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Homemade vegan butter and the horror of palm oil

23 Mar

Hi friends,

I recently became aware of a pretty serious issue regarding palm oil which is consumed most notably by vegans in the form of vegan butter, other commercial baked goods, vegan cheeses and spreads, as well as soaps. Popular commercial butters and spreads like Smart Balance and Earth Balance use this ingredient in their products and although they claim to be using sustainable palm oil, I’m a bit skeptical of that.

In short, the obtaining of palm oil has been the root cause of the environmental degradation and deforestation of critical rainforest lands. This increases CO2 emissions, more of which we do not need with the ever present threat of climate change already upon us. It has resulted in habitat loss for endangered species like Sumatran tigers and rhinoceroses, and Borneo orangutans, and home loss for the people who live in the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia. Moreover, unfair wages and dangerous work spaces for workers have been documented.

So, as you can see, this is a vegan issue. Ethical veganism is often singularly focused to being about respecting (and acting justly) toward non-human animals, but it’s also about responding to human and environmental rights violations in the same way. Because a large part of veganism is dedicated to focusing on respecting animals–and it’s not a surprise given our global and cultural beliefs that “otherize” non-humans–it obscures or completely neglects the larger focus of veganism which is that of practicing nonviolence.

I know it can seem overwhelming to consider all the aspects of veganism that don’t focus on just not eating animal products, but it gets easier with time (and a little research). Eventually, you find yourself intentionally making really considerate choices and giving your money to companies and organizations that respect animals, the environment, and people too.

I urge my readers to do an internet search to find out more about palm oil and to seek alternatives. Lush, the cosmetics company that makes a good deal of vegan products has provided this easy-read pamphlet on the issue which provides some links for more information as well.

So, in light of this information and the fact that I eat A LOT of toast and enjoy baking quite a bit, I decided to look for commercial palm-oil free vegan butters and I came up lacking, which was sad. But then, I remembered an article I once read about making your own vegan butter. And boy, was I glad I did! Last night, I decided to make my own butter and to my surprise, it came out fabulously! Better yet, this was incredibly easy and not time consuming to make. The ingredients were all very easy to find. They were a bit expensive, but they also came in large quantities so they will last a very, very long time. Here’s the link, which provides recipes for regular butter, coconut butter, garlic butter, herbed butter, and even banana butter! I can’t wait to try them all! I highly recommend getting the silicone ice cube trays for this endeavor. I bought mine at Crate and Barrel, they are also sold at Target and are only $8. Skim through the comments as well for some helpful tips on making your butter the best butter ever!

Start churnin’! And as always, thanks for reading and for being vegan!

Walnut, Mustard, and Cilantro Pasta à la American Chop Suey

22 Jan

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine made a delicious brunch that included this very simple topping of crushed walnuts and cilantro over a bed of steamed kale. I’d never had anything like it and weeks later, it’s been hard to forget it. So, I started to think of other ways to incorporate it into a meal and, one late night after work when I was too hungry to go grocery shopping and had to make do with what was already in the house, this is what I came up with. This recipe has definitely replaced my standard, too-lazy-to-cook-”pasta and sauce”-go-to and is now living comfortably next to my smoky mac and cheese recipe on the list of easy, quick, comfort meals.

I love the unique flavor of this dish, how filling it is without being overly heavy like most pasta dishes, and how easily and quickly it’s put together. The flavor isn’t overly powerful, but it’s present, if that makes sense. It’s pleasantly delicious, somewhat creamy without using cream, and sure to hit the spot if you want to make a pasta dish that isn’t your standard red sauce and grain meat and cheese variety, but is still comforting.

All the ingredients are healthy, vegan pantry basics and easily found in your standard grocery store. They are also easy to substitute for a gluten free version. Even better yet, this recipe is a two for one deal: the walnut, mustard, and cilantro mixture itself would make a nice dip for crackers, if you’re so inclined. Personally, for that purpose I’d go with a cracker that’s just a simple base–like a rice cracker–to highlight the flavor of the dip.

Enjoy!

Raw ingredients and final product!

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Red and Green Bean Dip

24 Dec

It’s Christmas Eve and all I can think about is food. Shocker. As I said in an earlier post, I am out of commission for a big, extravagant Christmas menu. Thanksgiving left me beat and I have been way too busy and overtired from work to even sit down and commit myself to looking up recipes or to try to invent something on the fly. Maybe next year. Definitely next year. Suffice it to say, that I have to feed my family something. I just haven’t figured out what that something is yet. For now, I’ve just had my mind on all those Christmas parties people go to in which they need to bring a dish to share. Why not a fun appetizer that will go flying off the table? Why not a nice festive looking dip?

So, here’s the final piece to my Christmas appetizer trio. This dip is something that came up out of need for something quick and easy to snack on and it hit the spot! The flavor is bold without being overpowering. What I love most about it though, is the festive presentation of the green kale and red kidney beans against the white bean background. It’s also thick and hearty and will serve as a nice lunch, if you’re so inclined. I recommend serving it with crackers that can hold up to it–I used sesame melba crackers. I prefer not adding oils to food if it isn’t necessary (and this dip doesn’t need it) but, if you’re using crackers that are more inclined to break in a dip, you can smooth out the dip by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

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Mint Basil Pesto

6 Jul

I love summer. I mostly love non-humid summers, but I’ll take this New England heat, if I must, for now. My favorite thing about summer is the extended daylight, but coming in at a close second is the near daily opportunity to go to a farmer’s market. I absolutely adore farmer’s markets. Big ones, little ones — anywhere where there are farmers with fresh fruits, vegetables, or vegan baked goods — that’s where I want to be.

My first visit to a farmer’s market was last year in Portland, Oregon. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better initiation to farmer’s markets than the lively and vibrant Portland Farmer’s Market at Portland State University (Saturdays 8:30 to 2!). It was like being in an amusement park. Ok, not really, but I was overwhelmed with excitement and I hadn’t even started cooking for myself yet. I think this is where the revolution began. To be fair, it truly began in California where, as a new vegan and Animal Care Intern at Farm Sanctuary, I had to learn how to feed myself. But the farmer’s market was like a different sort of Eden to me. So many colors, so many smells, so many authentic “Portlanders” (if you know what I mean)! In any case, I could have spent hours there just looking at the plethora of colorful earthly goods, but I gathered my necessities, a bottle of pear cider, and went home.

Well, let me tell you, the farmer’s market I went to last week was no PSU, but it was still — a farmer’s market. And like a kid in a candy store, I couldn’t help myself. I had to have a little of everything. This recipe is something that came of it. As soon as I smelled that fresh basil and mint, I knew something had to be done. Something had to be done and it had to be simple, fresh, delicious, and versatile. Besides, I’ve been wanting to get into canning and preserving for quite some time. I didn’t properly “can” this recipe because I knew I’d be using it all fairly quickly, but if you want to preserve a little bit of the gifts of the summer sun for later on this year, I suggest that you do. It’ll probably last longer than your tan. Continue reading

Plaintain and Avocado Rolls with Spicy Cilantro Dipping Sauce

24 May

Hello again, friends! Here’s a fun and easy little summer treat I like to call: tonight’s dinner. This one’s inspired by one of my favorite foods — plantains. No matter how they’re cooked, I love ‘em! One of my favorite ways to eat them, however, is in the form of “mangú.” Yeah, yeah, I’m Dominican, can you tell? “Mangú” is basically mashed plantains, and nothing more. It’s traditionally served doused in fried onions and oil, with fried cheese and sauteed salami. Yeah, we won’t go there…yet. One day I’ll make all of that the vegan way. But for now, here’s a different, simple, delicious way to eat plantains. This was so easy to make; the most involved part was wrapping the plantains and that only took a few seconds. This is a really fun “finger” food that’s basic enough that you can substitute whatever favorite sauce or wrap you want. Try it on your next “Taco Tuesday,” you know, when you don’t feel like eating tacos but you want something just as easy and with a little spanish kick! PS: This is great beer food, just sayin’! Continue reading

Sweet Potato Baked Mac and Cheese: Three ways!

14 Mar

It’s been a rough week. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but this much needed week long vacation just couldn’t come soon enough. I recently had a death in the family and after days of funeral/wake attendances and seeing my family mourn, I just needed some serious comfort food. Baked macaroni and cheese is my most favorite food in this category. Growing up, I was a big fan of the blue Kraft box and had no clue one could bake mac and cheese. Now I know better than to eat that junk and make a healthier, just as tasty (or tastier – depending on how you look at it) version. Of course, there’s no animal based cheese in this meal, but you will easily be fooled and won’t even mind that it’s not there! And perhaps, you won’t get that bogged down, tired feeling one gets after eating dairy. If you do, well, kick back and get comfy and rejoice in knowing that your comfort is not at anyone else’s expense. Continue reading

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