Saturday, January 31, 2009

Emily and the origins of my veganism

During the course of this blogging adventure, I have become acquainted with a number of very cool and interesting people. I have been corresponding most often with one woman in particular who asked me about what first influenced me to become vegan, and in answering her it has made me reflect upon a number of things. I took a survey not that long ago put together by a graduate student from I can't remember where, that was trying to measure a number of things, one of them being whether or not vegans fully disclose the reasons why they became vegan to their vegan friends in the same way as to their non-vegan friends. And in answering the questions I had to admit, it really depends.

I think often I am wary of getting too explicit with non-vegan/vegetarian people, especially if I don't know them very well, for fear of alienating them. And so I am careful in my approach and how I explain things. And, the other thing is that there are a number of reasons why being vegan makes sense to me, whether in terms of my health, the environment, or for spiritual and moral reasons. I always say the main reason is because I seek consistency within myself. I am not comfortable doing something that goes against what I feel is right or that conflicts with my own sense of integrity.

One thing that really impacted my life, something I have never ever really gotten over, started when I was ten years old and we moved to a small town in West Texas, a mere speck on the map of that gargantuan state, a town called Bronte. I have to admit, as much as I have hidden these photographs from those bygone years, I was truly a nerd-child. A book-loving, ugly-80s-glasses-wearing, Little-Miss-Sunshine child, who loved animals and read all the time. I was ecstatic that we were moving to a town that I was sure had to have been named after one of the amazing Bronte sisters. Since we were trying the "out in the country" living experiment, my parents let my sister and I adopt two baby Barbado ewes that were so little we had to bottle feed them. I of course named mine Emily.

Once I started school, my romantic dreams were dashed as reality set in. I was saddened to discover the locals did not pronounce Bronte in the way that those beloved sisters did, but rather were living in "Brawnt," and everyone thought my accent was so funny that I must be from "Ing-lund." None of my classmates had heard of Wuthering Heights, let alone read it. I came home from school that first day with two burning questions for my parents: 1) Had I been saved? and 2)Who was I kin to?

Despite this culture shock, the year we spent in Bronte was a happy one. We ended up rescuing two baby rams who also had to be bottle-fed, and before long we had a happy family with four sheep. They were awesome. People who say sheep are stupid have never really given them a chance. My Emily was so smart and sweet and full of personality. Each of the sheep had their own unique temperament and way of expressing themselves. One of the rams did a little dance when he got excited; my sister's ewe was very vocal and was sure to chime in a "baaahh!" whenever we argued. They loved running and playing chase and got excited by the thunderstorms. They were perfect childhood playmates. I m forever grateful to my parents that we had the chance to experience living in Bronte that year.

After a little more than a year we ended up moving to a bigger city and left our country house behind. I was devastated at the idea of saying goodbye to the sheep and to my precious Emily. That last day before they were picked up by their new "owners," my mother took a bunch of photographs of them, starting when they were in the far end of the corral, snapping the pictures quickly, one after another, as they ran closer and closer all together to greet us, excitedly, vibrant and funny, jumping and dancing and full of life. I cried so hard watching them as they rode away in the back of a truck. I wasn't alone in my grief, and the rest of my family was also saddened that we had to part with our wonderful pets.

I harbored illusions that they had gone off to be someone else's pet, and it took me quite awhile before I fully realized they probably wound up as someone's dinner. I knew I would never eat lamb and the idea that anyone would seemed as bizarre to me as eating the family dog.

Pre-digital camera days, we took the film to the drugstore to get the pictures developed several weeks later. I couldn't wait to see how they turned out, but there had been a mix-up and we had someone else's pictures--a little child's family birthday party. We took the pictures back to the store in the hopes that the family would do the same. I imagined this family picking up their pictures, expecting to see birthday photographs, shocked and confused at having instead a bunch of pictures of running jumping prancing sheep. I thought they might do the same as us and return the snapshots, but they never did and we never saw those pictures. Those images have remained with me, however, even after all these years.

I don't believe in being preachy. I know that everyone is different and people choose what feels right to them, and that many truths are subjective. I also know there are so many good, wonderful, loving and loyal people who are omnivorous and have no desire to be vegetarian, let alone vegan. And these are people I love and respect. But in reflecting upon some of the reasons why I am who I am today, I must admit I have never understood the logic behind what makes one animal a pet and another food.

People will often cry at sad stories of a child who lost his beloved dog, but if it is a cow or sheep or chicken, it doesn't resonate the same way. And they may say that is because they are not "companion" animals. But I think that is because people are conditioned to see what they expect, and no one likes the cognitive dissonance that could result from eating a companion animal. For I know that I have never had a friend like Emily, neither before nor since. I think even if I had never known her, I would have wound up vegan eventually regardless. But there is no denying that her life and death affected me deeply.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vegan Mexican food at El Gitano: 1125 E Sunset Drive

Tasty vegan Mexican food is always a treat, especially in the middle of long dreary winter days when the sun begins to feel like nothing more than a hazy memory. El Gitano will make you forget the dark cold days, at least for awhile, as you enjoy their delicious chips and salsa and sip on a margarita. El Gitano has a section on their menu that is vegetarian, and they are also very accommodating when it comes to adapting menu items to make them vegan. One of the things vegans frequently have to be aware of at some Mexican restaurants is whether or not the food they ordered was cooked in animal fat, or if animal by-products are used during the preparation process. It can be hard to relax and enjoy your food when you have to ask a million questions, although people are generally very nice when they answer them, which makes it easier.

The staff at El Gitano have always been very nice whenever I have eaten there and had questions to ask, which I appreciate. And, in addition to being located in Bellingham, they also have restaurants in Mount Vernon and Burlington, although for this particular entry I am choosing to focus on the one in Bellingham. Since they have such a great website, and a way to ask questions or make comments, for this post I also decided to go one step further than usual, and I have actually been corresponding via email with the general manager Cecilia Chamorro, who has been very helpful and assuring in explaining the restaurant's commitment to providing vegetarian options. For example, their chips are cooked in a separate fryer, and only 100% vegetable oil is used. In addition, their fajitas are cooked in olive oil, and if you ask for no sour cream or cheese, they can be made vegan quite easily. And I can tell you from experience that they are delicious!

I had the pleasure of eating vegan fajitas with corn tortillas at El Gitano this past Friday with my husband, mom, and brother. My mom also ordered vegetarian fajitas and thought they were really good, going so far as to say she didn't even miss the meat! As you can see from the picture, the veggie fajitas are made with bell peppers, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots and onions. The vegetables are not overcooked, and are quite fresh and flavorful, and the portions are generous, (I can always get another meal or two out of my leftovers), so you are getting a really good value in terms of both flavor and price.

Sometimes I just get a craving for Mexican food, and having grown up in Texas I have a thing for good salsa, and El Gitano's salsa is always good. It is actually one of my favorite things about that restaurant. And I frequently order a side of pico de gallo as well, which is also wonderful. I have to say their margaritas are not as good as the ones at Casa (where they use fresh-squeezed limes), but the food is so tasty it makes up for it. The staff at El Gitano are also very nice when it comes to calling in an order for take-out, (although eating there is half the fun, especially because of the mariachi band that makes everything feel more festive).

So if you are missing the sun, and Summertime seems to be an eternity away, take a break and treat yourself to the best vegan Mexican food in Bellingham, like I did. In fact, I got so carried away that for a moment I couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection between the beautiful sunshine that finally found us this weekend and the delicious dinner I had this past Friday night. . .

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More vegan goodness from Sarah Kramer's Vegan A Go-Go!

I have recently realized that the cookbook I am using the most these days is Sarah Kramer's Vegan A Go-Go. I know I have mentioned it before, but you really must pick up a copy if you haven't already. It is full of fun and easy recipes and such an accessible and travel-friendly size.

Recently I used "Miki's Pumpkin Bread" recipe (p. 141) to make some fabulous vegan muffins. I left out the chocolate chips because I thought pumpkin and walnuts would be sweet and tasty enough. They turned out great and were really delicious. My husband particularly loved them, which is always a good thing. (I ended up making them again for a work potluck and iced them with vanilla frosting, consequently turning them into pumpkin cupcakes since a muffin isn't really a muffin anymore once you add frosting.)

After returning from Stretch Island and all of our decadent holiday eating, I wanted to make something simple and wholesome for lunch for both my husband and myself, and I tried the recipe for "Faux Egg Salad," (p.50) and we had some delicious sandwiches. This recipe is sooooo easy and really good. I added a bit more mustard because I tend to like mustard, and of course you can tweak the flavors until it's just the way you like it, but this recipe is definitely a keeper.

If you are looking for something to spend your holiday gift card on, definitely purchase this great little book. (And on that note, a little shout-out to a fellow veggie I met while browsing through the cookbooks at B&N Friday evening, trying to decide how to spend my gift card. I didn't get your name, but I enjoyed talking with you--hope you were able to get that cookbook you wanted!)

More vegan sushi!

One thing I love about Bellingham is the abundance of vegan sushi options. As previously mentioned, Kyoto is my absolute favorite, but there are a number of great local places that offer good sushi as well. My most recent discovery was at the Bellingham Public Market, at a little place called Maki Zushi. I had heard from a friend that the size of the rolls at Maki Zushi are generous, and that is definitely the truth--one was all I needed.

I am a fan of multi-tasking when things are hectic, so any kind of take-out + grocery shopping combo always works well for me, especially if that take-out is both healthy and satisfying. This of course makes the fact that I can order my food and then do some shopping at Terra Organica/Bargainica absolutely perfect. I can't remember the name of the roll I ordered, but it was quite tasty and had a variety if fresh veggies in it, including carrots, avocado, cucumber, and either red or green leaf lettuce. I also recall that the toasted sesame seeds on the rice had a particularly good sesame flavor.

I want to say the cost of the roll was a little under $5.00, but I am not absolutely positive. I think I am close though, which is a good bargain when you think about that being the total price of a take-out dinner. So next time you have to grocery shop but you really wish you had time to also eat some vegan sushi, check out Maki Zushi in the Public Market.