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restaurant review: ecopolitan

25 Mar

I’ve been aware of the uptown restaurant Ecopolitan for quite some time. I always wrote it off as “way to hippy for me”. I knew they were a raw vegan restaurant and to me that was scary.

Meghan has been trying to get me to go there for awhile and somehow I managed not to schedule that gathering. However, with vegan lent , I knew it was bound to happen. So, Meghan, Willa and I (the MN vegan lent briggade) made a date to go check it out.

Ecopolitan is more than just a restaurant. It is also a Juice Bar, Wine bar and an Eco-shop. It’s a non-profit organization which promotes Eco-Raw Living, which according to their web site is an “educated lifestyle that harmonizes health science, nutrition, ecology, and community to promote a sustainable future on Earth” They provide many different Health Services, “uncooking” classes, lectures, eco-stay retreats and more.  You can check out their website for more details, as I’m going to just focus on the food.

Meghan had eaten there before and couldn’t say enough about it. As a long time vegetarian, she loves that she can order anything on the menu without haveing to ask for modifications. I totally get that. I, however, was still skeptical. Mainly that I was going to stick out as a sore thumb.

So, how did it go?

Pretty well, actually. I’m not saying that I’m going to be going there on a weekly basis, but overall, the experience was better than I expected. The company helped, of course.

So, let me break this down….

Atmosphere: Ecopolitan is in an old house so that’s kind of cute. The two front rooms serve as the dining room and the kitchen and pre-made items and smoothie bar are in the back. The table and chairs reminded me of what I picked up at a garage sale to furnish my first apartment, but they seemed to fit well for this place. It was full the whole time we were there (on a Monday), but it wasn’t overly loud. It definitely has a laid back vibe.

Service: Here’s where they lost me. Our waitress was very nice and gave excellent recommendations. Can you sense a but coming your way? It’s a big one. Everything there literally moves at a snails pace. Maybe that’s supposed to be part of the charm, but it did not work on me. It took forever to get our main courses. In fact, in total our meal took 2 1/2 hours – and it wasn’t because we were gabbing away like crazy…it just took that long to get our food. What doesn’t make sense to me about this is that this is a RAW restaurant. Meaning – they didn’t have to actually cook my food, just assemble it. And, it seemed like many of the components of our dishes were likely made ahead of time. So, what gives? Does this laid back vibe mean slow-mo in the kitchen? Apparently. I probably wouldn’t mind had it been a Friday or Saturday night. But it was a Monday and I turn into a pumpkin at 9 p.m., so this really got on my nerves.


The food was tasty and very different. I really want you to be able to see what it looked like, but my photos are horrible. I’m going to show them to you anyway so you get the gist. Apparently the cough and cold I was suffering from made me forget the basic functions of a camera.

We ordered the Cashew “Cheese” Log for an appetizer. Here is the description: Rolled in sun-dried tomatoes, olives, & fresh basil. Served with balsamic onions & flax crackers. It tasted a lot like a vegetable cream cheese spread and it was pretty tasty with the flax crackers. I would have never known it was made with cashews.

We each ordered a different entree so we could all sample a few things.

My dish was the favorite of the evening and was a recommendation of our waitress:

ECO-SAUSAGE PIZZA – Macadamia-cashew “cheese”, walnut eco-sausage, bell pepper, marinated mushrooms, onion, & ginger marinara sauce.

It was so good and tasted and smelled a heck of a lot like pizza. If I go back, I’ll be ordering that again.

Meghan had the next best at the table:

PESTO PASTA – Pine nut pesto on zucchini noodles with tomato, bell pepper, marinated mushrooms, & walnuts. Served on balsamic- vinaigrette-dressed spinach.

The zucchini noodles were very fun and came with a lot less guilt than a pile full of pasta and we all really enjoyed the dish. It had plenty of flavor….thought not as much as my pizza.

Then there was Willa’s dish:

NOT-CHO “CHEESE” PLATE – Pine nut “cheese” on greens with bell pepper, cucumber, marinated mushrooms, onion, cilantro, cashew “sour cream,” & hot sauce. Served with eco-chips.

I think we were all most intrigued about this dish. It is served over kale so to me it looked more like a salad with a few chips on the side. More chips would’ve been welcomed at the table. My main issue with the dish was the spice. Now, I know I’m a wuss when it comes to spice, but I have gotten so much better the past few years. This, however, was way to much for me. One bite was all I could handle. Willa, the who has the ability to eat habaneros as a snack, didn’t have a problem with the spice, but it wasn’t her (or Meghan’s) favorite either. I don’t think any of us would order it again.

While we were eating we saw a gigantic sundae-type dish come out, so we immediately asked about it and then ordered it. Eating a raw food meal I think automatically means you get dessert.

We did check out the pre-made desserts in the case, but nothing really looked that great. Plus, I think we were sold on the sundae as soon as we saw it.

The parfait was whipped frozen bananas and strawberries that were served in a glass coated with a coconut-date spread and nuts. We all really liked it, but weren’t necessarily blown away. You could make something just as tasty (and maybe better) at home following this recipe as your base.

So, what’s the overall opinion?

Some may find it a bit spendy compared to other restaurants (my two pieces of pizza were $15), but they used quality ingredients so that certainly didn’t bother me at all.

I think if you are a vegetarian or vegan you will love this place and appreciate the options. You might like it on a more regular basis. I think it’s an interesting experience for others to try as well – especially if you’re an adventuresome eater. I would go back if invited, but because of the sloooooowwwwww service, I won’t be running there every week. Though if Meghan figures out how to make their pizza at home, I would be really happy.

I also realized I’m far from anyone giving me a “hippy” label, but I can happily be a guest among them.

Have you been to Ecopolitan or a similar type restaurant? What did you think?

the incredible edible egg

23 Mar

The following post is by Meghan. She is one of the four people participating in vegan lent.

You know how everyone says bacon is THE reason they could never possibly be vegetarian? Pretty sure eggs are THE reason I may not be able to be full time vegan. I don’t even miss them much yet but I miss how easy and quick they are.

Vegan lent rules. I’m beyond stoked about it but I’m not gonna lie – this past week was a challenge. I was starving pretty much all week, but it is my fault. I didn’t plan well. And as we all know, eating healthy is an act of thoughtful preparation.

Lent conveniently coincides with my hell time at work which means I am working some intense hours leaving little room for much else. Between trying to get in a few gym sessions and hoping to sleep a little, my diet was mildly ignored which left me hungry. Everyday. This is typically where eggs come in as my saving grace – chock full o’ protein and oh so delicious with even just a little salt and pepper. I will save any moral commentary here because yes, I am painfully aware of the implications of eating eggs and believe it or not, think about those every time I eat them. Doesn’t mean I don’t still love ‘em.

So this weekend we planned. Big time. We cooked. Big time. And now I am ready to face a week full of healthy, delicious, homemade vegan food. Bring it on.

Until lent is over my favorite go to protein source is now Seitan. But not the weird, salty, over processed goop at the store. I finally made my own. With a little help from T-dogg of course. I actually view seitan as my “meat” in that it still doesn’t feel like the most healthy food ever. I can’t eat it everyday but for my next “I’m starving” moment, I have a supply of homemade yummy goodness to throw into just about anything.

Steamed Red Seitan ~ Adapted from Viva Vegan! by Terry Hope Romero

For my homies who know the amazingness of Horizon’s – this doesn’t even come close but it’ll do. For those who don’t know the magical heaven that is Horizon’s I will say this, if I were rich I would make special arrangements to fly to Philly on the regular solely to eat there. Nuff said.

She makes a red and white version – I like the red best so whoop here it is…

1 ½ C cold vegetable broth

4 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed

3 T soy sauce

4 T tomato paste

2 T olive oil

1 ½ C vital wheat gluten flour

¼ C chickpea (garbanzo flour)

¼ C nutritional yeast

1 t dried oregano

½ t ground cumin

1) In measuring cup, whisk together the broth, garlic, soy sauce, tomato paste, and olive oil.2) In large bowl, combine wheat gluten, chickpea flower, nutritional yeast, oregano, and cumin. Form a well in the center.

3) Pour liquid ingredients into the well and stir with rubber spatula until dough leaves the side of the bowl.

4) Knead dough for 2-3 minutes to develop the gluten (it will get kinda stringy and mushy).

5) Let dough rest for 10 minutes; knead again for 30 seconds.

6) Place dough on cutting board, cut into four equal pieces with sharp knife then lightly knead each piece a few times.

7) Shape each into a roughly oblong loaf shape.

8) Tear off four 12-inch square sheets of aluminum foil. Place a piece of dough in the of a piece of foil. Fold the short sides of foil over the loaf, then fold the long ends over. The foil should be secure but you want a lil loose space around the dough so it can expand while cooking. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.

9) Place wrapped dough in a steamer basket and steam for 30 minutes. Unwrap and let cool while sitting on foil.

She says for best texture and flavor to prepare a day or two in advance. I agree. Just make sure it cools completely before you store it. To store it, wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap. It stores up to two weeks in fridge but can also be frozen (wrap tightly) then thawed in fridge. I used the loaves after both storing methods and it was great. I’ve learned sautéing it in peanut oil gives it some awesome crunch but I’m sure cooking it up in any oil will work. We served it with homemade tortilla’s, sautéed onions and peppers in Mexican red sauce.

Are you veg or vegan? What are your favorite go to sources of protein in a pinch?

vegan for 40

9 Mar

Today is a big day. Today begins the vegan lent challenge.

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you know that I do some type of challenge for lent. Not because I’m a super religious person, but because I think it’s a fun way to try out new things. Last year was sugar-free lent. That was certainly a challenge. It was during last year’s crazy 40 days that Meghan floated the idea of vegan lent for 2011. I loved it. I cannot believe it’s already here!

For the next 40 days, I will not be eating any thing that comes from an animal. No meat, no fish, no eggs, no cheese,no yogurt, no milk, no honey, no fish sauce…you get the idea. I’m applying this challenge to food only. I’m not going to be putting aside my leather boots or looking at every single personal product I own. Food is a big enough challenge.

I recruited some friends to do it with me. Two of them you’ve met, Meghan (it was her idea…duh) and Willa. I also have an east-coast correspondent and male perspective in my buddy Jon.

I’m thrilled that I could persuade all three of them to join me in this challenge. You’ll be hearing from one of us each week on how things are going and what challenges we are facing.

To start, each of us have put together our thoughts, concerns and excitements about this challenge below.

Name: Jen

Current food philosophy:

I believe in good food. Real food. That’s about it. I don’t have a label for myself. I don’t eat a lot of meat and the meat I do eat, I’m picky about. I want to know where it comes from. I am not a fan of processed food and would like to be able to educate people on how easy it is to put together meals that don’t come from boxes. I don’t eat out a lot and when I do, I like to frequent local establishments that are also picky about the quality of their food.

I think what we eat is one of the most important factors in our health and that it is the most powerful tool we have to prevent chronic disease. No joke.

I don’t expect any of the above to change over the next 40 days….well except the part about meat since there obviously won’t be any of that.

Why you are participating in vegan lent?

After going vegetarian for the summer, I was intrigued if I could take it a step further. Meghan’s idea of trying it for lent was brilliant. I can do anything for 40 days.I’m super curious if I will feel a significant change in my energy and weight. I’m also wondering how it will affect my training for the half marathon. I also hope to expand my repertoire of vegan recipes and develop some of my own along the way.

What are you going to miss the most?

Yogurt. I eat it every day and love it so much! I will also miss runny eggs.

What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?

Fat Tuesday has been more like Fat week! I definitely had a case of “oh my god, I must eat this before lent or I’ll surely shrivel up and die”. The actual last meal was on Monday and it was thanks to Willa. It included Mexican pulled pork, black beans, arepas with butter and my addition, the carrot cake. Fat Tuesday I found myself at home with a cold, so none of the food I ate was worth writing about…except the carrot cake for dinner. :)

Is your significant other supportive?

Yes. He calls himself a vegan by association. Translation: he’ll continue to eat whatever I make here at home, but reserves the right to eat a burger when he goes out for lunch.

What are you most nervous about?

I’m more excited than nervous. I found myself wanting vegan lent to hurry up and get here already. I think the biggest challenge is going to be eating out and being in social situations where I’m not in charge of the food. I don’t want to be that gal that always has special food requests, but at the same time, I’m determined to experience this full boar and make it the whole 40 days. So….I might just have to be that gal. Or at least that gal that always has a LaraBar and a bag of almonds in her purse.

Name: Willa

Current food philosophy:

In Michael Pollan’s words, “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.” I have a tiered food philosophy that I do my best to adhere to: 1) Eat real food, not “food-like” products; 2) Eat local; and 3) Eat organic.

It may sound cliché but I love good food.  I also love to cook good food.  I was a vegetarian for 10+ years but now I eat meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. I pay attention to what I eat and how it makes me feel. This is so important, especially when training for a big event such as a half marathon.

Why are you participating in vegan lent?

I am always up for a challenge and am thrilled to have been invited to participate.

As a dedicated follower of the No Meat Athlete blog and having recently read the book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life by Brendan Brazier, I am really curious about the impact that being vegan will have on my training.

On the heels of watching Oprah’s vegan challenge episode, I admit that I am also curious about what impact, if any, eating a vegan diet will have on my weight. I will be eating out far less than I have been lately, so that alone should lead to looser clothes and a heavier wallet.

What are you going to miss the most?

I am going to miss cheese, sushi, and eggs.

What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?

Um, what haven’t I eaten during these last two weeks? Arnoldo and I dined at Travail where we ate a wide array of meat and tons of butter. We polished off Spanish chorizo sautéed with garbanzos and spinach, topped with a hearty drizzle of olive oil. I accompanied Jen to the Cheese monger in St. Paul and purchased an out of this world sandwich with delectable meats and goat cheese. I enjoyed my favorite Oaxaca tamale at La Loma. Sushi made an appearance along with a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting at my pal’s birthday party. We relished chicken, pork, yucca, fried plantains, and plenty of wine at Brasa for my birthday. And, last but definitely not least, I made Cochinita Pibil (recipe from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless) and served it with black beans, arepas, avocado, salsa, and cheese. A final homage to two of my favorite cuisines: Mexican and Venezuelan.

Is your significant other supportive?

My husband is always 110% supportive of everything that I do. I am not asking him to be vegan; he can eat anything that his heart desires.

What are you most nervous about?

I am not nervous, per se, but I know that social events and eating out will be challenging in new ways. I don’t plan on eating out very often.  I am wholeheartedly against processed foods and plan on avoiding vegan convenience foods too.

Name: Jon
Current food philosophy:
My yearnings for food typically stem from its necessity as means to survival. If it satisfies hunger and is edible, it is food. The reasons to eat are, therefore, typically void of emotion, determined by logic and prescribed by a basic instinct to consume nutrients through my mouth hole. Food is. As such, labels like “foodie,” “gourmand,” or “impassioned eater” likely will never be placed upon me, but always the inquisitivist, I can explore food as the thing of philosophic discovery and value it as each sense appreciates the object of its purpose. Of food, we know its natural qualities are the product of billions of evolutionary years, the result of natural selection and/or genetic engineering. The physical qualities of food, which systematically or randomly privilege and subvert themselves, guarantee natural or artificial reproduction for human biological and social normalcy. The taste sensations we experience are direct protections against poisonous food and a means to observe, evaluate and give preference to foods more adept in supporting the continuation of our species. Likewise, social convention tends to privilege or subvert foods consistent with social norms; for example, eating dog burgers is rarely customary in Western society but fermented cabbage is perfectly acceptable as a complement to hot dogs. Therefore the context in which food is consumed merits equal value in the assessment of its worthiness in the pool of all that is edible. But, we are bound, as we always are, by language and its limits in order to define our experience with food, which brings its own set of irreconcilable issues. Therefore I’m content to describe food as critics tend to comparatively dissect works of art and creativity — that is in terms of mood, color, contrast and texture. That’s enough philosophy for one paragraph.
Why are you participating in vegan lent?
Aside from Jen’s asking, the occasion affords the opportunity to suffer, a practice I’ve perfected. It also gives me the chance to try some new things, specifically thinking creatively about flavors that cannot be achieved or supported with animal fat. I think mostly about practicing my sauce-making skill since I have none, and it’s something that will be useful long after this exercise in self-denial has concluded. And at present and in general, I’m a bit unexcited by life and expect vegan lent to figuratively and literally spice things up.
What are you going to miss the most?
We do not eat much meat in our household. Because meat production is not particularly good for the environment or balancing the human condition, but because Sunday barbecues are the source of much pleasure, we’ve chosen to confine meat consumption to weekends. It has reduced our meat-production-related impact on the environment by 60 percent. It also means we can more enjoy glistening, fire-charred and smoked animal with narrowed guilt and can be flexible if a sudden craving for bacon overcomes us during the week. For the most part we consider ourselves vegetarian from Monday to Friday but there are some staples for which I now must find substitutes. Items typically OK in a vegetarian diet but pooh-poohed by vegans, my routine favorites are cheese, butter and egg. Until recently, I didn’t realize the extent to which these items pervaded my diet … but it’s only 40 days.
What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?
Since we are traveling and since today I start a diet of dust and crackers, I felt justified in suspending my weekday vegetarianism. On Monday, Henriët’s mom treated us to traditional rustic Dutch fare. Pre-dinner, I slid two greasy kroketten — deep-fried lengths of spiced meat paste — down my throat.
As an entree, I learned a few new Dutch words, which I’ll undoubtedly forget before we get back to H-burg: biefstuk met gebakken ui en champignons (steak with fried onion and messrooms).
Is your significant other supportive?
Henriët is usually supportive of my experimental ventures, provided they don’t cause me harm or impinge upon our relationship. As an indirect participant in this experiment, I suspect she’s averse to some of veganism’s restrictions (the Dutch are an exceptionally lactose tolerant bunch given a dairy-product cultural privilege, and there is usually a firm supply of cheese and yogurt in our refrigerator). As the sometimes recipient of my short-term culinary pursuits, I’m sure she’s equally thrilled to enjoy my successes and roll her eyes at my failures.
What are you most nervous about?
Starving to death is at the top of my list. I’m also suspect of my ability to find vegan cuisine in the Netherlands and on my return flight with AirFrance. But I’ll be back in Harrisburg Sunday and reading ingredients on labels will simplify this endeavor greatly. Lastly, I’m nervous to offend dinner hosts who are inconvenienced by my temporary choice of diet. Let’s hope they understand. I wish I did.

Name: Meghan

I am literally watching “The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Bacon” on Food Network while writing this. Ha!

Current food philosophy:

Vegetarian since 1994.

Why you are participating in vegan lent?

Ever since I became a vegetarian I’ve struggled with not just going whole hog – did I just say that? Gross! Ethically speaking veganism aligns very well with the way I try to live my life yet somehow I just never made the leap.

Jen and I started talking about this over a year ago during sugar free lent and I am excited that the time has come. My body also does this weird thing about once a year… something just goes off that says I should avoid dairy. I’ve never listened and instead said things to my friends like, “yeah, my body is telling me to stop eating dairy and I consider it… then I have an ice cream cone.” So now my body is craving a little vegan time and it’s finally gonna get it. Woot!

What are you going to miss the most?

Huevos Rancheros

I eat eggs like it is my job. I love them like Jen loves yogurt. They are so quick, so easy, so yummy. Huevos rancheros are hands down my favorite brunch selection.

I hear you judging. You are thinking mustard? Seriously Meghan? Trader Joes mustard? You can’t be serious. Oh but I am. I eat it on pert near everything. Have you ever tried this stuff? It is incredible. I would tell you to try it, but that wouldn’t be very vegan of me as it has eggs in it.

mmmmmmm…. BRIE!

Many, many, many a night T-Dogg and I make a meal of this and only this. With a lil olive tapenade, aforementioned mustard and vino. As a matter of fact for years I had no idea that most cheeses aren’t actually vegetarian. True story – rennet=cow stomach. Believe it. Luckily, many places now carry cheese made with vegetable or microbial rennet resulting in this girl gettin’ her cheese on.

And of course, my non-vegan life wouldn’t be complete without a big slice of heaven every once in a while…

Tres Leches!

What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?

Broders Italian. Plain. Simple. Delicious and decidedly not vegan. I am an East Coast girl after all.

Is your significant other supportive?

Like whoa. He rules. If you haven’t met T-dogg, you should. He makes the world a better place just by waking up. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth too. It’s okay.

What are you most nervous about?

Honestly, I am excited. Food is a main focus in my life. If I am not cooking I’m usually thinking about what I want to cook, where my food comes from and what it will do to or for my body. I travel to experience food. I like to see friends and family too I suppose, but the first thing I think about after I book my ticket is where I will eat. Most often, food is the way I experience the culture I am in. The funniest thing is I feel as a vegetarian there are so many options so now I am curious as to how it will feel as a vegan.

I gave up cow dairy two months ago. You here all these people praising the gospel about how much more energy they have and blah, blah, blah. Well kids I must say – for my body it is the truth. My energy levels sky rocketed and my head just felt so much clearer. Side note – I’ve consumed copious amounts of dairy in this last week as my splurge and while I’ve enjoyed every single bite I feel awfully sluggish again.

Cheers to an awesome 40+ days kids… are you doing anything special?

So, what do you think? Are we crazy? Anyone else want to join us? Are you giving up something different?

food for thought: some perspectives on the Oprah vegan show

3 Feb

Anyone catch Oprah on Tuesday?

I do like Oprah and will always watch her if I happen to be home. Thankfully, I saw a preview for this particular show so I was able to set the DVR.  The show was about the one week vegan challenge that many Harpo staff had just completed. With my upcoming vegan lent, it was perfect timing! My pals, Meghan and Willa, who are also doing vegan lent, were over last night for dinner, so Oprah was our entertainment. It led to a lot of discussion and I just knew I had to blog about it. Anne saw the show as well and she and I were e-mailing about it today. Like us, she had lots to say about it.

So….I have for you ALL of our thoughts from a few different perspectives.You are so lucky!

First, more background on the show. (I’m going to be pretty brief in my overview. For a more detailed account, Angela over at Oh She Glows did a great recap of the entire show.)

378 Harpo staff members volunteered (it was not mandatory) to go vegan for 7 days. That meant no meat, no fish, no milk, no eggs—nothing that comes from an animal. The charge was led by author Kathy Freston, who has sworn by a vegan lifestyle for seven years and just happens to have a new book out (shocker!).  The O cafeteria offered vegan fare and Kathy was there to offer suggestions and help educate people on being vegan.  Kathy was on the show talking about how to “lean-in” to being a vegan and about the benefits it can have.

Michael Pollan (swoon) was also on the show talking about how the food system in general needs to be reformed, not just ignored. He advocates more for being picky about your meat and knowing where it comes from. He doesn’t believe in turning our backs on the farmers that are doing it right. He believes that reform needs to happen to change the overall food system and how we think about it.

The other main part of the show was a trip to a Cargill slaughterhouse. Lisa Ling went inside and they didn’t leave much to the imagination.They described the process that each cow goes through from the feed lot to the slaughtering to the processing.  The only thing they didn’t show was the 4 inch bolt that is shot into the cow’s head to make sure he/she is brain dead and can’t feel pain. I must say, I’m glad they showed this process. You should know how the meat gets to your table. Period.

They profiled many of the staff members and how it affected them. There was a lot of talk about withdrawal from fast food, bowel movements (fun topic!), and what kind of foods they were now eating.

The thing that we all noticed immediately was the lack of fruits and vegetables. There was so much talk and hype about fake meat products (tofurkey anyone?) and how to turn meat dishes you like vegan by using substitute products. They took one woman who was doing the challenge with her family of four to Whole Foods to help her learn how to shop as a vegan. The only aisles they showed were processed foods! Willa asked, “when are they going to talk about shopping the perimeter of the store – starting with produce?”. The answer? Never. It was a bit disheartening.

Overall, we all were glad the show was on. People are now talking (the twitter world was quite a buzz) about food like crazy and that’s a great thing. Anything that can start a conversation about food and where it comes from is fantastic in my book. I doubt there has been this much talk about a vegan lifestyle….ever. That Oprah. She’s got a serious reach.

I gathered the thoughts of my fellow Oprah watchers and thought I would share our different perspectives.

Anne (meat eater and mother of two):

-They made such a big deal about going vegan and eating all this different food, but everything they talked about was packaged/processed!! So you’re replacing animal products with…chemicals?! They didn’t shop for one fruit or vegetable on that little shopping trip to Whole Foods. (Also- um, imagine how much that cart of packaged vegan foods COST??)  You could have prepared your own vegan entrees with fresh ingredients for less, and much tastier I’m sure.

-What is Michael Pollan’s mantra? Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants?  I was just sitting there waiting WAITING for him to say this to Oprah and that vegan woman (with the facelift!! Seriously!) but he didn’t say anything!! That sort of shocked me.

-And I can’t not mention Cargill. I was impressed they let the crew in to their meat packing plant, given that most companies have denied access in the past. I thought the whole process was pretty yucky, but not so much that I’d give up beef:) Oh, and the bolt to the cow’s head? I’ll always think of No Country for Old Men.

Note: Anne was eating puppy chow while watching the show. Just thought you should know. :)

Meghan (a long-time vegetarian and future vegan lent participant):

Meet people where they are at. Period. Yes I find it sad and, dare I say, irresponsible that the show had ZERO mention of shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and focusing on incorporating veggies and fruits into your diet. But I get it. Many of the people who were watching that show can’t even begin to comprehend getting any form of fruit or vegetable in their lives aside from lettuce and tomato on a bun. So for the purpose of the general public I like that she highlighted meat alternatives for pretty much everything as well as a cheese alternative. While all of these processed foods freak me out-they certainly have their place in many people’s lives and a non-meat brat is better for your cholesterol than a real one-I suppose. After being vegetarian for nearly 20 years I look at fake meat products as my junk food and grains and veggies as my real food. Can you imagine if even 10% of Americans could say that. It would have a profound impact on the health of our nation.

Michael Pollan is my hero. In some ways at least. He keeps it real. He keeps it simple. We need to talk about reforming our emotions, beliefs, ideals etc. surrounding food not just ditch everything and turn vegan. That show sensationalized it a wee bit much to the point where it will be a fad for many of the viewers and well… we all know-fads fade. We just need to think about where it ALL comes from. ALL OF IT. Who cares if Cargill goes broke? But I care when we see farmers losing their livelihoods because Betty Crocker says just pour, mix and bake. There are safe, healthy, sustainable ways to eat all of the foods you love… so give it a shot.

Those of you reading this blog get it…. But for those who don’t, if we can make any difference in their lives… baby steps… baby steps…. Baby steps…. If we can just get people to think about what they are eating-it would be huge.

I can go on and on as a vegetarian and one who works for the American Heart Association but alas I will sush-good on ya to everyone who gives a healthier lifestyle a shot! At the end of the day I love my cheese, ice cream and eggs. And I make poor food choices knowingly and often. It’s just awesome to know what goes in your body. So the unhealthy things are choices. Yummy, yummy choices!

Willa (recovering vegetarian, current meat eater, future vegan lent participant):

I definitely differ with Meghan on the point of meat vs. processed vegetarian products. From a health standpoint I think you are better off eating a grass fed free range rib eye steak than a tofu pup, in my humble opinion.  But I understand where she is coming from.

The main points that stuck with me after watching the show were:

  • Know where your food comes from. Cows and chickens are not born in seran wrapped packages. If you can, check out your local farmer’s market or visit a farm. These people are the fabric of our society.
  • There was little to no talk about the importance of eating a balanced, plant based diet. The focus was overwhelmingly on processed, convenience foods. So, don’t replace bad with bad.
  • They seemed to avoid the discussion about the cost of food. Good food does cost more, but it is worth it. You pay now or you pay later. And, it is easier to pay more for food when you meet the people who grow it; to make that connection of how hard they work for this.
  • Take baby steps, like Meghan said – meatless Monday is a good idea. Or, maybe do something like Mark Bittman (He’s vegan until dinner). Or be a vegan at home. But, you don’t have to go vegan to make a change in the system,  the environment, or your health. We don’t want to put the good farmers out of business. We just need to revamp our relationship with food.
  • People don’t like to work at anything. If it takes thought/consideration, they generally want nothing to do with it. This really isn’t that hard but there is so much resistance. Like Meghan said, I suppose we have to meet people where they are at.

Jen (part-time vegetarian, future vegan lent participant, married to a hunter):

I agree with many of the points that my pals above noted. While I get Meghan’s point about meeting people where they are at, I struggle with suggesting processed fake meat and other processed products. Once in awhile? Sure. To try something different? Great. But vegan or not, can we talk about the importance of produce?!  On Monday, the USDA published the latest dietary guidelines. One thing I was super excited to see was their push on vegetables. In fact, they suggest making sure half of your plate is made up of vegetables. YES! That’s what I’m talking about. Vegetables are nutrient dense (lots of good stuff for not a lot of calories) and dare I say tasty?  (By the way, my pal Heather in CO did a great post on the guidelines. She’s a Registered Dietician so I trust her. :)) The fact that vegetables or fruit was not talked about AT ALL on Oprah drove me crazy. I think it’s one of the most appealing parts of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.  I was also bummed that Michael Pollan didn’t say anything (or if he did, it didn’t make the cut).  Sorry Michael, I love ya, but I wanted you to speak up more.

Not once did anyone talk about the cost of being a vegan. They way they shopped at Whole Foods (with all their processed fake stuff), the cost would have been enormous. I’m all for spending more on food. Our mindset of cheap food = good bothers me. However, I don’t think you need to break the bank. In fact, eating a vegan diet can be incredibly thrifty. No Meat Athlete recently did a great post on this. Great meals don’t have to be spendy and they can include vegetables and yummy sources of protein. And they include all things you’ve hear d of.

I’ve seen the meat processing plants before (in Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation) and it certainly changed the way I think about meat. I’m very picky about where mine comes from. Most of what we eat at home comes from things that Brette has brought home from hunting expeditions. I know everything there is to know about how it got to my plate. I can live with that. I also have gotten to know a few farmers at the Farmer’s Market and I love being able to support them and what they are doing. Many of those farmer’s have their meat available at the Seward co-op here in town, which is also a major bonus. However, I don’t eat a lot of meat, maybe a couple times a week. Just like Michael. (sorry, I love him, what can I say?)

The day after this show aired, Mark Bittman’s first op-ed piece in the New York Times was published. It offers more food for thought along with some suggestions on how to actually reform our system. It’s definitely worth a read.

So, I’m curious of other’s thoughts. If you saw the episode, what did you think? If you didn’t, what do you think about living vegan for a week? Would that be a challenge? Did you agree or disagree with any of our thoughts?

meatless monday: quinoa with roasted brussels sprouts and pecans

8 Nov

Did you know that Meatless Monday is a movement?

Yep, sure is! It’s in effort to improve our health and the health of our planet. You can find all sorts of information (and recipes) at There are a lot of bloggers on board with this movement along with the likes of Bob Harper, Simon Cowell, Al Gore, Yoko Ono and even Mario Batali!

Since everyone else is doing it, we figured we should too. So, we’ll now be featuring meat-free recipes every Monday.  I love this idea. Ever since my vegetarian summer, I eat considerably less meat and am always on the hunt for great recipes. Hopefully we can inspire you to incorporate some meatfree goodness into your weekly menu as well.

Tonight’s dish was recommended by my friend, Meghan, and comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health”. This was the perfect dish as I had the last of my brussels sprout crop from the garden to use.

So, I know there are a lot of brussels sprouts haters out there. I do believe that some people just don’t like them and I’m fine with that. I also think there is a population of people that think they don’t like them, but either have never actually tried them or have had them prepared badly (think mushy). I have now made brussels sprouts in a variety of ways that might convince some skeptics that they are not so bad…if not quite awesome. This would be one of those ways.

Brette claimed it one of his favorite preparations for brussels sprouts and I agree. The mustard in the dish really gives it some snap. It calls for dijon, but I’m now wondering how a whole grain mustard might taste. I might have to give that a whirl next time. The dressing was super delicious.

I served it over some quinoa to bulk up the protein and make it a complete meal. It would also make a great side dish for Thanksgiving or any other occasion when you want to impress people.

Quinoa with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

Serves 3-4

Brussels Sprouts from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

Note: the quinoa and the brussels sprouts take about the same amount of time to cook. This meal takes about 30 minutes total to put together, making it a snap for a weeknight.

For the quinoa:

2 cups veggie stock or water (the stock gives it a lot more flavor)
1 cup quinoa, rinsed

Bring the stock or water and quinoa to a boil in a sauce pan. Lower heat, cover, and let simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

For the sprouts:

1 pound brussels sprouts

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt


2 tablespoons minced red onion or shallot

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 tabelspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut off the bottoms of the sprouts and remove any yellow or dry outer leaves. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise and toss with the olive oil and salt. Place them cut side down on a lightly oiled or sprayed baking sheet. Bake until just tender and lightly browned on the cut side, 12-18 minutes depending on the size of the sprouts.

While the sprouts are roasting, make the dressing: In a serving bowl, whisk together the red onions, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stir in the roasted sprouts and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with toasted nuts right before serving.

Do you participate in meatless Mondays? Are you a brussels sprouts enthusiast?

One Year ago: Cloth Napkins

garden recap

6 Nov

I’m in the process of putting the garden to bed. I’m a little behind on this project so I’m thankful it’s going to be nice this weekend and I can finish the job. Here is the current state of affairs…

Since I’m in garden clean up mode, I thought it would be useful to do a bit of a recap of the 2010 garden.

Looking back, I realized I didn’t write as much about the garden this year. It was kind of an off year for me and the garden – we were not in sync for some reason. It was a busy summer so I wasn’t out there as much as was needed. Because of that, I just wasn’t as excited.

First there were the thieves. Then there were the other thieves. Dang those thieves! Thanks to many of your suggestions, I was able to salvage quite a bit and learn some things along the way.

  • Marigolds are beautiful. I can’t prove they helped in pest control, but I loved how they looked in the garden.
  • Liquid fence is the bomb, but it might be one of the most foul smelling things I’ve ever encountered.
  • My lazy dog can be quite the hunter. She managed to kill one squirrel and one rabbit this summer…hopefully sending the message to their friends.

The crazy MN weather we had did not help my garden production. The major temperature swings had my plants wondering what the heck was going on.

This year I definitely made some decisions on what I want and what I don’t want in this garden going forward. This was year three of the garden and I’ve realized what vegetables we like and eat and what just gets ignored.

What I will continue to plant:

  • tomatoes – this was not a good year for my plants, but I plan to be much more attentive going forward.
  • eggplant – not only does it thrive in the garden, but it is probably our favorite vegetable. Next year, I’d like to try some new varieties.
  • kale – this year I planted lacinto kale and really liked it. I will stick with that again in 2011.
  • swiss chard – such a great green!
  • lettuces – is there anything better than cutting a salad out of your backyard?
  • peppers – I love all varieties of peppers, but I will only do 1 (instead of 4) jalapenos in the future.
  • carrots – because pulling them out of the ground is just way to much fun.
  • snap peas – these are the perfect snack to eat while tending the garden.
  • herbs – I always plant a lot of herbs. They smell awesome and I love having fresh herbs at my disposal.

What I will not plant:

  • radishes – I love the idea of radishes, but I can’t get them to grow right and after one or two, I get sick of them.
  • edamame – this year was our first time with it and it was fun. They even tasted good. However, they were fuzzier than any other edamame I’ve had and that was a bit off-putting. I’d rather give their space to something else.
  • spinach – try as I might, I do not grow spinach. I’ve tried for three years and it never works.
  • turnips – these were kind of like the radishes. I found much better ones at the farmer’s market.

What I am going to bring back or add:

  • zucchini – Brette had outlawed zucchini after it took over our yard many moons ago. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t like to eat them either. I LOVE zucchini and was buying it every week at the farmer’s market. I’m going to work on a plan to not have it take over everything.
  • cucumbers – pretty much the same story as above.
  • green beans – I’m not sure why I didn’t plant these this year, but I missed them.

What about you? Any major successes or messes in your garden this year?


One year ago: A very good tip from Betty Crocker

vegetarian by association

9 Sep

Note: This is a guest post by Jen’s husband, Brette.

OK, I was far from a vegetarian this summer.  And my apologies to all of the real vegetarians out there – I don’t want to besmirch your good names by associating you with the ribs/burgers/fish etc. I ate with glee over the past three months.

The true version is Jen does a majority of the cooking, so if she was going to be a vegetarian this summer, I was taking a significant step in that direction also.  That translated to roughly 85% of my evening meals and 60% of my lunches being meat-free.

To set this up, it should be known that the Vegas odds on me being associated with anything close to a vegetarian would have been off the charts even a few years ago.  You all missed your chance to make some serious money on Jen’s experiment.

I committed to sharing my thoughts via the blog, so here are a few lessons from my summer:

  1. Jen is a great cook and puts a lot of thought into our meals.  At a bare minimum, anybody with a tolerance for vegetables would have done fine eating these meals.  I like vegetables, so I thought all of the food was tasty and great.
  2. Training for Trinona, Chisago Lake Tri, and Square Lake Tri went well with no energy, strength, or tummy issues.
  3. After moving from “softball shape” to “half-marathon shape” two years ago, some more clothing became obsolete due to size.   I give the decrease in meat the most credit for the change.
  4. When I did cook in the past, I was most often grilling meat.  No meat meant I was even less helpful in the kitchen.  That part of the summer wasn’t so great.
  5. Downtown Minneapolis is a great place to work for a wayward vegetarian by association.
  6. Eating a healthy lunch of leftovers was particularly satisfying.  Bonus points because I didn’t have to waste time heating it up in the microwave (oddly, although most of these dishes are served hot, I don’t find it necessary to reheat the leftovers).  The satisfaction was occasionally tempered by the pecan caramel roll I’d seek out in the afternoon.
  7. It seemed like there was more “I’ll take the salad instead of the fries” moments because I was in the habit of eating better.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had gone the other way.  See below.  Don’t be surprised if the garlic comes through your computer speakers.

It was a very successful summer and a positive change for me.  Thanks to Jen for all of her great cooking and I know I’ll have no problem staying with my version of her version of a plant based diet.

the verdict on my vegetarian summer

6 Sep

When I started my summer challenge of being a vegetarian, I think I knew I was going to like it. Between my backyard garden full of produce and my trips to the farmer’s markets, my fridge is usually busting at the seams. There is hardly room for meat even if I wanted it.

So, how was my summer as a veg-head?

Fantastic. I really, really enjoyed it. As I mentioned from the beginning, I had a few “special circumstances” which included a couple gatherings of the GDC (Gourmet Dinner Club), a meal made for me by someone who had no idea about my summer challenge, and our recent trip to Seattle (hello? This gal is not going to Seattle without some fish action). Other than those few occasions, I stayed true to my word and enjoyed every minute.

I did not find it hard at all. I never had a craving for piece of meat. Not even a piece of bacon!

Here are a few of my noticings of my summer and answers to many of the questions I received:

  • I like tofu. I’ve discovered a few different ways to prepare it that I enjoy. I realize I didn’t post many tofu recipes (or any?), so I will need to remedy that. I think it has gotten a bad rap when really, you can make is taste like just about anything.
  • My stomach likes me as a vegetarian. I’ve had a lot less “uncomfortable” moments since ditching the meat. Major bonus.
  • Eating out in smaller towns is a bit more difficult. It’s quite fascinating to read a menu and when you get through to the end, you realize there is maybe one option without meat. Even more disappointing is when it’s a crappy veggie pizza.
  • My hair did not fall out and I did not notice a lack of energy. Many of my friends were concerned about my protein intake (thank you for your concern – I really do appreciate it). I did not notice any ill effects and I think I did a great job of getting protein from non-meat sources. My major sources of protein included: tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, greek yogurt, eggs, quinoa, nuts and vegetables (yes, they have protein too). I did make a conscious effort to always include a protein source at every meal. I can see how it would be easy to live on pasta and cereal. :)
  • My friends and family were super supportive and for that, I’m very grateful. Thank you for not shunning me or sneaking meat into my meals. You are awesome.

So, now what?

The number one question I have received from folks this last month has been, “what are you going to do once your summer is over?”

I haven’t really known the answer until now. I was having some major mental debate. The debate was about needing a label.

On one hand, I like the black and whiteness of being a vegetarian. There is no exceptions, it just is what it is and most people get it. It is a simple answer to a simple question. “Are you a vegetarian?” Yes, thanks for asking. Done and done. I have some friends that are weekday vegetarians (meaning they can have bacon on the weekend), which I think is kind of cool and still pretty easy to explain.

On the other hand, I don’t like conforming or needing a label just to explain my eating habits, ya know? I mean, if I “mess up” or really want a piece of meat, I do not want to feel like others are going to point and yell “cheater!”. ( No one I know would do that, right?) I think people can have certain feelings or principles about what they eat without needing a label to define them. Plus, there are so many labels! Vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, flexitarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, raw….I can’t keep them all straight. Do I want to explain myself all the time?

Nope, the second hand won.

If people ask me if I’m a vegetarian or any other version, I will say “No, I just like to eat good food that makes me feel good.” or something clever like that.

I’m going to continue to eat a plant based diet, but when I want to indulge in meat or seafood, I will. I see myself doing this mainly on special occasions and holidays (Christmas = Cioppino). Have you read the book Blue Zones? The book describes the habits of the world’s healthiest populations (based on longevity of life). One of their habits is eating meat only on holidays and feast days. I like that. I also like that their other habits involve wine, friendships, and not working too hard. It sounds divine.

Then there is vacation. When we travel, we like to get to know a city through it’s food. It can be tricky to do if you have a lot of rules. Since I want to experience my travels to the fullest, I will have a complete open mind when it comes to food.

A few things I will continue to be mindful of are where the meat I’m eating comes from and the impact I have on the environment. These two things go hand in hand in my opinion. I’m not going to get into a lengthy dissertation on what the processing of meat does to our lovely planet, but I will say, it’s not good. I’m also not going to get into the importance of eating local produce and supporting our local food community. Some how, I don’t think you’d be reading this blog if you didn’t understand that. Please tell me it makes sense to you the importance of eating local. Please?

So, no label. No major rules, just some principles. And in case I wasn’t clear, here are my basic food priniciples.

1. Eat local whenever possible and organic when I can. Sorry, you can’t tell me pesticides are good for you.

2. Eat a plant based diet.

3. Save meat for special occasions, holidays and travels – or just when I desperately want real bacon….or a burger….or a pot roast.

4. Be aware of where my food is coming from. This is not just about the food being local, but how were the animals treated before it got to my plate? Are they full of antibiotics (gross) and were they fattened up with corn? I’d like to avoid that.

Now that I got all of that out of my head…any questions? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your opinions and if any of you have been eating less meat. What did you notice?

Many people have asked how Brette has handled my summer challenge. I’m happy to report that he will tell you himself in an upcoming guest post!

While I’ve been writing this, he has been cooking ribs.

Tonight is a special occasion. It’s Labor Day and I haven’t had Brette’s ribs all summer. It’s time to celebrate that. Cheers!

the storm…it’s a comin’

22 Jul

I have a million things I should be doing right now. It’s been a crazy week and next week will be even crazier as I’ll be riding all over the state on the MS TRAM. But for now, TRAM will have to wait.

Right now I have to tell and show you about the storm that’s about to hit my house. The veggie storm.

The garden is coming into it’s second life. The spring veggies (radishes, turnips, snap peas, shelling peas, and lettuces) have come to a close. The summer crop is about to hit and I think it’s going to be big.

Here’s what’s coming:

black cherry tomatoes

These were a big hit in our house last year and it looks like we’ll have a big crop again this year. If you have a chance to get some of these at your local market, I highly recommend them.

yellow grape tomatoes

How cute are these? They taste pretty darn good too.


This is hands down my favorite thing to grow. They are so beautiful and fun to watch. They are even tastier to eat. Last year we made a great pasta with eggplant, which you can check out here. I’m confident I’ll find another delicious eggplant recipe to share with you soon now that they are coming into harvest.


My basil is out of control! I love it though. I see caprese salads and pesto in my future.


Check out all of these peppers just waiting to turn orange, yellow and red. I also have a ton of jalapenos – more than this gal can probably handle. If you are in need of jalapenos, please come over and take some. Really.


I love carrots straight out of the garden. They taste very carrot-y. Much better than those baby carrots in the store. Not to mention that pulling them out of the ground is super satisfying.


I’m very excited about this little guy. This is my first time growing edamame and I wasn’t sure how they were going to grow or how much room they would take. Well, they couldn’t be easier and now I have a ton of these bad boys. They’re not ready to pick yet as the pods aren’t developed, but when they do, it’s going to be edamame central around here.

How’s that for a lot of produce? The next few weeks will be filled with these items plus the kale and chard that has been blooming consistently.

I love summer and the produce it brings.

What are you loving about summer?

tomato haircuts

6 Jul

Do you know what the secret is to successful tomato plants?

Sure, proper caging is important.

Good soil is also key.

A high quality tomato plant helps too. I got my plants at the Mill City Farmer’s Market. This is my third year getting them from the same guy. Why mess with a good thing, right?

However, if you don’t give your tomato plant a haircut every now and again, none of the other things will matter.

Are your tomato plants starting to look like this?

Wait, yours are even bigger than these? Then, you need to fight the heat, get outside and give those babies a haircut.


When tomato plants get big and bushy and grow lots of leaves, they are taking all the nutrients you are giving them in the form of soil, water and sunlight and using them for those beautiful leaves, not the actual tomatoes.

Wait, it can get worse.

Have you ever had a tomato plant full of green tomatoes and can’t figure out why they won’t ripen?

This happened to me two years ago and I could not figure out what was going on. Then, a very wise woman clued me in on the best gardening tip and a must-do. The haircut.

Those important nutrients are not getting to the tomato to turn them brilliant shades of red and yellow…they are hanging out in those darn leaves.

So, what do I mean by a haircut?

It’s pretty simple. I start by pulling off any sad looking leaves on the bottom and those random sucker leaves that just don’t serve any purpose, other than looking pretty. I then will go a step further and pull off all sorts of leaves all over the plant, making sure all the sides are even (cuz I’m anal like that). It’s kind of like cutting back shrubs.

Here are a few of my plants after their first hair cut.

I usually pull of leaves a few times a week and if things get really out of control, I go outside with a kitchen shears.

I have a lot more of these little guys popping up…… which is more exciting to me than the World Cup. (shh…don’t tell my dutch friends)

Do you have any great tomato tips? I would love to know what tricks of the trade are out there.