Wednesday, June 23, 2010

main squeeze café

a delightful lunch stop

I wasn't born a road warrior, but I recently realized that my life is headed that direction: my husband just bought a 1970 slide-in camper for his almost-classic Ford F150.  The camper needs some improvements before I'll call it my vacation home.  In the meantime, I've been acclimating to the asphalt-loving lifestyle, which kicked off with our recent trip from Nashville to Santa Fe, NM.

We drove the westward leg in one go, stopping regularly to walk our dog and stretch, and completed the route (almost exclusively on I-40) within one day.  I had brought a hefty supply of cold salads, PB&J, and favorite snacks from Trader Joe's, so we didn't face the challenge of trying to find vegan food at truck stops along the way.  After spending a fantastic week in Santa Fe (more to come on that topic), it was time to pack up the car for our return leg, which took us north through Colorado before heading east on I-70.

Our decision to take a less-direct route was rewarded: the Colorado countryside and rolling green fields of Kansas were worth the extra hours on the road.  And then, my thoughtful husband suggested a stop in Columbia, Missouri, which he thought was the kind of town that might have a vegetarian restaurant.  A quick look at this resource confirmed his suspicion, and we pulled off the Interstate in search of Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café.

Main Squeeze was perfect: the vibe was warm and fun, the decor was funky and creative, and the menu offered a variety of yummy-sounding sandwiches, salads, and wraps, in addition to fresh juices, smoothies, and baked goods.  The staff were friendly and helpful, and all of the customers seemed peaceful and content, enjoying their healthful lunches while chatting or reading.

I ordered the Tempeh Ruby sandwich, which would be my first Reuben-style meal ever, vegetarian or otherwise.  It was totally delightful, with mildly spiced soft tempeh, crisp and tangy sauerkraut, and sweet, creamy dressing.  The soft, savory rye bread from Uprise Bakery completed the combination (or should I say, made it complete).  The freshness of all of the ingredients was palpable, and the flavors were perfectly balanced.  I wanted to order another Ruby to take home, but knew that a second helping couldn't provide the same satisfaction.  So I simply savored the moment, pausing to enjoy my perfect company and the wonderful handmade goodness that we were served.

Charles had the Sunshine Burger, a vegan patty topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, and Russian dressing and served on a wheat bun.  I could tell by how few words we exchanged how much he enjoyed it.  We each had a cup of (vegan) creamy soup with local greens, smooth and satisfying.  We agreed that the meal was the perfect respite from our long car trip, and returned to the counter to further reward ourselves with dessert.  About half of the desserts were vegan, and they ran the gamut from full-on-sugary cupcakes to heartier bar cookies and muffins.  I opted for the latter, choosing a chocolate coconut bar.  It was tasty, but I could tell that Charles would've preferred something of the sweeter variety.  I'll have to let him choose, next time!

I loved our visit to Main Squeeze, an establishment that seems to address all facets of being a responsible restaurant.  In addition to using organic produce almost exclusively, and local produce when available, they offer filtered water, avoiding the packaging and inhospitable expense of bottled water.  The restaurant's waste is minimized by composting, recycling, and use of earth-friendly to-go packaging.  They also support the community by participating in fundraising events and providing space for local artists to sell their work.  According to their website, the mission of Main Squeeze is to be a sustainable business, basing their decisions on this question: "Is this the very best that we can do for the health of our planet, our employees, our customers, our community?"

Clearly, Main Squeeze made a happy customer out of me, and I highly recommend that you check it out, whether you're a local or a cross-country traveller.

Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café
28 S. 9th Street
Columbia, MO 65201

Sunday, June 13, 2010

a kombucha experiment - growing a scoby, part 2

daily status, in pictures

Last week, I blogged about my experience with kombucha. Every morning for the past 9 days, I excitedly checked on my little experiment and have watched my jar of tea rapidly produce a healthy SCOBY.

If you look really closely, you can see a small whitish spot in the center of the jar. That is the start of my SCOBY! I was so excited when I lifted up the towel and found it had actually started to grow.
By day 4, there was a very noticeable film across the entire surface of the tea.

By day 9, I thought my SCOBY was thick enough to transfer to a new batch of tea and start my very first brew! I'm a few days into it now and anxiously waiting for the 5th day so I can bottle it with fruit juice and begin my double fermentation.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

the dirty dozen list

a useful tool

In a perfect world, everyone would have access to all of the organically-grown produce that they wished to eat.  However, budgetary restrictions might prevent this in many households, including my own.  The Dirty Dozen produce list, compiled by the Environmental Working Group, is a useful tool for balancing the goals of eating a lot of produce, limiting our exposure to pesticides, and keeping the grocery bill within the budget.

This list is a ranking of the fruits and vegetables with the highest residual pesticide load.  There is a companion list, The Clean Fifteen, and a full list that includes other popular produce that falls in the middle of the pesticide spectrum.  According to EWG, eating produce listed on the D12 list will cause you to be exposed to ten or more pesticides a day; eating the produce on the C15 list would limit your exposure to two or fewer pesticides a day.

Does this mean that you shouldn't eat celery, the top veggie listed on the D12?  No, but knowing that it is the most likely to be contaminated, you might choose to buy organic celery instead of conventionally grown.  The list can help you determine on which foods it makes sense to spend the extra money to buy organically grown produce.  For example, I choose to save a little money on avocados (on the C15), but spend a little extra on organic apples (on the D12)  It's handy to consult this list not only when buying fresh produce, but also when choosing frozen fruit and veggies, and items such as apple sauce or juice.

In general, I avoid buying conventional produce that's on the D12, but ultimately, I base my buying decisions on the foods that I need and want to eat.  For example, I buy kale and collard greens on a regular basis.  A large bunch of conventionally-grown greens can be had for less than a buck at many markets, while organic kale is usually available only at Whole Foods for $4.  So, I tend to buy the conventionally-grown greens, because I think that it's important to eat a lot of dark, leafy greens.  Another approach would be to buy low-pesticide-load broccoli most of the time, and buy the organic leafy greens as an occasional splurge.

I hope that you appreciate the information that this list provides, and that you find a way to make it work for you.  I think it's important to remember that the vegan diet eliminates exposure to many toxins, because we aren't consuming all of the chemicals that are stored in the fat of animals, which are usually fed a diet of highly-sprayed grains (in addition to other unsavory junk).  Since more organic choices are available when a certain produce is in season, shopping according to the D12 also promotes buying seasonal and local produce.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

vegan gazpacho

a refreshing summer staple

When I first met my husband, he told me about this restaurant he used to frequent with his mother called Salmagundi's at South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA (unfortunately they went out of business before I moved to So Cal so I never had the pleasure of eating there). When Marty went to Salmagundi's (I just love saying that name), he always got a bowl of gazpacho which he described to me as salsa soup and THE BEST DISH EVER. While I love salsa, I couldn't imagine eating it straight up out of a bowl so I kind of dismissed the idea and wrote it off as something I would never make.

A few years ago, on a blistering hot day, Marty tried again to convince me that  gazpacho was a refreshing dish, perfect for our Tennessee summers. I caved in and decided to give it a try. After searching the internet for ideas, rather than follow one specific recipe, I decided to wing it and throw together whatever sounded good to me. What resulted was a dynamic burst of summery freshness and, from my first spoonful, I was hooked.

Now, Marty and I anxiously look forward to warm weather and ripe, local produce so we can make gazpacho. Once the temperatures get above 70 degrees, our fridge is rarely without a bowl of this lively vegetable medley.

makes a huge bowl full
  • 4 large, very ripe tomatoes (or 2 fresh tomatoes and 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 1 peeled cucumber
  • 1 bell pepper (or an extra cucumber)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • jalapeno to taste (I usually use 1)
  • fresh cilantro to taste (I usually use about 1/2 of a bunch)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • juice from 1/4 of a lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • diced avocado / guacamole / vegan sour cream / raw corn kernels (optional)
  1. Roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and onion into large chunks.
  2. Add the veggies and everything else to a food processor and pulse until you have very small pieces (the size of a kernel of corn or smaller).
  3. Taste and add more vinegar, lemon, olive oil and/or salt & pepper if necessary.
  4. Top with diced avocado, guacamole, a dollop of vegan sour cream, sprinkle with corn kernels cut right off the cob or all of the above!

Friday, June 4, 2010

vegan chocolate + chile shake

an exquisite creation

My craving for sweet food begins when I wake up and has been known to last all day long.  I want to reduce the refined sugar in my diet because these empty calories don't do my body any favors, and it is swimsuit season, after all.  GT's Kombucha has been helping me curb my cravings, and I recently came across a new weapon against my mental desire for sweets: shakes made with frozen bananas.

Frozen bananas behave like ice cream when added to shakes, providing a creamy texture and natural sweetness. While we don't care for this thick consistency in our fruit smoothies, my husband and I agree that bananas are excellent for emulating milkshakes.  Of course, along with the texture attributes, bananas also contribute their characteristic flavor, but it complements a wide array of fruits, nut butters, and spices.  Adding cocoa powder plus a few dates produces a toothsome snack without refined sugar.  This version is a nod to the popular combination of chocolate and chile, particularly to the trend-setting Vosges chocolate bar.  A little dose of capsicum adds heat and complexity to the mellow cocoa flavor, and the warm spice of cinnamon completes the exotic blend.

The recipe below yields a subtle heat that should be approachable to most people, and you may find yourself increasing the amount of chile in future batches.  Ancho is poblano pepper in its dried form, and its flavor is on the mild, sweet side of the chile pepper spectrum.  It is requently included in mole sauce, and whole anchos are easily found with Mexican groceries.  Cayenne powder introduces a warm heat that dissipates quickly, instantly tamed by the sugar of the banana.  While I like to have this shake for breakfast, others might find it a more appropriate later in the day, and it is decadent enough for serving as dessert.

When I start the day with some version of a chocolate banana shake, I feel satisfied for hours.  Amazingly, I'm able to skip second breakfast, and can even dismiss sweets that might present themselves later in the day.  This is accomplished with no refined sugar and very little fat!  If unsweetened almond milk is used, I estimate that this recipe contains less than 400 calories and 20 grams of sugar.  Let's compare this to the chocolate shake from Sonic that I would have eaten in my pre-vegan days: 568 calories, 25.6 g fat (17.9 g saturated fat), 49 g sugar!  And absolutely no fiber, which may explain why it was less satisfying than this shake, with about 12 grams of fiber.

I feel really good about the "milk"shakes in my life, and I hope that you indulge in something equally pleasurable.

Vegan Chocolate + Chile Shake
makes one 12-ounce shake

1 1/2 banana, peeled, cut into chunks, and frozen
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 medjool dates
ice cubes
4 oz non-dairy milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (if using plain non-dairy milk)
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Add all ingredients to blender.  Blend until smooth according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Pour into a glass and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

falling in love again with my blender

osterizer hacks

Today's post was intended to include a recipe for a shake that I have been eating every day.  But something developed that I find even more exciting, and the exotically-spiced chocolate shake will have to wait until Friday.  It is postponed so that you may read of the newly-discovered capabilities of my old blender.

I bought a classic Osterizer during college for making frozen margaritas.  I'm sure it was used for other applications a few times, but the cause that led me to plunk down $60 at the local Target was making sweet-tart, icy, tequila-laden cocktails at home.  I chose this model because its metal base seemed sturdy and its retro, beehive shape looked cool.  It has a 500-watt motor and a simple, toggle control with three options: on, off, and pulse.  Alas, it wasn't proficient at crushing ice, producing libations of irregular consistency, with persistent, large chunks of ice among the smooth icy granules.

Over the ensuing years, I came to prefer margaritas on the rocks (could this dismissal of my mother's preference be indicative of my own personal development? Must ask therapist).  Gradually, the blender was used less and less frequently, and I confess that my old friend spent the past year languishing in the guest room closet.

In starting my vegan education last fall, a powerful blender seemed a useful tool to have.  Luckily, my mentor lent me a brawny model so that I could whip up thick sauces and creamy smoothies to my heart's tummy's content.  I used it frequently, forsaking the Osterizer and wondering how long I could wait before sinking $400 into a new wunder-blender.

Today, preparing to make the shake, I pulled out the Jack LaLanne blender... and also the Osterizer.  Frankly, I expected to start the process in the Ostersizer, then give up and dump everything in the JLL blender to finish.  However, to my shock and awe, my old buddy did an admirable job, blending ice, frozen banana and all into a thick, creamy, uniform consistency.

Here's what I think made the difference: a tamper!  I inserted the tamper from the JLL through the opening of the Osterizer lid to push all of the ingredients toward the blades while it was running.  So, before you drop $400 on a Vita-Mix or a Blendtec, you could try using a tamper device with your blender, taking care that it is the proper length not to make contact with the blades. *

You may be wondering about the bizarre appearance of the blender in the leading photo.  Well, it happens that an observant consumer realized that the Oster blade apparatus fits perfectly onto regular-mouth Mason jars.  I couldn't be more tickled, since I store my bulk, dry goods in Mason jars.  Instead of the two-part canning lids, I use plastic storage lids that can be purchased in packs of eight from many retailers.  But I digress.

By attaching the base of the Oster to a Mason jar*, the blender can effectively process small amounts of wet and dry ingredients.  In a quick experiment, I placed a small amount of rolled oats in a 20 oz jar, and a few almonds in an 8 oz jelly jar.  With a few pulses, the blender produced oat flour and almond flour, the consistency of each comparing favorably to the flours that I usually make in the coffee mill.  With this setup, the Osterizer essentially does the job of a Magic Bullet!  This is fantastic because Mason jars are inexpensive, come in a variety of sizes, and are easy to clean (i.e. are dishwasher safe).  How's that for a multitasking tool?

Which brings us to another advantage of the good ol' Osterizer: the canister can be disassembled, so I can clean the carafe and the blades thoroughly without shredding my sponge (or my fingers).  Replacement parts and additional accessories (including a milkshake blade!) are also available at reasonable prices, though Oster doesn't offer a tamper.

So, though my experiments are limited, I think that my old blender will be seeing a great deal more use in the future.  To summarize my opinion of the Osterizer:

  • Pros: easy to clean, powerful, all-metal drive system, affordable, attractive styling, simple controls, good blending ability when used with tamper, fits Mason jars for more versatility, easy to clean, easy to replace parts.
  • Cons: relatively small carafe capacity of five cups, gaskets must be aligned properly to prevent leaking.
So, if you don't care about pulverizing an iPad in your blender, you might give the Osterizer a try!

*The manufacturer does not endorse using a tamper or Mason jars with the Osterizer blender.  If you choose to use your blender in this way, it could potentially damage your blender, cause additional damage and/or injury.  The authors of this blog are not responsible for any mishaps that may occur.  Operate your blender at your own risk!

PS: I just entered a giveaway for Artisana Coconut Butters at Chocolate-Covered Katie's blog, and you should, too!