Who Eats Better?

Vegan Challenge: Hosting Dinner

About once a week some friends and I take turns hosting each other for dinner.  We aptly call it “Monday Night Dinner.”  Some of our most stand-out dishes include Alaskan salmon, pho with thinly sliced beef, and most recently, steak and cheesy potatoes.  So when it was my turn to host during my vegan challenge, I was pretty nervous.  I almost hoped my friends would forget I was forsaking meat and cheese and I could just trick them into thinking this was just like any other meal.  They all came in with their vegan jokes, however, so I knew I wasn’t going to be pulling any wool over any eyes. 


Fortunately, I live in Boulder, CO: the land of dietary restrictions including veganism, gluten-free, and granola-loving hipsters.  It wasn’t hard to find some help.  A vegetarian co-worker, formerly a strict vegan, had a stash of favorite vegan recipes that he shared with me.  One of his favorites was a Rustic Bread and Eggplant Lasagna.  It has layers of tomato sauce, but instead of noodles in between, there’s sourdough bread, and instead of meat and cheese, you’ll find roasted eggplant.  Topped with breadcrumbs and fresh basil, it was a beautiful and tasty dish. 

Although it’s called lasagna, I’m not sure we really missed the noodles and meat because the dish was so unique and flavorful.  Still, for my non-vegan friends, and to settle my dinner-hosting nerves, I had the Parmesan cheese and seasonings prominently displayed. 

They dabbled in the cheese (who wouldn’t?), but overall, we all really enjoyed it. 

I will say, the sourdough bread added quite the sour element, almost overpowering to me.  If I make this again, I might try it with another hearty herbed loaf.  Or I’ll just wait a couple weeks and use noodles and hamburger meat…who am I kidding? 

Happy Earth Day!

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than with a vegan earth day cake? View the full Earth Day post here.

Vegan Challenge: I Draw the Line at Yeast!

One week in and the vegan diet has been treating me well.  I unintentionally dropped three pounds, not necessarily due to not eating any cheese, but because I stopped snacking on junk food or doing late-night fridge raids.  While my body has been responding well, my sub-conscious has developed a snide side I never knew existed.  I feel like I’m constantly thinking of and being reminded of all the food I’m not allowed to eat.  It’s like someone gave me a coloring book, but took away more than half the crayons.  Grocery shopping has been a little more exhausting because I have to read the ingredients of everything.  It took me 20 minutes to find a loaf of bread I could eat as well as afford.  Why do I have to pay twice as much for fake sour cream?  

I decided that during my 30-day challenge I was going to be a strict vegan when it comes to food (winter is almost over and I’m taking full advantage of my leather boots before I put them back in storage), so I decided to go as far down as bee’s honey.  I got off my brew pub job early today so stuck around to order a new Braggot ale we have on tap, which is a hybrid of beer and mead.  My careful co-worker reminded me that the beer was made with honey, and then continued with the idea that since yeast is technically “alive”, some vegans don’t consider it on their animal-free menu.  She had me on the honey, but I draw the line at yeast!

The Vegan Challenge: Cold "Tofurky"

It all started with movie night at home.  I decided to forego my usual cheesy chick flick or horror cult classic (don’t ask) and choose something more educational, or in this case “vegucational” because I went with the documentary, Vegucated.  The movie follows three New York City omnivores through a six-week vegan challenge.  I did end up getting a mix of my favorite movie genres: there were plenty of gory images, literally involving chicks.  Less

How can you hate these little guys?

than 30 minutes in I was sobbing and calling my mother, blubbering, “Did you know what they do to cute baby pigs?  I’ll never eat bacon again!”  Her immediate response was, “Turn it off.”  So I did, but it only takes a spark to light a fire, right?


Even though I only saw a small part of Vegucated it raised a lot of questions, so I set to work on doing some research.  I always thought veganism was a newer, even trendy, concept, but boy, was I wrong.  The word “vegan” was first coined in the early 20th century, and it meant practically the same then as it does now.  Further research led to some jarring facts: factory farms bribe the government with millions of dollars a year to keep the animals we eat (cows, pigs, chickens) from being protected by law and treated more humanely; the most toxic form of the poison arsenic is used in chicken feed to promote faster growth; and the average American consumes about half a ton of cheese in their lifetime (America!).  Now, I had to take everything with a grain of salt because of course documentaries like Vegucated and other vegan-promoting resources were only going to tell me the benefits of eating vegan and the horrible things that can happen if you don’t.  It’s on the same line as sex education classes when we were younger: abstinence or STD. Eat vegan or get cancer. 

It’s not all so black and white.  As with any lifestyle different from the “American norm”, there seems to be a ton of controversy revolving around veganism.  Why is there so much judgment and misunderstanding spawning from what we’re choosing to put in our mouths?  This question led me to Jonathan Fields’ blog post “Belief Without Compassion“.  In a nutshell, the post is a response to a notable figure in the health and vegan world choosing to return to an omnivorous diet.  Her choice to step out of the vegan closet was met with an explosion of reactions, positive and negative alike, but Fields’ point is that what a lot of us are missing is compassion.

I’ll admit that it’s extremely hard not to be judgmental when you encounter a belief different from your own.  I especially have a lot of opinions when it comes to food.  It’s difficult for me to immediately find compassion when people won’t try new things, or refuse to look at the dessert menu, or order a small salad inside the greatest burger joint west of the Mississippi.  When someone would tell me they were vegan, I would always think, “Why?”  Not because I was interested in their choice, but because I didn’t understand why anyone would want to limit themselves so extremely, which is how I’ve always thought about veganism: limiting oneself.

“Gourmet, Meatless, and Delicious!”
So now I want to “vegucate” myself and partake in a 30-day vegan challenge.  I want to see if it’s as limiting as I’ve always perceived it, if and how others find compassion in my choice, and if I notice any health benefits in the short time frame.  I’ve researched the healthy way to make the change and have been slowly transitioning for the past six weeks, but now I’m going cold turkey, or cold “Tofurky”, to be more vegan-friendly.  I’m not going to lie, I’m a little apprehensive, especially since I just brought up turkey, which coincidentally goes great with a slice of cheese, some bacon, and mayonnaise (is it bad that I’m already hungry?), but I think this is going to be a great learning experience!  

"Must Go Faster!"

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Last night marked an important event in movie and my history: my all-time favorite movie Jurassic Park was re-released in theaters in 3D!  For the past week I had been counting down the days until last night, and had been trying to find a way to make it even more special.  If you read my last post about The Walking Dead finale, you know that I love themed food.  So last night, I invited my friends to come over before the movie to pick out some movie theater candy, and this is what they saw:

It took about two hours of time to make, but I think the hardest part was not eating my weight’s worth in candy during the process.  My friends and roommates were pleasantly surprised and all duly impressed with the resemblance to the actual logo.



I reconstructed the 3D logo out of Red Hots, Lemonheads, marshmallows, and chocolate chips.  The best part: it was completely edible because I used agave nectar as glue. 

We all had a few pre-movie drinks around the masterpiece which led to this:

Unfortunately I underestimated the adhesive power of agave nectar, so some sections I’d done a day earlier were stuck pretty well, but it didn’t stop my friends from digging in and showing off their own amusing candy-art skills.


With jumbo sodas in hand and 3D glasses on, we thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic Park on the big screen.  I don’t usually condone talking during movies, but we, among others in the theater, whooped, clapped, and recited lines with the characters at our favorite scenes.  I’ve seen the movie 100 times, but seeing it in 3D in a theater with your best friends was like seeing it for the first time again.  It’s still my absolute favorite movie, and now even more will it hold a dinosaur-sized place in my heart. 

Braaaains! And Cupcakes

I love AMC’s The Walking Dead, and if there’s anything I love more than food, it’s food with a theme.  In honor of my favorite show’s Season 3 finale, and the graphic novel it’s based off of, I decided to do a comic themed post to exhibit the “zombie treats” I made on Sunday.  Enjoy!
  

The Stomach Flu Woes

Oh, woe is me, too long from the blog have I been away.
I haven’t been gone, or on vacation, I hate to say.
No shortage of internet, or want of paper and pen.
My typing hands still worked, and my head was a ten.

The reason for my absence is much more internal.
Let me explain why I ditched my online journal.
The life of a food blogger relies on “gastro-creativity.”
So a bout of stomach flu severely limits blog activity.


No food for two days, warm broth doesn’t count.
Room temperature ginger ale is nothing to brag about.
Roiling and gurgling, crying out for my “mummy”.
I saw no reason to record this distress of my tummy.

On day three I followed some motherly advice.
And finally made myself a small bowl of rice.
I’ve never been keen on the grain, but let me tell you.
After two days of liquids, it was so nice to chew!

I felt fine, good enough to stand up on my feet.
But the rice wasn’t enough, I wanted more food to eat.
I wined and dined with friends, didn’t even think twice.
It never occurred that later I’d be paying the price.

Day four was a doosey, I was back to square one.
Only warm broth and ginger ale, and my pride was a none.
Roiling and gurgling, crying for mom once again.
She’d always be there to help ease the pain.

All of day five, I stuck to my mother’s first advice.
The only thing I ate was rice, rice, and rice.
Day six, rice for breakfast, some light juice for lunch.
Dinner was a treat, I was allowed toast to munch.

Day seven was perfect, but I still took it easy.
I didn’t want my stomach to again feel so queasy.
Today I’m complete, even better than before.
My belly and I made peace and ended the war.


If there’s one thing I learned from this stomach bug.
It’d be a lesson in greed, and being overly smug.
But above all of that, more so than the rest.
The main thing I learned is that mother knows best.

The Italian Saint With an Irish Fate

The Italian Saint With an Irish Fate

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day: the best illegal holiday in the country!  By illegal, I mean that it is not nationally recognized as a legal holiday in the U.S.  You would think after more than 300 years of celebrating, we could at least get the day off work or school.  No matter, it hasn’t and never will stop us from donning green and observing our Irish heritage if it’s part of our lineage, or just adopting an Irish background for the day.  I think you could argue St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest celebrations in American culture, spanning over several days and including countless festivals and parades.  Even with that being said, I’m not sure the majority of Americans know how the green day came to be, and who this so-called St. Patrick really is.

 

St. Patrick is undoubtedly one of the most widely recognized saints in the world, always connected to Ireland.  Before he became a saint, he was Italian born in the country of Scotland.  Unfortunately, he didn’t travel to Ireland by choice with the dreams of entering sainthood.  He was actually kidnapped as a teenager and brought to Ireland as a slave until he escaped back to his Scottish home in his early 20s.  After becoming a cleric and having a vision to serve the Irish people, he returned to Ireland and the rest is history.

 

 

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Irish band at the Boulder, CO festival

St. Patrick’s Day, also known as the Feast of St. Patrick in Ireland, was originally celebrated as a deeply religious day of remembrance of St. Patrick and his work in establishing Christianity in Ireland.  March 17 is believed to be the day of his death.  Throughout centuries of observance, the holiday has become much more cultural than religious, eventually resulting in an annual one-day alcohol ban in the early 1900s which stayed in effect for 70 years.  Can you imagine not being able to indulge in a Guinness or green beer for our dear St. Pat?  I know I can’t.  In the late 1990s, the very first St. Patrick’s Day festival was inaugurated all in the name of tourism, and the holiday most closely resembled its U.S. counterpart and how we’ve always known it to be.
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“Baby Guiness” shooters

 

The American St. Patrick’s Day has always been a cultural holiday since Irish immigrants brought the tradition overseas solely to remember their home country.  March 17 and the weekend closest is one of my favorite times of year!  It definitely helps that I come from an Irish family, and the first time I experienced Guinness was in the homeland, but the main reason I love this holiday is that Americans, no matter their ancestry, adopt another culture, the Irish culture, for the day.  It might be a little over the top (I’m looking at you, Chicago, dyeing your river green), but that’s the best part!
 
“Irish hot dog”
This year, I celebrated all weekend long starting with a quick visit with my O’Connor cousin in Denver.  We dined on whiskey cocktails and what I interpreted as Rueben eggrolls.  So good!  Sunday was the big day, however, back in Boulder, CO.  The only Irish pub downtown, Connor O’Neil’s, had a mini festival, utilizing the outdoor space behind the pub.  Guinness and green beer was flowing, an Irish band was jamming, a sea of green was jigging, and corned beef was warming.  I had my face airbrushed with sparkly shamrocks to match my green attire and with Guinness in hand I was happier than a leprechaun discovering the pot o’ gold (I couldn’t resist the Irish pun).  Festival food trucks introduced me to hotdogs topped with corned beef, kraut, and jalapenos, while I introduced friends to the “Baby Guinness” shooter: Kahlua on the bottom, Bailey’s on top.  They’re adorably delicious.  It was a day-long party lasting until long after dark, but it never waned and I was already looking forward to next year (I found out they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in South Korea!).
Healthy Shepherd’s Pie
I ended the celebrations with a healthy twist on an Irish classic: Shepherd’s Pie.  Instead of ground beef or lamb I used turkey, and I packed it full of spinach, green beans, peas and carrots, and the top was a mixture of pureed cauliflower and mashed potatoes.  It was a perfect way to recover from and conclude the green weekend.  Thank you, dear St. Patrick, for bringing Christianity to Ireland, and in turn, Guinness to America!

 

…and my most recent (2013), but certainly not the last.
My first Guinness (2004)…

Drew’s Variation: Spicy Chorizo-Stuffed Pork Loin

My younger brother Drew is an aspiring chef.  I think for at least the last decade the kitchen has been Drew’s domain.  Last year, at the age of 17, he published a calendar with beautiful pictures of some of his favorite creations, accompanied by recipe cards.  He’s amazing, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my little brother.  If I was stranded on an island and could only bring one thing, I’d bring him because we could quote Monty Python over some creative feast made out of coconuts and fish.  “Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?” (Direct quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)


Anyway, I invited some friends over and decided to take a stab at Drew’s stuffed pork loin.  I started with the biggest cut of meat I’ve ever purchased for myself: a 4 ½ pound pork roast.  It was a little intimidating so I cut off about a pound (which I used to make pulled pork tacos about a week later: yum!), but it was still quite the feat to carve off the fat and then slice the whole thing in half, long ways.  After marinating, it was stuffed with chorizo sausage, fresh cilantro and spinach, and some lime zest and juice.  Once it was tied shut it kind of looked like a giant hoagie.  It was a monster of meat! 
The marinade ingredients included tequila, so it was only natural that my friends and I sipped on lime margaritas while the meat monster grilled and I simmered some colorful peppers and onions for the accompanying Mexican rice.  The thick pork took about an hour to cook through, and we were all coughing on paprika that had infused the air, but the cooking process was my favorite part of the evening.  All eight of us were crammed into the kitchen, engaging in separate conversations, sometimes all joining into one, listening to music, choking a bit on spices, and laughing.  The food was more difficult and took longer to prepare than I had anticipated, but I couldn’t have been happier with my friends there to keep me company and pitch in where needed.  It really was the perfect evening.
Back to the pork: it turned out to be incredible.  I was worried I had overcooked it out of fear of subjecting everyone to raw meat consumption, but it was so juicy and tender, and the stuffing was the perfect complement!  It brought a little heat, but the mild Mexican rice and vegetables kept the bite at bay.  I also served a small tomato and cucumber salad as a palate cleanser.  Our kitchen conversations easily transferred to the dinner table where the talking and laughing flowed as smoothly as our sweet margaritas. 
Cheers, little bro!  I couldn’t be prouder and am even more excited to try my hand at the other 11 recipe cards which include Gyro Burgers, Sausage and Goat Cheese Pizza, and Chocolate Zucchini Cake!

The Frozen Dead Guy

Yesterday marked the final day of the 12th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival in Nederland, CO. It’s a weekend-long celebration incorporating coffin races, snowy “beach” volleyball, an icy polar plunge, hearse parade, and frozen salmon tossing. I unfortunately got a late start to the icy festivities on Sunday due to some ice cold drinking festivities late Saturday night (oops!), but I did manage to catch a glimpse of some ice turkey bowling. Participants were sliding a giant frozen turkey down a snowy lane with hopes of achieving a 10-pin strike. It gave a whole new meaning to the bowling term “turkey” meaning three strikes in a row (which actually comes from the late 19th century when bowlers would be prized with a live turkey for the three-strike scoring feat).

So, why is it called Frozen Dead Guy Days? Get ready for some Bizarre History 101. The festival commemorates Grandpa Bredo, a Norwegian outdoorsman who would be 109 years old today had he not died of a heart condition in 1989. Because of Bredo’s family’s strong advocacy for cryonics, and their dream of starting an “ice preservation facility” (to put it nicely) of their own one day, Grandpa was packed in dry ice soon after his passing and shipped off to California. After four years of a liquid nitrogen bath, he was off to his current home: his grandson’s shed in the beautiful mountain town of Nederland, CO. Sadly, his family was deported back to Norway in the 90’s, but Grandpa Bredo is still well-preserved and cared for thanks to his personal caretaker “Iceman”, and the local and international support that comes from the memorial festival.
Even though yesterday was a chilly 30-degrees, the festival was a hotspot. Two packed tents set the backdrop with persistent live music. There were tons of sweater-clad dogs, flamboyant costumes, and dead-guy painted faces. I, of course, was anxious to scope out the festival food.  While I did find the densest of deep-dish pizzas, marshmallow-cereal treats the size of bricks, and hot sausages smothered in cheese and sauerkraut, the fodder wasn’t the star of the show.  I think that award goes to the local beer and live music.  Several Colorado brews were in attendance and the crowd alone was a testament to the musicians’ popularity.  The aura surrounding the tiny town was incredible.  Everyone seemed perfectly content to stand in the cold with each other.  It was almost ironic how visible our breath was when we were there to remember a frozen dead guy.  The festival is called the Frozen Dead Guy Days, but it’s really saying, “We’re still alive, so let’s celebrate!”