30 September 2012

balancing running and sugar (heavy on the running)

I started running at the end of February this year - you know, when I started blogging.  Roughly 2 months ago, I gave up sugar.  Before I kicked the sweet stuff, I would top out running at about 4 miles.  That was as far as I could handle.  Recently I'm up to almost 11 miles.  11 miles!  No, shut up and think about this for a second.  I ran out my door in Linden Hills and wound up taking Minnehaha Trail all the way down to freakin' CEDAR AVENUE.  On my FEET.  No car.  No bike.  Just me, my shoes, and the pavement for 11 miles of runners' high.  Can you believe it?!

My sugar intake decreased, then my running mileage increased.  Coincidence?  I THINK NOT.

Teresa, a good friend of mine with a sculpted bod that's been honed by running, climbing, yoga, biking, and hiking, recently turned me on to No Meat Athlete.  Good stuff.  It got me thinking.  I haven't hammered you with The Exercise Talk before, muffins, because a) it hasn't seemed relevant and b) if you don't exercise, you hate The Exercise Talk.  I'll give part of The Talk to you today, and part of it next time.  But as I was out this morning - look.  JUST LOOK.  Does anything beat a sunrise over Lake Harriet?  As I was running this morning, and the feeling of wanting to run forever settled over me, I had an epiphany.  It went like this:

I haven't blogged in a while.  I LOVE this song!  Amy Adams is just so cute!  I wonder if I sound like that when I sing.  What should I blog about?!  I'm running out of restaurants around here.  Hm.  Running.  Ooh, K-Pop!  This music is PERFECT.  I feel great.  WOW, an albino squirrel!  HI FRIEND!  I should take a picture!  No, I should keep running.  Out of restaurants.  I love taking these ridiculously long runs.  I also love how I feel now that I'm not scarfing sugary junk anymore.  Wait.  I should learn to speak Korean.  No, I'm learning Swahili.  WAIT.  Running.  Sugar.  LIGHT BULB.

So for obvious reasons I'll write a stream of consciousness book um... never.

Anyway, let me tell you more about my life now that sugar's no longer a part of it.  At first it went well!  I'm no stranger to giving up foods to receive some kind of benefit, whether mentally or physically.  In fact, I'm a little too good at it, so if you're trying to do the same thing and having a tough time, you probably should fantasize about punching me in the face.

A couple weeks later, I went to Kenya.  As I've shared, my diet was pretty barebones there.  I lost a little weight.*  I went running every other day, just like always, but running with my man Katunzi (a Kenyan who could be an Olympic athlete in like 17 different sports) in the thin, high air expanded my lungs to an absurd degree.  And there were no sugary treats to tempt me.  By the time I left, I was thinner, could run faster and farther, and way gung-ho about this sugar-free thing.

On my journey home from Kenya, I had a 4-hour layover in Charles de Gaulle outside of Paris.  It may or may not have been that time of the month.  I had a moment of weakness.  I NEEDED CHOCOLATE, OKAY?

Ever since that moment, I've been addicted to my high-quality super dark chocolate bars.  They aren't made with white granulated sugar, which is the gross stuff I'm really trying to avoid.  They're usually made with pure cane syrup or evaporated cane sugar, which is produced in a way that preserves a lot of the nutrients of the sugar cane itself.

I've come to terms with the chocolate thing.  This is how it's gonna be.  Chocolate keeps me from craving all the other crap I could be eating.  It has antioxidants, too.  The small doses in which I eat it are, all things considered, not bad for me.  Plus, that weight that I lost in Kenya?  It's stayed off!  I have never been this thin.  I'm trying really hard not to brag right now.  But you know my point: kick sugar and your body won't have anything to convert straight into fat anymore.

Chocolate also doesn't seem to be hindering my body from attaining its best.  I am a machine!  The only thing stopping me from running farther is the ache I get in the balls of my feet.  Once I figure that out, I'm ready for a marathon.

In summary, ditch sugar, lean on chocolate, run forever.  God, being vegan is awesome.

* Going to Kenya is actually a great way to drop 5 pounds.  You too can be slightly yet whimsically malnourished!

20 September 2012

ask alli: is your cat vegan?

Nope!  Dish eats Castor & Pollux Organix cat food.  It's meaty.  Look how she wants it!  Look how she loves it!  Look at that maniacal glint in her eye as she realizes I'm wasting time taking pictures when I should be feeding her!

I wish I could tell you about some long journey of a thought process by which I arrived at my decision not to include my cat in my vegan bubble.  Truth is, I never fed Dish vegan food and I never felt the need to experiment with it.  What I can tell you are the reasons I'm sticking with meat-filled cat fuel, and the reasoning behind the opposing viewpoint.

There are really fantastic vegans out there who feed their cats - and even dogs! - vegan food.  Their pets can (but don't always) live very healthy lives.  When you consider it, most meaty cat food has lots of grains and veggies in it anyway.  Add some protein and taurine and you're golden.  Bonus points if your pet gets home-cooked meals full of all the nutrients they need.

I'm not making this up.  I met a bunch of vegan pet owners at the Animal Rights Conference.  They're nice peeps!  Well... most of them.  One guy, who I told you about in the above post, passed out a pamphlet peppered with errors and completely lacking supporting evidence.  It very militantly explained that your cat food is killing your cat (how exactly? not sure) and that you should switch to vegan cat food.  I'm skeptical of that guy.

Now.  I will try to impart myself to you better than the cat food's killing your cat guy.  I mean, why the heck would I endorse animal death to feed my cat when I won't even wear merino wool?

First of all, cats are undeniably carnivorous in a way that humans are not.  They have sharp teeth and claws.  They pack in calories and then sleep for most of the day.  Their stomachs are laden with enzymes perfect for the digestion of meat.  This is what Dish's body needs.

Secondly, taurine.  This is a compound found almost exclusively in meat.  It keeps cats from going blind.  BLIND.  Holy guacamole.  I don't want to take that risk for a being who depends entirely on me. I'll take responsibility for myself and my B12, but not for my sweet potato's taurine.

Moreover, Dish is ridiculously healthy.  She almost never pukes.  Her coat's always soft and shiny.  She has boundless energy (when she's not sleeping).  And she thinks her food is delicious.*  Obviously I'm not advocating the big commercial factory farm-linked brands with who knows how many bits of random animal body parts and offal ground up all together, here.  But organic, sustainable, meaty catfood is super healthy!

So because I feel this diet is what's best for my cat, I sanction the animal slaughter involved.  She's supposed to eat meat.  Just ask ANYONE.  I mean, Mother Nature.

* How do I know this?  I can read her mind.  LITERALLY.

14 September 2012

Minneapolis: Kinsen Noodles and Bar

I took my stitches out all by myself!  Don't tell Mom.

Kinsen Noodles and Bar
1300 Lagoon Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55408
(612) 367-4595

How could you turn down a place with a sign in the window that says, "EAT NOODLES - BE FRIENDS"?  You can't, is the answer. Just get your cute little vegan tush in there.

Everybody likes edamame!  This order is $5 and covered with yummy sea salt.  Unfortunately, the sea salt was distributed unevenly among the pods.  Yet edamame is edamame - always satisfying when you're starving* before your noodles come out.

We did have to wait a while for our food - this was at about 6pm on a weeknight, and there were very few patrons in the house.  The music softened that blow.  I'm a fan of any place that'll play Regina Spektor alongside Such Great Heights.  Oh, and I love talking to Mom and Sister and stuff!  About my stitches.  FUN.

I ordered Kung Pao Tofu for $14 - but it's not on the menu.  You'll see Kung Pao Chicken with their vegan symbol, and that means you can change your protein to mock duck or tofu.  Um, yes forever.  The dish also comes with red bell pepper, onion, celery, peanuts, dried chilis, toasted garlic sauce, and crispy rice noodles.

The tofu was likely fried, and SO divine.  That became my instant fave ingredient: the one I tried to include in every delicious bite.  The veggies were perfectly crunchy, the peanuts rare but lovely, and the sauce in-freaking-credible.  Seriously.  I would've licked the plate if not for our server offering to take it away.  (Trying to keep an empty plate can be awkward in many social situations.)  It wasn't overly spicy, but definitely packed some heat.  The noodles were pretty cool; they had the consistency of styrofoam packing peanuts, but the ones on the bottom had softened and soaked up that sauce, which - I don't know if I mentioned - is AMAZING.

But don't eat the dried chilis.  That'd be silly.  As silly as slicing your finger open with a lemony steak knife.

* I mean starving in the first-world problem sense.  You know, when you have to go 2 hours without stuffing your face and you get all shaky?  Ahh, to be American.

09 September 2012

Minneapolis: Psycho Suzi's

My dear muffins,

I have a confession to make.  A brutal vegan confession.  No!  It's not what you're thinking.  I didn't eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's and blow chunks at somebody's wedding or anything so glamorous.  Mine is a tale of gore.

This Monday morning, before Matt headed down to the Renaissance Festival - where, by the way, he performs all day every weekend* - I started making him tea.  His voice needed some love, and one of the best ways to fix a damaged larynx is by drinking hot herbal tea with honey and lemon.  I put the water on to boil and grabbed a lemon from the fridge.  With a sharp steak knife in my right hand and the lemon pinned on the counter with my left, I set about slicing out a piece just like I've done a hundred million gajillion bazillion chagrillion times before.

The knife sank into my finger all the way down to the bone.  I'm sure it would've hurt less if it wasn't covered in lemon juice.

3 hours later, I was all set with 4 stitches in my left index finger, an almost complete inability to type the letter R, and no desire to cook whatsoever.

So we went to Psycho Suzi's for dinner.  OH DARN.

Psycho Suzi's
1900 Marshall St NE
Minneapoils, MN 55418
(612) 788-9069

Before I take you inside, I'd like you get the full experience.  The sign pictured above the map is pretty straight forward, but the building on the left here is the actual restaurant.  Did it begin its life as a church or a VFW?  You decide.

When you step inside, you won't believe an old Knights of Columbus or whatever could house such an off-the-hook Tiki Room.  So don't judge this joint by its stale patriarchal un-vegan-friendly-looking shell.

Becca would like you to know that Suzi's is one of those places that uses bamboo plates and plants a bucket of recycled napkins and silverware at each table.  This eliminates the need for extra napkins and dishwashing - you only take what you need.  You won't have any of those alienating If I'm eating pizza, what will I do with this spoon? moments here.  Unless you're an alien.

As a vegan, I recommend ordering any combination of the following: Triple Garlic Hummus Plate ($8), Spinach & Walnut Salad (without the bleu cheese), and/or a Design Your Own Pizza (with soy cheese).  And a drink.  Some of them come with pineapple slices!  And we all know there is literally no greater joy in life than a pineapple slice on a drink.

Suzi's Triple Garlic Hummus Plate is good enough to rival Holy Land for the best hummus I've ever had ever.  This dish smells amazing.  It's the kind of smell that would make you bang down your downstairs neighbor's apartment door just to stick your face in the stuff.  It doesn't always have all this glorious cayenne sprinkled across, but it IS always phenomenal.  Like the name suggests, there's plenty of well-used garlic in here - not enough to make it burn, but it's near the threshold.  To me, the mark of a great hummus is the aftertaste, and this one has a delectable flavor of high-quality olive oil and chickpeas.  The pita's fantastic in its own right, too, all moist and cohesive and perfect.  It's worth coming here just for this plate.

Matt, Becca, and I split a Design Your Own Pizza: a large deep dish with cayenne barbecue sauce, soy cheese, pineapple, and spinach, for $27.  When ordering, make it very clear that you need soy cheese and only soy cheese, and that if it comes with dairy cheese you'll be sending it back.  They've been known to mess this up multiple times.  But when they get it right, it's so worth every nit-picky specification.

Each bite is a nice melty, hot, crispy, cohesive, spicy mess.  The crust is very well prepared, and the tang of pineapple complements the heat of the BBQ sauce splendidly.  The saltiness of the fake cheese builds the total flavor up subtly as well, and the pineapple slices are small enough that you can enjoy other tastes in your mouth at the same time.  As Becca pointed out, that's not always the case with pineapple pizza.

Of course, when you go here, you can make up whatever pizza you like.  I'm hoping the one I described above will one day be referred to as The Becca across the Twin Cities.  You should start spreading the word.  Order The Becca and when your server gives you a blank look, patiently explain exactly what goes on it, but also imply that everyone else already has this sucker on their menus.

Thanks for helping me make the world a better place.  BBQ for all.

* Captain Adventure plays a very particular role at Ren Fest.  I can't tell you exactly who, but I can tell you it involves a necklace.  A manly necklace.

06 September 2012

on being vegan in Korea

A piece about Korea written by Shelley, who I think the world of, and am SO lucky to count as a friend.  Thanks a grillion, rock star!

In some places in the world, it’s really easy to be vegan. In California, you can walk into a greasy spoon breakfast joint and find yourself enjoying this kind of interaction:

“Yeah I’ll have the tofu omelet with cashew cheese, a fruit cup with no grapes, and a café au lait with the unsweetened hemp milk. Please. Oh! And a slice of the vegan wheat-free-gluten-free organic fruit- juice-sweetened cake made with lemons grown by orphans in Nicaragua. I’ll take one to go.”

Upon which the server will reply, “Can I suggest that you get the mushrooms steamed? We’re out of the unrefined coconut oil, and you know how mushrooms absorb so much moisture…unless cold-pressed olive oil is okay?”

Then, you’ve got the other. The other, uh…way. This one I remember fondly from a trip to Idaho for some Mom-time.

“Hey! I was wondering (point at the menu) do you think I could have the chicken caesar salad with no chicken? And no cheese? And um, no croutons? And do you have anything else for dressing, like maybe just some lemon juice? “

Waiter stares. “So, you mean you just want romaine lettuce?”

“Well you can tell the chef to spice it up a little bit. You know, just throw in some tomatoes and carrots?” Nervous laughter from me. A skittish glance in my Mom’s direction who politely says, “She’s vegan.”

The waiter replies, “Oh okay. What’s that?”

15 minutes later, out of the kitchen floats a plate of dry romaine leaves, some tomato slices, and a big pile of salami slapped right in the middle. I took off the salami, ate the lettuce, and ordered some French fries, my Mom giggling all the while as I throw in one of these, “Ah well. I’m in no danger of starvation. What’s for dinner?”

When I got to Korea, I had no assumptions either way about how it would be. I’d heard reports from both sides, some people saying that meat is often put on the side like an afterthought and others describing vegetarianism as “impossible” and that I’d have to be “entirely self-reliant.” Meaning granola bars and apples. From my bag. Forever. Differing reports, it would seem! All I really knew for sure is that it would be a challenge, a supposition that proved to be accurate when, during the first day in our apartment, this take out menu was slapped to our door:

So…it’s supposed to go something like this:

“Yes. Can I have the 가지 국수 without the 식용 짐승 고기?”

Right. That’ll work.

The thing is, being vegan in Korea is all about flexibility. In fact, after a few months of practice, lots of errors and even more unexpected successes, I’ve determined that this change has turned me into a better vegan. I had to become more adaptable, less rigid, and much less now-I-have-to-send-it-back in my severity about eating. And ya know what? It’s okay!

My daily eating patterns are remarkably similar to those I left behind in the states, tweaked and altered to fit my environs (like a real healthy human…go figure). Ordering things in from the internet and from generous friends like Alli is not the backbone of my diet but rather, the fluff that makes life a little bit tastier. Living off of things shipped in boxes is out of the question when there is a veritable feast of delicious Korean bounty all around you! Here are my daily staples:

1. Amaranth (this is the only thing I currently to ship to Korea, though I’m phasing it out)
2. Soy milk (a million different yummy varieties are available)
3. Frozen fruit, for smoothies
4. Tons of vegetables (cheap, filling, dazzling in their diversity)
5. Brown rice
6. Tofu (INSANELY delicious here…something about thousands of years of practice in making it)

Other things that frequently creep into my world when I’m cooking at home include curry paste, lentils (bought at the foreign market), beans, tortillas, and all manner of veggie wraps, burritos, soups, noodles, and homemade pizza with tofu cheese (one of my new-found faves). Eating at home is the keystone of any vegan’s diet, so I work to keep it interesting. And when Japanese eggplants only cost 40 cents, who wouldn’t?

Dinners out are trickier, of course. When I was fresh off the boat in Korea, cold and alone, I only went to western restaurants and places with English menus. There are lots of these in my neighborhood, including one instant favorite, Gecko’s, that’s a block away and serves a veggie burger that’ll knock your socks off. However, as I’ve become more and more comfy in the Land of the Morning Calm (and as I’ve learned how the basics of 한글), Korean restaurants have drawn me in like a moth to a flame. Here’s what I look for:

1. 비빔밥 bibimbap, an excellent concoction of rice, veggies, and super spicy gochugang sauce
2. 김치 찌개 kimchi jjigae, kimchi boiled with veggies and ka*POW* spices
3. 순두부찌게 soon dubu jjigae, soft tofu soup
4. 유부초밥 yubu chobap, fried tofu squares stuffed with rice
5. 냉면naeng myeon, buckwheat noodles in broth with vinegar, mustard, and ice cubes (RAD)

In the unlikely event that none of these things are available, I can often make a meal out of the huge array of vegetarian side dishes that come with someone else’s order (AJ’s, namely). Rice, kimchi, daikon radishes, cucumbers, and a spoonful of broth from somewhere make Shelley a happy girl. I can also zoom in on certain hangul phrases like “vegetables” and “tofu” and “noodles” well enough to get something vegetarian brought to me…or almost vegetarian. You see, the truth about meat in Korea is this: it’s used, in small amounts, in most things. There have been times when my bibimbap arrives with strips of beef laid across it, and even a few times where I’ve almost finished my kimchi jjigae only to discover a small bit of pork on the bottom of my bowl. Was I eating broth made with meat? Probably. Was I chewing on meat? Unlikely, since that texture is unmistakable. Am I going to freak out?

The answer here is the key to living and loving this lifestyle a world away from the predictable and suffocating comfort of the USA. The answer is no. You will not have a panic attack if your salsa has a giant scoop of crème fraîche on top; you’ll instead use your hands to ask the waiter to bring you one without. You will not have a coronary if the beautiful and much-anticipated cucumber salad arrives with feta cheese sprinkled all over the top; you’ll instead eat it and like it. After all, you traveled for 45 minutes to get to this amazing Greek restaurant and damn, those kalamata olives are just so special. You will not over stress and over think and run through the details of your vegan superpowers again and again till you go crazy if you decide to try that incredible Korean invention called bingsu (shaved ice with jellied fruits, rice marshmallows, and sweet red beans with a dash of milk and a big scoop of homemade ice cream). It’s totally unvegan and totally worth experiencing. You’re in Korea.

I’m in Korea! Veganism is a lifestyle, not a rigid doctrine from which there is no escape. Yes, I am an emphatic, passionate vegetarian and will never waiver, but you know what? Passion is sexy. Obsession is not. So I just go with it. I’m in Korea!

02 September 2012

Nairobi: Habesha

My last night in Kenya was so bittersweet.  On the one hand, I had to leave the country after dinner.  On the other hand, I was eating a totally incredible meal with really amazing people.  I mean, it's Ethiopian food in a country that's bordered on the north by Ethiopia.  Come ON.*

Kirichwa Rd
Nairobi, Kenya
(0)20 3755418

Even in Nairobi, ethnic food will save us vegans.  I ordered the Veggie Plate for 700 KES ($8.31) - EIGHT BUCKS, PEOPLE - and look how huge it was!  I certainly didn't eat the whole thing by myself.

You remember injera.  All the little scoops of vegan heaven are resting on top of it.  We got extra injera so we could scoop the food up with our fingers.  Make sure you use hand sanitizer before eating!  Nobody wants to end a meal like this by logging hours in the bathroom.

See the light salad on the left?  I'd avoid that.  You know, fresh vegetables getting washed in tap water and all.

The pink beets and yellow potatoes on the bottom were yummy and mild.  The beets were surprisingly sweet, and both were universally inoffensive.  Those yellow lentils on the bottom right?  Also mild.  Also delicious.  I'd call all three comfort foods.

The dark red lentils in the middle comprise the Msir Key Wot, which is super spicy and wonderful.  They have a toothsome bite that almost makes you expect to find beef in there.  But do not worry, muffins.  No rotting dead cows will ruin your Ethiopian party.

The kale, string beans, and cabbage, which are along the top and right sides of the dish, all had their own unique tastes.  Each was tangy and mild, but full of flavor.  The kale was crunchy and well-infused with vinegar, the string beans Thanksgiving-like, and the Atkilt (cabbage) sour.

Best for last: the brown lentils were my ABSOLUTE fave.  Turner loved them as well.  They were slightly spicy and so addictive that I wiped that whole part of the dish clean.  I think Turner got a few good bites before I swooped in.  I mean, I hope he did.  He might hate me forever if he didn't.  That stuff could ruin a friendship.  I asked him for his culinary expertise to assist me in describing these lentils.  I expected all these beautiful gourmet words to come flowing out of his mouth - which is normal when Turner talks about food - and my pen was poised to take notes on everything.

He said, "It's the perfect baby food."

Thanks, Turner.  You're so helpful or something.  Maybe that was payback for me having eaten all the perfect baby food.

Thus ends my Kenya escapades!  I'm counting the days until I can go back.  Within the next couple of days, I have something extra special to share with you, and I'm peeing-my-pants excited to post it.  Just wait!  It'll rock.

* I'd like to take this moment to point out that Fasika in good old St. Paul is similarly amazing.  We can't all eat Ethiopian in Africa, but we CAN all eat it in St. Paul.  So do it.  Now.  Yes, now.  I don't care if you're in your pajamas.