Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ding Dong Bell

"If one says to these people that their judgment is not their own, they will be offended. It is like this in most cases for most people. almost all of them receive their ideas already made, and follow popular opinion all their lives. They speak in the style of the times, and dress according to fashion, not from any principle, but in order to act like the others. Servile imitators, who say yes or no according to suggestion, they believe themselves to be self-determining. Is this not folly? An incurable folly, for men re sure that they are not caught up in this mania for imitation. It is a general folly, for the whole empire is touched with this madness. I would therefore be in vain for me to try to put men back on the way of spontaneous personal actions, emanating from the self and from their instinct. alas! Noble music leaves villagers indifferent whereas a trivial song easily makes them swoon. Likewise, elevated thoughts do not enter minds stuffed with common ideas. The noise of the earthenware drums drowns the sound of a bronze bell. How could I make the fools who populate the empire listen to me? If I hoped to achieve that, I also would be a fool. Therefore I leave them alone, without attempting to enlighten them. None of them, moreover, wish me to, for they cling to their common folly. Just like the leper who only caresses his new born son after he has assured himself that he is just as leprous as he."

-- Chuang Tzu. 4th C. BC

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What This Vegan Eats

I think that it's safe to say that I'll have a fair number of posts about food this month. I have a few other Berkeley/Oakland restaurant reviews which should be popping up over this weekend. I am also in the process of inhaling the recipes in Vincent Guihan's excellent New American Vegan cookbook so that I can post a review with a couple of photos and sample recipes next week. (The aforementioned review will include details of a giveaway for a copy of the cookbook, so check back later in the week for it!)


Shredded collards, iceberg, tomatoes, radishes, onions, ground flax seed, topped with roasted asparagus, organic candied cranberries and a drizzle of sweet onion/lime vinaigrette.

Lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, radishes, red cabbage, smoked soy bits, ground flax seed, dried jalapeno flakes and a sprinkle of lime juice.

Soup with Korean fermented bean paste and fermented spicy red pepper paste, this time with non-GMO soybean sprouts, tofu, bok choy, baby spinach, enoki mushrooms, nori, scallions.

Quinoa with caramelized onions, corn and dill weed. Carrots mashed with onions, parsley and black pepper. Frozen spinach cooked in the leftover cooking liquid from the carrots. Tofu marinated in tamari/sesame oil/liquid hickory smoke, dredged through whole wheat flour, sage, coriander & pan-fried.

Pinto bean soup with potatoes, carrots, celery, spinach, broccoli and quinoa. Seasoned with Indian chili powder, lots of garlic, salt and pepper.

Cream of tomato soup with pasta, asparagus, broccoli, dried onion, dill, dried orange zest, smoked paprika, pepper.

Greens tossed with a sweet onion/lime vinaigrette and topped with a few Brazil nuts. Orzo and diced tomatoes stewed with crushed garlic, dried chipotle, basil, zucchini, onions and corn.

Gardein strips and oven-roasted asparagus on a bed of oven-roasted collards. Mixed greens tossed with the Simple Vinaigrette Salad Dressing from "New American Vegan" (I used lemon juice) and cucumber.

Pho-ish? I picked up most of what I needed to make pho last week, then grabbed a jar of "instant pho" paste with various ground spices in it. I used it to rehydrate dried shiitakes, poured the broth over rice noodles and added the mushrooms, some pan-fried tofu, bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, shredded Chinese red pepper, a few drops of hot pepper sauce w/ vinegar and the lime wedges. Authentic? No. Tasty? You bet!

Green Thai curry soup with onions, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, shredded collards, cilantro and coconut milk.

Onion rings over collard greens and broccoli sautéed in olive oil with crushed garlic and dried jalapeno.

Thai yellow coconut curry with onions, carrots, zucchini, Gardein "chicken", asparagus and mung bean sprouts. Flat rice noodles.

Chopped cabbage, shredded collards, plum tomatoes, radishes, green bell pepper, hot banana peppers, smoked soy bits, ground flax, a drizzle of sweet onion/lime vinaigrette.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Pilgrimage to Herbivore

As noted below in my post from last week about my first experience with flight, I recently traveled to the San Francisco Bay area for a rare vacation. My intention had been to track down as many vegan restaurants as I could within reasonable distance and to sample some of their fare. I quickly found out that Berkeley, where I was staying, is overflowing with a huge number of restaurants offering up more food options than this hapless French-Canadian could handle. Most meals with my non-vegan host Joshua ended up shared in the wide variety of Korean, Taiwanese, Indian and Mediterranean restaurants to which he introduced me, few of them vegan, but all of them with numerous clearly-marked vegan selections. (I'll definitely elaborate upon this in a future post.) My solo exploring is what twice brought me to a place about which I'd only ever read on the internet, often from from others who live on or have traveled to the West coast.

Herbivore: A Backgrounder

Herbivore: The Earthly Grill has three restaurants in the Bay area. Two are in San Francisco and its most recently-opened location is at 2451 Shattuck in downtown Berkeley. All locations are vegan and feature an international menu. The Berkeley location has a really laid back atmosphere and left me surprised with its affordable prices. During my visits I saw that it attracts people of all ages and backgrounds, whether vegan or non-vegan. I had been to a couple of vegan restaurants a few years back in the Philadelphia area, but nothing with as extensive a menu as what I ended up gawking at just outside this restaurant's front door upon arrival, almost afraid to go inside before weighing at least a couple of options lest I end up drooling over a menu at my table for hours.

I hadn't been sure of what to expect of the place in terms of either service or atmosphere, although I'd heard enough recommendations concerning the food to have a pretty good idea that
I wouldn't walk away horribly disappointed. My biggest issue as it turns out, was what the heck to try first. For those of you who don't live in large urban areas (and I'm guessing that many My Face Is on Fire readers fall into this category), you probably understand what it's like, if you do choose to eat out, to scan a menu hoping to find something--anything--that's vegan-friendly. There's usually not much deliberation involved; you find an item or two on the non-vegan menu and you order it, grateful for it and relieved that you're not actually the 'picky' eater your friends and family may sometimes accuse you of being so that you're content enough with whatever it is that ends up on your plate.

When faced with dozens of possible options, though--whoa! I hail from a big-town-pretending-to-be-a-small-city where the closest thing we have to a vegan restaurant is a juice bar that serves up a couple of randomly selected mostly-raw entrees a day, but with no guarantee from one day to the next that those entrees won't contain a bit of egg or involve some sort of cream-based sauce. It's a crap-shoot at best. The feeling of having every single thing on the menu from which to choose is a strange feeling to someone like me. Herbivore left me embarrassed at just how long it took me to figure out where the hell to begin with what I desperately hoped would be a a prolonged fling with it during my visit to the area.

I decided to indulge and to order something I keep forgetting I love as much as I love (a grumbling thanks to my cheap juicer's having broken down some time ago): I ordered a small glass of carrot juice. More specifically, it was carrot-ginger-lime juice and it was simply amazing. I quickly made a mental note to start saving up for a good juicer as soon as I got back to Canada; it's well overdue. Since I had spent the previous five days enjoying Korean, Indian and Egyptian food (as well as what could qualify as some vegan-friendly junk-food), I was drawn to the idea of selecting something that felt pretty back-to-the-basics and maybe even something akin to comfort food. I chose Herbivore's Lentil Loaf, which comes with mashed potatoes, sauteed greens and crostini bread, with a choice of either roasted beet sauce or a tomato-sesame salsa. I chose the former, ever a lover of beets, although given the chance to have this again I think I'd opt for the salsa for a bit more zing.

I hadn't noticed on the menu that the entrees come with salad, and the one they brought me almost immediately could almost have been a small meal in itself. I'm used to limp mesclun mix or dodgy romaine when ordering salads back home. These greens, though... sigh! They were firm and crisp, tossed with red cabbage, a bit of cuke and a perfect tangy Dijon dressing, topped with a few token cherry tomato halves and grated beets. I'd hardly had a chance to dig in (thanks to my food photo fetishism which led to my snapping away photos of the aforementioned salad for several minutes and then typing away about it) when the entree was brought out. It was a lot of food! The mashed potatoes were wonderfully fluffy and generously coated with mushroom gravy. The lentil loaf and roasted beet sauce were earthy and subtle, and although I'd initially thought the sauteed greens--mostly kale--a bit too salty, a drizzle of lemon juice transformed 'em; alternating bites of them with the loaf and beet sauce, I realized how nicely everything on the plate balanced out. The crostini was crisp on the outside and warm and soft in the center and just right for sopping up gravy (if one can admit to 'sopping' in a restaurant review). The truth is that five days into my visit, I was enjoying what was quite possibly one of the best hearty vegan restaurant meals I'd ever had.

My second visit to Herbivore was not meant to be my last. The place was busy. It was a Saturday and just crawling up to dinnertime. I started with a coffee and not unlike almost all of the coffee I enjoyed during my stay in the Bay area, it was strong and delicious and served up with a side of soy milk (which isn't often an option in these parts, although the independently-owned coffee shops around Fredericton are coming around with the increasing demand for dairy alternatives). I had a lengthy mental checklist of dishes I was determined to try before leaving Berkeley. From the Starters section of the menu, I'd spied Nachos (vegan nachos when dining out in Fredericton = soggy cheeseless nachos). The Salads section? The Raw Kale Salad was a huge temptation, and given my recent obsession with Thai cuisine, I was quite curious about the Green Papaya Salad. The Entrees section of their menu left my head spinning: Ravioli, Red Curry, Quinoa Cake, Quesadillas, Lemongrass Noodles and their Macaroni and Cheese were all high on my list of things I was tempted to try. I was definitely planning to have their pizza--at least once! During this second visit, I almost gave in and ordered the Phillo Dough Pie ("filled with spinach, tofu, cheese, mushrooms, onions, capers, artichoke hearts with roasted red pepper sauce and sauteed greens"), but since I anticipated returning at least twice, once to take my host out to Sunday brunch and again by myself on my last day in the Bay area, I decided to opt for a more simple and familiar selection.

I'd had a vegan "chicken" Philly cheese steak sandwich in Philadelphia a few years earlier (and subsequently at home again a few times from 'Kitchen Chez Mylène' when my Pennsylvanian ex visited me in Canada). For some reason, it felt right to revisit it here at Herbivore over 3000 miles from home (and something like 2300 miles from Philadelphia). I ordered two sides with it--the salad with the Dijon dressing, and their potato salad (made with carrots, celery, red onions, parsley and Vegenaise). The sandwich felt a little decadent. The French bread was soft and fresh and just barely crusty on the outside. The chicken substitute and the grilled onions and peppers were plentiful and topped with a scandalous amount of gooey Daiya cheese. I don't often buy cheese substitutes at home and tend to be frugal with the Daiya I do get from time to time because of its price. Herbivore certainly didn't skimp.

I regretted having ordered two sides with it, though. I'd opted for the tossed green salad, my taste buds still fondly imprinted with my previous salad experience there, but the smallish handful of greens wasn't as crisp and impressive this time around. Also, although I'd been charged the full price for it as a side, the portion seemed a little less than half the size of the side salad a customer beside me received with his own sandwich. The potato salad was saucy and although I'd been expecting something more creamy and mild from the Vegenaise listed in the ingredients, it was a little bit more vinegary than expected, but this worked perfectly to complement the milder cheese taste of the cheese steak sandwich.

So? If you're ever in the San Francisco Bay area, you'd be a little silly to pass up stopping into one of Herbivore's three locations. The number and variety of selections on the menu are almost embarrassing. The food in Berkeley was oh-so-far from disappointing and the service was fast with both attentive staff and what I gleaned was a really efficiently-run kitchen. The Berkeley location is bright and has an uncluttered feel to it and even offers a bit of outdoor seating. Calling ahead for dinner reservations might not be a bad idea, particularly for more than two people. My only other heads up concerns the noise level. As with most places with hard surfaces and where people can sometimes be seated closely together, it can get a little loud when it's busy. If you combine this with the noise of whatever contraption it is they use to make their beverages, it's possible that someone with noise sensitivity issues might find it a bit much, which is easily solved by stopping by at times other than peak hours. When I dropped in a few days later with my Bay area host, hoping for a leisurely brunch over a shared Sunday New York Times, the clatter left him asking that we relocate to a different location. I don't mean to overstate this, however. During the two solo visits I made, one during the early afternoon and the other just at the very beginning of the dinner rush, noise had not really been much of an issue at all.

I really do hope with all of my wee blackened heart that at some point in the future, my travels involve a return to Berkeley; if or when they do, another meal (or three) at Herbivore will definitely be a must.

Herbivore on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Subtlety of Stereotyping

The Piece

CNN ran a piece yesterday on how differing diets can affect relationships ("Love is a cattle field: When diets divide relationships"). Part of it involves a couple consisting of a vegan and a nonvegan, and the issues they've found themselves facing over the years. What was disappointing is that no context is provided for how they came to be together or how and when he went vegan; it's also made painfully obvious that the two have never really discussed how to live their lives together as a vegan and nonvegan.

Communication: Is It Really That Complicated?

The husband is presented as the cause of awkwardness when his wife tells the story of his first going to dinner at her parents' home and of how "he just put salad on his plate, passing up most of the huge gourmet meal [her] father had cooked [which left her] thinking [his veganism] might be a problem". It would seem to me that if someone was bringing a significant other home to 'meet the folks' for the first time that a mention of that significant other's dietary needs would have been a given, if not just so that the dietary needs could have been accommodated, then so that the hosts wouldn't have felt slighted when said significant other wouldn't have dived into all dishes provided regardless of their content. That his wife would have viewed this event as some sort of indicator of problems to come seems odd and reflective of her own early inability and willingness to understand and to help accommodate her significant other. Would it have been so hard to say "Hey, Mom and Dad, my date's vegan and can't eat _______"? Instead, the reader is left with this image of the vegan as somehow rude and as being an inconvenience.

Context Is Important!

The article goes on to mention how the birth of the couple's first child eventually triggered a need for couples counseling. One would hope that a vegan and nonvegan deciding to start a family together would have the wisdom and common sense to discuss beforehand how they would choose to raise offspring, no? The article addresses this in a really clumsy manner, referring to the wife's inability to produce enough breast-milk when their daughter was born, stating that her husband suggested feeding the baby almond milk. First of all, what's not indicated is the age of the baby at the time of this recommendation. One's left wondering (and I really hope that it wasn't left vague on purpose) whether the husband was, in fact, recommending almond milk as a substitution for human breast-milk, which would of course be absurd. It's not specified whether the baby was old enough to be weaned and whether almond milk was suggested as an alternative to cow's milk. It's also not indicated whether the almond milk in question was fortified. Sure, it's brought up that a pediatrician may have been consulted, but it's disappointing that CNN didn't see fit to fill in some more information to assure its readers of why the almond milk in question would have, in fact, been suitable.

This concern shows up in the comments to the story left by its readers. The bottom line? It was sloppy writing. With all of the news stories that have popped up in recent years of so-called vegan parents being charged with malnourishing their children, these details are especially significant. Not filling in the blanks concerning this seems neglectful and potentially (if it's not too harsh a word) misleading. How on earth could a CNN reader be expected to fill in those blanks properly?

It's great to see veganism being discussed so readily in mainstream media, but at the cost of allowing it to be misunderstood and doubted further? Not so much. The article leaves more questions than answers and most of those questions reflect badly on veganism. Whether this is due to its unfortunate choice of subjects to illustrate vegan-nonvegan relationships, bad or negligent reporting and writing or a deliberate sloppiness to allow a taste of sensationalism to slip in, who knows? Here's hoping that more lucid and well-rounded pieces show up in mainstream media in the future to portray veganism outside of its stereotypically accepted representations.