Friday, 24 June 2011

Big basic balti

It's all go chez Duck at the moment, we both have stinking colds and, just to make it more fun, an appointment that means going out around the time I'd normally start to cook and coming home just after we normally start to eat. So I decided that a nice balti (literal translation - bucket, refers to slinging anything to hand in a cooking pot with random spices, or any curry that doesn't have a proper name) would be the thing. It can sit around while we're out, so the vegetables can absorb the spices - curry generally is the one thing I've found that benefits from being left hanging around.

So here goes;
-Sunflower oil
-Two large onions
-Cumin seeds
-Half a dozen garlic cloves
-Six medium potatoes
-Four large carrots
-A handful of green fine beans
-A tin of chickpeas
-Dashes of coriander powder, tumeric, ginger, cayenne pepper (SMALL dash) and paprika

Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until they soften
Add the cumin seeds and cook until they crackle
Chop and stir in all the veg, then the chickpeas, then add the spices
Add water until everything is covered, simmer until the veg is soft. Then leave standing for ages if the need takes you! I'm hoping this will do for tomorrow's lunch as well...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Meat-free Mondays

Meat-free Monday didn't really have much impact on me, as my days had all been meat-free days for quite some time when it was invented. It was most recently brought into my consciousness by Vegansaurus' Meatless Monday Unicorn, a sarky character who demonstrates that booze, narcotics and a slightly evil sense of humour can be vegan. I like. My feelings about meat-free Mondays are a bit more complicated, and I waver between thinking it is a pretty ace idea to wondering whether it can achieve more than making people eat cheese and eggs for one day and meat the other six.

The good:
-It brings veg*n issues to people's attention
-It reduces overall meat consumption
-It can be made vegan rather than just meatless, depending on who takes the initiative and supplies the recipes. So if nothing else it is a useful thing for vegans to get involved with.
-It can showcase how great vegan food is, inspiring those who already have niggling doubts about eating animals to go vegan
-It can be used as a forum to promote veganism, if done in the right way

The bad:
-Many workplaces and so on will just go with the cheese omlette option, so from an animal rights perspective it isn't a whole lot better than the usual fare
-If the food provided is bad, it will skew people's perceptions and put them further off being vegetarian or vegan
-It diverts energy away from vegan campaigning
-It is often promoted in a way that posits it as an end-point, so people will see it as 'enough' and not feel inspired to go further

So I guess the answer here is that it depends on how meat-free Monday is gone about, who takes the initiative and how much leeway that person has if they're starting from the right point. But it's still a bit of a thorny one.

What do you think?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Too Vegan To Function

No, not me, although I would find that description amusing if it came from someone I wasn't too annoyed with otherwise. I was randomly flicking through people's links (because just occasionally I take a night off from kicking arse and do aimless web-surfing for a bit) and came across Too Vegan To Function, a gem of a blog with detailed advice on being vegan in a variety of situations. It hasn't been updated for a while, but that doesn't diminish what is there.

Chilli beanburgers

We often end up having burger-based meals, just out of convenience, so today I thought I'd have a(nother) go at making my own - mainly for variety but also because I feel that they are healthier because I can monitor what goes in them. So here goes:

Half a mug of white rice, boiled in a lot of water for half an hour or so.
1 standard tin red kidney beans
2 small onions, chopped finely
Half a red pepper, chopped finely
2 teaspoons potato flour - probably optional but I think it helps a lot with the binding.
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 a teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and cumin

Saute the onions and pepper in a small sunflower oil until they soften.
Mix the rice, beans and spices together and mash with the potato masher. (all high-tech around here!)
Stir the pepper and onions in, make sure it is thoroughly mixed.
Leave it all to cool (unless you'd already left the rice for a bit!) then shape into six patties. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning at least once.

I like this recipe because it uses cheap, basic ingredients that can be bought and stored easily. (At a pinch the onions and peppers could be left out, but they do make it a lot nicer) It does involve a lot more prep than whipping store-bought burgers from freezer to oven, but the beauty of it is you can make extra burgers to freeze for another time.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Spicy lentil and vegetable bake

This was part of the Sunday roast we just had, and I thought it up to finish the dhal that was left over from our lunchtime curry extravaganza. (Three curries that I'd made extra quantities of last night, plus dhal and rice, plus samosas, bhajis and poppadums - I don't fill up easily but this meal managed it!) I should warn you that it makes last week's cupcakes look like miracles of structural integrity - not a good one to make if you want something to tip out onto a plate and slice neatly! It is, however, a good thing if you like lentils and vegetables and want some protein as part of a roast dinner. ;)

-Half a milk pan* of some 'plain' dhal - ie without any added veg, just lentils and spices - the instructions for which can be found here.
-Two red onions, chopped
-Half a large courgette, chopped
-Two sticks of celery, chopped
-Two cloves of garlic, smashed up with the back of a spoon

Saute the veg and garlic on medium heat in sunflower oil. When cooked, mix with the lentils. Pour into a loaf tin - I used a silicone one that matches my cupcake trays, but whatever floats your boat. Bake in the oven at 200C for about half an hour. I put some Tofutti cheese slices on top for the last five minutes it was in the oven. This is totally optional but it did take things one more degree of seperation from the curry we had before.

This made decent portions for two people, when served with roast potatoes and mashed root veg.

*I'm well aware of the irony, but that's what the smallest saucepans tend to be sold as, and it's a useful guide since I didn't weigh or measure the dhal in any other way. Sorry, too busy getting dinner in the oven. :P

Saturday, 18 June 2011

On noses and tails

Thanks (I think) to a member of my uni's vegan/vegetarian group, my attention was brought to this article on an environmentalist website. (Warning: gross dead animal pics and slaughter talk) The subject is nose-to-tail eating, the uber-carnist practice of making 'use' of the whole dead animal instead of the more culturally acceptable bits.

You know what? I think that IF people are going to eat meat, they should do it this way. IF you're going to eat an animal's arse cheek, maybe the rectum shouldn't squick you out as much. IF you want to eat a dead animal, then maybe you should be up for doing the killing and butchering rather than paying for someone else to do it. The ifs are all there. My issue with this article and others like it is that I don't give these ifs much credence.

This article in particular glosses over a lot. If we leave aside the dubious comment about hunter-gatherer societies - who may, according to some scientists, have been more about the foraging than the hunting when it comes to day-to-day eating - there's still a fair bit to go on. For example, 'many of us environmentally conscious consumers need or crave animal protein'. 'Need' is a bit strong, for a start. And let's conflate need with cravings, while we're about it, and elevate the latter to the level of the former. This means we don't have to be even vaguely critical about giving in to these cravings - because, after all, they're a need. And that, ducklings and grasshoppers, is the only justification given by the article for eating meat in the first place.

Let's switch focus here. The problem isn't that meat-eaters are being too fussy about which bits they eat - the problem is that animals and animal derivatives are still considered part of a normal diet at all. Finding newer and possibly yuckier loopholes is not a solution.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Mylene, Miss Manners and vegan visitors

After making my post on helping out your vegan friends, I've started to notice other vegan bloggers commenting on this issue.

Mylene at My Face Is On Fire has made several good posts on the topic:
What Would Miss Manners Say?
Reinforcing Misconceptions: When Non-Vegans Weigh In On Being Vegan

Each post is a little goldmine of suggestions for vegans and non-vegans alike on handling potentially awkward situations!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Erzatsz lunch

We're at the stage of kind of needing to go grocery shopping, but having enough food in the house to make it not worth the effort. What we lack, however, is ingredients which obviously fit together and provide an equally obvious meal. Instead, today's meal came from a selection of somewhat random items, all of which need to be used up. It tasted good, anyway!

Cauliflower cheese
Half a cauliflower - cut into smallish pieces, place in a greased dish, bake for the time it takes to make the sauce.
The sauce is the slightly faffy bit. Melt a couple of tablespoons of margarine - start on a high temperature but turn down when it actually starts to melt, otherwise it'll separate instead. Take the melted margarine off the heat and stir in three or four tbsp of cornflour until you have a smooth paste. Slowly stir in soy milk until you have a liquid with no lumps. Put back on a high heat and stir constantly until it thickens. Add grated cheezly - I think I had a little under half a block. Stir until that melts.
Pour the sauce over the cauliflower, sprinkle peppers and tomato on top if you feel like it. Bake for half an hour or so, until brown on top.

Tapas potatoes
Cut three or four smallish potatoes into little chunks. Mix in a couple of crushed garlic cloves, large sprinkling of paprika, small sprinkling of cayenne pepper. Douse in olive oil, place in oven at 200C for 50 mins.

Flavored couscous
Half-fill a bowl with couscous. Add coriander and mint, squeeze on the juice of half a lemon or lime. Fill the bowl with boiling water and leave to stand for 10mins or so.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Cupcaking and scale fail

Today I used my friend Chrissy's carrot cake recipe - linked from here as 'Carrot cake large', which downloads as a word document - to make cupcakes. It makes 48, in case anyone was wondering. The recipe can be halved or quartered, but I needed that many cakes!

It made me miss Chrissy. She and I worked more events together than I can count, ran a bakery together at the Big Green Gathering one year, and worked together on the school dinner project. (I still have nightmares about the WISP nutritional analysis software, but the food prep bit was fun)

I also realised very quickly that I am out of the habit of doing an inventory before I start - meaning I'm low on nice sugar (you'll see the really aggravating bit about that in a minute!) and sunflower oil. Nevermind. I have plenty of cake and that's a good thing.

The most annoying, aggravating, want-to-throw-the-whole-lot-through-a-window bit of the process involved the needle getting stuck on my rather cheap and crappy scales. (It's only quite recently that I've owned scales, and I rarely use them even now, so these will usually do) I put in waaaay more sugar than intended and had to scoop some out and segregate it from the main supply - no way to I want to risk getting flour in my tea! I probably didn't get quite enough out, sorry if you're at the potluck tomorrow and go home with toothache. Blame the scales...

What the cupcakes have in sugar, they lack in structural integrity - several have disintegrated in the process of getting them out of the tray. Of course I HAVE to eat those ones rather than inflicting them on anyone else!

A quick note: the recipe is for a large cake cooked in an ex-army mess tin, so the listed baking time is loooong. Cupcakes will be incinerated if left for that long - I think mine got 25-30 minutes. Maybe a few minutes longer would have stopped them falling apart, but they certainly don't need an hour.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Milk in strange places

Today when I went to the supermarket I thought I'd get a treat for my rescue calf.* He's been such a good boy putting up with life in an upper floor flat while we try to find another home for him - he's even learned to use the toilet like a big boy so we don't have to deal with cow pies all over the floor. I'm not convinced that his music tastes are entirely healthy - Cows With Guns has been playing on continuous loop all day, but hey, he's nearly a teenager and he has some demons to exorcise from his early life.**

So back to my shopping trip. I was browsing the aisles wondering what I could get for Che,*** when my eyes lit upon a packet of salt-and-pepper cashew nuts. Yes, I thought, that'll make a nice change. How lovely that they have his natural staple food in...

You guessed it - for some reason, beyond my comprehension since nobody is likely to feed the product to a baby calf, Tesco have decided it is a great idea to put milk powder and milk sugar in all their flavoured cashew nuts. Annoying...

*In case anyone out there doesn't get satire, I am neither keeping a calf in my flat nor advocating that others do so.
**The point behind this satire is that calves, especially those of the male variety, are treated like crap by the dairy industry. That's one of many reasons to be vegan rather than vegetarian.
***Listen to the song already

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Vegans, oppression, food and whine

It doesn't seem unusual these days to hear 'vegans say they're an oppressed group but they aren't' repeated as part of some anti-vegan mantra. Maybe it's just that the vegans I hang out with these days are sensible types, but I haven't *actually* heard that many vegans pleading oppression - but then I suspect that the critics either know whiner vegans than I do, or have more overactive imaginations on the subject, or maybe both. I can accept that whiny vegans exist. Anyone can be vegan, anyone can be whiny, accepting that there can be some crossover doesn't mean admitting to any causal element or even a widespread correlation. I can also imagine that some people's attitudes might induce whininess in any vegans in the surrounding area!

Let's get one thing clear, I don't see vegans in general as an oppressed group. This is not to deny that many vegans are on the receiving end of oppressive behaviour at an individual level - intolerance, food sabotage, even physical threat and assault, connected to their veganism, I've been there a number of times. Of course the stakes are raised if you're also an activist. However, not being able to get a decent choice of food when eating out is not being oppressed. Your colleague or roommate forgetting you don't take milk in your coffee isn't oppression, unless s/he persistently puts milk in there on purpose - and you have the option of not accepting that person's offer of a drink if that's the case! Being followed around by the police outside of a protest situation, getting your emails read and your phone tapped *is* oppressive - but a risk you take when getting involved in certain types of activism. (getting that response for merely being a vegan would certainly be oppression, but it is also highly unlikely - although some in the government might like it to happen, I doubt they could afford to put it into practice!)

On the other hand, I don't think vegans in general *are* more focussed on their own 'oppression' (in the form of not having enough choice in a cafe, people forgetting they take their coffee black, etc) than on that of the animals.

However, there is a 'third' hand there, because vegans are just so damn badass that we can grow extra limbs when necessary.* ;) And on that hand, vegans tend to want there to be more vegans - from an animal rights perspective, that has to be a good thing. One way to ensure that more people become vegan is to make veganism easier to do, and lobbying for more and better choices of food - especially in work and college canteens, but also in resturants and cafes - is one way to do that. As a fairly seasoned vegan, if I go in a cafe and can't eat anything I will be put off that cafe. A newer and less sure vegan might be put off veganism.

There's nothing wrong, then, with making an issue of the lack of vegan choices in a cafe. It's best to do this in a polite, friendly way, especially if the people concerned seem interested. (sometimes there's no point and all you can do is drink your black coffee, eat your apple and plain crisps and write it off to experience) Offering recipes is good, especially if we're talking cake. (Veggies have a selection of vegan recipes, including cakes, designed for mass catering.) On the other hand, acting like a whiny martyr suffering for a cause** is likely to put people off veganism before they investigate the wider world. At least find existing vegan friends to complain to rather than the newbie you're supposed to be helping to make the change! If you genuinely feel like that, you may be an ex-vegan in the making, which is *not* a good way to be for you or for the animals - get some new recipes and a bit of perspective before you put yourself off...

*I wish I had this ability, it would make straining a large pan of pasta or stirring multiple curries so much easier...
**I've probably done my fair share of this, the excuse being that I was a teenager the first time I went vegan and didn't know better. Now is probably a good time to apologise to anyone who was on the receiving end!