Monday, June 27, 2011

Ruminations on Vegetarianism

I've been a vegetarian for nearly a year now. I find that the most exhausting thing about being a vegetarian is explaining it to people. Most of the time I try to avoid discussing it because it's rarely an issue. I would never request a veggie-only option at a dinner party and there's usually french fries on any menu that I can eat and eat happily. But inevitably the topic comes up and I have to explain my decision to people, either because they are curious or because they take offense. (Why people care what I eat is really beyond me, but seems like these days everything is offensive to at least one person.) My sister is an on-again-off-again vegetarian, so she asked me once with actual interest. After we discussed my reasons, she suggested I write it here. Since I get to decide the content of my blog, I thought it was a good idea!

Every vegetarian is probably different, but my philosophy boils down to three main points.

1) Eating meat is natural.
Humans have evolved in part because of our meat-eating -- we have those crazy, meat-tearing teeth!  We hunted wild animals and obtained the proteins we needed for our brains to evolve.  We domesticated animals and raised them to provide food for our families.  In short, eating only vegetables and grains is not the most natural diet for humans, at least historically speaking.  (I'm sure most vegetarians would disagree with me, but this is my philosophy!)

arctic weapons
ancient weapons (source)
2) Eating meat has BECOME completely unnatural.
Our meat consumption in this country is beyond ridiculous.  We eat entirely too much meat.  Part of the reason is because meat has become cheap and easy to come by.  Our domestication of animals for meat consumption has turned into big business.  We raise animals quickly and cheaply without any real regard for the health of the animal AND the health of the humans who eat that animal.  How many times have you read in the news about a meat recall due to e-coli or some other disease?  Too many times.  Instead of taking the time to raise healthy animals that would produce healthy meat, we've taken shortcut after shortcut and now the entire meat industry literally makes me sick.  It's unnatural.  What might be even more distressing than the meat industry is the willing ignorance of so many people.  The information and the knowledge is everywhere.  Books, movies, the news.  But people choose to ignore it because "If I really knew how it worked, I couldn't eat meat anymore."  Seriously?  That's just stupid.
3) If I could kill it, I can eat it.
But the trip from eating only farmer's market meats to full-on vegetarianism had to do with my work with an animal rescue.  It became really hard for me to reconcile my adoration for dogs and cats with my desire to eat cows and pigs (I stopped eating chicken years's gross).  I understand that culturally, they are different animals to us.  But for me, I could no longer separate animals into pet and food categories.  I simply do not feel comfortable with the thought of any animal being killed.  So it seemed odd that I would eat the fruits of a labor that quite literally makes me cry.  So my new rule became: once I can actually slaughter the animal myself, I can eat the animal.  But if I can't, well then I'll eat rice and beans.  So because right now I can't kill animals, that means I will not eat animals.
So there you go.  Those are my reasons for being a vegetarian.  Who knows...maybe at some point in my life I'll be comfortable eating meat again.  Maybe not.  But this explains why I'm so nostalgic for meat (except chicken...gross).  I don't have a problem with meat consumption on a general level, so long as the animals are treated ethically and the people have a sense of respect for the animal they are eating.  On a personal level though, I just cannot do it.  But don't be offended.  I'm not offended by you and your steak-eating habits and with the exception of this post, I rarely preach about vegetarianism.  So let me eat my vegetables!!

**There was a great article in Time recently about a meat-eater making efforts to be a little more ethical about his meat consumption.  Remember: you don't have to be a vegetarian to be an ethical eater!**

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Restaurant Review :: La Cucaracha

Let me first go on the record as saying that 95% of the time, I love La Cucaracha.  It's a fantastic little dive-y Mexican food joint on Dale, right between Summit and Grand.  Ever since I became familiar with Summit Hill in St. Paul, I've been a big fan of this place.  I've gone here with my parents, with my friends, and even for a post-marathon lunch!  So I suggested La Cucaracha when my uncle was in town visiting from Florida.  And then I hit that 5% . . .

Back in my pre-veggie days, I flipped over the carnitas at La Cucaracha.  Holy wow that was an amazing dish!  Now I stick with the huevos rancheros.  Fried eggs covered in spicy red sauce and cheese with refried beans and topped with slices of onion.  All with a side of roasted potatoes.  DELISH.  I think part of the reason I love this dish is because of my odd obsession with egg yolks!  Seriously.  It makes everything taste just a little bit richer. 

So my meal arrived looking tasty.  But after one bite, I knew it was not going to be up to par.  The food was cold, which meant that the cheese had lost a bit of its melty goodness and was more like a room-temperature blob.  The worst part was that the fried eggs were overcooked, so the yolks were cooked all the way through.  BUMMER!!  No tasty egg yolks for me.  The potatoes had potential, but because they had probably been sitting for a while, they lacked a crispness that roasted potatoes generally have.  Overall, it was very sigh worthy.  *Sigh*

Let me be clear!  This did not stop me from eating nearly everything on my plate, which tells you something about the caliber of the food, even on its off days.  I've had better from La Cucaracha and I expect that the next time I head in there all will be right with the world.  I fully intend to re-review La Cucaracha my next time there!  So if you're in St. Paul and craving Mexican food, you should certainly consider La Cucaracha.  Especially if it's not during a busy dinner rush!

La Cucaracha Mexican Rstrnt Reviews in St Paul

Thursday, June 16, 2011

St. Paul Farmers' Market

It's finally time for the farmer's market!  Well, they've actually been up and running for a while now, but this last weekend was the first opportunity I had to go to my farmer's market and buy some delicious produce.  I go to the St. Paul Farmers' Market in Lowertown, which is on East 5th Street, about a block away from Mears Park.  It's open at 6am Saturdays and 8am on Sundays and is open through 1pm.  They have a more limited schedule in the winter, but right now it's in full swing.

I adore the St. Paul market.  I love going there early Sunday mornings and walking around with my cup of coffee.  I love talking to the farmers about their produce and learning things about tomatoes and herbs.  I love the sea of reusable grocery bags.  I love that everything at the St. Paul market is won't find any rogue bananas or mangoes here!  It's a lovely little community.  Can I say "love" just one more time?

This Sunday I had a bit of spare time to take a leisurely stroll around the market and check out all of the seasonal options.  I found lettuces, sugar snap peas, the ever-confusing kohlrabi, rhubarb, garlic chives (yes!), bedding plants, and the beginnings of broccoli.  And wait, what's this.... strawberries!  You haven't lived until you've had a strawberry fresh from a farm.  These oddly-shaped, miniature morsels are packed with a sweet, juicy punch.  Plus they are just so cute. 

I also saw some of my favorite local vendors, including the Wolf Honey Farm from the St.Croix Valley.  They make some amazing honey and you can try each variety to see which tastes best to you.  I picked up a bottle of the more mild clover honey and perused some of the beeswax products and the honey sticks.  But seriously, who wouldn't love that bee hat!

Then I picked up some salsa from Snappy Dog Salsa.  I tasted the mild and medium options, but then they pointed me to a rhubarb salsa.  I was skeptical.  But after a quick taste, I realized they were on to something!  It was spicy with a bit of a sweet, tart edge from the rhubarb.  So I bought me a jar of this totally awesome, seasonal salsa.  They recommended pairing the salsa with some chopped-up avocado for a really easy guacamole.  Yum.

I also love the flowers at the St. Paul market.  So many colorful varieties, and wow are they reasonably priced.  I've had a few friends that used flowers from the farmer's market for their weddings and it always turned out gorgeous.

But this year I'm going to try growing some herbs and unlike last year, I'm going to try to keep them alive!  It's hard because my apartment windows don't face the sun so much as they face the side of a neighboring apartment.  But I'm hoping that proper placement and a bit more love than I apparently gave my plants last year will be sufficient to grow some basil, rosemary, and thyme. 

I'm sure I'll have more posts about the St. Paul Farmers' Market as the seasons continues.  Some weekends I go there just to learn something new about produce or growing my herbs.  And one of these days, I will succumb to the temptation of the egg rolls and spring rolls that one of the vendors serves!  Who says that you can't have an egg roll at 8:00 in the morning?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Peanut Sauce over Spinach & Rice

One highly-recommended recipe from my friend's Moosewood Cookbook is an Indonesian dish called Gado Gado.  It looks pretty amazing -- peanut sauce drizzled over vegetables, rice, and a whole host of other possible ingredients.  While I had all of the ingredients for the peanut sauce, I did not have the ingredients OR the willpower to make the entire recipe.  So I opted to seriously chop the recipe and hope for the best.  While I decided to add garlic and learned in the middle of cooking that I didn't have the lemon juice required for the recipe, the peanut sauce still turned out beautifully!  

Along with the sauce, I had some bright, fresh spinach from the farmer's market that I chopped up and some leftover rice from dinner last night.  I covered that mix with some of this delicious peanut sauce and let me tell was heaven.  While the entire recipe for Gado Gado is still on my to-do list, I'm pretty excited about this peanut sauce!  I could eat it with a spoon..... 

This recipe will make enough for two generous servings of peanut sauce.

1/2 tbls peanut oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 tbls freshly grated ginger
2 cloves chopped or grated garlic
2/3 cup good peanut butter (either smooth or chunky should work)
2/3 cup hot water
1 tbls cider vinegar (I used apple big deal)
1 tbls soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt (careful...if your peanut butter is salted, you might not need this extra salt)
1/2 tbls brown sugar or honey
1 tbls lemon juice (which I didn't have...still worked great)
Sriracha to taste (optional, for an extra kick)

Heat the peanut oil in a medium-sized saucepan.  Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and saute oer medium-low heat until the onions are very soft (about ten minutes).

Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Simmer over very low heat for about 15 minutes.  (Oh hilarious.  I just now saw this "simmer for 15 minutes" instruction.  Didn't do that!*)  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. 

Serve this sauce over rice, noodles, with tofu or your protein of choice.  Add some veggies or sprouts.  Or serve over some fresh spinach.  You can pretty much use it for anything and it's even thick enough to use as a veggie dip.  Delish! 

*Food Tip: This recipe just highlights how forgiving cooking can really be.  More often than not, if you miss a step, omit an ingredient, or even overcook your food, you'll still end up with something pretty good!  My friends and I used to get together and cook a new recipe once a week.  I cannot tell you how many times we ended up with a great meal only to find out later that we'd messed something up along the way.  Some parts of a recipe are non-negotiable, but cooking more so than baking has a lot of wiggle room.  Don't be afraid of cooking!  If you screw up, it's just a sign of creative genius!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Restaurant Review :: Cafe Twenty Eight

This weekend I did my first long run of my marathon training season and it was one of those beautiful mornings where I felt like I could run forever.  But after 11.5 miles I had to stop!  And when I got home I found an awesome text message from my friend Rachel, saying that she'd finished her own training run and wanted to get lunch.  YES!  So I met her and our other friend Dan at Cafe Twenty Eight

Much like the other restaurants that I frequent, Cafe Twenty Eight is committed to sustainable agriculture and locally grown/raised foods.  The eggs, meat, and poultry they use comes from farmers in Minnesota.  Even their coffee and tea selections are local.  AND their co-owner is the brewmaster of Surly Beer!  Ever since I was introduced to Surly I've been a dedicated fan.  Even though I thought I needed hydration, I decided to opt for a big can of Surly Cynic Ale to go along with my lunch.  Who says you can't have a beer before noon? 

By this time, I'd past the point of my post-run appetite where food makes me nauseated, and I wanted to eat something filling and decadent.  Rachel highly recommended the fried egg sandwich, so I ordered that, sans bacon (of course) but with an addition of sauteed onions and french fries over breakfast potatoes. 

Oh joy!  This sandwich did not disappoint.  The bread was soft and buttery on the outside, but the undersides had been grilled to give it an extra crunch.  The Monterey jack cheese was melty and salty, but not overwhelming.  Instead of bacon, there were hearty slices of sauteed mushrooms (that appeared to be of the portobello variety) and I can't lie -- my onion addition was spot on!  I love the extra bite of a good sauteed onion.  The sandwich was drizzled with a thyme aioli, topped with some greens, and before you think I forgot, let me talk about the fried egg. 

I love fried eggs.  I love egg yolks.  So creamy and saucy and heavenly....  Sorry I lost my train of thought.  The egg was perfectly fried...delicate but not overdone whites with a golden yolk that I stabbed with my fork and spread around my sandwich like a second sauce.  OHMYGOSHITWASSOGOOD.  What I loved most about this sandwich is that Cafe Twenty Eight let the ingredients speak for themselves.  The sandwich wasn't loaded down with exotic cheeses or fiery sauces or a crazy mixture of herbs.  It was simple, accentuating the wonderfulness of each ingredient, so you're left with a perfectly delicious fried egg sandwich, the way it was meant to be served.  Bravo Cafe Twenty Eight.  Once again, you rocked my world.  Perfect post-run lunch!! 

If you're out in Linden Hills, do check out this neighborhood joint.  Sit on the patio, order a Surly, and enjoy one of the many fantastic items they have on the menu.  You will not be sorry.

p.s. Rach, I hope you enjoyed your shoutout! :-)

Cafe Twenty-Eight Reviews in Minneapolis

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Food Trucks! 128 Cafe Goes Mobile

The food truck revolution hit the Twin Cities late last year and I've been reading stellar reviews of some of the mobile offerings in Minneapolis.  Sure enough, the food trucks eventually migrated to St. Paul and this summer a few have been parked around the capitol within welcome walking distance of work.  Thank GOODNESS, because the cafeteria offerings are usually subpar, and it can be a trek to get anywhere with decent eats!  Just today I became a "fan" of a few of these food trucks on Facebook so I could get their weekly schedule and menu offerings, and I convinced my co-worker Leigh to make the two-block walk in record-breaking heat to check out the 128 Cafe food truck on John Ireland Boulevard.

it was like an oasis!
I've always loved 128 Cafe proper in St. Paul, so I was looking forward to testing their food-truck snacks.  The menu was small -- two salad options, two sandwiches, and some ribs.  I debated between the portobello mushroom sandwich and the grilled asparagus salad.  Thankfully, Leigh debated the exact same options, so we each ordered one and got to try a bite of the other!  I went with the grilled asparagus salad.

The greens were plentiful and crisp (albeit a little wilted after the walk back to work in the nearly 100-degree heat!), there were delicate slices of fennel, red onion and carrot, covered with a small handful of thin, grilled asparagus stalks, and a bit of goat cheese.  All of that tossed with a citrus herb vinaigrette SWOON!  First, the asparagus!  I've always loved asparagus.  It's a snappy, tasty vegetable that goes well with just about anything.  But I'd never had it grilled...until today.  Wow do those char marks really make a difference.  The subtle smokiness added a great depth of flavor to this summery salad.  And seriously, there is never anything wrong with a little bit of goat cheese.  All of this tastiness right from a truck and for only $7.  I'm so happy that this summer I'll be able to enjoy a delicious lunch option whenever I "forget" to bring one from home!

Leigh ordered the grilled portobello mushroom sandwich.  A meaty portobello mushroom cap on a crunchy roll, served with a side of ginger slaw and potato chips.

I tried a small bite of the sandwich.  Normally I shy away from portobello sandwiches...I prefer the smaller cremini mushrooms...but this was pretty damn good.  Melty mozzarella cheese on top, a grilled roll, caramelized onions, crisp lettuces and carrots, and a mushroom cap that was substantial but not overwhelming.  Plus, it was slathered with a spicy dijon mustard that tasted pretty good!  I guess toward the middle of the sandwich, the mustard was a bit much, but overall, super good sandwich.  And the ginger slaw was dynamite.  Yum yum yum.  Yum.

It's easy to find the schedules and menus of food trucks in St. Paul and in Minneapolis.  A lot post on Facebook and Twitter and you can get their info here.  You can also just google search "food trucks twin cities" and get tons of reviews, information, and links.  Or if you understand how to use Twitter (I don't) you can apparently search for #foodtruckcourt on Twitter and get schedules/menus of all the food trucks in St. Paul.  In short, I welcome these food trucks and their tasty, mobile delicacies.  They have saved me from a summer of mediocre lunches and given me ample treats to check know, for my blog...!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Friends on Food

Annoyingly enough, I developed a sensitivity to lactose during college. Or at least that is when I noticed that eating too much dairy made my stomach want to die. I cut out a lot of dairy from my diet, but when it comes to cheese and baking, it's all dairy all the way. So because I haven't posted in a while, I thought I'd do a little Friends on Food to jump start my week, and this one is a homage to dairy.

Season 8: The One with the Cooking Class

Cooking Teacher: Your Fettuccine Alfredo looks a little dry, did you use all your cheese?
Joey: When you say used, do you mean eat as a pre-cooking snack?
Cooking Teacher: And the cream?
Joey: Cheese makes me thirsty.
Cooking Teacher: Okay.......Let’s move on.