Thursday, February 24, 2011

Meet Clarence!

Say Hi! to Clarence.

Clarence just came to us via Red Dog Farm. He is a 8-9 year old parakeet that was surrendered due to his previous caretaker's health issues.  He's a senior but he's got quite a lot of energy and pep!

We were told that he was very shy and quiet but thus far he's been quite a chirper.  He came to us in, what I think, was a very small cage and you could tell he'd been a bit neglected.  His cage was a bit of a mess and his nails are very long to the point of curling. He didn't even have a way to wear down his beak!

Well, we've changed all that!

I'm working on trimming his nails so I don't scare or hurt him but the first thing we did was get him a much roomier home with new clean toys and perches perfect for exercising his feet and mind. I love his new home.  The front has a plexi door so he gets unobstructed views out.

He likes to get close to the door and peek out at us.

We're working on the best toys and treats for him but this environment has lots of "enrichment pods" we can add on to keep him engaged and happy. I'm also working on getting him used to being touched and petted.  He's not too sure about it right now but he's getting there!

Clarence is in the sunroom for now, up on top of our built-ins.  It gives him a sunny place, free from drafts.  The room is warm and he can see out.  The radio stays on and we check on him throughout the day too. The cats were curious at first but haven't tried to get at him (not that they could!).

So now we have an even dozen (OMG!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Restaurant Review - Cafe Curryleaves

We may have a contender for "New Favorite Restaurant".  We have many loves in the Favorite Restaurant category, which obviously is great, because they are each unique. Each restaurant usually makes something amazing that we realize our life has been an empty shell without.  Cafe Curryleaves in Morrisville, NC is one of those restaurants.

The restaurant itself is small and casual.  A bit of a combination of counter service and sit-down, you walk in and can place your order or have seat and peruse the menu.  The menu isn't huge but it is filled with great Southern Indian dishes that are not as common as their Northern counterparts. We'd read a few reviews on Yelp before we impulsively made an hour and a half drive to check it out and they all sounded great.

We were not disappointed. We knew from the reviews that we had to get the Imli fries as a starter.  The fries, along with an order of the Samosa Chaat (Chaat meaning starter), were an AMAZING start to the meal.  I am not kidding you.  These fries, covered in tamarind sauce and fresh onions are ridiculously good. They were inhaled in just a few moments.  If I could have eaten another order, I probably would have.

There were a ton of other starters I wanted to try but I know those fries will have a permanent spot on our appetizer list.

For our main meal, SL (the husband) go the Mixed Vegetable Uttapam which is a lentil and rice pancake mixed with fresh veggies. It's served with a small bowl of soup and a tomato chutney and a fresh coconut chutney. Think light but crispy deliciousness.

I got the Masla Dosa which also comes with the same soup and chutneys. Dosas are a huge, very thin rice-lentil crepe which is cooked and then folded in half with a filling.  In the case of the Masala Dosa, the filling is a gently spiced potato filling.  This is comfort food at its best.

And were talking huge here.  There is actually a tray under that Dosa somewhere! Also note the empty fry bowl in the center.  Picked clean.

The Dosa is deceptive, though.  It isn't filled to the brim with potatoes, just at the fold, so I don't feel like a total glutton. Although afterwards, I slept the whole car ride home.

So, yes, Cafe Curryleaves is amazing and affordable. I think our whole meal was just over $20.  They have desserts too but I was too stuffed to try them.  Maybe next time because, in spite of the drive, we are totally going back. If you are going to be anywhere near the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area you have to stop by!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

I just wanted you to know that while not the healthiest thing to eat and something you probably wouldn't indulge in every day, you can have cake as a vegan.  Even a pretty, sugary, decorated cake.

I used to bake a ton and people would hire me to do wedding cakes, baby shower cakes and birthday cakes and even goodies for parties and work events.   I used to bake every week for fun, just to test out new recipes.  I took 3 courses in cake decorating and would make multi-tiered cakes just for fun.

I have quite a collection of tools and tips to assist me.

So when we went vegan, I didn't want to give that up.  And I haven't had to. I made this 10" yellow cake with lavender-tinted sugar icing for a young lady's birthday last week.  She wanted a lavender cake with white trim and powdered donuts. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I picked up donuts for the topper. I may get a donut baking pan to do my own next time.  So the donuts were not vegan but the cake and icing were (as well as being nut free too).

But not everyone has time to make a cake from scratch. No problem!  Cherrybrook Kitchen has vanilla and chocolate cake mixes, as well as a whole slew of other mixes, for you and they are available in most grocery stores.  All you need are EarthBalance sticks to add to the mix and you are good to go.

I keep a box on hand for quick and easy cupcakes.  Never be without cake again!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beautiful Diversity

Nature, in it's glorious diversity, is wonderous.

Behold the floral bower of the Osmia (Ozbekosima) avoseta bee from Turkey.

Scientists recently discovered a rare, solitary type of bee that makes tiny nests by plastering together flower petals.

Each nest is a multicolored, textured little cocoon — a papier-mache husk surrounding a single egg, protecting it while it develops into an adult bee.

Building a nest takes a day or two, and the female might create about 10 nests in total, often right next to each other. To begin construction, she bites the petals off of flowers and flies each petal — one by one — back to the nest, a peanut-sized burrow in the ground.

She then shapes the multi-colored petals into a cocoon-like structure, laying one petal on top of the other and occasionally using some nectar as glue. When the outer petal casing is complete, she reinforces the inside with a paper-thin layer of mud, and then another layer of petals, so both the outside and inside are wallpapered — a potpourri of purple, pink and yellow.

These meticulous shells are just over a half-inch long and usually will house just one tiny egg. To prepare for her offspring, the mother collects pollen and nectar, which she carries back to the burrow in a nifty part of the digestive tract called the crop. She deposits this gooey blob of nutritional goodness in the bottom of the flower-petal nest. Then, she lays the egg, right on top of the gelatinous blob.

At this point, it's time to seal in the egg. The mother bee neatly folds in the inner layer of petals, smears a paper-thin mud layer and then folds the outer petals. The casing is nearly airtight, which helps protect the vulnerable egg (and later larva, then pupa) from flooding or excessive dryness or hoofed animals.
In only three to four days, the egg hatches into a larva. When it finishes feasting on the nectar, the larva spins a cocoon (still inside the shell, which has hardened into a protective casing by this point) and then hangs out. Rosen says he isn't sure whether it spends the winter as a larva or as an adult. But at some point the creature's tissue begins to restructure itself, and it transforms into an adult. Come springtime, the adult bee emerges from its flowery bower.
Then, the cycle starts all over again.

Source article - NPR

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Junking the Junk

While I think eating vegan is one of the best ways to take control of and improve your health, there are many ways to eat "junk food" in the vegan world. Just because you eat vegan doesn't mean you are eating healthfully. 

If you live on an endless rotation of fries, non-dairy cheese pizza and Oreos, you aren't doing your body much of a favor.  You're just exchanging one type of food for another.

Vegan Hope wrote a great post today titled: "Say good-bye to vegan junk food" where she states -

... As much as we want to believe that consuming the vegan version of our old favorite junk foods is healthier, it is really not that much healthier. (except of course, it is healthier for the animals).

But what message does it send to our friends, family and close circle if we as vegans start to get the very diseases that we keep saying that vegans don’t get? And what if our doctors see this in us and tell us it is the vegan diet that is making us sick?

I think as vegans, often we think that we have already given up SO much just by going vegan. And it is true, we have given up a lot. But at the same time, I don’t think we should see being vegan as a sacrifice, but more as something that set us free from a horrible industry. Giving up junk food should be seen in the same light. It is not a sacrifice, it is not a punishment, rather, something that sets us free from some pretty awful industries.

Read the rest of the article above because she makes some great points.
This post really hits home.

We are vegan as, but I would say were somewhere in the mid-way point of eating whole foods and healthfully all the time and eating junk. We go out to eat and will eat Daiya-filled calzones. Maybe once every few months I'd eat some Oreos. I don't really like Tofurkey but we will get stuff like Smart Ground for tacos. And I know I use way to much EarthBalance on my toast.  Plus I bake a lot, roast veggies in oils etc.

The challenge we have is sugar and oil. The stuff we add when we cook at home. We cook a lot and eat out a fair bit (where I can't control what's in the food as easily) and I think that is where I am going to face the biggest challenge. It was easy to adapt the foods that I made before to being vegan. But we were big "gourmet foodies" and used lots of rich ingredients. Now I'm just doing that same thing with different vegan options that are possibly just as "junky" in their own way.

I've been a good cook and known how to cook my whole life. Now I feel I need to scrap that and start over. It feels like we made a big change and now we need to do another whole overhaul. It's kind of exhausting to think about and being a busy couple who works long long hours, its daunting. And, of course, no one likes change.

That said, I know this is more the direction we should go in. I just need to find a way and time to clear my head and preconceived notions of how and what to cook and add in some new meals that are even better for us than what we are doing now.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Milk Does What?

I get an eNewsletter from my Insurance provider at least once a week.  I am always amazed at the contents, or at least one element in the newsletter, each time.  Whether it's pushing a new pharmaceutical or giving insufficient food advice, I don't really feel they are telling the full truth.

So I shouldn't have been too shocked by one of the articles in today's piece that claims: Does Dairy Fat Reduce Type 2 Risk?

In this post they (and most of the rest of the online press) have picked up the news that a compound, trans-palmitoleic acid, in full-fat dairy products may help to reduce Type 2 Diabetes risk (per the Harvard School of Public Health scientists).

I felt I had to do more research as this "news" brought up many questions.

 1. Who funds the Harvard School of Public Health?
 2. Was this finding because the participants had eaten a diet filled with non-fat and therefore more concentrated diary and by eating the full-fat version the risk is less?
3. Why are so many news outlets picking up the story without doing further research.

It seems as if the news and sites are not giving the full story.  They position trans-palmitoleic acid as "not produced by the body" but they fail to note that there are other non-animal based ways to obtain this compound.   They also don't note that this study was a single study based on a single survey. 

What's needed next, says Leonid Poretsky, MD, director of the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, is an interventional prospective study. "In this type of study, you would give people the substance over a period of time and then observe whether there are indeed fewer cases of diabetes," he says. "This study was just an association study. It doesn't prove cause and effect."
Even Diabetes groups are coming out in opposition to how this finding is being presented:

Research reported in the 'Annals of Internal Medicine' involved 3,736 people over 20 years. They were asked once about their diet and other factors which might affect their health. Three years later they had their blood tested to measure fatty acid levels, including the amount of trans-palmitoleic acid, and after that information about their health was collected annually.

The journal draws attention to several limitations of the study. Participants were asked only once about the foods they usually eat, and dietary habits may change over time. The blood levels of trans-palmitoleic acid measured several years later may have no longer related to the types of foods the participants originally reported eating. Therefore it is not possible to conclude from this study which foods, if any, result in greater levels of trans-palmitoleic acid in the blood. In addition, this kind of study cannot say whether trans-palmitoleic acid or some other unidentified factor was the cause of the positive health effects seen.

My advice: make sure to learn more about the whole picture and not just read the headlines.
Personally, the results don't matter to me.  I'm not eating dairy. Health factors are just one reason we're vegan.  The other is this is a compassionate choice that I make not only for myself, but also for the environment and the animals.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends: Loaf out on Loaves

The other day I spotted this cute individual "cupcake" dinner image and have been dying to recreate it ever since.

So last night we made individual Lentil Loaves (in my jumbo cupcake tin) and mashed potatoes, with a green salad on the side.

We didn't get to do the twice baked potato "frosting" because we were just too hungry but now I've got an excuse to make this again soon.

If you're looking for a hearty and comforting dinner, this is it. I love the contrast of the loaf and tomato paste topping and the husband even roasted some garlic to add to the potatoes. He's a star!

Individual Lentil Loaves
(modified from The Clean Eating Mama)


•Ketchup or homemade tomato topping (see below)

•1 1/3 cup plain oatmeal

•1/2 block firm tofu

•1 cup chopped onion

•1 cup chopped bell pepper

•1 cup chopped mushrooms, button’s are fine

•2 tablespoons tomato mixture or ketchup

•3 tablespoons corn meal

•1 cup cooked lentils

•1 tablespoon soy sauce

•1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

•2 tablespoons olive oil

•2 tablespoons dried parsley

•1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes

•1 tablespoon garlic powder

•1 tablespoon onion powder

•1 tablespoon poultry seasoning, or a combination of thyme, oregano and rosemary

•1 tablespoon stone ground mustard

•salt and pepper to taste

Tomato Sauce Topping

•1 6oz can Tomato Paste

•1 tablespoon sugar

•1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

•1 tablespoon onion powder

•1 teaspoon garlic powder

•pinch of salt

Cook lentils – I always have leftover lentils, but I love lentils so I don’t mind! Be sure to rinse and sort lentils as they could have stones or debris in them. Add 2 cups water to one cup of lentils in a pot and turn burner on high. Once boiling, turn heat to medium low and let simmer for 30 – 45 minutes. The lentils should still be whole yet mushy.

Make tomato topping while lentils are cooking. Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix with a spoon. Taste to see if it may need more salt.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Chop onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. In a large skillet add one tablespoon olive oil and put on medium heat, then add chopped vegetables and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook until onions are soft and transparent – about 5-8 minutes.

In a food processor, pulse oats for a few seconds until oats are small.

Drain tofu well and press between a towel or a few paper towels until all moister is gone. Place in a large mixing bowl and break up with a fork. You want to make sure they are in small crumbles.

In the same mixing bowl, add oats, lentils, vegetables, 2 tablespoons of tomato mixture and the rest of the ingredients. Mix until it is all combined – if it is too dry you can always add small amounts of water. You don’t want it too wet, but it should be able to stick together nicely.
A note about the spices – I know there are a lot of spices but I just took what I had in my cabinet and threw it in. You really do not need to add ALL of my suggested spices, but you want to try to make is as flavorful as possible. Taste the mixture before you put it in the pan, making sure it tastes good and is seasoned to your liking.

Spray the muffin wells with non-stick spray or olive oil. Spoon mixture in, then spread the rest of the tomato topping on top evenly. If you are using ketchup, use enough to cover the top evenly.

Cook for 20 minutes, then cover with foil and cook for another 10 minutes.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
(from The Vegan Chef)
12-14 garlic cloves (to taste), unpeeled

4 lbs. potatoes (preferably Yukon golds), peeled, and cut into cubes

2/3 cup soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice

salt and white pepper, to taste

2 T. freshly snipped chives

paprika, for garnish

Place the unpeeled garlic cloves in a pie pan and bake at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cloves are soft. Remove the pie pan from the oven and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, in a large pot, place the cubed potatoes, cover them with water, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain the potatoes, saving the cooking liquid for use in the mashed potatoes, and the remaining cooking liquid can be used in soups or sauces. Transfer the drained potatoes to a mixer (or return to the large pot if using a hand mixer or potato masher) and set aside for 5 minutes to dry.

Using your fingers, squeeze the cloves of garlic from their skins, and place them in a small bowl. Using a fork, mash the cloves of garlic to form a paste. Add the mashed garlic, soy milk, sprinkle with a little salt and white pepper, and whip the potatoes until smooth. Add a little of the reserved potato cooking liquid, if needed, to achieve a creamy consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.

Transfer the mashed potatoes to a large bowl, sprinkle with the snipped chives and a little paprika before serving.

This is warm and yummy food  at it's best, without making you feel comatose!