Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vegan Junk Food vs. Vegan Fast Food

"What's the difference?" you ask. Well, from my point of view, vegan junk food is food which I do not know to violate vegan principles, but which likely may. Vegan fast food, for me, is simply vegan food that is easily and quickly thrown together in less time than it takes to go through the drive-through.

Here are examples of each:

This delectible pizza was ordered at Campania, a new, Neopolitan-style restaurant in Alpharetta. This establishment boasts an authentic ceramic pizza oven all the way from Italy, "Double Zero flour", a warm, dark wood interior, and a lovely wine list, all in the incongruent location of a strip mall. "Coins and Firearms" is right upstairs and "Auto Zone" is next door. Seriously, though, the restaurant is worth a visit. The food is phenomenal and different from your average pizza joint.

This fabulous pizza, to me, is vegan junk food. The rare and coveted "Double Zero flour" is still white flour, which I try to avoid, and I have no idea what else the recipe for the dough contains. For my health, I cannot eat dairy in its basic form, but my system has not been bothered overtly by dairy that may exist in baked goods. Still, I usually try to avoid it. So the crust, as gourmet as it is here, is junk to this vegan. All the rest is fabulous, while lacking in basic grains and greens.  This lovely establishment has a very small menu with specific pizza creations. Each item on the menu is so special that I got a little nervous asking for this pizza without the meat and cheese. I could see a thought fleet across the mind of the server for a split second, but then he thought better of following through by speaking it, which I really appreciated. In the past, elsewhere, I have actually had servers try to talk me into eating meat and/or cheese, as surprising as that may be. Once, I have even had a pizza I ordered without cheese brought out with parmesan cheese all over it. When I pointed this out to the server, the response was, "No, that's not cheese, that's parmesan," (!) I had to come off my high horse a bit to gently, patiently, explain that parmesan is, indeed, cheese. Everyone else was finished by the time I received my pie.

I chose to eat this divine vegan junk food because my family and I went out to dinner together and we all wanted to try Campania, of the famous zillion degree oven (roughly) that bakes each pizza, one at a time, in 90 seconds flat! I'm glad I did -- it was delicious! I left the crust ends untouched though.

Vegan fast food is much more common for me, and it normally begins with leftovers. After my yoga class today, I was so zen that I wanted the feeling to linger, so grains and greens it was! I dipped into my already-prepared amaranth and onions from a couple of nights ago, and warmed it with baby kale leaves on top, then drizzled an artisanal olive oil on top and sprinkled it with Gomashio (sesame seeds ground together with sea salt). It took me three minutes to assemble and warm my delicious lunch. That's fast food to me. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of my fast food lunch since I gobbled it all up without thinking.

To compensate for the missing photo of my vegan fast food, here's a bonus shot:

I harvested these Chinese longbeans in my pajamas this morning before waking Wynne. Forgive the cell-phone graininess. I get a batch-o-beans like this every couple of days or so now. They really grow quickly. These legumes could feed a village. I've pulled out my barren tomato plants already, but left the wire cages for the bean plants to enjoy.  They are entertaining to grow -- always very busy -- so it would be fun to grow these with young children. I don't really get tired of these beans. I have made them into soups and stir fries, I've grilled them in a pan with other veggies and fresh herbs, I've sauteed them with ginger and seaweed and pickled them with ume plum vinegar. It's a great crop.

Each vegan comes to the lifestyle from a different perspective. Some of us were primarily motivated by health concerns, some by compassion for our fellow earthlings, and some by a combination of both. Whatever the case, the lifestyle must be doable. To this end, I choose flexibility occasionally, in the form of a cheeseless pizza. Wholesome, whole food, fast or not, will always be my first choice since the most important thing for good health is to directly tend it most of the time. So for this girl, "vegan fast food" trumps "vegan junk food" but I'm still gonna have that pizza from time to time!

Monday, August 26, 2013

30th High School Reunion!

Last weekend, my husband and I got away for a long weekend for Thomas Jefferson High School's 30th reunion. That's me, front and center. What a photobomb! The photographer added the spouses for this shot and, being on the tall side, I was trying to squat down a little to avoid eclipsing the actual class members. Instead, I look like I'm posing sassily. My daughter thinks this is hilarious.

What a wonderful group of people! I had known a handful of them previously, through my husband, but also through another Jefferson alumnus, my wonderful friend and roommate of many years, Cheryl Ross Lage, bestselling author of Twinspiration, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006. I was happy to meet so many more from this amazing high school class last weekend. What an honor and a privilege it was to get to know all of you, Colonials and spouses!

My own 30th reunion will also be this year, but I will not be able to attend because of prior commitments. My husband and I grew up in different parts of Virginia, but after college Northern Virginia became my home as well. I lived in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax, and worked in Washington, D.C. As our taxi pulled up to the hotel, I looked up and realized our old apartment building was right next door!

There it is, shot from our 10th floor hotel room. You can see a little sliver of the Potomac just beyond the lower buildings on the left. We lived here in Old Town, Alexandria for only a few months when the kids were little. Here's an interior shot of our place there, featuring my little punkin and her rockin' hairdo:

Here's what she looks like now, except she has moved on from pink hair to blue:

But I digress . . . Back to 2013: We arrived Friday afternoon, and met up with a few people at the Fish Market that evening. It was great to be on old stomping grounds, and I really enjoyed getting to know some amazing people. The conversations were deep and rewarding, just the way I like 'em! I look forward to a continued acquaintance with these great folks.

I also enjoyed a plateful of fried oysters. I'll always choose fried oysters over iceberg lettuce, otherwise I'll choose veggies every time. I see myself as "vegan+" -- mostly veggies/grains, never dairy, or hooved or winged beasts, but very, very rarely, I'll have seafood. See for the full backstory of my mid-vegan recalibration.

Saturday morning, we were lucky to have a visit from Andres' brother, Sol, and family, who drove down from Maryland to see us. We had brunch at Union Street Public House and walked around Old Town for a couple of hours afterward.

Featured in the photo are, from left to right, our nephew, Andres, who will start Harvard Law School this week(!), Sofi, the au pair from Costa Rica, Heather, Sol's wife, Morgan, our littlest niece, Sol, Andres, and moi. When Sol and family had to leave, it was such a beautiful day that Andres and I walked all the way back to the hotel, where I needed a siesta for the upcoming fiesta.

Back in business after a short rest, we cleaned up and proceeded downstairs for the reunion festivities. I always worry about buffets. Sometimes the only veggies available are doused in dairy. This actually makes them inedible for me, as my system really cannot handle it after so many years without. In this case, I needn't have worried. The food was AMAZING! My cell phone pic doesn't do it justice:

There was romaine and pasta, rice, roasted peppers and sauteed veggies of a ratatouille bent. I loved this delicious food so much that I had intended to go back for seconds, but the event was so socially stimulating and fun that I lost track of time and before I knew it, it was all over. I wonder what the catering crew did with those leftovers? It haunts me.

I received so many gifts from the experience of this reunion, but here is one of my favorites from the lovely Lisa Jones Pierce, keeper and cataloguer extraordinaire:

That's my husband, senior class president Andres Salinas, with his friend, and now mine, the wonderful Wray Eldridge. Will you look at those babies?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Rustic Harvest

My garden provided enough for last night's dinner. Six golf-ball-sized garden onions, one tiny grape tomato, a small carrot with a generous feathering of greens and two fistfuls of Chinese long beans were the homegrown sauteed base for this delicious meal, planned on the fly. A couple of leftover boiled potatoes from an earlier meal, a handful of kale from the crisper, a can of navy beans and several Kalamata olives rounded out the luscious flavors. I used olive oil, salt, pepper and a scant shake of Tamari to season. This was easy, delicious, filling and teeming with phytonutrients. I always feel great when I work with what's on hand.

Monday, August 5, 2013


The best of the season! Delicious sliced warm from the sun and eaten simply on bread with veganaise, salt and pepper. No, I didn't grow it -- I bought it and ate it. It was great.

This year my garden is atrocious. I didn't even take a new photo of it for you because it is even worse now than it was before. Why is it so bad this year, you ask?  Well, I was a bit lazy in my prep, and I was gone for much of the summer so the garden was largely overtaken by nature. Amongst those items I planted on purpose, "survival of the fittest" was well illustrated. Each gardening season is a gift of wisdom, and this year is a learning experience extraordinaire!

My best 2013 gardening lessons:

  • Do not use soil with embedded fertilizer ("leggy" doesn't begin to describe my tomato plants this year -- yards-long in every direction, forming a crazy web that prevents me from entering the space at all, with nary a blossom -- my first ever sterile tomato year).
  • Start planning now for weed eradication for next year -- I'm thinking thick sheets of cardboard covering the surface through early spring.
  • Plant more radishes -- I loved them and used every one.
  • Repeat spring onion gauntlet -- It was the most effective tactic yet for deterring furry critters, I had plenty to eat and there is still enough of a gauntlet to protect the long beans.
  • Always plant plenty of Chinese long beans. These are remarkably persistent, despite the kind of neglect I can dish out.
  • Wait much, much longer to pull carrots.
  • Finally make plans to use homespun compost -- it's getting too heavy to spin.
  • Provide more drainage next year for the herb pot. Herbs don't like soggy toes.
  • Buy fresh nasturtium seeds. My 5 year old seeds did remarkably well considering their advanced age, but their oomph was lacking. They normally thrive on my brand of neglect as well as the long beans.
As in all things, we live and we learn!