For the recipe pictured above, click here (Moo Goo Gai Pan)
January always seems like the perfect time to try something new! New year, new YOU! Most of the time, those new things revolve around the general notions of improving health, fitness, and diet. Additionally, there seems to be a lot of focus these days on mental health practices that lessen stress and anxiety. At the core of this ideology, you see commitments to simplifying, relaxing, and centering – we will get to that in other blogs though. Let’s talk about food. Many people around the country kicked off this new year (2021) by joining celebrities, social media influencers, athletes, and neighbors and friends in VEGANUARY! The pledge is to spend the whole 31 days of January eating vegan/plant-based foods. I am already vegan but I was just as excited as nonvegans to join the challenge! To be supportive! Comradery. Camaraderie. All that. Blah blah blah. Last year (2020), during the month of January, I decided to practice an uber-vegan diet by eating only 100% whole foods; no processed products whatsoever. I did, however, make a small exception for the occasional tofu and nutritional yeast – I always factor in a wee cheat so I don’t feel guilty when I cave (guilt will be my next blog topic – OY!). I also gave up alcohol for the entire month last year. It was an extremely hard month but I made it! And, I learned a lot. These sorts of month-long challenges/practices force you to think about what you eat, to read ingredients on labels, and to do some research. It’s awakening for sure.
This year, since we are still in the throes of the Covid crisis, giving up my Friday Fancy Cocktails seemed totally unrealistic and maybe even a little inappropriate. Everything going on right now is made better and clearer by a nice, sophisticated adult-style beverage. I also decided not to give up things like tofu and instead try different recipes and methods of preparing vegan food. I even ordered some of the new vegan products that have sprouted up over the last year; most of which would probably be considered processed, but oh so good. My goal this year is to get out of my rut of eating the same food all the time, so I can continue to grow and challenge myself in the kitchen.
I’m not going to lie, I really joined Veganuary because Mayim Bialik posted it on social media. I was curious about how the program leaders would present the ideologies related to veganism and I figured there might be some good recipes to boot. As I mentioned in one of my blogs last year, hatred toward vegans in the U.S. is real. It’s seen more as a form of social elitism rather than about diet, health, and ethics. The leaders of Veganuary even mentioned this in one of their daily emails. Veganuary’s Stuart Giddens, who keeps us veganuarians on track and offers excellent guidance and tidbits, said [paraphrasing] it might not be the best idea to shout you are vegan from the rooftops. People aren’t always friendly toward vegans. But, beyond the social pariah factor, lack of understanding and fear of the unknown are what really challenge people who are interested in experimenting with veganism. I teach a class at the university about sense of place and how food, music, tradition, and story shape how we perceive our identity. Of all of these factors, I believe food to be the most powerful. Food is the foundation of our celebrations, expressions, emotions, and culture. We sing about food (Cheeseburgers in Paradise). We tell stories about food and food preparations. We share hundreds of years of traditions in our food. We really are what we eat! And, at least in American culture, meat is usually the main dish and the vegetables merely serve a complimentary role as “sides.” I think that’s why there is such animosity toward vegans. Veganism seems to be a slap in the face to our American family traditions and the bond we share as community. Imagine the Montana cattle rancher’s child who decides to become vegan. Whoa! Or, telling your award-winning Grillin’ Granny that you can’t eat her barbeque anymore because you don’t eat meat. That’s never the best way to Granny’s heart!
The other issue, which is really what I want to talk about, is trying to find what tastes good and is satisfying to YOU. We don’t all “taste” things the same way. A good example of this is cilantro. Some people think it should be included, in large amounts, in every dish at every meal, yet others think it tastes like soap. It basically boils down to the density of papillae on your tongue – those little bumps you see in the mirror when you stick out your tongue – and how your brain processes flavors. Folks who have a lot of bumps (supertasters) are usually more sensitive to things, like spice, than those whose bumps (subtasters) are less dense. Read this – it’s interesting! So, if you’ve ever heard someone say, “I can’t believe you eat those extra hot peppers like that; you must not have any taste buds,” – it’s sort of accurate. In addition, when we are introduced to new tastes and textures, we don’t always like them at first, but we can “learn” to like them. Think of all the things you didn’t like when you were a kid but are now on your top-20 hits list. It’s about acquired taste and developing the palate. There are five basic tastes: Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. The first three are easy to learn; it’s bitter and umami that take time to discern and appreciate. And, well, even defining umami is just about impossible; you just know it when you taste it! The best ways to improve the palate are trying new foods, being adventurous, and savoring your food (focusing on the taste and eating slowly).
My point with all of this is sometimes you have to try new things more than once. It might be that you like one flavor of the food more than another. Or, the texture and taste changes and is more pleasing to you if it’s prepared another way. Or, one brand tastes or smells better that another. As my mama would have said, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Soooo, you know I have a story, right? Of course, I do! I remember when I was about 5 years old, my mom let me go to a friend’s for dinner – it was my first time without her, so she gave me three strict rules to eat by. She reminded me that a) I was never to say I didn’t like something to my friend’s mother (I was raised before men learned to cook), b) I was not to put my elbows on the table, and c) I was to “clean my plate.” I agreed to these parameters and eagerly ran across the yard in the middle of the four-plex to my friend’s apartment. Everything smelled so good and it was served “family-style” – not how we did at all. I quickly eyed a bowl of what I thought was mashed potatoes – I LOVE potatoes!!! I proceeded to spoon a double (may even triple) portion of this white gloriousness onto my plate – I was so excited to dig in. A shoveled a whole fork full in my mouth and all of a sudden, my brain said THESE ARE NOT POTATOES!!! OMG! What is this?! I quickly swallowed them whole, trying not to activate my taste buds, and washed whatever this was down with a huge gulp of milk. I repeated this process until it was all gone – mom’s orders. YUCK. When I got home, mom wanted to know all about dinner, what we had, etc. I told her she served something REALLY yucky. I tried to describe it but all I could say was yuck. Mom learned later that my friend’s mom had presented me with boiled mushy cauliflower; no butter, or salt, or anything else flavorful was added (my interpretation of course). My mom, being the good woman she was, set out to give me a reparative experience. She prepared some steamed cauliflower, loaded it into a casserole dish, added some buttery bechamel sauce, and topped it with about a pound of sharp cheddar cheese. She baked it until it was bubbly on top and just a wee brown. She didn’t tell me what it was when she served it but I remember the gooey, stringy wonderfulness of that first bite. SO GOOD! After dinner, she informed me that I just ate the same thing I had at my friend’s house. The lesson? Sometimes it’s about how you prepare the food. I love cauliflower just about any way it’s cooked now but I had to “train” my palate in cheesy increments to acquire the taste. I’ve had the same relationship with oats my entire life. I have just recently found a way to prepare them that suits my fancy.
I write all this to say, trying new ways of preparing food is fulfilling in itself but when you do so with purpose (like ideology, ethics, environmentalism, or even curiosity), it’s life-giving on every level – mentally, physically, intellectually, spiritually. It is my goal to use this webpage to share recipes that offer optional preparations and ingredients; so you can experiment until you get it “right.” These recipes take time to perfect and upload to the page, so please bear with me. I am horrible about measuring, so I have to create the recipes with sharing them in mind. I tend to meld multiple recipes until I find the perfect combination of ingredients. In the meantime, I have the following few suggestions for vegan guidance in the kitchen (my top five):
It’s been a rocky start here in the good ole USA. It’s no wonder folks are at a breaking point. We have been locked in our houses with no contact with family and friends (well, those who are not mask-vaccine-climate change deniers anyway). We have hopelessly watched as the American justice system failed people of color. We’ve watch as our citizens declared war on the truth. And, finally, to start the year off, we watched as our country and democracy unraveled as an insurrection was mounted on our Nation’s Capital. If you didn’t have anxiety issues before, you probably do now. So, that’s where we are…and that’s just the first week!
Now, rewind to around March 2020…
I started out last year, 2020, with the idea of posting to this blog at least every other week. Well, as you all know, we were hit with a global pandemic and I had to quickly “pivot,” as we called it in higher ed, to fully online classes, virtual events and meetings, and contactless daily tasks. It was quite the mess. And, as luck would have it, I was only a couple of months into a new position at the university; one that had been my dream-job for almost 20 years. So, here we were. Working virtually. My new office in the administration building traded for my “home office” in a bedroom so full of guitars and music equipment it was hard to find the desk. Not only was I learning a new job, I felt like I was doing it blindfolded. But, just like all of us, I did it all and did it well!
As for this blog…I had most of the website created by the time all of that happened last year but, because of Covid, I didn’t get it where I wanted until the middle of April. Since so much was happening with the pandemic and the state of our very imperfect Union, it also took me a while to find the words to write. I just couldn’t focus. It was befitting that the name of my inaugural post in May 2020 was entitled “Welcome to My Nightmare” and the second was a recipe for a very stout cocktail. I posted a vegan recipe with some basic vegan education after that but that was the extent of my foray into the blogosphere. I ended my run of blogging wisdom last year when I posted about turning 55 in June accompanied by a recipe for the birthday cake my wife baked me. I realized that this was quickly becoming a blog about eating, drinking, and the madness of confinement during a pandemic that was riddled with political strife and social injustice. Depressing, huh? Who the hell wants to read about that mayhem? It’s not at all what I intended for this blog either. But, since I am THAT person who keeps of trying until I get it right, here I am again…a new year and another chance!
So, that’s where I was, here’s where I am, and we will have to see where I am going…
2020 ends and 2021 begins; Out with the old, in with the new; and all that…
About eight years ago, we adopted the tradition of sending out the year on the Winter Solstice rather than December 31. We start off by putting on a pot of root vegetable stew early in the day, like all goddesses of the earth do (I am not sure that’s what we really are, but it sounds good for a blog post, so humor me). Since it’s the shortest day of the year, we build a fire in the pit just before sundown (Around 4pm CDT), mix some sort of winter-appropriate cocktail, and start writing down all the things that went sideways that year (yes, it usually takes a while). Once the fire is blazing and the sun has set, we throw our paper full of follies into the fire and cast all of the negative energy into the universe – to be gone forever (well, that’s the hope anyway; don’t what that crap back). That might sound a little out there, but it’s pretty awesome and it does feel pretty good to shed the baggage in a symbolic way! From the Winter Solstice to New Year’s Eve, we think about what we like to accomplish in the next year. On New Year’s Day, we compile a list of the wishes and intentions for the upcoming year; all we hope to accomplish! Then we tuck back the hand-written list in a wallet, or someplace safe, so we can bring it out on New Year’s Day the following year and see how we did. I always think I am going to be disappointed in myself (I tend to be hard on me), but it’s usually a pleasant surprise.
This year there was a lot to cast out, which I am sure it true for most folks. We lost folks we loved, we were isolated from our friends, and we were sharply divided along political lines. No matter how you slice it, it was a really hard year. As I sat down to write my “wish” or “to do” list for 2021, I was struck by the notion of trying to do and be better in 2021. Could I really take on more things to do? In addition to all the terms like “Coronavirus,” “Pandemic,” and “Unprecedented” that were Googled incessantly in 2020, phrases like “I just don’t have the band-with,” and “my plate is so full right now” have to be up there as well. I heard those two phrases almost every day from the middle of March until we left work for the holiday break in December. So, why exactly do I want to push myself to do MORE? The analogy of the full plate, just in general, insinuates that adding MORE will pile it so high that you can never finish it all. And, if you try, it might make you feel horrible or, even worse, it could make you physically ill. If we dig even deeper into the metaphor and look at what’s on the plate, what do we see? Is it balanced? Is it healthy? Is it filled with empty calories? It became clear to me that the reason the best laid plans for New Year’s resolutions fail is because there is no room on the plate to begin with – how do you add more? And why? We want to add exercise, work harder, lose weight, get a promotion, give more, be better, do better, dress better, be a better partner, spend more time with others, make more money, save more money…it’s just too much! How many of us resolve to do less, move less, think less, work less, be less? But, in truth, isn’t that what most of us really need? So, I made the decision to get out a new plate. Think about what is balanced and healthy then slowly, in a balanced fashion, add to that plate this year. Think about the things that make me less anxious and bring me peace. For starters, this blog is something I could never seem to find time for in 2020 because my plate was too full; I will try to make good on this one. As for the rest, you’ll have to come back to find out!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
So, I finally hit double nickels; 55 trips around the sun; 55 Gemini Junes. Yep, I am celebrating my 55th birthday in quarantine – well, we did play golf because it is a great sport for social distancing and a game of cornhole, just the two of us, in the backyard. I wasn’t sure 30 years ago if I’d ever make it to 55 and I really had no clue what the “old” me would be like. I was pretty rough on myself when i was younger. I was quite the “party” person and didn’t really take care of myself. I also worked physically demanding jobs with long hours that took a toll on my back, knees, ankles, and feet. For many years, I worked two and three jobs, seven days a week, just to barely make ends meet while going I was to college. But, I am HERE, finally, and I don’t feel old at all! I have normal aches and pains from years of hard work, but I have a good job now, excellent health, a wonderful marriage (one I would have never dreamed in a million years would even be legal), and the heart, curiosity, and imagination of a 16-year-old boy! LOL! I think most folks who know me would agree. When Gayle, my wife, asked what I wanted for my birthday and I tried to think of something really classy and sophisticated but the list came out like this: A cornhole game, a commuter bike helmet, and some hard-to-find and a wee expensive liqueurs for the bar, so I can make fancy cocktails. Gayle obliged and I am a happy 55 year child today!
The next biggest, and most important, question in our house for special occasions like birthdays is, “what do you want for your dinner?” Since neither of us have ventured out among the masses yet – there’s just too much at stake with Covid-19 looming everywhere, 90% of folks not wearing masks, and cases rising in Kentucky – this would be a home-cooked meal. If we could be with our friends, we’d probably have them all over for drinks and dinner instead of going out somewhere anyway. I went back and forth all week between Asian (Indian, Thai, Korean, or Chinese) and “cookout stuff.” In the end, cookout stuff won out even though it’s not as healthy; it’s the middle of summer after all! My requested birthday menu was vegan burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, hand-cut oven-baked fries, and cilantro vinaigrette slaw. For our cocktails, Watermelon Mojitos! However, the thing I talked about the most all week, and want to share right now, is the vegan, gluten-free chocolate cake. My go-to blogger for all things vegan, especially baked goods, is the Minimalist Baker. Gayle is the baker between the two of us – I truly hate to bake because you have to accurately measure everything. I prefer to just dump things in and hope for the best. So, Gayle set out to get the ingredients and personalize/tweak the Minimalist Bakers 1 Bowl Chocolate Hazelnut Cake. First of all, my favorite nuts are pistachios, so we subbed that right away. Then I prefer coconut to almond milk and coconut oil to vegan butter in cakes and brownies and such. Gayle also added a little espresso powder to the frosting for some extra goodness, and there you have it! Before I get into this too deep – just a little warning. Gayle says this cake is extremely complicated and a major pain in the butt, so read the instructions really well before you start. If you are new to baking, make sure you follow the directions! If you are a pro, just click here and ignore the pictures and commentary below.
All the ingredients laid out on the table by my beautiful birthday flowers. You don’t HAVE to buy these brands but we think they are pretty good ones! We also buy the vanilla and all of our spices from Penzeys because they are good quality and Bill Penzey, and the company, supports social justice. We’d probably but them for that reason alone, but they are really the best.
This is what the flax eggs will look like while they are doing their fake eggy thing and the coconut milk and vinegar combo are doing their magic right beside it – well, and there’s my flowers again.
Flax egg with sugar and maple syrup
Sifting the cocoa into the batter
If you’re new to vegan baking – the batter is thick and has some texture from the flax egg and applesauce, so it looks different than an average Betty Crocker cake mix batter:
In the oven we go!
After the cakes cooled, Gayle turned the out on a cake keeper bottom and put waxed paper around the edges, so I could add the nuts after it was frosted. And, there you have it! My birthday cake!
You can click all the links above for recipes. I will tell you that delicious cake took about 4 hours to make but it was soooo good! Thank you, Gayle! Love you more than life….thanks for being my wife!
…I have something to say.
While preparing to write a blog about my failed 30-day yoga challenge (and I still will), I was made aware of a recent post by the Brown-eyed Baker – and awesome food blogger I follow, Brown-eyed baker. I also noticed that other food and wellness bloggers, like Skinnytaste, had made similar posts.
In my first Jagged Roots post, I made mention that I am a college professor – have been for a very long time. For the past 20+ years, I have taught gender & women’s studies, citizenship and social justice, community sustainability, and countless other courses aimed at making this place a better world for us and generations to follow (I know, a bit corny & dramatic, but you get the point). I started this blog project as an aside; an escape from what I do for a living, but it seems this point in history is far less compartmentalized than it was a few years back. So, let’s unpack this…
The recent murder of Armaud Arbery in Georgia followed by Breonna Taylor, in my home state of Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, both at the hands of police officers, has put a spotlight on the racial tension and civil unrest in our country. Know that I hear you and that BLACK LIVES MATTER!
A really short back story:
I was born in the mid 60’s (okay, specifically 1965!) in Anaheim, Ca. I grew up an only child, with a single mom, in deep-seated poverty – as a lot of kids with single moms did back in those days. In the early 70s, we moved to my mother’s hometown of Owensboro Kentucky to be closer to her family. For the first year or so, we had a bout or two of homelessness after relatives and friends grew tired of us living with them and we “wore out our welcomes.” We finally secured a place in government housing, applied for what was then called foodstamps and AFDC (Aid for Families with Dependent Children), and settled into our “new life” in the bluegrass state. My mother took a low-paying job at the local milk company that had her leaving in the wee hours of the morning for her 10-hour shift. At the time, Kentucky was still writhing from the ’68 riots and it didn’t take much to fuel the still-burning embers of racial tensions. I remember one incident that escalated to the point that police barricaded our neighborhood and apartment complex from the surrounding two subdivisions to defuse ongoing racial hostilities. We were white but lived on what was called the “Black side of the Projects.” None of this made sense to me because I was too young to understand the history, but I quickly found out I was “different” from my friends and neighbors. Shortly after the “trouble” broke out, the priest at our church, Fr. Tiell, came to visit us on the pretense of making his rounds to visit all members. He told my mother someone in the parish had offered to pay my tuition to attend private Catholic school – he said it wasn’t “safe for me to go to the public school two blocks from our apartment.” He also assured her that a member of the church, a police officer, would stop by in the mornings and give me a ride to school because it wasn’t “safe for me to walk by myself.” Members of our parish took turn dropping off food baskets, making sure we had plenty to eat because it wasn’t “safe for a white woman and her child to go to the market one street over.” They also brought me toys – really nice ones that we could never have afforded. I remember asking my mother why we were getting all of this help but the same was not offered to my neighborhood friends and their families. My mother answered simply and directly – because we are white.
I learned to meaning of While Privilege at a very young age – I have carried that realization with me all my life. I truly understand that writing this blog comes from a place of privilege – I really do. I am middle-class white person after all. I also understand the concept of White Guilt and, more currently, the concept of White Fragility (Yes, they are journal articles – I can’t help it). We white folks walk a very fine line between both sides of this dichotomy and have a heap of trouble finding balance between the two. Remember white people created slavery and racism and white people are the ones who perpetuate the continued biases and hate. Those who are oppressed cannot end the systemic oppression – it is the oppressor who must end the domination and suppression. Feeling guilty or fragile is not going to solve the problem. It just makes things worse.
In addition to the racial tension in our country, the death rates of African American, Hispanic, and low-income individuals from Covid 19 are extremely disproportionate to that of others in our communities. Inequality and inequity are staring us in the face and it’s ugly. People are stuck at home. With their kids. With their families. They are drained financially and emotionally. All of this stress creates a collective sense of vulnerability; in other words, we’ve had enough! And, when we have had enough, we start organizing and participating in collective actions and coordinated efforts to fight injustice. We take to the streets. We march. We protest. We seek change.
Now, more than ever, people are taking sides in this already polarized nation, so don’t dismiss this as just “more of those protest by liberals.” As a society we often confuse protesting and rioting – protesting is expressing disapproval of or objection to something and rioting is disorder involving group violence. People are simply exercising their civic duties, rights, and responsibilities and are responding to systemic social injustices through organized action around the country and in our local communities – they are looking for social changes and urging our leaders to right decades of wrongs.
If you want to educate yourself about white privilege and racism, Good Morning America created a list of “reads” for you here!
Now, to conclude, I will say that food is a great way to bring people together. And so is exercise. And especially cocktails! Stay tuned for more of that…
The picture looks yummy, right? Well, it’s vegan! WARNING, all the recipes I post will be vegan. So, this is my maiden-voyage blog giving insight to what it means to be vegan compared to vegetarian or some combination thereof. Also, you will see “YOU DO YOU” a lot. That will become clearer as this goes.
[Note: The recipe in the picture is here if you don’t want to read the blog entry about veganism. Sometimes when I am looking for a quick recipe, I hate having to wade through 10 pages of text before I find the ingredients list. It’s based on Sam Turnbull’s BBQ Tofu @It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken. You should look at her blog, too – it’s pretty awesome!]
The “Root” of the recipe…
People become vegans and vegetarians for a host of reasons. Some do it for the health of it and others do it for the heart of it. Most vegans see exploiting the work or flesh of animals as immoral and an extension of the injustices we hurl upon each other and the planet. So, bottom line, a vegan diet is void of absolutely anything associated with animals or animal by-products including dairy, eggs, and honey. Vegetarians, on the other hand, vary a great deal in their scope of what they see as acceptable, or not, in their diet. There are several types of vegetarians:
-No to red or white meat, fish, fowl, or eggs.
-Yes to dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt.
-No to red or white meat, fish, fowl, or dairy products.
-Yes to eggs and egg products.
Lacto–ovo vegetarian (most common type of vegetarian)
-No red or white meat, fish, or fowl.
-Yes to dairy products and eggs/egg products.
Semi-vegetarians (mostly health advocates)
-Not to red meat or white meat and fowl.
-Yes to fish (hence the “pesce”), dairy, and eggs/egg products.
-Not to red meat or white meat and fish.
-Yes to chicken (hence the “pollo”), dairy, and eggs/egg products
Flexitarian (the new one “sprouting” up everywhere):
-Yes to a plant-based diet with the occasional meat item on the menu.
This diet is becoming the “new normal” everywhere. It I NOT a vegetarian diet, of course, but limiting the intake of meat is a step in the right direction in making the planet a better place to be!
Now that you have a list of plant-based and semi-plant-based diet types, I will say this – YOU DO YOU! We all respond, believe, feel, act, react, and think differently. I have no intention of judging your choices; I am just offering some skills and insights here. If you are vegan, or strive to be, let me just say, VEGANS ARE HATED PEOPLE – so be prepared. I have yet to figure out why what I eat, or don’t eat, enrages other folks but it does. It seems that some omnivores believe all vegans are evil and wish death upon them for eating animals. While we do believe that eating animals is cruel and bad for the planet, we wish you no harm. We come in peace. Again, YOU DO YOU!
One of the biggest criticisms of vegans and vegetarians is “if you don’t want to eat meat, then why to you buy fake meat?” Or, “why do you create recipes that mimic the flavor or texture of meat if you are against eating animals?’ Well, in short, most of us were raised in omnivorous families and grew up eating meat. It’s what we know. It’s what triggers our fond memories just like anyone else. It represents comfort in times of stress. It makes us HAPPY! But, that’s not all. In addition to the positive psychological triggers food gives us, many of the meat substitutes are high is protein. Protein is an essential macronutrient in building muscle mass. While it is most commonly found in animal products, it is also present in other sources, such as nuts and legumes. Many meat substitutions are made of soybean products like tofu and tempeh or other beans like black beans and chickpeas. If choosing to a vegan lifestyle for health, these are great choices because you get the protein without the unhealthy saturated fats. And guess what, they taste really awesome! Much better than a boiled bean.
So, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have an interest in this type of information related to diet and food, follow this blog (see link on the right). I will also evaluate exercise and trends in health promotion…but, I really love food. There will be a lot about food!
Knowledge = Power