Vegan Scene

things are always changing
July 31, 2010, 7:22 pm
Filed under: gardening

a surviving sunflower so close to blooming...

It’s a bit hectic today, so I will leave you with a short post about sunflowers. I sowed the seeds in individual compartments and once the seedlings were root bound, I transferred them to small pots, and then again to larger ones. Once they were at this stage, the stems started to rot, and the leaves were suddenly always droopy and developing large holes. The state of these plants got so bad that I gave up with two plants, and dissembled them in the compost container. I had them on one of the sunniest parts of the yard. All the information I have read about sunflowers has said they prefer full sun!

I was desperate to try to save some, so I moved the three others to a more sheltered, but much shadier part of the garden. I thought they were goners, but within days, the plants perked up, the leaves deepened in color, the rot stopped, and in fact the stems grew thicker. I was so cheerful about how quickly the sunflowers came back into health. I am still unsure as to what went on, but there are two fully bloomed sunflowers and one that will be open by next week. I’ll be sure to do a bit of research and try to gain a bit more insight with a new batch next year. This is why I love growing: there is always the chance to learn more the next time around.

...a few days later, fully bloomed


baked falafel and beet slaw
July 30, 2010, 6:57 pm
Filed under: recipes | Tags: , ,

fragrant falafel, creamy tahini, and slaw piled atop our vegan- grown salad leaves

Before we started messing around with our own falafel recipes, we’d buy dry falafel mix, add water, and shallow fry them with lots of oil in a pan. Even after pat-drying, they were always oily, and the insides were dry and colorless. Hot, freshly made, just-baked falafel is a totally different food altogether, and one of the most comforting additions to a colorful salad.

When we cook, we usually cook a lot of food so that we have more than just one meal available from our efforts. This mix supplied over four dozen small falafel balls, so we’ve enjoyed many quick falafel-and-salad meals this past week. We made up the batter and left it in a plastic, lidded container. Whenever we wanted to eat, we rolled out the balls and baked them. The beetroot slaw and tahini dressing  stay fresh in tupper-ware  for a few days, too.  This dish is great if you happen to be catering for many people and you’ve got access to an oven.  You can pre-roll the falafel balls to bake just before serving, and prepare the salad ahead of time. It’s definitely a ‘cook in bulk’ favorite.

This is not a traditional falafel mix. We have taken the liberty of adding all the flavors we love. Feel free to drop certain spices or herbs. Whatever you want.  We do not actually have a set recipe,  but I want to share the basic structure we follow.  The integral instrument for this dish is the food processor. If you don’t have one, you can try using an electric mixer. Mashing/hand whisking might work too, but will probably require significant time and effort to get everything into a chunky batter.

Falafel Basic Ingredients:

  • 2 chopped onions
  • 7 cloves of garlic
  • lemon juice from one or two lemons
  • these fresh herbs: parsley, basil, oregano, coriander ( aka cilantro outside of UK)
  • olive oil
  • one teaspoon or more of the following spices: paprika, cumin, cumin seed, mustard seed, curry powder
  • about 120 grams dry bulgar wheat
  • about 120 grams graham flour
  • 2 cans of cooked chickpeas (or if you’re re-hydrating, about 250 grams dry weight)
  • salt n peppa

The procedure is as follows:

  1. First, set your oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, cook the bulgar. Simply place it in a pot, cover in water, sprinkle with salt, boil, reduce heat to the bare minimum, and cover until all the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. This should all take about 5 minutes. Cook the chick peas if you’re re-hydrating them yourself.
  2. Put the fresh herbs, stalks and all, into the whizzer. If you don’t have one, you will need to chop the herbs finely. Be generous! Blend/Stir/Mix.
  3. Add 2 or 3 (or 4?) tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic- it’s  nice but not essential to quickly roast it for 5 minutes or until soft before incorporating. Again, if you don’t have a processor, you will need to mince this stuff up.
  4. Toast A few tablespoons of cumin and mustard seeds in a dry pan set to low-medium heat on the stove.  This only takes a few minutes. You can stop when they are popping.
  5. Add the popped spices along with the powdered spices (paprika, cumin, curry powder). Stir it up for a moment.
  6. Add the other ingredients (the cooked bulgar, chickpeas, graham flour, onion, salt, pepper,  and lemon juice), gradually, blending as you incorporate bits of each ingredient. Blend it ’til it is a goopy paste that is thick and form-able. You probably won’t need to add water, but do so gingerly if you do. Beware the fatal mistake of adding too much liquid.
  7. Now you are ready to roll the batter into balls and bake them. Use non-stick baking paper. After about ten minutes, turn the balls over. Bake for another five to ten minutes, at which point they should be ready. Test one by cracking it open if you want. Now they are ready to eat!

As for the slaw, you’ll need to peel three or four medium sized beet roots. Next grate the beets with a large red onion.  A food processor is excellent for this step.  Add lemon juice and whatever seeds you have on hand. Tinker with the dressing ingredients or add new veggies to the slaw to make a new creation. Pile up on salad leaves or by itself to serve along side pretty much anything!

We also used a tahini dressing for the falafel and salad, which keeps fresh when sealed in a container and chilled. Simply whisk a few heaped table spoons of tahini paste, six or seven minced garlic cloves (slightly roasted is nice here, too!),  a few table spoons of lemon juice, salt and bit of water.

The above will make enough for two people to eat three or four light meals. It may sound involving, but it only took about 45 minutes to prepare everything and get our first servings on the table.

hello, young sprout
July 29, 2010, 7:04 pm
Filed under: gardening, health, recipes | Tags: , ,

Sprouts are meant to be some of the most health giving foods ever. They are alive as alive could be. They have phytochemicals, pretty much every nutrient, proteins, and enzymes. I love googling the health properties of different sprouts, especially when I’m having a slow day.

My favorite seed to sprout is definitely broccoli. It very quickly turns from a sleepy, black seed to a bright green, crispy carpet of yum.

broccoli seeds ready to eat after 2 days of germination!

broccoli seeds, ready to eat after only 2 days of germination!

We love all the different kinds of sprouts around here. Alfalfa is especially healthy and tasty, but I have discovered it is a faster growing sprout in cold weather. My alfalfas were germinated the same night as my brocs, but these guys still need to grow. In the winter, when the kitchen is much cooler, the alfalfa  zooms out of its golden shell.

alfalfa having a slow day in the heat

If you’re new to sprouting, you will need to find a jar and a piece of breathable cloth like moslin or cheese cloth.  You could also purchase a sprouting container. In my experience, the container is worth the money. With the jar, you can’t drain off as much moisture, making for damp, sometimes moldy growing conditions. The design of the container (we use a  Vogel Biosnacky) allows for more moisture to escape.

Most seeds need to be soaked overnight to get them germinating, but some only need a few minutes of soaking. After this step, put the seeds in a jar for a few days, rinsing and draining once to twice daily. Before long, your sprouts will be ready to eat.

There are so many different seeds to sprout. We’ve tried chickpea, sunflower, mung bean, buckwheat, and the spicy radish!

in the veganning
July 28, 2010, 7:45 pm
Filed under: ethos/philosophy | Tags:

Our vegan story started as a love story. I met my husband at Coachella Music Festival when I was 19. He was a vegetarian and I was a meat eater. We starting traveling and living together immediately, and ‘the meat issue,’ was a hot topic between us. At first I dismissed it, like so many meat eaters do.

Slowly, I started viewing the idea of eating meat in a different light. Daley never hesitated to voice his concerns for animal liberties, or for the many health implications of eating meat. When we moved to his home in England, he said he had never cooked meat in his pans, and out of respect, I decided I wouldn’t eat meat at his (our) house. I was surprised at how easy it was to cut it out of my diet. I loved the meals we created in those early days, and Daley was introducing me to new spices, flavors, and veggies all of the time.

One day, we decided to eat in a restaurant. Because I hadn’t eaten meat for the longest period in my life (about three weeks), I ordered chicken fajitas. I was surprised to find that I did not at all enjoy my experience.  It actually made me sick, and at that point I no longer felt the need for meat in my diet. This is what I wrote at the time:

“tonight the camper stove ran out of gas so instead of spicy stir fry with sevina peppers (the hottest on the planet), daley and i ate at a small cafe where i made a mistake. i ordered and ate chicken fajitas after not having meat in about 3 weeks. so i came home and puked up the soul of the poor little chicken. it only takes 4 weeks from egg to fajita. they just pump this poor thing with fatty chemicals.and, and i think tonight i am officially a veggirl.”

We went on as vegetarians for a year, always eager to discuss “animal rights,” but never knowing enough. We had yet to gain knowledge of the living conditions of enslaved, mass produced animals, or see the gruesome footage of the slaughterhouses where ‘organic’ dairy cows and laying hens are sent. We had never met a vegan, and knew very little about the subject. As far as we knew, we could never live without cheese or eggs.

That all changed when we moved next door to a group of vegans. One day, I was chatting outside with Elsa, one of the neighbors, and I noticed that she was quick to correct me for using the word ‘vegetarian,’ in lieu of ‘vegan,’ when referring to a particular food establishment. “You mean it’s a vegan place. They do not serve anything from an animal.” That got me wondering; why was she so adamant to make the distinction?

That question dove me head first into veganism. Not long after that conversation,  I found a movie named Earthlings on the web. The website’s slogan was daring me to “make the connection,” so I called Daley over, and we watched it together. The documentary was the most horrific thing either of us had ever seen. I cried, because I was terrified for the animals I saw, and because of my role in supporting the practices I witnessed. I sat watching, wide-eyed, feeling like I could vomit. We saw the murder of the dairy and egg industries, and realized that they were just subdivisions of the meat trade. We learned vegetarianism could never be enough.  Before it was over, we had both decided to stop partaking in the animal industry.

Here we are, two years after that vital decision. Our health has improved, and concurrently our ideas about nutrition and nonviolence have deepened. We both believe veganism to be the substructure for a better, more peaceful way of existing.

The Compost Heap
July 27, 2010, 7:40 pm
Filed under: gardening | Tags: , ,

Composting is important. First of all, it makes use of all the vegetable waste matter that too many of us sadly throw in the bin or down the garbage disposal. Secondly,  it will give your garden nearly everything it needs to grow and blossom. Most importantly, it makes for a more self sufficient vegan gardener!! Since one of the aims of the vegan organic gardener is to reduce the amount of external inputs to a minimum,  composting one’s own vegetable and garden matter is an essential.

compost ready for using

To start a heap,  get a container and a cover at least the size of a garbage can. Get something that has holes/slats, or drill some holes yourself if need be. The compost will need to breath.  We nailed together wooden pallets and they work great. Our containers don’t have anything on the bottom, which is also recommended for breathing.

Next, start piling up your vegetable waste, tea bags, small amounts of wood ash or saw dust, dry leaf matter, shredded cardboard and paper. Most gardeners will talk about “green material,” ie vegetables and grass, and “brown material,” which would be dry leaves, cardboard, hay,  chipped twigs, stalks, and pine needles.

After three to seven months, once the pile has accumulated a large amount of material, it needs to be turned. Put the freshest matter on the bottom of a new pile. We turned our heap this past weekend and added layers of cut grass and evergreen material.  We’ve found that having separate containers for a new heap and an old heap is necessary for this step. After another four to six months of sitting, the compost should be dark, crumbly, and non-smelly. If this is the case, then it can be used for anything- seed germination, potting/repotting, or existing beds.

potato-corn-kale chowder!
July 26, 2010, 7:40 pm
Filed under: gardening, recipes | Tags: , ,

I am a soup addict. I will eat it for breakfast, and certainly again for meals later in the day. So naturally, my thoughts turned to sweet, creamy chowder as I was harvesting  golden potatoes buried outside in the dirt.

It was overcast and cloudy as I was harvesting our Duke of York spuds, so my inherent craving for soup was heightened by the murky sky above, which by the way, was the same color as chowder!!

the duke of york variety

A few notes about the  growing process: After chitting the potatoes for about a month in early spring, we planted them out into beds that were made from wooden pallet boards left out for recycling by the nearby industrial estates. We mixed together sifted top soil with a bit of compost. We haven’t given these plants any top dressings, seaweed, or comfry, so suffice to say, they don’t ask for much. They  grow quickly, though!

this is where i dug up the treasure

You have to keep covering the plants as they grow taller. The newly covered stems will turn into potato-producing roots. They will get large and bushy. Then, they will produce beautiful flowers. Our Duke of York spuds were ‘early potatoes,’ so they flowered in the beginning of July. When the flowers die off, you can start to harvest. Round about now they are systematically being made into  meals like potato-corn-kale chowder!

creamy and dreamy

To start the soup, I got one pot hot with olive oil and added my kale stalks, onion, thickly cut carrots, thyme, salt, and pepper. In another pot, I made a quick stock consisting largely of whole celery stalks and fresh herbs. I used thyme, sage, and a dill flower. The dill flower needed to be plucked from the stock after only a few minutes, otherwise it would have been totally overpowering.  Once the stock had a bit of a rolling boil, I strained and added it to the sauteing vegetables, added the whole celery stalks to the new pot (to keep infusing flavor), and let it come back up to a boil. Next I added the potatoes, reduced the heat to a medium, and went outside to play fetch with my dog, Faith.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, the potatoes were doing their starchy thing that they do when you add potatoes in AFTER the boil. At this point I swirled in a glug of soy milk, and a heaping tablespoon of that killer pesto paste. Shortly thereafter it was time to add a tin of sweet corn, lots of thinly chopped kale leaves, salt, and pepper.

As it so happens, the next and only step left was to get a heavy hitting dose of chowder into my soup craving system!

chowder and pesto spread pita

ragged jack
July 25, 2010, 12:07 pm
Filed under: gardening, recipes | Tags: , ,

We are growing a patch of 13 monstrous kale plants. We’ve been harvesting about two weeks now and these puppies are massive. They are so happy to be alive! We could eat kale every night with dinner and still have an abundance of the stuff  and it will keep coming til the end of winter. Hallelujah!

Ragged Jack kales with their neighbors The Broccolis

The variety we have is called Ragged Jack. It is very stalky. Jack is also very leafy, but the stalks are undeniable…the gardener/cook must have these stalks in mind when working with old Ragged Jack or s/he will be overwhelmed.

Here’s what I have devised: I get the cast iron medium hot with olive oil, separate all of Jack’s leafy bits from his stalk, and slice the stalk up sliver thin. Then I slice up a red onion equally thin, and saute for a solid 15 minutes with salt, pepper, and paprika. I let this stuff really sweat it out. THEN I add the chopped up, rinsed off kale leaves, pop a cover on for 3 or four minutes, and there we have it: a tender side of kale!

Feel free to add pre-soaked raisins in with the stalks and onion. You’ll also want some sort of dressing- try tahini or the cashew pesto paste I blogged about here.

homegrown goodness