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      News — Personal

      VeganMofo: "It's the pesto of cities."

      I love how 90s pesto is. Once I made a penne pasta with pesto & sun-dried tomatoes and my head exploded from being so 1990s. But it was good! That's the thing, it might have been a trend but it's something that's easy and has tons of payoff taste-wise. At this point I'm not sure what recipe I'm using as I make it from memory and just kinda wing it, but here is basically what I put in it.

      90s Pesto (aka "Everybody's moving to Seattle!")
      • fresh basil leaves
      • several garlic cloves
      • a handful of nuts, preferably pine nuts but also walnuts or almonds or whatever
      • salt and pepper
      • olive oil
      • white miso paste (I'm pretty sure this is from How It All Vegan but I'm too lazy to check, but let's just say it is)
      So yeah, this isn't a recipe but basically I just throw all that crud in the food processor and add and subtract ingredients till it looks nice and fine...and green. This is not a food for a first date as your breath will smell like the 90s and that's no good at all. Did I mention the 90s? OH the 1990s, how I miss you....

      VeganMoFo: apple mania

      Our favorite nursery (well, the only one we've stumbled upon, but continue to revisit because it's like a botanical garden you can shop in), Portland Nursery, is hosting its annual apple tasting event. It was our first time and we had no idea what to expect. I read that there'd be lots of school groups in the afternoon, so we tried to go early, but there was no escaping the little ones. Really, the event seems very geared towards kids, except kids aren't going to be buying apples. We enjoyed it all the same. Here's a bucket of fresh cider (there's nothing quite like cider from a plastic pail).

      We really shouldn't have had two cups of cider (mini cups at that), because we weren't ready for the onslaught of apples in the tasting area. It wasn't the most hygienic thing thanks to the aforementioned kids (we encountered a girl in line who literally had snot dripping out of her nose), but we pushed all germ-phobic thoughts aside and powered through. Our top-rated apples were Ambrosia, Cameo, Melrose, Natco #90, Newtown Pippin, Northern Spy, and Rubinette. We skipped the apples we were already familiar with (you can't go wrong with Fuji) and still managed to try 40 different kinds, plus some pears and apple pears. We bought a few of our tasting favorites (how can you not at 89 cents/lb!), but were feeling a little woozy afterward and I honestly don't know when I'll have the stomach to eat another apple. I guess there really can be too much of a good thing!

      VeganMoFo: Mock Meats and the Media

      I am most definitely not an expert on food, let alone vegan food (let alone mock meats aka: faux meat, meat analog, fake meat), but I've eaten a good amount of meat substitutes--for better or for worse--so I want to talk a little about how and why you see so many mock meats in vegan restaurants.

      Mostly you see them in forms familiar to all of us, the most familiar of all being the veggie burger. Ah, the veggie burger! I've had some great ones over the years and some pretty awful ones (I'm thinking of the ones they served at my high school in Virginia that were stuck to the buns and when you tried to take it apart to put in some ketchup the whole thing would fall apart).

      Which brings me to how non-vegans deal with these fake meats. In yesterday's NY Times there was a review of Candle 79 by Frank Bruni where he mentions that, "...I'm convinced that many vegans are antsy about what they're missing." Referring of course to the many seemingly meat-based dishes that are on vegetarian menus. From the face of it, it seems like he's right. There is fake chicken on the menu so of course we all really want it to taste like chicken....right? The quick answer of course is no. (A hard NO!). We want good taste like everybody else and a multitude of textures and flavors from vegetables, grains and fake meats alike. Mock meats represent something different from a normal tofu stir-fry or whatever it is people are cooking.

      The persistence of fake meat on the menus of vegan restaurants is more a product of the fact that vegan cuisine hasn't been around that long as it is named, and so a culture of dishes and menus and good-ole-standbys just has not come up yet (the word vegan was coined in 1944 and so for the purposes of this conversation and really for all intents and purposes, modern western veganism started then). We don't have a chicken piccata or pot roast or turkey dinner. Restaurants are still almost working backwards taking the chicken piccata and veganizing it, instead of starting with a list of vegetables and spices and grains and herbs and oils and going from there.

      Obviously it's just much easier to make a version of something people already know than it is to make say, sauteed wheat gluten in lemon sauce. Mostly because that sounds kinda gross, even though I'm sure it could taste pretty good. (You will find wheat gluten named on the menus of Chinese restaurants and others, but I'm more specifically talking about American and/or western attitudes towards mock meats).

      So what it boils down to is that we need new words to describe these things. Bruni said in his article (referring to a vegan reuben sandwich), "...sort of makes you wonder why it doesn't just take a different name, like an Irving or a Bernard." Now vegan or non-vegan alike, I don't think anybody wants to eat a Bernard (with no offense meant to anyone named Bernard). However it really is incorrect to say "mock" meat or faux or whatever as it is a real thing; it's wheat gluten. It's real seitan. We use these words because we just don't know what else to call it yet.

      There are some fake meats that use that nomenclature just for practical reasons. The case in point is our old friend the veggie burger. Most veggie burgers taste nothing like a cow meat hamburger, but we use that name more for convenience sake so that we can describe the shape of what we're eating. It's a sandwich certainly, but burger is a good word to describe the shape made from taking an ingredient and making it in that specific form. It's almost a processed food (unlike ribs or legs which are literally ribs and legs) and so to make a burger out of beef or beans you still have to start with ingredients and process it in different ways to make a shape and so we end up with that word burger to describe it, which probably will not go away because it's just too damn convenient (and because most people don't want to eat something called a "bean patty").

      But a chicken breast is a chicken breast and a fake version of that will pretty much never live up to the real thing when it comes to taste or texture (not to say it tastes better specifically, but the flavor and texture is different) and so we shouldn't even call it that. It's not the taste of meat and it shouldn't try to be a substitute; it's wheat gluten or soy that's boiled or baked and has a chewiness and texture that's quite good on it's own. There are bad fake meats much like there are bad animal meats, but mock meats haven't been around long enough in mainstream American culture to prove themselves as a fair substitute. We need more experimentation and more recipes to move forward vegan cuisine in a way that's uniquely our own, so sometime in the future we will no longer need the words mock, faux or fake. What I'm saying is we need ourselves some new words. It's going to take time as a vegan cuisine evolves and restaurants get better and recipes get better but sooner or later a seitan sandwich will be as normal as, well, a reuben.

      VeganMoFo: carbfest '08

      Well, looks like we've really fallen back on pasta dishes this week. Dinner ran late tonight as there was work, a long-distance call, and post-debate coverage. Jeremy decided to make a roasted bell pepper pasta. We usually just throw our peppers in with stir fry or grill them, so roasting was a novel thing. A little more work, but worth it. Here it is sprinkled with homemade parm along with some cheesy (FYH mozzarella) garlic bread.

      The garlic bread had fresh basil from the window box. Here's a view before the cheese and the oven just because it's pretty.

      VeganMoFo: books and pasta and cats

      Taking a breather from book work. I think we have just about wrapped up Jo's book (the cover just needs a tiny bit of tweaking before we're officially done) and Martine kicked ass and turned in an awesome mini-book of drawings that will be printed on the same sheets. It's titled "Water And Fall" just to give you a teaser. We're super stoked to be getting these turned in for release next month.

      All this jamming to finish has kept me up late. I know I need to catch up on sleep when I've been up to hear the 3am broadcast of Morning Edition more than once this week. Needless to say, we've kept the cooking pretty simple. We don't get meatballs too often, but we just happened to and they were great crumbled up in this tomato pasta dish. I guess it was kind of like beef-a-roni (forgot about that stuff--used to have the real thing in grade school lunch).

      On a food and cats note, there's a fundraiser dinner at Sweetpea Bakery next Saturday for House of Dreams, a non-profit no-kill shelter. There is a ridiculous amount of outdoor cats here in Portland, which is not good for them or for birds. All the same, they do make for cute pictures when you find one on your garage.