Friday, May 28, 2010

Giveaway!

No, I'm not hosting a giveaway.  Unfortunately, having all of two readers consisting of your fiance and your roommate does not make companies want to host giveaways through your blog.

But before we get to the giveaway, let's discuss my last post.  I rarely see negative product or restaurant reviews on people's blogs.  While my review wasn't wholly negative, it certainly wasn't a rave.  It was awkward to write and, now, awkward to read.  Plus, I don't want to bash a company with such a positive philosophy.  So should I keep things up-beat around here or give my honest opinion on things that I think my imagined reader base would want to know about?  A conundrum.

Fine, fine, I'll talk about the giveaway now.  Chocolate-Covered Katie is hosting a delicious giveaway in honor of Hug-a-Fat Month for her beloved organic Artisana products!  The prize includes a large jar of Coconut Butter, a large jar of Coconut Oil, and a small jar of Cacao Bliss.  Yum!  Now if you're anything like me, you'll want to scoot over there ASAP because I espied these babies at Whole Foods the other day and they are waaaay out of my price range.  Too much for even a "just this once" moment.

What fat are you hugging today?  I'm hugging some delicious coconut milk: the lovely base for coconut milk ice cream, various curries, and this chocolate mousse that I've been wanting to try.  Okay, so maybe I'm not actually hugging it per se, but it is sitting atop my head and that's close enough.  :]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Angelica Kitchen Restaurant Review

As I mentioned in My New York Adventure, I recently visited famed New York restaurant, Angelica Kitchen, with the fiance.  Angelica Kitchen is organic and vegan, and sources most of its ingredients locally.  It also has exceptionally low prices for a New York restaurant, probably largely due to the fact that they don't serve alcohol and only accept cash (meaning no credit card fees).  The menu has great variety - it's seasonal and features both cooked and raw options as well as Asian, Mexican, and South American influences and daily specials.  All together, this made me extremely excited to try Angelica Kitchen - I planned the whole day's adventures around our dinner.

Well, Angelica and I got off to a bad start.  Before we even ordered, I felt like the staff was watching at us.  I kept looking up to find one or more of them staring at us - not checking on us, not glancing aimlessly - but watching.  And no, I'm not a paranoid person.  I don't generally feel like I'm being watched.  I even thought they might be staring (and pointing and laughing at one point!) out the window, but there was nothing going on out there.  Okay, that's a lie.  At one point there was a woman breastfeeding on a bench, but they weren't staring then!  Besides, their eyes were definitely on me.  There was no mistaking it.  And this was before I even pulled out the camera!

I did my best to ignore them and we ordered.  We started with the "special appetizer," Agrarian Salgado.  According the menu, this is "Baked rounds of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and herbed seitan, with a parsley-almond pesto center; topped with dill-tofu sour cream & garnished with piquant marinated kale.  Brazil's mass social movements are mobilizing forces to end hunger.  A portion of the proceeds from this appetizer goes to FRIENDS OF THE BRAZILIAN LANDLESS WORKERS MOVEMENT (MST) to support their implementation of agrarian reform and widespread development of sustainable agriculture."  So not only is it an appetizer, it's a way to feel good about yourself.  If you're going to eat good food, you may as well help somebody in the process right?  And these were good.  They were a little on the cool side and the flavor was unlike anything I've had before.  The sour cream didn't taste much like dairy sour cream, but it was good none the less.  The fiance wasn't a big fan of the actual fritters but loved the kale, whereas I found the kale to be nice but preferred the fritters, so we struck a good balance.

I followed the Agrarian Salgado up with Miso-Morphosis, a special of the day.  (The other special was "Fronds Kafka" - how cute is that?!  I hope they have literary specials every day!)  The menu description: "Tender sweet miso glazed tofu, served wuth sushi rice studded with sweet corn, carrots & toasted black sesame seeds. Accompanied by broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes; an avocado salsa including daikon, scallions, arame, watercress & wasabi; garnished with green radicchio leaves."  Whew!  That's a lot of stuff! This was kind of like a deconstructed sushi roll.  There was the sticky sushi rice, the fishy seaweed flavor in the avocado salsa, and the possible fillings of marinated tofu and sweet potato (mmm, sweet potato sushi...).  I really like the rice.  I've never had sushi rice on it's own, but I really enjoyed the stickiness.  I'm not usually big on rice, but I think I might start making it like that at home, especially if I can find brown sushi rice.  The sweet potato was delicious, although I think that's more thanks to the sweet potato than to Angelica as all they did was roast it.  And the tofu was good which is saying something as I'm very picky with my tofu.  The sauce was a little creamier than I expected but had a really nice flavor.  I could have done without the fishy avocado though.  I love avocado sushi, but just avocado and seaweed is a bit much for me.  I was never a fan of fishy tasting anything, so I'm not surprised by this.  It's too bad though, because I really love avocado (I could just hug it!).  The broccoli I could have done without.  If I want plain steamed broccoli, I'll make it at home.  Otherwise though, the meal was satisfying (especially the rice!).

The fiance had a large bowl of the three bean chili: "Piquant chili made with homemade seitan, kidney and pinto beans & lentils slowly simmered with sun-dried tomatoes and a blend of chiles topped with lime-jalapeno tofu sour cream.  Served with fluffy Southern style cornbread & butternut squash-red onion salsa."  This was ... okay.  The flavor was a bit off and the beans weren't as creamy as I'd like - they clearly hadn't been simmered for as long as they would lead us to believe.  Plus it had far too many kidney beans, which I'm not a fan of.  He subbed the cornbread out in favor of sourdough bread, which turned out to be made with whole wheat flour.  We love whole wheat bread, but this was just a little weird.  And the salsa?  Meh.  The fiance was so unenthused about it that he couldn't even finish the bowl.  Overall?  Good enough, but we'll stick to the chili I make at home.

Everything we had at Angelica Kitchen was good.  Good, not great.

And that was a heinous lie.  I (of course) finished my meal with a hot cup of chai.   This was incredibly disappointing.  It was bland and not nearly creamy enough.  Chai should, in my opinion, be 1/3 - 1/2 soy milk, and this contained maybe a splash.  Maybe.  Notice the dearth of foam in the picture.  It was more watery than creamy.  I asked for more soy milk, which they happily provided, thinking that that might improve it.  It did not.  Well, it did, but not enough for me to actually drink it.  I hate wasting food, but there was no way I was drinking a whole cup of watered down soy milk with barely a hint of spice.

So all in all?  I didn't hate my dinner but I didn't love it either.  My entree was the best thing we ordered but it's nothing that I would go out of the way for.  I was pretty disappointed since I've heard such great things but you win some and you lose some.  The same thing happened with Candle 79 - I liked it but didn't love it.  Maybe the problem is that both restaurants try too hard.  Just look at those lengthy descriptions!  Sometimes simplicity is better.  Candle Cafe, which is much more laid back, I loved.  Loved, loved, loved.  Seriously, I had the best sandwich of my life there and still babble on about it months later.  I even bought their cookbook (in store, to fully support the restaurant).  But this isn't a review of Candle Cafe (unfortunately).  

Despite my happy wallet, I will most likely not return to Angelica Kitchen, though if I were invited there by a friend I'd be happy to oblige.  Life's too short for simply good food when there's great food to be had.




Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My New York Adventure

Living in New Jersey, New York has never been more than an hour away by train.  I even lived there for a year during my freshman year of college, until I realized that I had no desire to spend another three years studying at the New School and elbowing my way through throngs of people just to get outside my front door.  Now I rarely visit New York, partly because the fiance works hours that aren't conducive to such trips and partly because it costs more money than we normally want to spend in a day.  But currently my bank account is content from a prize I recently won and graduation money, and the fiance has some vacation days to use or lose, so we decided to make a trip.  We of course could have saved the money for married life and an impending increase in rent but hey: we didn't spend that much and sometimes you just need to indulge.

Our first stop was Union Square, the site of my former elbow-jostling front door and an amazing farmer's market.  All we bought was a cup of mediocre, not-so-cold "Ice cold apple cider," but we made up for that in free samples of jam and apple slices.

From there we visited the Whole Foods that looks over Union Square, where I used to buy a lot of my food (it's honestly not much more expensive than the more conventional "Food Emporium" nearby).  Nowadays I rarely get to go to Whole Foods because the closest locations are all at least 45 minutes away.  Ah well, it's better on my wallet that way.  My goal there was to find raw macadamia nuts in bulk, because they're hard to find around my house and I really want to make Gena from Choosing Raw's fermented macadamia nut "goat" cheese.  Failing at that, I grabbed a jar of unsalted roasted macadamias and went exploring.  The goods:


Almonds, ricemellow cream (I have visions of vegan chocolate ice cream with swirls of marshmallow cream), tazo chai (so much cheaper than a box from Starbucks and my beloved Great Lakes Chai), and Choco Dream cocoa-hazelnut spread.  Yum!

Our next stop was the Strand.  The Strand is a world-famous bookstore on the corner of 12th and Broadway, boasting 18 miles of books, all of which are crammed into every possible space that a book can fit into.  Needless to say, there is much elbow-jostling.  When I lived in NY I actually found it rather intimidating and rarely visited, but since then I've fallen in love.  It has just about anything you can imagine (if you take the time to look) and lots of specials and used books (half-price!).  The fiance promised me for my graduation that he would take me book shopping, so the Strand seemed like the perfect way to (soy)milk that gift for all I could!  The goods (including a Strand tote bag!):

  • The Garden of Vegan by Tanya Barnyard and Sarah Kramer
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • Jacob's Room by Virgina Woolf
  • and Frommer's Bahamas 2009 (for our honeymoon!)
Then it was dinner-time.  We visited the famous Angelica Kitchen, which I will review in its own post, but here's a sneak preview for you:

Then the fiance, who didn't love his dinner, got some frites while I indulged in some vegan ice cream from Stogo and we relaxed on a bench.  I had chocolate with a coconut milk base and chocolate hazelnut with a soy base.  Both were delicious but the coconut ice cream was creamier.  The soy wasn't exactly gritty, as I've seen it described, but it just wasn't as smooth.  Both were declicious though and I'd happily have them again if it wasn't so cost-prohibitive (two scoops cost more than a pint of So Delicious coconut).

We still had some time to kill before the comedy show we wanted to see, so we wandered a bit and ended up in Peanut Butter & Co's sandwich shop.  This place has a whole menu devoted to the peanut butter sandwich: everything you can imagine from the classic to the Elvis (bacon optional).  We had already eaten, so I just sipped a chai latte while the fiance sipped a soda and we both read a bit.  I also picked up two jars of peanut butter: Dark Chocolate Dreams for me (us! I really need to start thinking in plural) and The Heat Is On for my dad.
Finally it was time to head over to The Comedy Cellar, a comedy club that we'd been to once before for the fiance's 21st birthday two years before.  Because it wasn't a weekend night, we were able to get free passes that we printed out that morning, so we didn't have to worry about the $10 cover charge.  There was, however, a two item minimum per person so we indulged in a pitcher of beer, which counts as four items.  Despite costing less than four mugs of beer, we soon learned that it actually contained the equivalent of six mugs and we are not used to three drinks apiece.  Now, you're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned the comedians yet.  That is because these were Monday night comedians who were laughed at more than they were laughed with.  That's not to say that they didn't elicit a few genuine laughs but we actually liked the emcee better than any of the comedians, despite the fact that he made the same jokes that we heard him make two years ago.  In hindsight, it was probably a good thing we had all that beer.

And this has nothing to do with anything, except that I saw it and it's cute:


On a completely unrelated note, I apologize for the horrific quality of my pictures but I don't have a fancy camera (yet) and have to make do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Making Chai at Home: no-muss, no-fuss

At the end of a long day, when all you want to do is unwind with a nice warm cup of chai and a good book, who wants excessive dishes?  Not I.  Making a chai latte can include as many elements as a kettle, a teapot, a mug, a measuring cup, a milk-warming device, a frother, a spoon, a trip to Starbucks...  The ways to complicate the process are endless and unnecessary when all that it really boils down to is a warm mug of spicy, creamy happiness, and who isn't happy with only one (or as many as two... the horrors!) dishes to wash?  A delicious chai latte is well within your grasp and it doesn't need to cost $4 a cup (or more!).

This isn't so much a recipe as it is a method, yet I am going to put it in recipe format to make it as easy to read as possible.  Because why should deciphering a blog post get in the way of you and a delicious chai latte?

Ingredients and Equipment:
1 chai tea bag (I recommend Great Lakes Chai)
1/2 mug of water
1/2 mug of milk (I recommend soy because, among other reasons, it adds another layer of flavor)
sweetener of choice (optional; I use agave)
1 kettle
1 mug
1 spoon or frother (optional!)

Ridiculously simple steps:
1) Boil water in kettle.
2) Pour water over teabag in mug.  Be careful to not fill the mug to the top - you need room for milk!
3) Let the tea brew.
4) Fill mug to the top with your milk of choice.
5) Microwave on high for about 1 minute.
6) Stir in sweetener.  I use a frother to get some of that delicious latte froth, but barring fancy tools you could use a spoon or even your finger if you want to save dishes.  :]
7) Enjoy!

Yes, I know that seems insanely obvious, but sometimes the simplest time- and effort-savers are too obvious to notice.

Question:
What are your ridiculously simple kitchen tricks that save you time (and dishes)?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sea of Poppies Book Review

If you’re anything like me, you want to go to sleep to a story.  Described as “The first in an epic trilogy,” Amitav Ghosh’s novel Sea of Poppies is the perfect book to keep on your bedside table.  Complex in the political, moral, and interpersonal questions it evokes, Sea of Poppies is also an adventure that keeps you coming back for more, replete with descriptions of far-off lands unfamiliar to most of us.  While not the quickest of reads (coming in at 496 pages, not including the “Chrestomathy”), it is addictive.  Even better, it’s a trilogy and only the first book is out, so it will keep you entertained for years to come.

At the core of the novel is a boat, the Ibis, a slave-ship refitted to export opium.  Surrounding this boat are many characters – some relatively minor, like the ship’s new owner, and others whose stories are constantly returned to.  It quickly becomes apparent that it is the destiny of these elements – the major characters and the ship – to come together.  There are of course, as with any epic, speed bumps along the way and, more importantly, exploration of a culture that is not so different from our own.

Free trade is the motivating force of the newly formed society that Ghosh depicts, consisting of all castes of Indians, Muslims, Chinese, and whites.   In the words of Burnham, the owner of the Ibis, “Free Trade is a right conferred on Man by God” (112) and as such, is used as an excuse for many crimes: wars, enslavement, the takeover of nations...  Free trade is clearly represented by Ghosh as less than ideal, a force that breaks apart nations and families.  This destructive force is understood in the departure of the Ibis from the shore of the Ganges, which takes many of its passengers away from all they have ever known to a life of enslavement to a cause which is not their own.  For a thought-provoking and critical look at free trade, check out Tasha the Voracious Vegan's recent post, A Manmade Disaster.

The passengers come from many different backgrounds: Indian, English, French, Muslim, American, Chinese, black, white, and various mixtures of those mentioned.  The language of the novel is just as varied; while it is written in English, there is a fair amount of Hindu and sailor slang, as well as a smattering of French.  Don’t let that scare you off though; the slang is understandable in context, the Hindu is nearly always translated, and the French is rarely significant (like tout de suite… spelled wrong in the novel for some crazy reason).  Out of this mélange emerges a group of main characters that seem (to me at least) to all have one thing in common: they are good.  That’s not to suggest that they are not flawed – they violate taboos, are cocky, lose their tempers, and boss others around – but they all lack the drives to inflict pain, improve one’s own lot at the expense of others, and total racial intolerance that many of the lesser, “bad” characters experience.

Perhaps what they share is not their goodness, but the fact of their having suffered.  The core characters have all suffered loss, pain, and racial and social intolerance.  Perhaps this is what gives them their capacity for goodness.  What is truly impressive is Ghosh’s ability to represent these varied injustices without compromising the individuality of his characters.  For example, the two women of the core group of characters are very strong, much stronger than other women in the novel, yet they suffer astonishingly.  They are violated in body and mind, and treated as inhuman.  The man are also attacked, largely for the uncontrollable details of their birth – the single black grandparent, the misfortune of low caste, the bankruptcy of their father.  And despite all the varieties of suffering extant in his novel, all of which he could not possibly have experienced first-hand, Ghosh empathizes with all of these people and, by extension, so does the reader.

Don’t get me wrong.  Despite all this talk of suffering, the novel is not a downer.  There is inspiration to be found in the suffering and moments of joy and light-heartedness that are as valuable as the knowledge of pain.  Sea of Poppies is, at its core, a journey, complex and emotional, but a journey worth taking.

Amitav Ghosh, the author of Sea of Poppies, splits his time between India and New York.  This life split between two cultures probably contributes to his incredible empathy, though his ability to see and represent so many perspectives seems to go beyond merely owning two homes.




Advice to the reader: pay attention to the names of characters.  They are often unfamiliar and difficult to remember and there are a lot of them.

Stay tuned for a restaurant review and another book review, among other treats I have planned!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hug-a-Fat Month

Katie over at Chocolate-Covered Healthy has been celebrating fats for the month of May. In her post, "Fat Talk", she discusses the many pros of fat: benefits in health, appearance, and (of course) flavor! Fats are necessary to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, to satiate cravings, and to add flavor to some inarguably healthy foods you may not like to eat plain. Consider steamed broccoli and broccoli sauteed in olive oil: which sounds more appealing? I like both, but there are many people who would only take the latter and that is not a bad thing. If some olive oil helps you eat your veggies, then by all means, use the olive oil! It's good for you!  Here I am hugging an avocado, a delicious and nutritious fat!  (Did you know that it's actually a fruit?!)


That's not to say that all fats are created equally. I would not recommend chicken fried in lard or pretty much any animal fats. Trans-fats are even worse and often veiled in processed foods. If there's less than a certain amount (I can't remember how much) manufacturers are not required to list them on nutrition labels. You may consume a large amount of these fats without even knowing it. This is yet another reason why it's important to always read labels. If you see hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on an ingredient list, that means that there are trans fats in the product. Yuck!


But Hug-a-Fat Month is not about the evils of fats. It's about celebrating good fats and all the good they do for us! If, after reading Katie's post, you're still not convinced, just think about the Tin Man! Yes, from the Wizard of Oz. Oil (a fat) is what keeps him running - just like us!


Here are some other fats that I would hug if they weren't so messy:

A little less healthy, but that cake is full of healthy fats in the form of peanut butter (it's a peanut butter cup cake!!!  Voracious Vegan posted the recipe as a teaser from Sweet Utopia).  Plus some canola oil, which is a pretty healthy fat and certainly better than some of your other options.  Plus, cake is delicious, satisfying, and makes you happy.  :]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Great Lakes Chai Review

I love chai tea lattes.  J’aime les lattes de thé chai.  I <3 chai.

There.  I’ve said it.  In English, French, and Internet lingo, and I only limit myself to those three languages because they are the only languages I know.  If I knew any other languages, I’d say it in them too.

But alas, all chai is not created equal.  I have had good chai, bad chai, decent chai, lousy chai, and set-your-taste-buds-a-dancin’, over-the-moon chai.  Oh, and some delicious chai latte cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World that are equally perfect for Thanksgiving dessert and breakfast anytime and have converted at least one chai-hater.

But this inaugural post is not about all the different forms of chai that I have tried.  It is only about one: Great Lakes Tea and Spice’s Organic Manitou Masala Chai.

Rich and warm, this chai strikes a balance between spicy and sweet that I have not found anywhere else.  And it’s sold loose so that you have complete control over each and every cup, unlike those pre-brewed, just-add-milk varieties whose potency and sweetness have been determined by some manufacturer (yeah, I drink those too).  With plain soy milk, which  adds its own layer of subtly sweet flavor that perfectly complements the spiciness of chai, this is my go-to chai.  And at $15.95 for a box that yields somewhere around 20 cups of tea (I didn’t count but one box lasted awhile) this is a much better deal than the $4 you have to shell out for a twelve-ounce cup at Starbucks*.  And it tastes better too.

I brew one tablespoon of the loose tea with about six ounce of boiling water until it’s nice and strong then mix it with six ounces of hot plain soymilk and a squirt of agave nectar and voila!  A cup of pure comfort perfect for studying, reading, watching reruns of Gilmore Girls, walking around, doing nothing…

Okay, I lied.  This post is about cupcakes too.  Chai latte cupcakes to be exact.  Check out the foamed milk-like action on that little beauty.  Oh, the wonders of powdered sugar.



*I’ll admit it.  I get chai lattes at Starbucks at least once a week.  But that’s only because I’m in college and study better in that slightly noisy environment with a steady supply of sugar and caffeine than I do at home where it’s quiet (except when the neighbors are screaming or banging on the walls).  So shoot me.  Either way, I’m graduating in a few days and that will most likely drastically reduce the number of $4 chai lattes I consume.