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Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

Can eating organic make you thin? Apparently, yes.

Heirloom Tomato Slice (from abbyladybug flickr)

We’re not just talking collard and broccoli and sprouts and squash.  There’s organic chocolate, beef, spaghetti, cereal, the works. Intuitively, I can understand why organic is healthier.  No pesticides, no hormones, no genetically modified goodness knows what.  There’s nothing in there that will hurt us.  Nutrition-wise, people seem to have been on the fence.  An organic tomato probably has the same amount of calories as a regular tomato, right?  I’ve not done the research, so don’t hold this all over my head.  But vitamin and mineral-wise – I mean, come on, folks, look at the organic tomato! Compared to the waxy colorless lifeless orbs piled high at the super, how can it not have a gazillion percent more good stuff in it?

Check out this wonderful and surprising video by Mary Schook (visit her blog FoodIncAvenue).  Tell your friends.  This is awesome.

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Eating in America – Casual Budget Vegetarian Dining

It has never been this difficult to be a vegetarian in the United States.  Perhaps I take it for granted, living in Israel – everything is so salad-based, so kosher-themed (if not kosher itself) with meat and milk being eaten separately, that more than half the choices at any given time seem to be vegetarian.  Not so in the US.  Have times changed since I was last a vegetarian (1992-2000)?  Granted, I was a child (13-21) when I last abstained from eating animals and was less aware and ate out less as a rule.

For my own sake I decided to document where I ate over the course of my trip.  Usually I made choices according to budget, convenience, and menu, in that order, unfortunately or fortunately.  I think I gained a kilo or two while away.  Oh well.

I’ll go city by city, as there’s a lot of text.  Chicago is the least interesting because I got to eat and cook at home, which is far cheaper and far far more interesting fare than at most eateries I can think of.

Chicago

  • Panera Bread – Walking into an establishment that appears so healthy, fresh, and modern like Panera Bread – and be presented with only 1 meat-free sandwich – is quite frankly appalling.  Two vegetarian soups and three simple (dull – green, Greek, etc) vegetarian salads (out of 8) were also on the menu.  I ended up taking half a Mediterranean sandwich (very dry and exceptionally uninteresting, seeing as I live on the Mediterranean coast myself) and a tomato-based vegetable soup.  First time I saw that American eateries are wild about chicken.  Ugh.
  • IHOP – The comfort factor is quite high at a place like this.  In Israel we (I) miss the fast polite service, familiar (butter soaked) foods, and endless cups of crap coffee and half & half.  There is nothing even remotely similar.  IHOP is breakfast, slightly upscale fast food (you get to sit in comfy booths and get served), cheap, and oh so traditional.  Yes, it’s crap.  But it’s good crap.  Crap you miss.  Instead of a stack of chocolate packed pancakes, my parents and I all inadvertently ordered from the “healthy choices” menu, where we could see how many calories we were actually consuming, and this with the egg-substitute, grease-free, veggie-ful type omelets.  So much for overlapping crispy meat byproduct mingling with eggs and sausage swimming in pools of maple syrup.  At least the coffee is still…coffee.  And endlessly we drank.
  • Eduardo’s – Chicago is known worldwide for its unique deep dish pizzas.  They are oh so good, lovely rustic shells of crusts, bursting with thick layers of cheese and rich tomato sauce, one slice being more than a meal in and of itself.  Anywhere but at Eduardo’s so it seems.  The service was so bad, it’s simply not worth mentioning our level of suffering.  And the pizza was crap.  I was embarrassed to be eating it with out of towners.  Enough said.  Go to Pizzeria Uno or Due or Lou Malnatti’s or Giordano’s or whatever.  Eduardo’s was never my favorite.  And I will never be going back after this.
  • The Corner Bakery – this “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurant sure has changed.  It’s fast, slightly interesting Italian, order at the counter style.  But there used to be more choices.  They used to cook most everything in front of you while you waited anxiously.  There were rosemary encrusted loaves and pine nut spinach tarts and the best ceasar salads you can imagine.  Now, eh.  You order everything, and you don’t get to see it.  It does come to your table, though. But the assembly line has taken over.  I had a three-salad combo.  Not much to choose from, I got macaroni caprese, a bean salad, and a Greek salad (I think).  They were pretty unremarkable.  Healthy-ish, though.  Filling.  Decent portion for “fast food.”  A good choice at the mall, I guess.
  • The Celtic Knot – Evanston – Awesome. Irish pub, Irish-British cuisine. Comfort food with an upscale twist. 90% meat menu, but the veg options were brilliant.  My mother had a portabella sandwich with freshly fried potato chips (not fries, for those non-American readers).  I got a warm spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and candied walnuts.  That was heaven.  Best meal in Chicago, by far, and on my last night in town.  We ate the meal accompanied by Cider (mother) and a Snake Eyes for me (half cider, half lager – a drink that’s illegal in many parts of the British Isles because it’s said to raise a person’s temper and make them mean and prone to fighting.  Don’t ask me why.  Someone once ordered one when I was bartending in London, and not knowing what it was, went to the asst. manager.  He told me what it was, said I was never to make one, and then he proceeded to pour one for the gentleman because “he knew him.”)

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My apartment is ready for its closeup

It’s been forever. I know.

Since I’ve written I have:

  • Created a wonderful wine tasting for a food bloggers’ dinner
  • Meditated until my butt and thighs and back no longer hurt from the experience
  • Discovered my sister’s grilled cheese sandwich press (sizzling behind me at the moment)
  • Returned to vegetarian tendencies given up ten years ago after being inspired by my Buddhist learning and reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Read it, please.
  • Worked worked worked worked for my various clients
  • Been on a few first dates, which says something
  • Witnessed a near suicide bus-bomb in central Tel Aviv
  • Developed a beautiful friendship
  • Been filmed for 4 days for an international television show called House Hunters International (I don’t believe I can speak more about it for contractual reasons – but believe me – it was an incredibly interesting and awesome experience – made even more so by the most chill fab camera/sound/directing crew that ever was)
  • Broken up with my therapist
  • Drunk some really incredible wine (I adore the winery I work for, I really truly do)
  • Watched the entirety of FlashForward in about 5 days and was horrified to learn it was canceled (what is it with crappy TV execs who can the most exciting, thought-provoking shows, e.g. Firefly)
  • Had my poor Fischer cat in the hospital for nearly a week with a blocked up bladder – had to have surgery which turned him into a her – and it cost me a bloody fortune.
  • AND – now I’m flying to the United States for 3+ weeks! AND if you can believe it, I bought the ticket 3 days ago.  One of the most last-minute crazy-ass trips I’ve ever, ever organized (or not organized, as so happens).  Even when I went to India, I got the ticket 2 weeks before I went.  Ah, life

So…getting back into blogging sucks.  When you finally get on a roll, you’re on a roll.  That’s what I’m attempting to do.  I’m going to post some pics, have some laughs, and send me some love in the form of comments, my dears.

My Pretty Apartment

Our Rooftop Garden

I discovered the panorama setting...

And the collage setting...

And the frame setting...of my camera phone...I see fun in my future

Sunset in Jaffa in the Adjami neighborhood

Fischer after the sex change operation

Tons of herbs my sister's friends brought from kibbutz. This is a fraction of what I froze.

Quick vegan attempt at a lasagna type thing - that's a whole "Mangol" Leaf on top (chard?)

Pretty salmon as a mezze at Manta Ray

Antique coffee cup at Basta near the shuk

Amazing Israeli group playing classical Indian music at the close of a 2-day meditation retreat

Very satisfying and affordable grilled cheese at Segafredo on Frishman - ask for tomatoes inside

Best cheeses in Tel Aviv - Hinawi Carlebach

Wearing his heart on his sleeve? Time running out?

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I had the opportunity to taste a wine that is new to me, Vitkin’s 2006 Petite Sirah. A friend brought the bottle to the vegan dinner party I hosted last Friday (an exceptional experience I really need to get on to blog about).  She knew that I adore Syrah, but made the common mistake of mixing the two varietals.

Israel is one of the relatively few wine regions growing Petite Sirah, officially known as Durif, as a single-varietal wine.  Not to be confused with Syrah, the Petit Sirah, although related, is a different grape altogether.  In the past it has been considered only as a “blender” wine, added to other wines for color, tannins, or any other perceived correction needed – or a straight-to-jug kind of cheaper swill. In fact, during my wine training, this is essentially how this variety was presented.

Not so, anymore.  To quote from Wikipedia on Israeli Petite Sirah:

In Israel, Petite Sirah had a history much like that in California—historically used as a blending grape to add body to inferior wines. However, Petite Sirah has recently experienced somewhat of a revival, both in high-end blends and bottled as a single or majority variety. The UC Davis-trained winemaker and Ph.D. chemist Yair Margalit, familiar with the grape from his time in California, showed that Petite Sirah need not be consigned to jug wine when he blended small portions into his reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Seeing that Israeli terroir could grow great Petite Sirah, wineries such as Recanati followed suit with Petite Sirah blends, while others like Sea Horse, Carmel, and Vitkin have made single-varietal Petite Sirah in addition to using it for blending.

Going back to this particular bottle, I found it delightfully complex. Although very closed, it was still a real treat to be drinking something so different from the Israeli norm.  A very full-bodied wine, mature-dark-fruit aroma, it was a peppery wine, present yet pleasant tannins, with a really great acidity.  Deep deep dense purple color, just gorgeous.

Reading about it on the Vitkin Winery website, however, I just learned that this wine is quite closed upon opening the bottle – something I really understand now – and they recommend opening it several hours before drinking.  Perhaps the claimed “meatiness” and richer fruits would have appeared had I done this.  This being reality, I personally think it’s quite absurd to think the average enthusiast (or even minor connoisseur) would do the research and think to open a bottle many hours before a meal AND to decant.  Perhaps the winery should have held onto the bottles for another year (it’s not like there’s a high demand for Petite Sirah).

All in all, I applaud Vitkin for taking the stand, being brave, and heralding once destitute varietals and creative new blends, including a Cab-Carignan-Petit Sirah Port and a the Israeli Journey Syrah-Carignan-Cabernet Franc table wine.

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This is yet another fantastic transfer article from my old blog.  It was really popular a few months ago, and as I read this fascinating story about a new “Urban Caveman Diet” in the New York Times yesterday, I felt it more than relevant to share this with all of you.  I admit I sound a bit like a militant anti-vegan, but I assure you I’m not.  It was just my mood at the time.  As evidence, I’m cooking a big vegan meal for a dinner party I’m hosting this Friday.

The ideal human diet is a topic that really intriques me. It should interest everyone, really. What we eat is who we are. The food and drink we imbibe becomes the fabric of our cells. And given the spiral of ill-health around the world, the raging debate (at least in some circles you’ll find me visiting) around vegan-ism being the true natural diet for humans, my oft-hesitant carnivorous tendencies following nearly a decade of vegetarianism, and of course, the fact that I adore cooking, food history, etc, etc, it was serendipitous that I came across this article today.

The Healthiest Foods On Earth!

According to this article by Jonny Bowden, published in Forbes, it’s not necessarily what you eat, but how processed what you eat actually is. There’s a lot of debate as to what the “original” Paleolithic human diet was. Quite varied, probably. Depending on where we originated (rather where our ancestors migrated to and settled into many, many, many thousands of years ago), our predecessors may have thrived upon a high fat, high protein diet (hunting seals and the like in Greenland), or low protein, high carbs (in southern Africa), milk and fatty-cream (Switzerland…and from a documentary I recently saw…Mongolian nomads today thriving mainly on horse milk and yogurt), or even blood. Crazy, right!?

Wrong. The issue I have with vegans is this specifically. Human beings were never vegetarians. Maybe we were when we were apes. But there’s a reason we’re not still apes. Our ancestors were resourceful, and depending on where they wound up, may have gotten up to 65% or more of their intake from animals. You know, it’s probably the reverse…we ended up where we did because we learned to hunt and gather in this way. We learned to survive. We are learners and adapters. We are human.

Anyway, back to the article. Which made a lot of sense to me. It’s not what you eat, entirely, but how processed it is. The more natural the food, the more whole, the better it is for you. Even meat. Even meat. Sure, the best animal for you to be munching on would be grass fed in an open prairie-type environment that was never ever injected with any hormones or antibiotics. And then there’s milk and eggs. Perfect nutrition. So really, if we stop eating food with preservatives, if we stop eating fast food, fried food, food that doesn’t in a million years resemble food, we’ll be OK. It makes sense to eat organic. To cook simple foods at home. To eat lots of fresh fruits and veg. Nuts, berries, eggs, broccoli and its family, wild fish, raw milk, beans, grass-fed beef. Sounds good right? Better than a big mac? In a heartbeat.

My Message to Vegans

Keep at it. Love what you eat. Fight the man. It’s a good fight. But lay off me. Your logic usually sucks. I agree that most animals we eat are practically (or actually) tortured. That hormones and antibiotics are terrible things to be injecting in them and for us to be absorbing in turn. These policies are huge, most people don’t know about them, and something needs to be done. But eating animals the right way, drinking milk the right way, eating eggs the right way…I can’t see why that isn’t OK. Perhaps it disgusts you to be thinking that you’re taking part in murder or that it’s revolting to be eating an animal. OK. Good for you.

But chew on this – we (yes, including you, fellow vegans) would not be here, living this life, having created this society in this world (whether you like it or not), would it not have been for our ancestors learning how to hunt and kill and eat and eventually cook other animals. We would not have progressed. We would not have our intelligence. We would not have migrated across the entirety of this globe. Because I learned one really interesting (and almost bizarre) fact today, after having done some fancy (ordinary) internet research: the overall health and life expectancy of humans dramatically declined with the advent of agriculture. That’s right. Early farmers, the ones who enabled us to stop moving and develop cities and writing and technology, were shorter, sicklier, had far more infant mortality, died earlier, and were plagued with a myriad number of diseases.

Seems like we should all be pulling together for all of us to go back to a real Paleolithic diet, a la Fred Flintstone.

As for me, I’ll be looking for organic meat and eggs and milk in Israel. Anyone any ideas? Especially in the meat department?

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On January 1, 2010, after less than 4 (and in some cases less than 3 or 2) hours of sleep, my father, mother, sister, her best friend, and I hopped in a rented compact car at 7 am and proceeded to drive from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights Winery…in the Golan Heights.

This is our story.

(cue Gilligan’s Island theme song)

A few bitchy fights, cramped snoozing, radio station surfing (we never did find one the entire drive), and a generally cranky 2.5 foggy hours later, we reached the region of our final destination — a full hour and a half early.

After I took the blame (and the beating) from everyone for depriving them of an extra hour’s sleep, we had a nice breakfast at a roadside cafe in the old town of Rosh Pina – a picturesque place (so I’m told – it really was super-foggy) just next to the historic, kabbalistically-famous city of Tzfat (aka Safed).  It was really far north.  We really did make amazing time.

At a bit after ten we proceeded to drive the remaining twenty minutes from Rosh Pina (just about directly north of the Sea of Galilee – what we call the Kineret –  a place that generally marks a border between the Galil region and the Golan region) to Katzrin, the tiny town (the largest town in the region) that is the home of the Golan Heights Winery.

Collectively owned by 4 kibbutzim (collective farms) and 4 moshavim (cooperative farms), the Golan Heights Winery began the Israeli wine revolution in 1983. Quite frankly, they make the best wine in Israel, consistently winning international awards and accolades.  They introduced many of the modern grape varieties to Israel, and produce more than 30 labels under three series (Yarden, Gamla, and Golan).

Aside: I work for them leading wine tastings, albeit on a very part-time basis. I love working for them.  I am more than a bit biased. But being a wine lover first and foremost, every trip I take to Katzrin to visit GHW is an exceptional treat.  You’re treated like family — and this is a state-of-the-art facility.

The main visitors’ center is closed for renovation the next 6 months, so a makeshift (if you can even call it that) center was rigged in the main administration building.  Despite Fridays being quite popular visitation days, it was quite empty there.  I’m used to seeing throngs of tourists, both domestic and otherwise.  Perhaps it was the winter, or the fact that many were probably nursing hangovers in their warm beds (which is where we half-halfheartedly wished to be).  Because of this fact, we had an almost private tour (with one quiet young couple tagging along).

After a brief history of wine, winemaking in the region, and the Golan Heights Winery itself, the tour guide (lovely woman named Ela) took us to the “wine cellar” — really the largest barrel storage building in the country, housing more than 7,000 gorgeous French oak vessels.

The tour ended with a wine tasting.  Perhaps because the visitors’ center was closed, or perhaps because there were so few people – we were shown to the private tasting room besides the vaults (or maybe a better word for it is ‘archive’) of wines that are kept just for the winemakers (and I expect, VIPs).  It was really fun, and the wines we were given really showed off the vast range they produce – starting with a very young Chardonnay (Golan 2008) – leading to a very hefty Syrah (Yarden 2005) – ending with such a treat, the Heightswine (Yarden 2007; play on words – made in the same fashion as Ice Wine).

My parents being my lovely parents bought me another bottle of the Single Vineyard Yarden Syrah (2004 – Ortal Vineyard) – my absolute favorite – at the gift shop, and we stocked up on a few other gems (Dad’s taking home another Syrah Ortal, a Cabernet Sauvignon Single Vineyard El-Rom 2004, and a Noble Semillion Botrytis, amongst other things).

The Hodes family being the Hodes family, the ride home was just as memorable, one squabble inevitably leading to another more colorful and more complex than the one before.  We stopped at an artists’ village, took a quick (15 minute) hike in a nature preserve to see a local waterfall, and then hit the road, unfortunately choosing the scenic route, back to city-dom.  We took a wrong turn twice, my father progressively became more and more ill (stuffed up sinuses from lack of sleep), and we took a very, very long detour in order to visit a Druze village (Dalyiat El-Carmel) to drink a quick coffee and stock up on hummus, tahini, salads, and pita — because the very wise Hodes clan had extended an invitation for dinner at our place to the rest of the family for that very evening — and there was no way we had the time, nor were we in the condition to cook.

We returned to Tel Aviv ten hours to the minute after we left.  The adventure wouldn’t end for several hours more.  And it would take the rest of the weekend to recover. A three hour tour, indeed.  Talk about almost 7 hours in a car for a 1 hour tour. That takes passion.  Or madness.  Or both.

I say, well worth the visit to Israel’s greatest winery.

Great businessweek article on the revolution in Israeli wine production

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I’ve used coconut milk several times this week, and I have to say, I’m sold.  A jar I had had on a shelf for over a year came in handy in helping me figure out how to make vegan potato latkes at the last minute.  There was no time for even a quick internet search, and I needed to make the potatoes and the flour bind without eggs.  Needless to say, the coconut milk worked OK.  Not great.

But it left me with 75% of a jar left over.

What did I use it for, do you ask?  Teva Castel, the local organic grocery, had a sale last week on buckwheat noodles, the Japanese soupy variety.  I bought four packs (some an interesting green tea flavor), as pasta goes quick in my house.  The thing about these noodles, however, is their thicker and chewier texture, not to mention a more earthy flavor.  Not your Italian pasta.  I couldn’t make a European-style tomato-based vegetable sauce go with it, and I didn’t have the time and patience to make a Japanese-style broth for it.

So here’s what I did the first time – and it was spur of the moment, big time, let me tell you.  I boiled one serving of the green tea noodles in salted water, as you do, cooked to slightly under my desired level of done-ess, and strained.  In the same pot, I sauteed eminceed onions  (halve an onion lengthwise, cut very thin rings) with olive oil, lots of soy sauce, cumin, turmeric, chili, hot paprika, and sweet dried basil – lots of it.  When the onion had cooked for a minute, still slightly hard, I returned the noodles, dripped a bit more olive oil and tamari sauce, stirred, and then added about a third of a can of coconut milk.  I stirred the whole concoction on medium heat until the milk was absorbed/evaporated, and what was left was a sticky gooey noodley Thai-style dinner.  It looked like Thai green curry, I kid you not.

It was delicious.

I made a slightly more elaborate and slightly better planned version of this a couple days later involving garlic and sweet potatoes, in addition to the onions.  I cooked those earlier in the process in a frying pan (potatoes take a while, dontcha know), AND I tried infusing the veg in the pan with the coconut milk first, THEN added it to the strained noodles back in the pot.

Again, de-lish.

And what do I mean by the great equalizer?  I mean that coconut milk is exceptionally versatile and useful.  I have a very good friend who is vegan, and I haven’t been cooking for him for a while.  Well, here’s a solution.  I am nearly certain that you can replace coconut milk for regular milk in almost any recipe and come out with good, if different, results.  Sometimes, much, much better, as it’s very fattening.  In fact, I intend to try it out in ice cream, the quintessential dairy dish, something my vegan friend and several lactose-intolerant friends have expressed missing a great deal.

In a world where people are abandoning dairy as a potentially unnatural source of nutrition for humans (not that I am expressing any sympathy or antipathy for the movement), coconut milk is a natural replacement in cooking.  I wouldn’t have it in my Cheerios.  But I prefer it over already-somewhat-processed soy or rice milks.

For more interesting vegetarian recipes, I’ve got a pumpkin-apricot-red lentil soup AND my famously wacky-delicious fusion taboule.

AND read on to learn about the disastrous shopping trip this coconutty-post inspired!

Happy holidays, folks!

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