I should have beautiful organic fertilizer for my houseplants.

If you're curious about how to set up a vermicomposting system, a Kalamazoo woman named Mary Appelhof has written "the bible" on the subject: Worms Eat My Garbage.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

So-good Chocolate Cake

I have made this cake several times and am never disappointed. Its texture is rich and fudgy, sort of like a brownie, and it is sweet without being too-sweet.

This recipe was originally published in the March 2005 issue of Cooking Light magazine, but I've made a few changes to it.


1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups natural sugar (I use Florida Crystals)
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup soy milk (I've used chocolate, vanilla, and plain)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
powdered sugar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil two 9-inch cake pans.

2. Spoon flour into measuring cups, level with a knife. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Mix together applesauce, oil, and soy milk; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in cranberries and walnuts. Spread into cake pans.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean. Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Eat.

Note: The recipe says this cake can be frozen up to one month. Maybe, but why not eat it while you've got it?

I'm working on a Flickr tutorial for this recipe. I'll let everyone know as soon as I've got it worked out.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday dinner

Like many of my veggie friends, I watch Food Network despite the fact that the hosts often make food I cannot eat (my friend Jacob describes Giada DeLaurentis' recipes as "a brick of cheese with pancetta wrapped around it, served with sauce"). Flipping through the channels recently, I watched in amazement as Rachael Ray crowned a turkey and pork meatloaf with a layer of bacon. Am I the only one who finds this excessive? To out-Rachael Ms. Ray, who made a loaf with three meats, this Sunday I made three loaves with no meat.

We invited a half a dozen friends over for some loaf and mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy. The curried lentil loaf (from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook) was a bit runny, but spicy and delicious. The recipe called for 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, so I doubled the amount. The tvp loaf from Howard Lyman's No More Bull most closely approximated the texture and consistency of the "real thing." The bean loaf was dry and flavorless (Mary suggested using broth instead of water when preparing the couscous), and was the only loaf that was left at the end of the night.

Now some of you may be asking how on earth I managed to cook three loaves and mashed potatoes at the same time. First I cleared off our kitchen table and established a rough mise en place for each recipe, not bothering to measure out every single thing, but at least having all my ingredients within easy reach. Then I assembled each loaf one by one, and put them all in the oven at once. I also had to periodically call out into the living for my husband to come peel this or that. My friend Andrea made the gravy and took these lovely photos.

We love loaves!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mad Cowboys and Cannibal Cows

"We're running toward the edge of a cliff at 200 miles an hour," says Howard Lyman. "What we're doing; it's not sustainable." The former cattle rancher turned vegan activist should know. He took his family's farm from a small, organic operation to a $5-million-a-year agribusiness with seven thousand head of cattle. Having been schooled in "better living through chemistry," Howard made sure his cattle got fatter faster by confining them to a factory feedlot, feeding them grain instead of grass, and pumping them full of growth hormones and antibiotics. He used liberal doses of herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides on his crops.

Then, in 1979, he was paralyzed from the waist down by a tumor on his spinal cord. "I promised myself that, whatever the outcome of the surgery, I would dedicate the rest of my life to doing what I believed to be right -- no matter what changes that necessitated," said the Mad Cowboy. You may remember Howard's appearance on
The Oprah Winfrey Show back in 1996, when he announced that downer cows were being rendered and fed to other cows. Howard and Oprah were later sued by a group of Texas cattlemen for making disparaging comments about beef. Read the transcript of his interview.

Howard was in town for Grand Rapids' first ever Vegetarian Awakening Conference (which I regrettably was not able to attend), and graciously agreed to speak before a showing of Peaceable Kingdom, a documentary about Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York. If you have not seen this film, I highly recommend it. The film is alternately touching and disturbing, and scenes with former farmboy Harold Brown are a highlight.

After the film, Howard answered questions from the audience and reminded people not to be discouraged if change happens slowly. "Most Americans go through life nose to tail," he said. "And if you do that, you know what you're always looking at." Our job, he says, is not to change everyone, just to reach those people that are teachable.

Now I have a signed copy of Howard's latest book, No More Bull, which has over 100 vegan recipes in it. Huzzah! Many thanks to the sponsors of this event:
Uniting for Justice, GRIID (Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy), Grand Rapids Community College’s Animal Advocacy and Interest Movement and Calvin College’s Students for Compassionate Living. They even had vegan desserts and fair trade coffee on hand!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mon petit choufleur

Cauliflower is a vegetable that deserves more respect. Having recently returned from the librarian karaoke challenge (I was actually at a three-day conference, of which the karaoke was a small but entertaining part), yesterday I made myself a lovely Indian meal of yellow rice, flatbread, and cauliflower pakoras. Apparently, true pakoras are vegetable fritters made with chickpea flour, but my recipe - from Robin Robertson's truly useful Vegan Planet - called for all-purpose flour. The trick is to thinly slice the cauliflower so that it cooks all the way through during its short bath in the hot oil. The result? Melt-in-your-mouth veggie goodness underneath a crispy, spicy exterior. Mmm... the flatbread and rice weren't bad, either.