My Sister’s Wedding Cake

A few month’s ago my little sister got married in Las Vegas to her boyfriend of over 2 years. And I made the cake. This was my first time making a wedding cake and I had visions of perfect, elaborately detailed cakes topped with fondant in my head. I knew there was no way I would be making a cake like that. I am terrible at getting frosting to look perfect so I just revel in the unique differences in my desserts.

My sister requested a chocolate cake and I had the brilliant idea of making a salted caramel frosting with a caramel drizzle, knowing that the drizzle would cover up any of my frosting mishaps.

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Cafe Brasil

Vegan MoFo

You know those select few restaurants where you fall head over heels for one dish? The food is amazing, so you feel an obligation to order something new every time you visit; however, you just can’t bring yourself to order anything other than your favorite dish. It makes me feel so boring, ordering the same exact thing every time, but it is so darn good I can’t help myself. That is how I feel about Cafe Brasil, an aptly named Brazilian eatery in Santa Cruz. It’s been about a year since I’ve eaten there and I still day-dream about their food.

I try to visit this place every time I’m in Santa Cruz and on the occasions where I don’t I leave with a longing. The dish that has captured my heart is the portobello breakfast. A marinated and grilled portobello with sautéed spinach and garlic with creamy polenta, tomato slices and bread. Back when I was first introduced to Cafe Brasil, I was not vegan and I would order this with a poached egg, but now for a dollar more I get savory sautéed tofu and veggies. Everything on the plate works in tandem to bring out every flavor you ever hope for in your breakfast. The meatiness of the portobello is met by the sharp tang of the spinach with a wave of buttery, herb-flavored polenta.

Polenta Breakfast

I am very big on textures in my food. I like to roll it around with my tongue to get a feel of the food before I eat it. For that reason I love to eat smoothies, high pulp orange juice, chocolate mousse, chia pudding, stew, curry, and, of course, polenta. Polenta is high on the list of textures I love and Cafe Brasil does not disappoint. They also have a fresh juice and smoothie bar, which does give me the opportunity to vary my order up a little bit. Using ingredients like guava, açai, acerola, coconut pulp, avocado, papaya, watermelon, passion fruit, pineapple, mango, and my personal favorite, cashew fruit they make a wide array of tropical juices and smoothies that will blow your mind. I didn’t know until I ate at Cafe Brasil that cashews grow on fruit that looks similar to an apple. Their fruit tastes light, faintly sweet, with a richness similar to that of the cashew itself. With no end to the drink variations I always feel satisfied in ordering something new each time so my order doesn’t seem so predictable.

Cashew Juice!

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Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria: Why eating farmed meat could help lead to a pandemic

Vegan MoFoI was reading an article in the New York Times today talking about a new report filed by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) about the rising risk for antibiotic resistant infections and how devastating a problem it could be become if not addressed. The article touches briefly on several points, the main being that hospital contracted bacteria is a big problem. I pricked up my ears at the paragraph about industrial farming and its liberal use of antibiotics. I read Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, earlier this year and he talks about the same issues.

While there are only a few sentences mentioning this in the article, the author does cite the CDC’s report. So I went digging through the actual report to find this gem, “The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world .” This one sentence prefaces every argument that I could possibly make. Because even though liberal use of antibiotics in humans and animals alike increases the chances of breeding bacteria immune to our antibiotics, which could potentially kill us, there does not seem to be an end in sight.

According to the CDC, 50% of all antibiotics prescribed to people are unnecessary. From my point of view, almost 100% of antibiotics given to animals destined for American plates are unnecessary. Most animals raised for their meat in the U.S. are raised on factory farms or more commonly known in the meat industry as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). Rather than having fewer cattle graze small plots of land, which is what used to be the norm, the huge demand for meat means that CAFOs pack in as many cattle as possible, feeding them on a mixture of surplus corn and liquefied fat and antibiotics. Taking away the cows’, or pigs or chickens for that matter, space and diet is a recipe for illness, and therefore the answer is universally distributed antibiotics which American consumers are now ingesting with their meal.

The CDC, notes that this large scale farming practice is done to, “prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote the growth of food-producing animals.” The CDC report does advise against using antibiotics to promote growth in farmed animals, and later on in the report hints at phasing out their use to prevent disease as well, calling the practice “unnecessary, [it] makes everyone less safe.” However, that would mean scaling down CAFOs so that animals have healthy living conditions.

Image from: Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, Centers for Disease Control, 2013, page 14

Image from: Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, Centers for Disease Control, 2013, page 14

Reading through the CDC report was actually quite engaging. They have interactive and informative graphics like the one above and it was written so that non-scientists could comprehend it. There were more declarative sentences and less data than I would have liked but it was understandable and user friendly, which is the main thing. The report also stated that more antibiotics are sold for use with food-producing animals than they are for people. However, the real key to all this information is that widespread use of antibiotics in food-producing animals creates an enormous potential for antibiotic resistant bacteria because “these animals serve as carriers,” spreading resistance to the people who eat them. The bird flu, and swine flu of the past are perfect examples of how humans can contract resistant bacteria.

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Color Palette Smoothie

Vegan MoFo

There is a lovely little vegan juice bar by my house called Juicy Ladies, and I’m addicted to their Super Sexy Smoothie. With a name like that who couldn’t be, but at $10 a pop I realized I couldn’t keep ordering this delectable drink forever. So I figured out the proportions on my own and started making it at home for half the price! The coconut, goji berries and almond butter flavors are so light and understated that while this smoothie is quite filling your palate lingers with a swirl of flavors.

One of the coolest things about this smoothie is the color; the pink of the goji berries mixed with the white of the coconut and a tad of golden brown from the almond butter combine together to make a bright orange smoothie. Your friends will be eternally puzzled by the color of this smoothie and the fact there are no oranges in it.

Super sexy

The first time I bought a whole young coconut was at Whole Foods and I didn’t realize that you can ask an employee to cut the top off. So I took it home with me and terrified, I hacked at it with a santoku for and hour where I whittled it down enough to pry the top off. I had the coconut over a bowl to catch any of the water once the coconut opened and once I had finished, I vowed never to do this again. So upon my next trip to Whole Foods I asked an employee in the produce section if they would take the top off for me and found out that was a service they already provide. Sometimes they have precut coconuts in the produce section over ice but if they don’t you can find a whole one and ask an employee for help. I’ve never looked back at attempting to cut another coconut myself.

Young coconut

As for the other ingredients, I make my own almond butter at home and I buy the goji berries in bulk so the smoothie doesn’t cost much to make at all. The only item that’s a bit pricey is the maca powder, I buy mine from Navitas Naturals for $15.99 at Sprouts Farmers Market. When I have it in my pantry I use it in this smoothie to add some extra vitamins and minerals; it also has a slightly toffee-like flavor, which is nice. However, I’ve made this plenty of times without it and the smoothie still tastes heavenly.

Brilliantly orange smoothie

Color Palette Smoothie

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 young coconut with the top cut off

2 tablespoons almond butter

1/2 cup goji berries

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup ice

2 teaspoons maca powder (optional)

Directions:

Pour coconut water out of coconut into a blender. Scoop of out coconut meat with a spoon and add to blender. Add almond butter, vanilla, maca powder (if using), and goji berries to blender. Add ice and then blend until the consistency of the smoothie is think and creamy.

Doctor’s Advice, My Nutrition

I’ve been a little stressed the past few weeks and on Wednesday a nerve under my left eye started twitching. It has yet to stop so I’ve been trying to get some extra sleep and trying to let go of the stress. But to be sure it wasn’t anything serious I made a trip to my doctor and was told that as a vegan I might be deficient in calcium, potassium, and magnesium since I am not ingesting any dairy. What I had to explain to my doctor is that my diet is high in all three due to the varied vegetables, fruits, and nuts that I eat.

“You eat fish, right?”

Vegan MoFoThe problem with vegetarianism is that the definition has become blurred; eating fish or animal-based foods has somehow found its place under the vegetarian umbrella. People who don’t think about the exact ingredients that go into their foods sometimes have a problem discerning what is and isn’t appropriate for a vegetarian or vegan dish. Fish is easy to avoid, even if someone tries to serve it to you, because it is easy to identify on your plate. Where the issue gets muddled is when you get into animal-based flavorings or condiments; they aren’t visually apparent. Are you still a vegetarian if you consume chicken broth? I think the real difficulty is that people perceive vegetarians as simply not eating meat; so as long as there isn’t a hunk of meat on their plate it should be fine, right? But chicken broth isn’t a byproduct of an animal like milk or cheese, which vegans exclude and vegetarians don’t, it is made with chicken meat, therefore it is a meat-based food even if you can’t see it on the plate.

Soups are the worst offender. The cafe at my work has such a hard time defining for me what foods are vegetarian or vegan. They label everything on the menu with a V for vegetarian and a V² for vegan but each week the exact same dishes fluctuate in their labeling. Soups with chicken broth are labeled as vegetarian; I used to love this Thai rice noodle and tofu dish but some weeks the menu would label it as vegetarian and some weeks as vegan. I finally asked the server about it and it turns out the dish used fish broth so it was neither vegetarian or vegan.

I am not saying that people shouldn’t have control of their own diet. Every vegetarian, every person in fact, has to define for her or himself just what she or he is willing to eat and why. But when it comes to public food service in grocery stores, prepared foods, and restaurants the rules for vegetarian and vegan ingredients need to be clearly defined. And when it comes to friends who misguidedly ask if I can have cheese ravioli, I think the biggest impact vegetarians and vegans alike can have on their friends is to change their perception one at a time. A simple and kind-worded explanation is all it takes to clear the air. I try to lead by example and show my friends that what I eat is healthy, filling, tasty, and fun.

It might be time to move past the word vegan and onto a word that more aptly and clearly defines my diet. The term ‘plant-based’ is where I think we should be heading; the explanation is in the title. I only eat foods derived from plants and ‘plant-based’ says it all in two little words.

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