Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dairy-Free Dessert Diva Makes Vegan Twinkies on Nightline

My friend Fran Costigan will be my roommate at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference in Chicago in a few weeks. The most exciting part, other than the fact that we like each other, is that she was just filmed for news show Nightline demonstrating how to make vegan "twinkies". Her new website also looks great.

I met Fran at an IACP conference in Phoenix where we ended up sitting next to each other at lunch. We both pulled out our special tags so that enable us to get vegetarian meals at these conferences. Really nice of them to think of that for us foodies who prefer "real food". The sad part is that often the food is prepared by hotel or convention center catering services and what they offer to feed us is woefully inadequate, especially if you are a vegan.

My sister just told me about a lunch that she went to where all the other people got sandwiches with fillings such as roast beef or turkey with bags of chips but what they had for the vegetarians was a plain salad with tomato. No bread to go with it, nothing else. I told her that it must be a plot to starve the vegetarians and maybe they'll go away. She said what she thinks is more likely the truth -- they just don't think about it. One of my hot buttons.

Why don't they think that vegetarians care? Maybe it's because most meat eaters don't care as long as they get their food, be it lousy sandwiches or not. This is not truly the case since there are conscious meat eaters but it's almost an oxymoron. If they were really conscious, wouldn't they choose not to eat meat? (I do realize that I am being a bit judgmental but I can be since I am the writer here.)

Back to Fran... She's wonderful and I love what she does to make truly tasty vegan desserts that anyone wants to eat. Too bad that we won't have an oven in our hotel room. Oh, but she is teaching a cupcake class immediately before boarding the plane. Maybe I could talk her into saving one and bringing it for me -- in case it's one of those instances that there isn't much for this vegetarian to eat.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fair Trade Products from Alter Eco

You know when you meet someone and get that warm, fuzzy feeling? You can feel that what they do is from the heart? Well, that has happened to me more than once with Mathieu from Alter Eco, a company that has fair trade rice, quinoa, coffee, tea and chocolate available in the U. S. I spent quite a while speaking to Mathieu at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim in March. He is an amazing young man (he's only 32), who credits the success of the company to his French cousin (he and his business partner are also French) whom he calls a genius.

Matthieu holds up a box of the Thai purple sticky rice and tells me that he does what he does for the man whose picture is on the side of the box. "I took that photo," he says with pride. Feeling that his heart is in his work, and it is making a difference, just about brings tears to my eyes, right there on the convention center floor. When you hear something so heartfelt, doesn't it touch you deeply?

And to make it even better, the products are truly wonderful. They include a Thai red rice, the purple sticky rice (already mentioned), regular and red quinoa, and more. I walked away with a bar of dark chocolate with almonds from the El Ceibo cooperative in Bolivia. It's organic and fair trade certified. On the back of the package is the story about the origin of the product. With my purchase, I am helping to support 800 families of the cooperative in the Bolivian Amazon. (This is the kind of Amazon I truly want to support.)

Having always had a desire to join the Peace Corps and make a difference, perhaps this is my way to contribute to a better future for others. Heck, I hear that they are taking older volunteers now and perhaps I will get that chance in the future. In the mean time, I am going to support Alter Eco and their Fair Trade products. I hope that you will do the same.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Veggie Queen Featured in Community Market Newsletter

Last week (OK, it's really a couple of them now) after my trip to the farmer's market I went to Santa Rosa Community Market, my local, vegetarian natural foods store. I picked up their newsletter and their feature story was about me and my book The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment.

Along with the interview is my recipe for Asparagus, Oyster Mushroom and Tofu Stir-Fry. As I am currently growing oyster mushrooms at home it will be easy to pair them with my farmer's market asparagus and some great tofu from Small Planet, I'm ready to prepare my own recipe. I hadn't looked at it in so long, it didn't even seem like mine, which is a far cry from the time period when I was writing The Veggie Queen cookbook, and every recipe was fresh on my mind and in my face daily.

I feel as if I have put that baby to rest a bit and I am going to now forge ahead with my DVD Pressure Cooker project. Stay tuned for more details. In the mean time, keep those fresh veggies cooking -- under pressure or not.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chatting with Dan Piraro of Bizarro

I met Dan Piraro for the second time since last summer at the Natural Foods Expo in Anaheim. This time I actually had a conversation with him. He is not only brilliant when drawing his cartoons, he is a funny guy -- pretty blunt or direct, too. I like that.

Perhaps he was happy to have a conversation with someone who just wanted to talk about life -- not necessarily about his cartoons, although some of them are just hysterical (at least to me).

Dan is an animal activist, and he recently designed the product label for So Delicious Kids Popsicles. In our conversation Dan said that he wasn't such a great fan of kids, as such, except for the fact that they are human beings. He loves his 2 daughters very much and seems relieved that they have grown up somewhat, the youngest being 19. But he's done having kids despite having a beautiful young wife.

I wasn't writing while talking to Dan and can't remember all the funny and poignant things that he said but I walked away laughing. And when I did I had a poster in my hand, signed to my son Shane. I told my contact at Amy's Kitchen about the poster and took her over to meet Dan. Michelle was thrilled.

If you want to feel more connected to Dan he suggests the you support Farm Sanctuary Also read Dan's strip Bizarro in your newspaper, if you are lucky enough, that they include it. It will likely give you a new perspective on a number of issues -- he's got plenty of "vegan" cartoons.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Buzz on Brussels Sprouts and Other Veggie Tales

Most of my Saturday mornings involve a trip to the farmer's market, at least during the winter. (And when I am not busy mushroom hunting.) Today I learned that fresh, organic Brussels sprouts create a stir. Even those who have found them foul in the past often want to give them another try. So, the buzz at the market today was about the sprouts, not the first-of-the-season asparagus as I had expected. Maybe the small amount of asparagus available didn't make tongues wag but the Brussels sprouts were the catalyst for at least 5 conversations, mostly with strangers.

Every time I spoke to someone about the sprouts, someone else either asked a question or chimed in. One woman shared that she roasts her sprouts for the best flavor. I told her that I have done that, too, with great success but I have found that the key to terrific Brussels sprouts is to precook them by blanching, steaming, microwaving or boiling. By doing this you are eliminating the sulfur compounds which account for a bitter taste and stinky odor.

The key to great Brussels sprouts is to get them young and fresh. The best size is about a 1-inch sphere but a little larger or smaller is fine. Best to err on the small side. The bigger the sprout, the more pieces I cut it into before cooking. After doing the precook, I either add a little olive oil and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees F. for about 20 minutes, or sauté them on stovetop with a bit of oil and garlic (you can certainly omit the oil in a good nonstick pan) or best yet, put them in a pressure cooker with a bit of veggie stock for about 1 minute at high pressure and then quick release the pot. I like to finish my sprouts with a splash of balsamic vinegar or a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of chopped, toasted nuts such as hazelnuts. They are so tasty that you have to remember to buy more than you think that you need. I call them "the vegetable that people love to say that they hate" but the truth is, when prepared properly, they are incredibly delicious.