Vegan Friday: Pasta salad

July 11, 2014
Pasta salad should be as pretty as it is tasty.

Pasta salad should be as pretty as it is tasty.

Here’s a good recipe for summer picnics and potlucks. Use Creamette’s quick-cooking three-minute rotini to speed up the stovetop part of the process and keep from heating up the kitchen too much. Make this the night before you plan to serve it to give the flavors time to blend and the dried herbs time to soften.

Pasta Salad

1 1/2 c. rotini
1 cucumber
1 bell pepper (or equivalent; I cut up three different peppers and used parts of each for color)
1 carton cherry tomatoes
1 can black olives
2 tbsp. dried Italian spices
1/2 c. Italian dressing

This is basically a big salad with a handful of pasta thrown in.

This is basically a big salad with a handful of pasta thrown in.

Prepare rotini according to package instructions. (Don’t overcook it; mushy pasta is nasty.)

While pasta cooks, stir Italian spices into dressing.

Dice cucumber and pepper. Toss cucumber, pepper, tomatoes and olives with dressing-spice mixture.

Drain cooked pasta, rinse under cold water and toss with vegetable mixture.

Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend. Makes four meal-sized servings or eight side-dish-sized servings.

Eco-Saturday: Buy in bulk

July 5, 2014

Here’s another quick way to make your lifestyle and your wallet a little bit greener: Buy groceries in bulk.

Packaging takes energy and resources to manufacture, which means the more of it you use, the bigger your environmental footprint will be.

Energy and resources take money, which means the more packaging you use, the more money you end up spending on stuff that isn’t really doing you any good.

You can reduce the amount of money, energy and resources you waste on packaging by purchasing basics in bulk whenever possible. Most health-food stores have a large assortment of bulk items, and in recent years, a lot of mainstream grocery stores have added a bulk aisle, too.

If you buy in bulk, you’ll need two things: reusable storage containers and common sense.

Paper bags — which fold up neatly when you’re done with them, making them easy to save and reuse — are good for bringing dry, oil-free bulk goods home from the store. (Choose plastic bags or those lightweight, disposable-but-reusable Ziploc containers to haul stuff like nuts, sunflower seeds or dried fruit, which can stain paper bags.)

Once you get your products home, however, you’ll need to transfer them into something sturdy that seals well for long-term storage. I’m a giant fan of Mason jars (which are cheap) and OXO canisters (which aren’t). If you don’t want to spend any money on containers at all, you can save glass jars with screw-on lids and use them to store bulk food.

You’ll also need a little common sense and restraint. When you’re staring at a wall of bins full of colorful beans and seeds and noodles, it’s tempting to buy umpteen pounds of each, but keep in mind that some products keep better than others, and buy only what you can eat before it spoils. You’re not really helping the environment — or your bottom line — if you buy six pounds of vegan gardenburger mix or 12-bean soup, only to end up throwing it out when you discover it doesn’t taste as good as you’d hoped or it takes longer to prepare than you’d expected.

As a general rule of thumb, I buy only one or two servings’ worth of unfamiliar products so I can try them and make sure I’ll like them before I commit to several pounds. Dry beans, rice and pasta will keep for years as long as they’re not exposed to moisture. Flour keeps pretty well, although you do have to protect it from grain moths; to be safe, I generally don’t buy more than a couple of pounds at any one time, and if possible, I keep it in a sealed container in the freezer. Trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, oils, herbs, tea and coffee spoil much faster: Nuts and oils will go rancid; fruits will get tough as they age; and highly aromatic products such as herbs, tea and coffee will begin to lose their favor the minute they’re harvested, so buy them in very small amounts to ensure you use them up while they’re still fresh.

Vegan Friday: Taco salad

July 4, 2014

Vegan taco salad is gorgeous, tasty and a great excuse to pork down avocado.

Here’s a quick recipe for hot days. It serves two but doubles easily if you need to feed more people.

Vegan Taco Salad

1 can pinto beans
2 c. shredded lettuce
1 Roma tomato, diced
Black olives
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Tortilla chips
Taco seasoning (optional)
3/4 c. textured vegetable protein (optional)

TVP will absorb plenty of taco seasoning.

TVP will absorb plenty of taco seasoning.

If using TVP, place in a microwave-safe dish with enough water to reconstitute it and nuke until soft and hot through. Stir in a packet of taco seasoning and set aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Season beans with spices to taste and microwave until hot through.

Divide lettuce, tomato, TVP, beans, salsa, avocado and chips between bowls. Garnish with olives and chips. You can use whatever other vegetables make you happy; I just used what I had on hand. Canned jalapeno slices would make a nice addition, as would fresh bell peppers, shredded carrots, or sliced cucumbers.

Serve with salsa, hot sauce and — if desired — vegan sour cream.

Way to go, Facebook.

July 2, 2014

On Aug. 1, I am deleting my Facebook account.

I’ve considered ditching it in the past, but I stuck around because it was the easiest way to keep in touch with my former students. After what I’ve learned in the past few days, however, I feel morally obligated to boycott the company.

Scientists operate under ethical standards that require them to tell people what they’re getting themselves into before they start experimenting on them. Experiments can end badly, and people have a right to know the risks before they agree to participate. But Facebook apparently gives zero damns about ethics.

The company’s execs apparently decided they’d like to know what makes users happy or sad, so instead of taking a survey or inviting people to participate in a study, they subjected about 700,000 users to a psychological experiment without their knowledge or consent.

At the time Facebook pulled this stunt, I was going through one of the most difficult periods of my entire life: grieving the death of a former student, dealing with outrageous stress at work, and battling chronic migraines — all just two months after surfacing from the most profound depression of my life. No legitimate researcher would have deemed me a good candidate for a psychological experiment.

I know for fact some Facebook users at that time were in even darker places than I was. I know because some of them were my students, and they confided in me. Some days, the knowledge that they needed me was the only thing that motivated me to drag myself out of bed.

Conducting psychological experiments on any of those kids would have been nothing short of child abuse.

My former students are the reason I didn’t ditch Facebook a long time ago. They’re grown, but sometimes they still need Mama Bear. So for the rest of the month, I’m posting something each day, telling them where they can find me.

When July is over, so is my Facebook account, because while I can forgive many things, endangering my kids isn’t one of them.

If you just found your way over here from Facebook, welcome to the online extension of my living room. You’ll find a lot of hippie crap here: folk music videos, vegetarian recipes, eco-friendly ideas, the occasional political rant, and a lot of pictures of my bees, my garden and my road trips.

Comments are moderated, so they may take a little while to appear on the site, but feel free to post them.


Eco-Saturday: Curb your car’s appetite

June 28, 2014
We get killer mileage on our road trips.

We get killer mileage on our road trips, including this one — to Bedford, Pa., to see the World’s Largest Coffee Pot — a few years ago.

We love road trips. Mother Road, Loneliest Road, Pacific Coast Highway, Devil’s Highway, Lincoln Highway, Blues Highway, Great River Road — you name it, we’ve probably driven part of it. We don’t fly to our destinations. We drive, because the journey is half the fun. More than half, actually, and you miss a lot of kitsch when you fly over it.

We couldn’t afford to drive all over creation if we didn’t choose our vehicles wisely and care for them properly.

Here are some quick tips to boost your gas mileage:

1. If you’re considering a new car, look for the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs, and don’t let Madison Avenue talk you into buying something bigger or fancier just to keep up with the Joneses.

2. Keep an eye on your gas mileage. It’s easy to do: Just reset your trip odometer the next time you fill your tank. Then, each time you refill the tank, divide the number of miles on the odometer by the number of gallons it took to refill the tank, then reset the odometer again. Do this every time you fill up, and you’ll be able to tell right away if your mileage drops or rises suddenly. In addition to giving you an idea of how various conditions affect your gas mileage, this will give you a heads-up about mechanical problems. A sudden drop in gas mileage can be a signal that something is wrong under the hood, and it probably warrants a trip to the dealership to see what’s going on. A lot of problems are cheaper and less hassle to fix if you catch them early.

3. Check your tire pressure. Underinflated tires will drag down your gas mileage.

4. Replace your air filter regularly. A dirty air filter can compromise your mileage.

5. Change your spark plugs. Old spark plugs can reduce your mpgs.

6. Ditch the flag. There’s nothing patriotic about sending more money to foreign oil producers, but that’s exactly what you’re doing when you attach flags to your car. A flag mounted to a car’s window or antenna acts as a sail, adding drag and increasing the amount of energy it takes to propel the vehicle forward. If you want to show your patriotism or your team spirit, do it with a bumper sticker or a custom paint job — not a piece of fabric that’s knocking down your gas mileage.

These aren’t the only ways to boost your car’s fuel efficiency (I’ll get into “hypermiling” — mileage-boosting driving techniques — in a future post), but they’re quick, easy and can make a significant impact with minimal effort.


Vegan Friday: French silk pie

June 27, 2014

This pie neither looks nor tastes vegan.

French silk pie is one of the greatest things ever invented. It’s also a ginormous hassle to make and involves raw egg, which isn’t the safest ingredient out there. This three-ingredient variation is faster, safer and completely vegan. W00t!

I’m including two variations here. The first is light, fluffy and virtually indistinguishable from its egg-based inspiration. The second is much richer and heavier and has a texture more like fudge. Both are worthy additions to a Fourth of July picnic or an office potluck.

Version 1 (traditional)
1 pie shell (I used frozen piecrust, but a graham-cracker or Oreo crust will work just as well, or you can make a crust from scratch)
1 bag vegan chocolate chips
Two 10-oz. cartons extra-firm silken tofu
1 tsp. vanilla

Pierce piecrust before baking.

Pierce piecrust all over with a fork before baking.

If using a regular piecrust, pierce it all over with a fork and bake it before you start. You can skip this step for a graham-cracker crust, obviously.

I nuked my chocolate chips in a quart canning jar, which will fit on the blender.

I nuked my chocolate chips in a quart canning jar, which will fit on the blender.

Melt chocolate chips. I did mine in a quart Mason jar, nuking for 30 seconds at a time and stirring in between.

Blend chocolate, tofu, peanut butter and vanilla.

Blend chocolate, tofu, peanut butter and vanilla.

Put chocolate chips, tofu and vanilla in a food processor or blender and process until smooth and completely blended. Pour into pie shell and refrigerate for several hours.

Walter was mad because I wouldn't share the pie.

Walter was mad because I wouldn’t share the pie.

Version 2 (peanut butter variant, pictured)
1 pie shell
1 bag vegan chocolate chips
One 10-oz. carton extra-firm silken tofu
1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Prep pie shell as needed. Melt chocolate chips as above. Blend chocolate chips, tofu, peanut butter and vanilla, pour into shell and refrigerate until firm.

Folk Thursday: Soolaimon

June 26, 2014

It’s not exactly folk, but it was inspired by African folk music. More importantly, it’s awesome. You really cannot go wrong with Neil Diamond, ca. 1970.



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