Wednesday, June 21, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodies with Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment


How do you introduce the stylish, spirited duo that needs no introduction?
Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment, a.k.a., The Vegan Mos, burst on the scene with their popular blog in 2013 and have been making creating compassionate change in the world one delicious recipe at a time ever since. Ethan, who moonlights as a podiatric surgeon, and Michael, a “recovering” corporate lawyer and current office manager of Ethan’s bustling foot and ankle clinic in NYC, spend a huge amount of their time volunteering, coaching via their certification with the Main Street Vegan Academy, helping to guide charitable organizations, snuggling with their adorable dogs and creating the amazing recipes we love.

Most recently, Michael and Ethan collaborated on a great new cookbook,
NYC Vegan: Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple, published by Vegan Heritage Press. NYC Vegan, chock full of vegan interpretations of the classic, globetrotting foods you will enjoy in NYC, is a way for anyone to enjoy the diversity of ethic cuisines, as well as the delicious comfort foods, available in the Big Apple. I highly recommend it. Full of gorgeous photos by Jackie Sobon and bursting with NYC lore, Michael and Ethan prove that we don’t have to give up the things we love when we go vegan. The recipes are written clearly and simply, and anyone with access to a decent grocery store should be able to recreate the dishes in their own kitchens. I love how very accessible the recipes are and how much affection for both NYC and veganism is stitched throughout the book. I am honored to feature Ethan Ciment and Michael Suchman as this week’s Vegan Foodies.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

Michael: I first started cooking when I was 7 years old and my mom asked me what I wanted for breakfast. When I told her I wanted pancakes she took out her New York Times cookbook, opened it to the pancake recipe and said, “Okay, here you go.” She supervised and I made pancakes. From there it was onto cookies, cakes, and brownies from boxed mixes. I was always helping my mom in the kitchen and learned the basics from her. Cooking was just something I always enjoyed.

Ethan: my earliest memories are of me cooking in the kitchen growing up with my mom and with my grandmothers. Being raised in a Jewish and kosher home, food was integral to all aspects of daily life and religious celebrations. As an adult, even after I realized that religious observance was not for me, the familiar flavors and recipes were still important connections to my childhood, which I enjoy to this day.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Michael: My diet growing up was the standard American diet. My mom was known to occasionally give us Devil Dogs and Pepsi for breakfast if we were short on time and we always had sugared cereals in the house. However, at dinner it was always a balanced meal. My favorite meal growing up was roast chicken, white rice and peas. Also brisket was served for almost every Jewish holiday. I have been able to created vegan version of both the roast chicken and the brisket. It is really all about the gravies. Once you have those, the rest is easy.

Ethan: I was raised in a kosher household so that meant two sets of everything and separating all meet foods from dairy. It also meant that every Friday night and Saturday (the Sabbath) there were meals that began with blessings over wine and Challah bread. I have extremely fond memories of coming home from synagogue on Saturday afternoons to a lunch of cholent a traditional Eastern European stew made with barley and beans. We would sop up all of the rich gravy with the Challah. For years, I assumed that this was just something I would no longer have/enjoy as a vegan. Eventually, I figured out an easy way to make a delicious vegan challenge that tastes indistinguishable from the one containing meet are used to eat. Using Nava Atlas's recipe for vegan Challah, I can now enjoy my childhood traditional Shabbat meal anytime I want.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Michael: I love to heat up the Gardein chick’n pieces from the Crispy Chick’n and then toss them in buffalo sauce and dip them into some homemade ranch dressing. Or if I want something a little lighter, avocado toast is perfect.

Ethan: We like to do batch cooking on weekends so we have lots of available beans and greens ready to go for lunches. One of my favorite to go quick meals is to grab a bean, a grain, and a green. Whether it's brown rice, quinoa or farro, I take a cup of cooked grains, toss in a cup of whatever beans we have around and load it up with some greens. Then I heat it up and top it with lots of hot sauce!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

Michael: I have already made my mom a vegan version of her favorite Brooklyn Blackout Cake thanks to a recipe from Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate. So now I would love to make an Italian meal for Giada DeLaurentiis. Before I was vegan, I used to watch her all the time and make her recipes. I would love to show her that she can make the exact same dishes without using any animal products. 

Ethan: I would love to be able to cook a meal for my dear late grandmother, Regina. She remains one of the greatest cooks I have ever met and her cooking was always infused with love. She never lived to know that I was vegan or that I would be so passionate about helping other people become vegan and learn to cook and eat this way. I think she would marvel at my ability to take her recipes and adapt them to this compassionate, healthier and more forward-thinking way of eating.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

Michael: I think when people are first exploring vegan cooking and trying to make vegan version of nonvegan food, they get tripped up when finding substitutes for eggs. I learned that understanding the function of eggs in a recipe enabled me to find the best substitution. If eggs are for leavening, I like to use Ener-G egg replacer. If the eggs are for binding, I like using flax seeds.  

Ethan: I think the biggest mistake that people make when cooking vegan is they often over-complicate the whole thing. If you put the label "Vegan" on it, it's suddenly something new, challenging and potentially daunting. That's complete nonsense! I love to remind people that they've been eating vegan food since they were born. When you point out that simple things like butter, milk, eggs, etc... Nowadays have very simple one for one substitutions, it suddenly becomes a whole lot less daunting. 

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

Michael: Right now for me it is all about soy curls! I love them. They are so versatile and lend themselves to use in all kinds of dishes. I like to keep soy curls, pasta, tomato sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, beans, and rice on hand. With those, I can always come up with a meal if needed.

Ethan: For me, the ingredients that most excite me are the ones that are seasonal. As we are now in the summer, I picked up some amazing stone fruit at the store yesterday. Ripe nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries scream summer to me. I also picked up some watermelon, pineapple and mango and made our watermelon gazpacho, which is summer in a bowl, to me.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Michael: Chinese, Italian, and French.

Ethan: I share Michael's love for Chinese and Italian food. For me, Japanese, Ethiopian and Israeli food hold a very special place in my heart.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

Michael: Hands down, the number one person is my husband Ethan. He opened the door to veganism for me. Without him, I would likely have never made the decision to be vegan. A close second is JL Fields; she planted the seeds for our blog, as well as the idea for doing a cookbook. I also give a lot of credit to Charlotte’s Web.  Both the book and the movie planted the idea of not animals to be killed for food when I was little, however, because of social conditioning (aka carnism) that thought was hidden in the deep recesses of my mind.

Ethan: Gosh, this is such a hard question to answer. There've been so many different people along the way who have turned me in different directions on this incredible journey. It started with Jeffrey Masson and his book, The Face on Your Plate, The Truth About Food. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and her incredible “Food for Thought” podcasts were an indispensable resource that both helped me hone my thinking about the issues and become a more effective communicator on animal issues. PETA and their "Meet Your Meat" and Mercy for Animals and their undercover videos really affected me deeply. Dr. Neal Barnard and the folks at PCRM really inspired me to step up and come out as a vegan doctor. Because of their example, I now routinely discuss plant-based nutrition with my patients. 

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Michael: The overall treatment and abuse of animals in food production. I think most people would say they are against animal cruelty and that killing animals is wrong. However, they fail to see that the animals on their plates were tortured and killed. If people really opened their minds to the reality of food production, they would have no choice but to go vegan.

Ethan: For me, the biggest issue is Factory Farming on all sides of that complex issue. First and foremost, the horrible existence of torture, exploitation and oppression we impose on the animals destined to become our food before brutally murdering them. Then, there is the often-overlooked issue of the humans in the system, charged with the brutal work of handling and killing these animals. They suffer enormously at the hands of the system where they, like the animals they kill, are horribly exploited. The environmental impact of raising and slaughtering the tens of billions of animals we do each year, cannot be understated. My attempt to bring awareness to these issues has led me to my work with Woodstock Farm Sanctuary where I serve on the Board of Directors. At Woodstock, like at so many other farm animals sanctuaries, we connect people with farm animal refugees, in order to promote veganism as the only alternative for a sustainable future.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

Michael: amazing and the key to a happy and prosperous future for everyone.

Ethan: life.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Want to Save the World? Go Vegan and…

Vegans love to promote the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet and why not?  They are undeniably significant. Is it reasonable to think that because we’re vegan, we are doing enough to protect the environment, though? With our planet under serious threat and future generations seriously vulnerable – and the world’s most economically disadvantaged carrying the greatest burden – we can and should always do more, tightening our ecological footprints as much as possible. Being vegan doesn’t give anyone permission to rest on our laurels or give us carte blanche permission to not do our best to reduce our harm to this planet in every way we are able. Are you already vegan but wanting to step it up a notch or two? There are many small but impactful ways to shrink our ecological footprints and together they add up to something significant. As always, many thanks to the wise counsel of my amazing Facebook friends for helping me to brainstorm this list.

* Consume less.

Try to avoid buying new items; purchasing new vegan purses, belts, shoes and t-shirts is still consuming and still creates a footprint.

Check out websites like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook groups like the Buy Nothing Project, and lots of local groups where people buy, sell, trade and give away used items before buying something new.

Buying secondhand is more than just for clothes and knickknacks: if you need new furniture, cars, computers and books, look for used to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take shorter showers.

– Take fewer showers and spot clean more with a wash cloth.

Switch to high-efficiency showerheads.

Turn off and unplug your computer overnight.

Even if you’re vegan, not all plant foods have the same water footprint. Some are much more water-intensive than others.

Waste less/create less waste

Take reusable to-go containers out with you when you eat out for your leftovers.

Take a reusable mug out with you, too.

Refuse anything packed in Styrofoam.

Don’t use plastic straws.

Decline bags, napkins, straws, utensils and condiment packets with to-go food orders and use your own to eliminate waste.

Take eating utensils, containers, straws and cloth napkins out with you.

Use rags instead of paper towels for cleaning.

Replace tissues with handkerchiefs.

Don’t buy foods packaged in non-recyclable materials.

Take your own reusable containers and fill them up in the bulk section of natural food stores. (Have a cashier or someone at customer service mark down the weight to deduct it from the final weight when it’s been filled.)

In addition to bringing your own shopping bags when grocery shopping, bring your own reusable produce bags.

Use produce that has gone a little bad by cutting out the bad parts; tossing wilted greens and fruit that is past its prime into a smoothie is also a way to prevent waste.

Put the ends and unused parts of veggies into a freezer bag to use for making vegetable stock.

Revive greens and other plants if they get a little wilted.

Get a home energy audit and follow the recommendations as you can afford them.

Learn about and implement the use of greywater around your home.

Make sure your gutters drain into rain barrels to reuse the water.

Use menstrual cups.

Green practices

Drive less or give up your car if you are able.

Grow as much food as you can and if you don’t have a yard, you might still be able to do window herbs or grow on a fire escape.

Grow native plants that help pollinators.

Compost food scraps. If you don’t have a yard, you can still compost: there are still many places that would appreciate the donation.

Wash your clothes less often.

Hang your clothes out to dry.

Wash your laundry with soap nuts, which can last for a year or two, to avoid detergents and fabric softeners in plastic bottles.

Make your own personal care products and home cleaning products with bulk materials like apple cider vinegar, baking soda and castile soap.

Plan your errands and driving times to get the most done in one trip.

Reduce or eliminate flying as much as possible.

Buy local and seasonal as much as possible.

Freeze, can and pickle produce for eating out of season, taking advantage of great sales or to make the bumper crops of the season last.

Convert everything to energy-efficient light bulbs and turn off the lights when you’re not in the room.

Make sure your windows are properly insulated.

Solar panels are handy. Even if you cannot convert your entire home, there are solar chargers for cellphones, solar lights for patios, etc.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

65 Ways to Un-Trump the World

Donald Trump sucks, right? He’s odious and terrible and he Trumps up everything.

It’s easy to get depressed when the dark, noxious shadow of a nasty man-baby who has neither the teeniest bit of impulse control nor awareness of anything outside of his own interests looms over us. He is a human trigger warning surrounded by a bunch of lackeys in the form of advisors, highly paid babysitters and political allies who mostly see him as a handy distraction that allows them to loot and pillage while the getting is good. Despite this Trumping up of our world, though, I have to believe that all hope is not lost. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, we can Un-Trump it and un-Trump it for real this time. Because, let's face it, we can't let ourselves off the hook for the fact that the world was not exactly going in a positive direction before he became president. Ever. There were and are a lot of very Trumpy attitudes and conditions that we can't blame squarely on him. We can start to fix it, though, starting today.

Honestly, we could be in the dawn of a new age, and you could be a big part of it. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

1. Plant a garden. If you don’t have a yard, join a community garden or just grow some herbs in your windows. Don’t forget fire escape plants.

2. Do you have a front yard that’s not doing much but growing grass? Transform it into a free-for-everyone garden smorgasbord and be part of a movement that can help reduce hunger and increase access to nutritious foods in your community with the resources from the Food is Free Project. Or do you have a bumper crop of produce? (How much zucchini can one person eat?) (Yes, I know zucchini bread but come on!) Set up a card table with a cute little sign and let your neighbors know that it’s for the taking.
3. Minimize your purchasing of plastic. One simple strategy: bring your own reusable containers for bulk foods and bags – including bags for produce – to the grocery store.
4. Speaking of, bringing your own containers for leftovers when you eat out, along with packing stainless straws, mugs and reusable cutlery when you’re out in the world, is a great way to minimize waste and Un-Trump the world.
5. Trump hates the Black Lives Matter movement, which means, of course, that you should wear a BLM button wherever you go and join their events.
6. Brush up on your recycling skills for your household and find the best recycling center near you. Localities differ so familiarize yourself with how it works by you.
7. Want to help reverse the Trump legacy of tenant exploitation? Get trained in and volunteer for a tenants’ rights hotline. (This is a Chicago-based organization but many urban areas have their own tenants’ rights groups.) There are also Fair Housing volunteering opportunities in many communities. Seriously, Trump’s real estate developer father was such a racist lowlife that Woody Guthrie, a one-time tenant, wrote a song about him in 1950.
8. Create art: from sidewalk chalk to paint, pottery to macramé, art is the antidote to dull authoritarianism.
9. Write a letter – or send a thoughtful message – to someone who has been really meaningful in your life. Be vulnerable. Tell them what they have meant to you. Send it.
10. Make plans with friends. Don’t break them.
11. Commit to your own happiness first. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then you are able to help others.
12. If you’re ready, make a lifetime commitment to a homeless animal at a shelter.
13. Shop less; thrift more.
14. Go vegan. Eating animals is tyrannical, unnecessary, cruel and dooming to future generations.
15. Become active with a Buy Nothing group near you or start one.
16. Host a potluck.
17. You know one of the best ways to Un-Trump the world? Laugh. Trump never laughs and he has no discernable sense of humor. A sense of humor is essential for mental health always but especially in these troubling times. Watch the funniest movie you know, hang out with your uproariously hilarious bestie, revisit memories that are sure to have you in stitches and laugh, baby, laugh.
18. Organize a trash pick-up day in your neighborhood.
19. Get all your members of Congress on your phone and call those suckas.
20. You can send up to five free faxes to your members of Congress each day, too. Just write your message on the cover letter and hit send.
21. Show up at their town hall meetings, too.
22. Do free yoga.
23. Buy an indoor plant or two. Plan on keeping it alive.  
24. Walk, bike or take public transit more, drive less.
25. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day; find movement that you love.
26. Donate your produce scraps to a local composter or community garden if you can’t or don’t compost yourself.
27. Go through deputy registrar training so you can register people to vote. Communities across the country have free trainings.
28. Remember to smile at cashiers, servers, sales clerks, etc. It just takes a moment and it can brighten someone’s day.
29. Aromatherapy can help lift your mood and make you feel less Trumpy. Try one of these blends.
30. Tackle your clutter and donate to resale shops, especially those with a charitable and progressive mission like Chicago’s Brown Elephant.
31. Take a 24-hour fast of complaining. Ugh, it’s a challenge, I know.
32. Volunteer!
33. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. You know who takes himself way too seriously? Yes, you do. He’s gross.
34. Donate to NARAL or Planned Parenthood post-haste.
35. Have a friend or neighbor who is a caregiver? Offer to pick up groceries and drop them off the next time you go.
36. Take an anti-racist workshop.
37. Do you know someone who is elderly, sick, depressed or disabled and could use some help with walking, feeding, or bathing his or her companion animal? The love of a companion animal is an invaluable gift for those who have challenges but only if they are not overwhelmed by their care.
38. Or can you just help around the house, weeding the garden, sorting mail, etc.?
39. Make sure you don’t get dehydrated. I find keeping my favorite mug at my desk to be the perfect reminder. If you’re dizzy and tired, how are you going to foment the new world order? Revisit #11 if you must.
40. Make your own housecleaning products to reduce your use of chemicals, save money and buy less wasteful packaging.  
41. Call an old friend you don’t talk to often enough and spend an hour or two catching up.
42. Listen to your favorite music and have a dance party! You know how much Trump would hate that? Lots!
43. Pay for an online subscription to the news outlets you trust to help support quality traditional and independent journalism.
44. Watch a documentary or two to become better educated about important subjects.
45. Perhaps the most Un-Trumpian thing you could do? Write a heartfelt apology to someone you have wronged even in the distant past. Expect nothing in return. Living or dead, it doesn’t matter: just apologize.  
46. Have you found yourself being petty, small-minded and resentful? When I get like this, I know it’s time to reestablish my practice of keeping a gratitude journal and write in it every night. Yes, it may feel hokey at first but it works. The practice of building awareness of the things we should be grateful for causes us to not only notice the positive things that happen more in our daily lives and appreciate them but I believe that it also compels us to create more opportunities worthy of gratitude, which seriously Un-Trumps the world. This is a good primer.
46. When you find yourself feeling reactive, slow down and begin to feel your heart beat. Feel your pulse manually if that helps at first and then begin to sense it without feeling it with your fingers. This will slow you down and bring you back to the present moment.
47. Plant native species flora if you have a garden.
48. Also, grow lots of plants that also are beneficial to pollinators.
49. Spend the day in nature and leave your phone at home. You can do it. I believe in you.
50. Raise your children to be feminists: yes, boys, too, because not only is feminism about equality at the end of the day - so they should be for it - a patriarchal framework is limiting to and diminishing of everyone. Check out this post and longer book by the glorious Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for inspiration. Oh, feminists really Un-Trump the world. Don’t have children? Good on you! Mentor your nieces and nephews.
51. Are you a dude and do you do a lot of interrupting? Seriously, stop it. It’s Trumpy.
52. Get familiar with what mansplaining is and stop doing it. STAT.
53. And while we’re on the topic of gross things: manspreading is gross and also Trumpy.
54. The next time it’s been raining, put on your rain boots and splash in some puddles. Serious fun!
55. Do your daily activism. For serious.
56. Read, read, read and then read some more. Books are a powerful antiserum against Trump.
57. Leave fresh water out for the birds.
58. When was the last time you rolled down a hill (on purpose!), swung on a swing, made a dandelion crown, watched the clouds, had a lemonade stand, played hopscotch, ran through a sprinkler, skipped down the sidewalk, played duck-duck-goose or Marco Polo? Reconnect with your childhood joys to deflect toxic Trumpiness.
59. Live in a progressive district? Lucky you! Help out others who aren’t so fortunate by getting active with Swing Left and help to swing the 2018 Congressional election.
60. Give at least one person a heartfelt, sincere compliment.
61. Forgive at least one person. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Attributed to Nelson Mandela.
62. Learn a new language.
63. Shrink your water footprint.
64. Vow to do no harm but take no shit.
65. Stay alive, awake, tuned in, pissed off and full of grace. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Áine Carlin

Áine Carlin is the elegant and stylish soul behind the popular vegan food blog, Pea Soup Eats, as well as the author of the recently published cookbook, The New Vegan: Great Recipes, No-Nonsense Advice, and Simple Tips. The New Vegan is a beautiful and practical cookbook that is perfect for the vegan-curious or those who are already vegan but seeking some unfussy, delicious recipes with a focus on fresh, lively flavors. She also sports what may be the world’s most enviable bob. I’m happy to feature Áine Carlin as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I’ve always been a keen cook and my Father was forever in the kitchen, so I suppose I learnt the basics from him. However, I’d never even considered vegetarianism, let alone veganism until my Husband was posted to Chicago for work. Mostly I was impressed with the quality and variety of foods on offer (my first trip to Karyn’s Cooked was a real eye-opener) and I couldn’t get enough of it…in essence, this is where my real foodie adventure really took off.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Very Irish. Lots of potatoes, naturally, which is probably why I have such an affinity for the humble spud. But also lots of dairy and meat…I didn’t even know any vegetarians growing up. I still make colcannon and there is wonderful recipe for that in my latest book The New Vegan – it’s basically creamy mashed potatoes with leeks and kale. It’s the ultimate comfort food, in my opinion…simple, hearty and delicious.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

There was a wonderful restaurant in London called Saf (Shoreditch) that has sadly closed (I think it was ahead of its time)…it specialized in raw cuisine and I had a beautiful birthday meal there once. Whilst the food was superb, it’s the wine I really remember – an organic Lebanese red that tasted like cherries…fabulous.

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I always loved cooking for my Father, to be honest…he loved my food and was always showering me with compliments. He adored anything spicy so I’d probably cook him a curry (such as my Green Lentil & Spinach one) and because he also had a mega sweet tooth there would have to be dessert. Rice pudding was always his thing (and he made a mean one himself back in the day), so I’m thinking my dairy-free chai-inspired Coconut Rice Pudding would definitely do the trick.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

That it’s somehow vastly different to non-vegan cooking. Many of the techniques remain the same although I often find vegan food I am served in restaurants is vastly under-seasoned. For me, it’s important to inject flavor whilst still retaining simplicity. If you have quality ingredients at your disposal, don’t be afraid to let them shine.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?
I go through phases but at the moment I’m using a lot of tahini – in both sweet and savoury dishes. I’m also big on fruit at the moment, and love adding berries to salads or tossing them in a little rose water for a simple dessert. Seasoning wise, it’s all about Za’atar for me…it’s robust and fragrant at the same time, and unlike anything else. I’m obsessed.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Mexican. Middle Eastern. Italian. Not necessarily in that order.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

The first vegan book I ever bought was The Kind Life by Alicia Silverstone. It was hugely helpful in those early days and I think she has done incredible work – I love her gentle approach to things. Like many, I am a Rich Roll enthusiast and listen to his podcast religiously…I also think his wife Julie Piatt is magnificent and I can’t wait to get my hands on her latest book This Cheese is Nuts.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

We are living in turbulent times, politically speaking, and when this happens things like the environment and whatnot tend to get pushed to the one side. I really hope we can come together collectively to ensure we limit any further damage on this already depleted planet.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

… embracing a way of living that places peace at its core.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Miriam Sorrell

Miriam Sorrell maintains a prolific and active presence online through her recipe innovation on her website, Mouthwatering Vegan Recipes. A popular website with hundreds of free recipes, MVR has a special affinity for sun-drenched Mediterranean flavors but can do it all, proving in recipe after recipe how vegan food is not a sacrifice but bursting with flavor and variety. Through her various social media platforms, Miriam shows that amazing vegan food is something anyone can create without a ton of complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients: the simplest food preparations are often the most delicious. Please check out her various social media platforms, including her brand new YouTube channel, as well as her cookbooks, to help spread the word about compassionate living through the lure of some luscious food. As a passionate vegan, Miriam aspires to save the animals, winning over one palate at a time. We are proud to feature her as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I have always enjoyed cooking from a very early age, and in particular preparing delicious food for close friends and family. As a child, I was impressed and influenced by a particular couple who were like an aunt and uncle to me, and she would prepare the most wonderful homely food which I adored – this certainly inspired me, together with the fact that my father owned a restaurant in London, which I used to help out in as a teenager.

 2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Well, of course, food was far simpler then – and because I come from a Mediterranean background, I have always loved the best of Greek and Maltese cuisine. Inevitably, meat and fish would feature fairly prominently, and kleftiko was a firm favourite, together with the simple Maltese ‘Ħobż biż-żejt’ (Maltese bread drizzled with olive oil, and smeared with beefsteak tomatoes or tomato paste, then served with olives, crushed black pepper, etc). I still love simple rustic cuisine, though due to the constantly expanding horizons of my work, I have had the privilege of exploring so many different foods and cuisines.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

That’s a very difficult question to answer, because there have been so many! I have to add, that one of the hardest aspects of becoming vegan was when I realized just how lacking most restaurants were in creativity when it came to vegan menu options, although this has improved considerably over the years, particularly in the last year or so. This only served to spur me on further to use my own creativity and start my food blog. So, my honest answer to your question has to be that nearly all the best vegan meals I can remember having have been created in my own kitchen. Our Christmas meal is always memorable – I usually make one of the two roulades on my blog – there’s the ‘Lentil, Mushroom, Spinach & Spicy Nut Roulade’, or the ‘Double Stuffed Savoury Christmas Log’. Aside from the above, we stayed with my sister a couple of years ago, and she always goes to town in the kitchen whenever I’m over. She produced an incredible Briam (Greek Mixed Roasted Vegetables), which she served with ‘Bamies Latheres me Domata’ (okra cooked in a tomato sauce) – this so impressed me that I created my own version of Briam which went in my second book Yasou. [UK version here.]

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I think it would have to be for my dear late mother, who passionately believed in me. And since she was Greek, I would make my vegan keftethes (meatballs) for her since I learnt how to make them from her own recipe (which is also published in my book ‘YASOU’) coupled up with a Greek salad topped with my crumbled feta cheese (also from my book ‘YASOU’) - she would have loved that!

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I don’t see there being any difference between the mistakes made in vegan cooking or any other form of cooking.  Creativity is creativity, and food made without any heart or soul will always taste as such. But an obvious shortfall can be seen in so many food outlets, where the mentality is still that a vegan dish can be a normal menu option with the meat or fish left out! Then, when the chef tries to get a bit creative, you land up with a bizarre combination of vegetables and perhaps a few beans, created in a panic behind the scenes – this is an area that they haven’t covered in culinary school. But, in truth, a talented chef should be able to come up with a good vegan platter with any of the standard ingredients in his/her kitchen.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

I am working a lot with different forms of mushroom at the moment for my
YouTube channel, and am completely blown away by just how versatile fungi are, as well as nutritional yeast - an old time favourite for vegans, I still love using it in many dishes for flavouring - there are more, and what fascinates me the most is combining unlikely ingredients in order to achieve amazing textures and tastes!

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

That’s pretty simple for me to answer – Greek (obviously), Middle Eastern, and Asian (particularly Indian and Thai), since I love exotic and spicy food, I am extremely excited by fusing different cuisines, giving them a twist as well as my own personal touch!

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

I am an ethical vegan, so as my awareness of animal suffering and torture grew, so did my passionate desire to do what I could do to help. I had been vegetarian since my 20s, and this choice had also been ethical. The film Earthlings was a major turning point for me, as was Gary Yourofsky, his University speech impacted me on many levels, and although not everybody takes to his manner - being a pragmatist I look at his astounding results in converting so many people to veganism which can only be applauded, (and subsequently has became a close friend of mine, and who has supporting my activism through my culinary endeavours).

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

I abhor any form of animal suffering or exploitation. But I also cannot tolerate the polarised view of many veganism (particularly the ‘vegan police’ and self-righteous vegans as well as the many trolls that frequently come out of the woodwork). The infighting that occurs between people that are supposed to be on the same side constantly shocks me. It becomes a battle of egos, it is so very destructive to the vegan movement, and I feel that this is so wasteful and counterproductive. An example is when I choose to focus on a specific topic – in my case, this is often the skinning alive of dogs and cats in China, the Yulin festival, etc. Now, as it happens, I do feel more passionate about this cause than most others, and so I often post about this subject on Facebook, particularly at this time of year, when Yulin is about to take place (this has never been at the exclusion of all the other worldwide animal horrors that occur each and every second of the day by the thousands). But should this give people the license to accuse me of speciesism, and of not caring about other animals suffering? This really hacks me off, as it shows such narrow-mindedness. I do think that the horrific torture and ghastly way in which dogs, cats, monkeys, etc. are treated before being killed in China and Asia, should be hitting the headlines worldwide, and I wholly support the efforts of Marc Ching, who is doing so much himself at great risk, by personally rescuing dogs from China.

Because most people do place a greater value on those animals traditionally kept as household pets (cats and dogs), then inevitably they will be far more shocked and relate more to images of cats and dogs being tortured, than say cows, pigs or chickens. Then this could be a great starting point in increasing their awareness of the broader picture (I saw this happen on a video with Earthling Ed who spoke to a woman who was campaigning against the dog meat trade, he made her aware of how cows, pigs etc. where treated, and she was horrified, one could see on her face this was genuine, she was not vegan of course, and he made her aware of this and she said she would consider veganism because she couldn’t support such cruelty), and we then have the potential for them to make the connection as to why they themselves shouldn’t be consuming or using animals or dairy, and why they should become vegan.

But, thanks must also go to the initiative of PETA and other progressive activist organizations, who are running fantastic PR campaigns, with billboards in the most prominent locations. Veganism is truly gaining more mainstream status, though we still have a long, long way to go, and don’t really have the time truth be told to be at any point ‘nit picking’ about little details thus losing sight of the bigger picture. Time is king and millions of animals are screaming out for our help each and every second round the clock.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. “To me, veganism is…”

Veganism is living the truth of ‘live and let live’ and I shall never stop fighting for animal rights until I draw my last breath.