Monday, August 31, 2009

Vacation!

After a busy August, the Friendly Veg is embarking on a much needed vacation for two weeks... to Greece! Before I started dating my Greek-American honey, I had the ill-conceived notion that I might only get by with Greek salad and tzatziki... probably stemming from the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula's aunt gasps at John Corbett's character, "Vegetarian?? Okay, I make you lamb!" Coming from an Italian family, I already knew it could be tough for some people to understand what I will not eat and the reasons for it.

However, after a culinary revelation at the authentic Taverna Kyclades in Astoria (if you've never been, you're missing out on the best Greek food in New York!), I can't imagine my diet before eating yigades (giant beans in a tomato based sauce), zucchini balls, fried kolokithia and melanzani (zucchini and eggplant), black eyed peas & spinach, and horta (dandelion greens). Well-rounded, vitamin-packed, and mostly vegan, the Greek palate has definitely become one of my favorite cuisines.

And now, off to Greece, and here's to hoping I'll have lots of vegetarian tid-bits to report back on! See you in two weeks readers!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"The Real Cost of Cheap Food"

This week's Time magazine cover got my attention of course; while one of the biggest critiques of the organic food industry is it's cost, one must ask themselves what's the real cost of cheap food on their health. And Time just does that. With a number of fascinating interactive features included in the web article, and a sad graphic in the magazine about how many calories a dollar can purchase (1,200 calories of potato chips as opposed to 170 calories of fresh fruit- thanks Big Food for royally screwing the American public!), this is worth a read for anyone interested in food politics... and might just sway you to start buying more organic food, if you don't already do so.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spring Street Natural Restaurant and Bar

You've seen some of Manhattan's village-fabulous (you know the types!) sipping on organic coffee outside the Spring Street Natural Restaurant and Bar and probably wondered if it was those scenesters' coffee and cigarettes or the resto's natural food that keeps them looking as if they really don't dine out (or dine, period).

After visiting the restaurant this past weekend for an early dinner, I assure you, it's neither. With plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on Spring Street Natural Restaurant's menu, it was just the satiating meal we needed after running errands around the city. We were seated in the corner window in the warm, bistro-like setting- though I initially felt that it would be a great people-watching spot, I soon realized that I was more the watched on the tourist-filled corner of Spring and Lafayette. Slightly uncomfortable, sure, but not worth fussing and changing tables over.

We started with the grilled seitan with Korean soy-sesame sauce- though the soy-sesame sauce wasn't particularly flavorful as other soy sauce-based seasoning I've had, the seitan was fresh off the grill, and I savored even the more charred bits of the soft, chewy pieces of protein goodness! The Asian-style appetizer didn't necessarily mesh well with my identity crisis entree of tofu-cashew croquettes in a tomato-carrot sauce, served with mango-jicama slaw and sauteed pak choy, but hey, I'm up for experimenting.

And even though I'm all for mixing things up, the comfort food croquettes and sauce seemed out of place with the vibrant slaw and mild mustard-like flavor of the pak choy. I can rave about my light, crunchy, refreshing slaw and the wilted and simply flavored pak choy, but my croquettes were a bit bland, and the tomato-carrot sauce, which was decidedly more carrot than tomato, didn't do anything for the dish- in fact, it overloaded the soft croquettes, which were also composed of carrot and sweet potato shreds. Had the croquettes been drizzled with another type of sauce, this dish might have fared better.

Despite the salmon, my honey's French lentil salad looked delicious- fresh greens, tomatoes, olives, and caramelized shallots with a generous portion of lentils atop the salad- and seemed to be a good indicator of the quality of salads served here.

The resto has been serving up healthy, organic cuisine since 1973, before such dining became as trendy as Soho itself. Many of Spring Street's menu items don't stray far from your average health food restaurant or quaint bistro's menu, which might bore some diners, but they've got their solid staples, and really, it's probably better than waiting on that long line for the calorie-laden dishes at Balthazar anyway.

Spring Street Natural Restaurant, 62 Spring Street at Lafayette Street, 212-966-0290

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PETA Billboard: Is it Actually Controversial or Are People Afraid to Face the Facts?


And on another note about provocative ways to bring attention to unhealthy eating habits...

PETA's new billboard campaign in Florida (coincidence?) this week has feminist groups and fat acceptance groups up in arms, saying that this billboard is derogatory to women and shames overweight people. PETA, however, argues that this billboard is a reminder that vegetarianism/veganism is an excellent way to lose way and still maintain a healthy diet.

I don't understand why this particular ad is any more or less offensive than PETA's previous "Pro-Life? Go Vegetarian" billboard or "Don't Pay for Two Seats" billboard with a fat torso jammed into an airplane seat or "Three Stages of a Wiener" which suggests that eating meat can make men impotent. The facts and the studies that support these claims are there, but with a third of the population considered obese, apparently people aren't doing their research. So is it the ad itself that has people angry? Or are people angry because they don't want to face the facts?

I think it's the latter.

Certainly, I'm biased in my opinion- as a vegetarian for over 8 years, I've had to put up with Big Food industries pushing agendas and lies on TV and on billboards that I don't agree with, so I don't feel much sympathy for people who claim that this is "offensive." And isn't the whole country used to seeing in-your-face PSAs from PETA by now?

Get over it and go vegetarian.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fla. Doc Fired Over "Doughnuts Equal Death" sign

I really got a chuckle from this title at first, and then I realized it wasn't a joke.

While reading the Huffington Post's article about a former Army doctor turned Bay County Florida Health Department head, I thought Dr. Newsom's funny but true "French Fries = Thunder Thighs" and "America Dies on Dunkin" signs should not be all that surprising... after all, the dude is the head of the health department! What kind of sad health department would it be if Dr. Newsom didn't promote the truth about these fatty foods or ban candy bars in the BCHC vending machines or doughnuts from staff meetings? Come on people!

And the fact that people protested about these messages enough to get Dr. Newsom fired? It just goes to show how sad the unwavering power of denial is over these sugary, fatty comfort foods. But, as he states in this article, "My method was a little provocative and controversial, but there wasn't a person in Bay Country who wasn't talking about health and healthy eating." Here's to hoping that the doc, who resigned his post and has subsquently reapplied, continues to bring attention to his cause.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Mediterranean-style


Heirloom tomato salad may be a standard on every restaurant's summer menu, but there's no one standard way to prepare it. Those big, beautifully juicy tomatoes have so much flavor, it's hard not to think of other equally delish flavors to pair them with! Heirloom isn't just an excuse to charge more for a tomato- varieties of heirloom seeds are generally passed down for generations. When you taste the difference between a regular tomato and an heirloom, heirlooms will have you saying "they don't grow 'em like they used to"... in a good way!

I took a bit of Mediterranean inspiration and added cucumbers and red onions, similar to a classic Greek salad, and topped it with a honey balsamic reduction- you can use any variety of balsamic you like, and I bet fig balsamic or lemon balsamic would be great substitutes for honey balsamic.


The Whats:

* 10 heirloom tomato slices (from one large heirloom tomato, or two small ones)
* 8 cucumber slices
* handful of mesclun greens
* 1 small onion, sliced thinly
* a handful of basil leaves, cut into slivers
* 4 oz. or half a stick fresh goat cheese, crumbled
* salt & pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup honey balsamic vinegar or regular balsamic vinegar


The Hows:

1) Plate the handful of mesclun greens on a large plate. Layer the tomato slices, cucumber slices, and crumbled goat cheese, consecutively, over one another; surround with red onion slices. Crumble remaining goat cheese over the vegetables, and top with the slivers of basil.

2) In a small skillet, heat the honey balsamic over medium-high heat; simmer until balsamic has reduced to about 1/4 cup and thickened. Remove from heat, and drizzle over the tomato salad. Sprinkle with salt & pepper if desired, and serve.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More on Veggie Trader

Too funny! The day after I post more about bartering websites, the New York Times finally decides to mention Veggie Trader in this week's Dining Section. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad this is getting coverage, but why wait so long to post some good info?

You heard it here first! :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

10 Ways to Barter for Food

My inner hippie loves the concept of bartering with your friends, neighbors, or local businesses, and in addition to my June post about the Veggie Trader website, I'd love to share with you the latest installment of Chow.com's The Ten list- 10 Ways to Barter for Food. You got fruit, veggies, soup or a couple spare hours to volunteer? You want fruit, veggies, soup, and even beer? The websites listed are your avenue to the people that want to connect and trade with you too!

I love this idea! And in channeling that inner hippie of mine, I personally would like to try #8 on that list, working at a farm booth and bringing back some vegetables as the fruit of my labor... okay, terrible pun, but it's a small price to pay- or barter- for the helpful tidbits on this site :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August Events

A listing of cool veg-friendly events happening across NYC- this is bound to be a fun filled month!


Tuesday, August 11th

Green Drinks NYC- 6pm to 10pm at Hudson Terrace, 621 W. 46th Street, $20 at the door. A fave networking event of NYC greens who will be enjoying complimentary organic cocktails and hoping the weather stays sunny for their monthly meetup at this rooftop bar.

After-Work NYC Backyard BBQ- 5pm to 7pm, the parking lot between Spring, Varick, Hudson and Vandam Streets. Barbecues can be tricky for vegetarians, I know this very well, but this event, which bills itself as a music and wine festival, boasts wine and food from City Winery (which does have some veggie options) as well as a farmer's market style vendors in the aforementioned parking lot. You're bound to find something to nosh on, or if you're like me, you get excited because wine is vegetarian and the music is free!


Wednesday, August 12th

Tastebuds NYC Happy Hour- 6:30pm to 9:30pm at BackForty, 190 Avenue B. Locavores will love this meetup- people who work in the food biz or who just love to eat network over drinks and locally grown veggies!


Thursday, August 13th

MadCrush Popup Bar- 5pm to 10:30pm at the Museum of Art and Design, 2 Columbus Circle- because you can check out art with other lushes and foodies. This Thursday, and every Thursday in August, enjoy $6 glasses of wine from Crush and $6 small plates from guest chefs (this week features dishes from Scott Conant of Scarpetta) from a winebar designed from... guess what, wine boxes.


Friday, August 14th

Earth Days Screening- 6pm at the Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th Street. An official Sundance 2009 selection, thisdocumentary chronicles the birth of the modern environmental movement- eco-minded folks looking for some history and what's sure to be an interesting Q&A with filmmaker Robert Stone should check out this event!


Sunday, August 16th

24 Hours, 24 Million Meals: Feeding New York
- 2pm at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, free with museum admission. A documentary produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the complexities of food distribution in New York City. Interesting!

Tuesday, August 18th

Tomato Celebration at Wave Hill- from 8/18 through 8/22 at Wave Hill Cafe, W. 249th Street & Independence Avenue, Bronx- Locally grown, organic tomatoes are the star of this show at Wave Hill, a beautiful 28 acre public garden in the Bronx. Enjoy tomato-based dishes by Chef Mark Spooner on the 22nd.

Thursday, August 27th

Vegan Drinks- 7pm to 9pm at Angels & Kings, 500 E. 11th Street. A monthly networking event for vegans, indulge in some drink specials and meet other like-minded people!


Ongoing in August:

New York Botanical Garden's Edible Garden
- Bronx, NY. A summer-long exhibition devoted to growing your own vegetable garden. Check out exhibits on seeds, a beginner's vegetable garden, and research stories on plants and fungi, as well as their Edible Evening Events featuring Sara Moulton and Anne Burrell of the Food Network and Saturday hands-on cooking demos with New York City chefs. Check the Botanical Garden's site

Restaurant Week, Extended through Labor Day
- if you couldn't score a table at Le Cirque, you probably still can't (they do have vegetarian lunches though!), but take comfort in the fact that you still have a number of high-profile NYC restaurants to choose from.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Baby Bok Choy Fried Rice


No one ever makes just one serving of rice, so the question always remains: what to do with the leftover rice? Aside from stuffing it in peppers or tomatoes, I like to do as the Chinese place down the block does... make fried rice. Only better. Way better.

If you're like me, you never make just plain white rice. When you've got more healthy, and more importantly, more hearty and flavorful options like wild rice, brown rice, or black rice available, why would you buy another bag of white rice ever again? This recipe can be a clear-out-the-pantry style recipe, and feel free to use different veggies in your fried rice. I put together leftover wild rice with frozen peas & corn, some hot peppers that I had used in another recipe, and decided to serve it up with some baby bok choy. Bring on that ginger for spice and the sherry for sweetness to create a balanced fried rice dish that you'll happily find way less greasy than the egg-filled sticky mess from your greasy spoon... well, in this case, greasy chopstick.


The Whats:

* about 2 to 3 cups of leftover wild rice, still cold
* 3 bunches baby bok choy
* 1/2 package frozen peas, thawed
* 1/2 package frozen corn, thawed
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 2 jalapenos (you can use bird's eye chilis or whatever you prefer!), seeded and diced
* 1 small onion, diced
* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 2 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
* 2 tbsp. sherry
* 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
* freshly ground black pepper
* sprinkle of sesame oil


The Hows:

1) Rinse the bok choy leaves; set aside leaves from one bunch of bok choy, and chop the remaining leaves.

2) In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and hot peppers and saute for two minutes. Add the peas and corn and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in the rice until just coated with the olive oil; cook for one minute, then stir in chopped bok choy, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, black pepper, and sesame oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until rice gets slightly crispy. Adjust seasoning if desired, and remove from heat.

3) Spoon fried rice over bok choy leaves and serve.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Veggie Food Picks!

Happy August! I don't know about you, but I'm still wondering where the summer's gone!

Two more great veggie products appeared on my radar this week, and I'm happy to share these great finds with you and hope that you spot them in your local grocery or health food store.

First up, the mock meat options offered up by It's All Good. At my local Food Cellar, I found their Veggie Pulled Chick'n- a blend of soy protein and wheat gluten called Gardein- in the prepared foods section. With 17 grams of protein and 120 calories per serving, I tried pan-cooking a serving with caramelized onions, as well as going the lazy man's route and using the microwave (everyone does it, and for the sake of experimentation, I did too!) for another serving. I don't recommend microwaving the Gardein Chick'n, as with many soy products, because this just ended up tough and difficult to chew. After sauteing the Gardein for about five minutes, the bite was much better and the BBQ sauce flavor, though not particularly spicy or Southwestern, was relatively sweet and went well with the caramelized onions. Throw this on a roll with some soy jack cheese, lettuce, and tomato, and you've got an easy lunch or dinner. Available at Whole Foods, Food Cellar LIC, and other gourmet markets.



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On the sweeter side of vegan grocery store picks are the Long Island City based Sweet & Sara brand gelatin-free vegan marshmallows. I found these heaven-sent puffs of deliciousness hidden among packaged slices of red velvet cake and carrot cake and other non-vegan goodies at Food Cellar. In all seriousness, these might be the best marshmallows I've ever had. Varieties like vanilla, toasted coconut, strawberry, and cinnamon pecan, my favorite, will revolutionize the way you make s'mores. Best of all, once these are toasted over an open flame and gooey, no one will be able to tell that these are vegan. You can find Sweet & Sara marshmallows in Whole Foods, the Amish Market, and at Westerly Natural Market, among other gourmet stores- at about $6 for a 8.5 oz. package, these are a worthwhile indulgence.