Sunday, September 24, 2017

Big Elf's Don't Cry

We’d like to dedicate this blog to the Elf’s long suffering husband, Larry aka Big Solid. This picture came from the 2017 Super Bulldog Weekend in Starkville MS. Big Solid had been plant-based for six months and made it through the weekend like a champ!

We write this for a variety of reasons but the two most important are: what it’s meant to him to become plant-based AND what a plant-based eater 'wannabe' can learn from his experience. A year ago on 9/20/16 (his 73rd birthday) Big Solid decided to join the ranks of eating plant-based. As he said, heck, he was pretty much there since we cook only plant-based in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to just go ‘whole hog-er-cabbage’.  That PLUS his determination to eliminate as many medications as possible. For years, he’s taken statins to control his cholesterol in addition to medications to control high blood pressure. His family history is full of members who’s lives were cut short as a result of cardiac disease related to those issues just mentioned.

 To say that's he's embraced this eating lifestyle is an understatement; he's thrown himself into it with the same grit and determination as when he played football at MS State. He reads labels better than Your Elf, he seeks out the most current research on  how to eat healthier (and that in itself can be frustrating and polarizing), and he is now an avid grocery shopper. Yet he remains a fan of simple eating and has to remind his Elf that we don't have to have a new recipe every night! He also enjoys the meat analogues that we prepare (even those that continue to explode in the oven) as well as a few processed meat analogues such as just about all those by Gardein and Delight Soy chicken nuggets.

Rather than talk about his transformation, we thought we’d just ask him to share his year. So, here are his responses to questions about his decision. (Bear in mind that we use the term vegan and plant-based interchangeably since we are both; understanding that vegan is a broader term that includes lifestyle decisions regarding the use of animals beyond food.)

What made you decide to go vegan/plant-based? It started with reading "The China Study" and the conclusions that eating animal products was highly correlated with many of our major illnesses such as cancer and heart disease as well as many of the autoimmune disorders. This got me interested in reading the research on plant based vs the traditional diet.. I read other books on the subject plus whatever else I could find on the internet. I was already eating vegan about 80% of the time because that is what we had at home. The only time I was eating animal was when we would eat out and eating cheese and egg whites at home. So, on my birthday 2016, I said 'what the hell, I am going to be completely vegan for a year and see what happens'. I had eaten vegetarian for a year in either 2013 or 2014, but after seeing the research I decided that cheese and egg whites were not much better for me than meat. Big Solid and some of the 'kids' doing what they LOVED!! Riding in a golf cart.

What was the most challenging for you? Giving up the foods that I had eaten my whole life. Vegetables cooked in animal fat, steak, fish, and chicken as the center of the meal. Having to analyze everything that you eat. Having to check everything that you eat for animal products. It is hard to find places to eat out that are vegan friendly. So I am very limited in the restaurants I can go to. It can be difficult eating at other people's homes, because I don't want them to ‘fix’ something special for me. I eat what I can and enjoy the company. I found myself way out of the mainstream.

How has a year of eating plant-based affected your health and your life? I am not sure how it has affected my health. I am on less high blood pressure medications and am completely off statins. This indirectly indicates that I am more healthy. I suppose time will be the true test. There are less gastrointestinal problems. Big Solid hiking in North Carolina.

How do you manage the reading and researching so many different eating options, such as Paleo, Fat Free, Sugar Free, No/Less Carbs, etc? I am obsessive about obtaining information and this has been one of the most frustrating areas of being vegan or eating a healthy diet. There is no consensus I could find about the best diet. One book is about counting calories and limiting fat, another will say that fat doesn't matter, just the saturated fat, yet another will say it is the sugar we eat that is the problem. The frustrating thing is all of them are a little bit right. I still research, but have pretty much accepted that eating a true plant based diet is the best route for me.

What are your goals for the coming years with respect to eating and health? Goals for the future are to continue with eating vegan and work more on exercise and meditation with the hope of being medication free while maintaining my health and strength to enjoy life.

Is there any vegetable/meal that you will not eat? I will eat any vegetable, but I sure hope that it includes very little to no eggplant. I have always thought I did not care for casseroles but My Elf has prepared a few I like.

The flip side of this is that there are several meals that I really love! A baked potato topped with steamed broccoli, mushrooms, plant-based chicken/pork and some shredded Daiya cheese is the perfect meal.

Here are some more of my favorites…pretty simple but really good. I used to eschew pasta but now I LOVE it because it’s so versatile. Throw in some great veggies, lemon juice and a bit of EVOO and you’re good to go!
Of course, I am a big fan of The Gentle Chef’s meat analogues, especially the chicken shreds, the pork (he spells it porq) AND the andouille sausage. Lately, we’ve been experimenting with various bowls that don’t take a lot of time to prepare and yield a really nice meal. Here's one that is delicious!
And when I add the cheese to ANY bowl, it's even better!!
Last night we had some sautéed pork with farro and green lentils. And we halved and sautéed some nice mushrooms to add. Pretty healthy meal, if you ask me! I think I'm good for another year or more!!
Thus endeth another week from the Kinky Elfery Kitchen and a big HIGH FIVE to Big Solid for his year of being vegan and to the many yet to come. This is the Elf's favorite picture of Big Solid with MiniPearl...she loves for him to whisper to her, so he's known here as The Chihuahua Whisperer!
In the meantime, always remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.’
Your Elf

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Between An Elf and a Hard Place

We have NO idea where this week has gone!! It seems like yesterday was Monday and here it is SUNDAY!!  Let’s see…we did try a new recipe that was posted on Facebook, made up a pasta recipe out of our own little Elf head, prepared some food to share with friends, and generally flew by the seat of our Elf pants all week.

Last Sunday, OH!! YES!! We had Cuban-Style Pulled Porq, Black Beans Beans with Brown Rice and steamed Broccoli. We’ve had this before and, goodness, is it GOOD. We had prepared the Pork via the recipe found in The Gentle Chef’s fabulous cookbook for meat analogs called Seitan and Beyond. More about that later, BUT, after the Porq had rested in the frig overnight, we ‘pulled it’ and prepared the recipe. We got our ‘mise en place’ with all the ingredients. We did not take a picture and so wish we had…it’s such an interesting dish. Anyway, our ingredients were: onion, orange zest, lime zest, orange juice, lime juice, minced garlic, fresh oregano from the yard and salt/pepper to taste. Everything was sautéed in a certain order with the fruit juices drizzled at the end. LOOK!! LOOK how delicious this appears…and you know what, it IS!!
This is one of the meals we shared with some friends; even they said, this tastes just like pork! As for the Black Beans, we let them soak for 36 hours before throwing them in the slow cooker until they were nice and done. We took about a cup and mashed the beans up a bit and returned them to the pot. Our seasoning was ground cumin and a very spare amount of cayenne. We had cooked the beans in the Chicken Bouillon (The Gentle Chef) with about a half teaspoon of Hickory Liquid Smoke. We also cooked the brown rice in the Chicken Bouillon and a small amount of Liquid Smoke. The end result was delightful. You can see from Big Solid’s plate that he added a bit of Daiya shredded cheese (not the pre-shredded but the hand shredded from the Daiya block cheese). We’ll give you the heads-up on the bread (with the bite already taken) next up.
But first, we need to digress a bit about the proper cooking of meat analogs…thanks to Chef Skye Michael. We have a love/hate relationship that is slowly migrating to just the plain ole love relationship. Many of the meat analogues (plant-based meats) consist of a dough that is kneaded, wrapped and baked. Sounds easy…well, it takes a bit of practice. The most recent revelation has come in the form of how to knead the dough for the Porq and the Chicken Shreds we make at least once a week. Chef Skye has been remindin’ us for a long time now that the dough REALLY needs a thorough kneading to develop the gluten and provide the texture for shreds or pulled porq. His suggestion and guidance has been to put the dough in a food processor with the dough blade and process it for 2 minutes. Well, we tried that a while back and damn near had the rather substantial Cusinart dance off the counter…scared us porqless. So we (pardon the pun) chickened out and used a mixer with a dough hook and added several minutes of kneading instead of just 2. Well, we STILL got a product that came out of the oven more like bread than shred. FINALLY, we saw a post from a person who had divied the dough up into thirds and processed it with a lot less grief and jumpin’ around. So, that’s what we tried. and behold, it worked beautifully! SEE!
What you wind up with looks like and has the consistency of taffy. The first time we did this, we almost threw it away, thinking we’d way screwed up. But, NOT. That’s the consistency that works best.
NOW, the next part is JUST as important as the kneadin’ and that’s the wrappin’. We have learned the HARD way that the use of Heavy Aluminum Foil is an absolute must AND wrapping technique is also critical. Once the ‘taffy’ dough is place on the foil, you fold it, seal the edges about a bit to give the dough room to expand, fold it again, crimp and keep doing that until the foil is used up. then you really twist the edges of the foil tightly to seal and repeat with a second (and some even a third) layer of foil. Here’s a link to a video from Chef Skye to show you.
He’s using a seitan roast but the basic wrapping technique applies. We here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen can testify to the terror that goes through your body when you here your inappropriately wrapped dough EXPLODE in the oven…and that’s happened at least twice since we started processing the dough. BUT, when we wrap like Chef Skye instructs, the product that comes out is amazing. We really didn’t mean to get off on such a tangent BUT for many of us who enjoy the plant-based meats or the meat analogues, it offers a bit of information on how to make the REEALLY GOOD STUFF. Here’s a link to The Gentle Chef’s site
and he also has a Facebook page as well as groups. The final discussion before we move on (and we will) has to do with the usual debate of ‘why do you want to eat fake meat’ or ‘how can you call yourself vegan if you eat anything that is like meat’ or ‘why not just eat the real thing?’ The Elf’s answer for the Elf and Big Solid is that we chose to go vegan/plant-based for ethical reasons as well as health reasons. A plant-based meat analogue is a way to enjoy the flavor/texture of meat without the cruelty of factory farming or the health implications of eating and drinking animal products.
Remember way back when we mentioned the bread that was on Big Solid’s plate? Well, that’s another recipe we tried this week…Sweet Potato Flatbread. It’s a very easy dough to make
and just as much fun to cook.
The result is a rather nice flatbread that you can use for curries, beans, soups, dips, and hummus.
However, we did find that it did not toast particularly well, so if you are looking for something crunchy, this isn’t it. Here is the link to the recipe if you want to play with it.
The next recipe is one we have made before and is quite healthy, delicious and fairly easy to make. It’s from Susan Voisin’s FatFree Vegan Kitchen—Pasta with Chard and Chickpeas.
We found some beautiful Rainbow Chard at Kroger,
sautéed a LOT of mushrooms,
cooked some Red Lentil and Vegetable Pasta,
and put it all together with a wee bit of tomato paste and orange juice.
It was yummy!! Thursday night we had another sweet potato recipe we’d been wanting to try…Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burgers.
These were a little on the labor intensive side since there are quite a few ingredients but were quite tasty. Shown after being made into patties.
Our main issue with these burgers was not the flavor or taste; it was the consistency and texture. As we said on our Facebook page, The Elf in the Kitchen, a more palatable burger would  need to have more substance and resistance to the bite. However, we intend to make them again and use them as patties with a sauce and vegetable accompaniment. Here’s a close up of the burgers/patties…you can see the rich color combo of the beans and sweet potato PLUS the little quinoa squiggly part.
We love quinoa, so this burger is way healthy!! If you try it, let us know how it turned out for you.Well, gosh, another week of cookin’ and laughin’ and stirrin’ and playin’ in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen. Who knows what we’ll encounter this week…but we DO have a couple of cool things in mind! Til then, you know the drill ‘remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.’

Your Elf

Sunday, September 10, 2017

ProgDay Elf!

Sometimes the fickle finger off fate offers you an opportunity to enjoy North Carolina twice in as many weeks! Such was the case this past week, when, on the heels of our Asheville eating extravaganza, Your Elf was in the air to visit the Raleigh NC area. For the past 23 years, a Progressive Rock Music Festival has taken place at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill over Labor Day weekend and for most of those years, my brother has attended. Your Elf started going in 1996 but missed several years until getting back in the Prog-groove (isn’t that an oxymoron?) last year.
ProgRock is not Big Solid’s cuppa, so he was more than happy to stay home with the ‘fur’ kids. As always, the challenge is finding Plant-based/Vegan options in an area that is reminiscent of MS, meaning those options are not plentiful, especially in the smaller towns.
For those of you who do not know what ProgRock is, it’s short for Progressive Rock and can best be described as a genre with a multiplicity of identities. Best way to characterize Prog is to just offer up the names of bands that you may be familiar with as good examples. Most everyone remembers the bands ‘YES’, Pink Floyd, Emerson/Lake&Palmer, early Genesis—well, there you have it. It’s that TYPE of music but the bands playing at ProgDay are not household names. In any event, we have great fun, sell a few things from Jud and Suzanne’s store (Oak City Collection)
and see people we’ve known via music for several years. This year’s crowd actually sported several younger folks, which is nice to see. We managed quite well food-wise, so lets share our ProgDay weekend eating experience. This year, food was available on site via food trucks, which was a GREAT idea!! Both food trucks had vegan options and Your Elf was delighted. But first, on Thursday evening, we went to a little restaurant in downtown Smithfield NC called Simple Twist.
No specific vegan option but a veggie wrap that could be veganized by omitting the goat cheese, so that’s what we got along with an order of fries to share as an appetizer.
The wrap was quite tasty but we could only eat half of it. Got it ‘wrapped’ up for a second meal option, which we had on Friday. As we dove into the remaining wrap, we thought we tasted something different…lo and behold, a big hunk of goat cheese was there. So, sometimes it pays to make sure that all non-vegan items have indeed been omitted from an order. Friday being ProgDay Eve, we worked getting all the vending ‘stuffs’ together and then the bottom fell plumb out of the sky. Tornado WARNINGS and severe weather caught us  as we were enroute to a restaurant called Manning’s in nearby Clayton NC.

With some finagling with the menu, we were able to get a marinated/sautéed portabello served over angel hair pasta and a great salad. The original menu item had the portabello served on a bed of grits BUT the grits were cooked in milk and then all buttered up. NOT. We asked about rice but it was cooked in chicken broth…that’s when the pasta was suggested. It actually turned out quite nicely and Your Elf was a happy camper.
After their meal, Jud and Suzanne shared a Cream Brûlée that they said was quite good and definitely NOT plant-based!
The storms and rains went on for most of the evening, so once again (as last year), we were faced with the possibility of having the first day be moved indoors. BUT!! When we got up Saturday morning, the rain was gone and it was just foggy and cloudy. Off we went to Chapel Hill with the van loaded to the gills. A quick stop at a local Harris Teeter and adjacent Starbucks had us completely happy with mimosa fixin’s and a Starbuck's Flat White (extra shot)! We unloaded our stuffs and settled in for a day of cool music and seeing old friends. And, of course, the obligatory mimosa(s).
Needless to say, after the fog and mistiness cleared off and the sun came out, the day was PERFECT. The food truck, Chirba Chirba, even had a vegan option that was quite tasty.
Here’s the menu and link to their website.
And here’s the dish before it was gobbled up by a hungry Elf.
We took off for ‘home’ after the last band of the day and stopped on the way for something to eat. We tried to get into the new Babalu in Chapel Hill but it was packed with a 45 minute wait. Maybe next year!
We wound up at a kinda fast food place called Zoë’s Kitchen. It was ok for fast food. Your Elf had a Power Grain Bowl without the tzatziki. Passable and we were hungry! Sunday brought another spectacularly beautiful day and arguably the best music. The food truck of the day was The Merry Franksters and their food was awesome.
They had a ‘vegan hot dog' made from marinated carrots! Yes CARROTS!! See the Menu's Peter Rabbit!

Now, Your Elf has made these at home, initially on a whim. BUT, we are here to tell you, done right, you cannot tell the difference. We had ours over a great salad.
Really good stuff for vegans AND from the looks of the number of people in the almost constant line, the rest of their food was just as good; as was the Merry Fanskster folks’ connection with the audience/patrons. All good things must, you know, come to an end and ProgDay 2017 was over before we could get a good breath! We packed up our goodies and took off for home when we decided to go into Raleigh proper for dinner. There was a huge festival going on downtown, so it was hard to get to the original idea. We wound up going to a restaurant called Irregardless. It’s in a great Raleigh neighborhood of older homes and new apartments for a growing population of young adults. And, we are here to tell you, we have saved the BEST for LAST. This restaurant was FANTASTIC!! It has been in business since 1975 and has a great neighborhood vibe. The live music (open mike night, we think) was ok but y’all know Your Elf is a very noise sensitive elf. The Hostess seated us away from the music and that was great. Now, when we opened the menu, we were NOT prepared the the vegan options a WHOLE PAGE OF Entrées for Herbivores!! So, WHOA!! We were blown away! Apologies for the glare; most probably from the shine in our eyes!
We settled on the Wild Mushroom Polenta, but, gosh darn it, we wish we could eat there every night to sample them all. Your Elf’s brother had a Greek Salad (which was huge and delicious, he said) and Suzanne had the Poached Salmon, which she also said was really lovely. BUT, Your ELF LOVED her dish. It was delicious, tasty, beautifully presented, and just, well, what a vegan really loves…a restaurant that delights in preparation using local foods and doing it with a sense of adventure. Isn’t this lovely?
And here is Your Elf’s plate a bit later.
But WAIT!! We aren’t finished! We then asked for the DESSERT menu. This is typically where many vegans just have to sit back and watch their table mates slurp up something sweet, creamy, or egg-based. Well, here’s what our Little Elf Eyes spied on the Dessert Menu. Look at the LAST item.
Yep, the Chocolate Truffle. Even though our little Elf belly was about to pop, we ordered it.And here you go!
It was incredibly good. So, this restaurant puts to rest the concept that vegan eating is boring and limited. Irregardless of your thoughts on eating vegan, IRREGARDLESS is your find in Raleigh. From our server to the food to the ambience, it could not have been better. Here is the link to their website.
Our flight home was picture perfect with the exception of a rather long layover in Atlanta with no vegan options to be found on Concourse A. Big Solid was waiting patiently in the 'waitin' place for us to arrive; complete with a toddy on hand for Your Elf. Thankfully, we had our favorite vegan Thai dishes waiting to be picked up on our way home, making the ending of the day and the trip just right.
Now, we are looking forward to ProgDay 2018 and another gathering of Brother Elf; Brother's Girlfriend, Suzanne; Your Elf; and Brother's BFF, Dave.
We ended our last blog (8.27.17) with thoughts for all of the folks impacted by Hurricane Harvey and we end this one with thoughts for the folks now in harm’s way from Hurricane Irma. It's time like these that even the smallest kindness can bring monumental meaning and joy to others. So, like we always say,  remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.
Your Elf