Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chili-Stuffed Acorn Squash

You know I love chili.

Do you see the little black specks? Yeah, I burnt the quinoa.
And you know I love squash.

So I roasted some acorn squash and stuffed it with my bean and quinoa chili.

The more nutritious version of the almighty bread bowl.
And I even thought about sharing my chili recipe this time. But then I tasted it, and realized it wasn't my best. I mean, it was GOOD, but not as good as last time. It was lacking that depth and velvety richness, so I need to figure out what I did differently.

But the dish as a whole...mmm. :) And interestingly, as I was tagging this blog post as "vegetarian," I realized it was also vegan. This exemplifies why I will defend a vegan lifestyle. So often, people assume vegans have nothing to eat except salad. LOOK AT THAT PICTURE. Is that a salad?! No.

So often people claim they could never enjoy a vegetarian or vegan meal. This is why I love informing people when they ARE. For example, I was out for lunch one day in September with my sister and her husband. We all were eating soup: I had tomato, and they had broccoli cheddar. I smiled and said, "Awww, we're all eating vegetarian!!" They both froze for a millisecond, trying to think of a witty comeback, but all they said was "....oh." Zing! I win. :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eric Schlosser

This evening, I was blessed with the rare opportunity of meeting one of my biggest heros, Mr. Eric Schlosser.

This is the man who changed my life. This is the man that forced me to think about food in new ways. This is the man who uncovered a passion in me that I had never felt before. This passion for food, health, and sustainable living gave me confidence, energy, and purpose. It gave me an identity. A hobby. A lifestyle.

Growing up in rural South Dakota, I often struggle with the mainstream adoration of biotechnology. I once got in a little debate in class with a bunch of ag education majors who were mocking the organic market. And this is normal for me. So as I sat in the fourth row, seeing Eric Schlosser right there in front of me, speaking about all the things I am most passionate about, knowing many of my friends, peers, and community members were all there listening to it, made me more emotional than I have been since leaving Ireland.

As expected, the question and answer period brought much heated discussion. Every question began with, "I am a family farmer. I actually agree with some of the things you said, but..." And then it went downhill from there.

I noticed quickly during this time that the audience was segregated. Whenever one of these farmers said something, applause roared from the back of the theater. As these farmers were speaking, all the people around me in the front of the theater were rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and muttering to their neighbors about how embarrassed they were by these members of the opposing viewpoints.

(On one hand, I agree. There were a few comments that just made me duck my head in shame, and they reminded me of why I want to move to Europe. On the other hand, I felt it disrespectful for us to want "the others" to keep their opinions to themselves.)

I used to think I was alone as a food activist in South Dakota, but the segregation of the audience at this event made me realize I'm not alone--I'm just socializing with the wrong people. :) It also makes me realize that there's a distinct segregation in the culture of this community, state, and perhaps the country as a whole. If you look at my school alone, we have the "farm kids" and the "not-farm kids." To say that we don't always see eye to eye  would be an understatement. (One of my best friends comes from a farm....but that's an organic farm, so I don't think that counts).

One question/comment given tonight really caught my attention. A man introduced himself as a family farmer (naturally) and explained that--in this region--it's almost impossible to get ahold of seed that ISN'T genetically modified. The large corporations have taken over so much that even those that WANT to plant non-GMO crops are having a hard time making it happen.

So anyway, let's skip to the happy part. As if hearing him speak wasn't enough of a pleasure, he was also doing a book signing afterwards. I'm not going to lie--I was on the verge of tears. I held them back so people wouldn't think I was crazy. Although, if you saw how much I was shaking and fidgeting around, you'd probably think I was crazy anyway. :)

And then it happened. I stood in line for 10-15 minutes, and then there I was, at the front of the line, nervously pushing my copy of Fast Food Nation toward him.

I said to him, "Thank you so much for being here. Growing up around here, it's heard those attitudes out there, so you know what I'm dealing with. And it's just so....confining and frustrating, and it's just so refreshing to have someone like you come here, so I really appreciate it..thank you so much." And he said that that was great to hear. And then I added that I saw Food Inc. about a year and a half ago, and it just absolutely changed my life. He smiled and said thanks again, and my friend Alex, who was standing next to me, made some comment about how I was boosting his confidence or something? I don't remember. And Eric laughed and replied, "Yeah, I kind of needed that, thank you." :) My schoolmates bruised his ego.. :( And I fixed it. :D

And then I asked for a picture with him. He laughed and said, "Are you sure you won't regret this someday?" He has a fabulous sense of humor.

Now if only I could meet Michael Pollan...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It doesn't run in the family.

As I finished slicing some tomatoes in half and sent them into the oven, my brother (also known as my roommate) walked into the kitchen.

"Look!" I said, proudly pointing to a carton of organic half-and-half on the counter. "I bought organic half-and-half for my homemade tomato soup." I rarely have dairy to begin with (because I'm mildly lactose intolerant), so purchasing organic dairy was new to me (with the exception of organic greek yogurt, when it's on sale).

The look on his face said he was clearly just as excited about this as I was. (...Okay, maybe not.) He nodded once, and then opened the freezer and pulled out a frozen pepperoni pizza.

The juxtaposition of my homemade tomato-with-organic-dairy soup with his frozen pizza made me laugh. A dark, defeated, I-wish-he-would-stop-eating-that-crap laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. I've given up converting my family.

I've had far more luck teaching my friends good habits than my family. I have friends who stopped drinking soda, increased their fruits and vegetables, and switched to whole grains. I have friends who even tried the meatless thing with me (hey, Alex!). But with my family, not so much.

They continue to consume Splenda and aspartame.

They continue to consume foods containing trans fat and a long list of chemical ingredients.

They continue to devote half the kitchen space to ice cream, chips, and other junk food.

They continue to consider corn as the vegetable of choice.

They continue to have an entire fridge full of a variety of sodas in the basement at all times.

I just want everyone to be healthy. :(

EDIT: So, I hated that the techies at Food Revolution chose to link to THIS blog post. This post was originally a frustrated and illogical rant, and while much of it contained my true feelings, I worded it poorly and exaggerated a few things that made me come off like a real pretentious idiot. :) Thinking about all the people reading it made me sick. I finally had to tweak it a bit. So if you notice a few parts of this post missing, that's why!

P.S. Check out my Pinterest for hundreds of healthy, meatless meals!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The big decision...

Two days ago, I added "vegetarian" to my Twitter profile description. It felt right. I liked the look of it.

Meat is something that has lost its appeal to me. Kind of like soda. After I had given it up for a few weeks or so, it became something that I just wanted nothing to do with. Sure, bacon will always smell good...but so does freshly cut grass, and I've manage to resist eating that for 21 and a half years, so I think I'll be okay. :)

What I mean is that when I plan out my meals during the day, I think of fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes. No part of my brain is begging for a burger. It's not like meat makes me cringe or anything--it's just not something I desire.

Also, the flexitarian/only-organic-meat thing was too difficult. I mean, it was easy to maintain on a personal level, but it was socially difficult. My peers didn't take me seriously, people didn't understand it, and it always sucked having to plan out days when I was eating out or with other people. If I didn't know ahead of time that we were going to grill out for supper, and I had tuna for lunch, well, I was screwed. And then I would have to explain to my friends, and then they would be annoyed, which I don't blame them.

The strange only-once-a-day rules I was following were bizarre and illogical at times. People would frustratedly ask me, "Why can't you just not eat meat the rest of the week?" or "Why can't you eat meat now if you ate it for lunch?" I originally liked the flexitarian idea because it allowed me to still eat meat in social situations like that, but I have realized that it sent confusing messages. I think my social life will actually be easier if I just establish myself as a vegetarian. People usually take that more seriously than "I can't eat meat for more than one meal a day." As a flexitarian, people will just expect you to always make the exception for them. Nobody expects the vegetarian to make an exception.

Also, the organic thing sounds great in theory, but it's really not fun to tell your stubborn mother that you'll only eat her trademark lasagna if she uses grass-fed beef. Not gonna happen. I couldn't even convince her to use whole wheat noodles!

Yes, vegetarianism has its difficulties...but so does IBS, and I've managed to make that work. Do you think I cry at night because I can't have caffeine? Ha! No. At the end of the day, having IBS has made me a healthier eater. It's like natural behavior modification; when I eat something not-so-great, it punishes me with pain, and when I eat healthy food, my tummy stays happy. :)

Similarly, I have found that eating meatless rewards me with a healthy mind and body, so the social dilemmas are worth it. I wouldn't do this if it didn't make me happy. I genuinely enjoy eating meatless. Regardless of all the other reasons I have listed, this is the deciding factor: I just like it.

And let's be honest--the kinds of restaurants that don't have vegetarian-friendly menus generally suck anyway, because it signals to me that they don't know how to work with basic ingredients beyond burgers, steaks, and fries.

Now I need to decide what to do with the meat in my house. My brother would probably gladly take my beef off my hands, and I'm thinking of taking all my canned tuna to the food pantry.

So that's me... My name is Lauren, and I'm a vegetarian.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lunch: Broccoli & Cauliflower Soup

If you can't tell from the title of this blog, I love broccoli. And the only reason I started eating it (which wasn't until my sophomore year of college!) was because I was having trouble with my IBS, and I realized I needed more soluble fiber, as opposed to insoluble fiber. That's why I started eating broccoli, oatmeal, rice, etc. Soluble fiber is my best friend.

Isn't it glorious? And it was super simple, too. I got the recipe from a blog called Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness. Prepare yourself if you go check it out: there's some bloody awful music in the background. Can we all agree that background music on websites should be banned? Okay, moving on.

I more or less followed the recipe exactly, except I used almond milk instead of regular milk and colby jack and monterey instead of cheddar. It turned out spectacular. I had seconds.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pizza. Y'know, the healthier kind.

How's THIS for gorgeous?

This recipe was a huge risk for me. I've never even TASTED butternut squash, let alone worked with it. I've never sauteed kale, or done anything with it besides bake them into chips. I've never made a successful pizza crust. I've tried and failed twice. 

But this was glorious, and it all came together so unbelievably well. I tried a different crust recipe, and it was perfection. And the yeast worked! The dough "doubled in size" like it's supposed to. That's always where my crust usually fails. It also fails when I cook it. It would be too thick, and it would never get "crusty" enough. It would just be like...bread.

And the pizza I didn't know what a pizza with very minimal cheese would taste like, but this blew my mind. It didn't taste like something I made. It felt...better than me. Like it came from a restaurant or something.

To say I'm proud would be an understatement. :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Three-bean and quinoa chili (with avocado!)

Well, folks. I did it. It's October 1st, which means I've successfully completed one month without meat.

So now what? Do I keep going? It's certainly a lot to consider. The fact that I don't feel like "celebrating" my completed goal with a giant burger is a pretty good sign that maybe vegetarianism is for me.

The creativity of meatless meals excites me. I love how it gets me to try new foods.

I love how I save money by not buying meat.

I love how my body feels.

I love networking with other vegetarians.

I love having a more sustainable diet.

I love not supporting the disgusting meat industry with their horrendous feedlots/CAFOs.

And I especially love the feeling I get when I declare, "I am a vegetarian." The first time, it was a little scary; I felt judged. But since then, I've embraced it. It feels like a part of my identity now. Even when my BFF Tiffany interjects, "YOU'RE NOT A REAL VEGETARIAN."

I'm not sure I could give that up. But I'll update you on my decision later.

Last Saturday, I tried making chili with quinoa. Fail. Ultimate fail. I made a much larger batch than usual, but I didn't adjust the amount of beans to keep it proportionate. It tasted like bad tomato soup with quinoa and an occasional bean.

But the wonderful thing about cooking is that you can often revamp the leftovers into something better. So instead of my bad chili with pinto beans and quinoa, I added both red AND black beans. Instant improvement. And then, the next time, I garnished it with avocado. Just wonderful.

This is one of the first times I've been proud enough of my concoction that I actually considered sharing the recipe. But then I realized there was no recipe. ;) So maybe next time, I'll actually write down what I'm doing so I can share it. Because I've really gotten good at this chili thing.