La-La-Latke Land

Despite my mother’s insistence, and the evidence I found in her belongings, 23 and Me insists I’ve not a drop of Jewish blood. In other words, it’s highly probable that I don’t have the DNA to make a good latke. I tried anyway.

I had a few things going against me. Some my own doing.

  1. They needed to be vegan.
  2. Rather than using two potatoes I decided to use one potato and one white-fleshed yam.
  3. I was of the opinion that latkes were nothing more than Jewish hash browns. What could go wrong?

It turns out, quite a bit can go wrong.

If vegan latkes means no eggs to bind them what will keep them from falling apart? The choices are varied: chia seed, flax powder or aquafaba. Ben’s brilliant sister – who knows her way around the kitchen – squeezed the water from her shredded potato, allowed it to settle, and then used the starch at the bottom of the bowl plus one half of a banana to bind. My sad choice? Flour. In my defense I was referencing a recipe I found online. I said to myself, “That’s odd” but pulled the organic flour from the back of my kitchen cabinet anyway. A more skilled cook might have gotten away with it. Me? Not so much.

It was going well at first. I grated my tubers (the joke goes latkes are “Grate, Grate, Great!”) and spooned the results into a milk bag to press out as much liquid as possible. I returned the dried lump of spud and yam (spam?) back to a bowl and added half of a finely chopped shallot, a bit of baking powder, a splash of plant milk, salt and pepper and, of course, the flour. I can’t provide precise measurements for two reasons:

  1. I don’t have precise measurements.
  2. I referenced the online recipe. I didn’t exactly follow it.

Over-confidence got the better of me. When I could turn my batter into little patties I thought to myself, “I’ve got this.” When I put two test latkes on a slightly oiled griddle and watched them  turn golden brown I smiled. But something wasn’t quite right. Instead of my latkes looking like this:

After they were fried they looked like this:

Although Ben insisted that all latkes are different and some even look like mine, I didn’t believe him primarily because I could serve the darling man baked brown paper bag and he’d insist it was the best brown paper bag he ever ate. 

While they were somewhat crunchy on the outside, they had the consistency of grade school paste on the inside. Next year? This Gentile is sticking to hash browns.


Day VII, Phase I, Week I: Friday Pizza Night

There’s a Friday night tradition at our house. Friday night is Pizza and Beer Night. There’s nothing better than a medium sized Half-Vegetarian/Half-Mushroom lover from the Palo Alto Pizza Company washed down with with a bottle (or two) of a nice IPA.

As you might imagine, this past Friday was a challenge.

I pulled out bowls of leftovers from the fridge. On my counter sat a sad collection of black beans, roasted sweet potato and mustard greens. Even the chickpea crepes looked uninviting. It was Pizza Night and my taste buds were not prepared to water for anything less.

Ben (who’s been riding shotgun on this detox/flush/reboot adventure) and I looked at our options. We could “cheat” and have the pizza and beer. We could cobble together a meal from our leftovers. Or we could find a compromise.

We found a compromise. We ordered a cheese-free vegetarian with a gluten free crust (it’s dangerous when the best traditional pizza in town is right across the street). Believe or not, it was good. I’m as surprised as you. Somehow it managed to hit all the right pizza notes. I didn’t even miss the beer – at least not that much.  

There are, however, better ways to get a gluten-free vegan pizza. One of my favorites is making my own pizza dough with Bob’s Red Mill mix. I add a basic tomato paste, sliced veggies and Miyoko’s Vegan mozzarella. It takes time but is worth the wait.

But as I move into Week II even dreams of gluten free pizza will have to be put on hold as I think more about portion control and keeping a sparkling clean diet. That means more fresh, raw veggies, organic grains, nuts and seeds. It’s a mindfulness practice that has me considering where my food is sourced, how it’s prepared and the nutrient density of each morsel. I want the biggest nutritional bang for my buck that I can get.

When we think about it, any program that asks us to adjust our diet and lifestyle is a mindfulness practice. 

Seven days in and I’m feeling good. The most difficult part (besides the thought of a pizza-less Friday) are the supplements. But more on that later.


How I Learned to Love My Dirty Car

CIMG0100It the middle of March it rained for two days. In fact, both days were gully washers. But even with four feet of new snow in the mountains, it won’t be enough.  We need another good few weeks of wet weather to make a difference in the drought conditions in Northern California. And so, despite this being our third dry winter, last month’s temporary need for umbrellas and galoshes will convince many to relax.   That water conservation isn’t urgent. It rained, didn’t it?   There is no need for worry.

Unfortunately, their complacency is misplaced.

Do you have any idea how many gallons of water per day your household uses? When my utility bill arrives I never look beyond the amount of money I owe. If I did I might learn a bit about my water habits.

I have a friend whose family of four uses ninety-nine gallons of water per day. This seemed an astronomical amount until I saw a copy of his water bill and read that his neighbors use, on average, one hundred and seventy-four gallons of water per day. But even that number is impressive. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average family of four can use up to FOUR HUNDRED gallons of water per day. And most of that water is used indoors.

Where does all that water go?

Conventional shower heads flow at five gallons per minute. That’s fifty gallons down the drain in one ten-minute shower. Install a low-flow shower head and cut your shower time in half and you’ll save twenty-five gallons of water.

Do you leave the water running while you brush your teeth? While you shave? Say goodbye to another two gallons. Turn the tap water off while you brush and install an aerator to save even more.

In the 1980’s we were fond of saying, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow.” Toilet flushing was taboo – and for good reason. Each flush washes, on average, another five gallons down the drain.

Committing to a mindfulness practice of water conservation shouldn’t be limited to periods of drought. We should always be aware of how we use natural resources. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the lands we plow and cultivate are gifts. I think that we forget how precious these gifts are.

Even thinking of them as gifts is wrong. They are a part of us. When we abuse and misuse our resources, we are abusing and misusing our selves.

 

I asked friends if they had a favorite way of conserving water. The suggestions I received varied from the humorous (drink more beer) to the extreme (become a vegan). And then there were the suggestions that we all know. Some are simple. Others require more work. Some are practical. Others require us to create new habits and new ways of being in the world:

  • Replace lawn with drought resistant plants
  • Wait for full loads before doing laundry
  • Fill the dish washer instead of washing by hand
  • Collect grey water (from showers and dishwashing) to flush the toilet
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk

 

According to the Santa Clara County Water District, if we each saved twenty gallons of water per day we would save over thirteen billion gallons of water per year. Do we have it in us to be that mindful? To remain that aware?

I think we do.

If you want more water saving tips go to the SCWD website save20gallons.org.

 

 

 


The Accidental Vegan

Vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

Remember this post? The one where I proclaimed that my omnivorous ways did not make me a bad person? How times have changed. Turns out I’m a very fickle woman.

Eating meat worked well for me during the winter months. A nice stew of vegetables and grass-fed beef on a cold day warmed my bones and blood. But at the time I was sharing most of my meals with a friend. It was easier to prepare one meal, and even if I’d wanted to I knew I didn’t have the discipline to say “no” to bacon on a Sunday morning. So I was an omnivore. And I loved it. What I noticed, however, was that when I was on my own the foods I craved were foods that hadn’t been born. They didn’t have a face and they didn’t have a mother. They were grown from the earth.

When spring arrived our schedules changed and my friend and I had to say goodbye to the beautiful tradition of breaking bread together. I miss sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. It’s a ritual good for the soul. I miss the conversation and the laughter and I even miss cleaning away the dishes.

But I don’t miss the meat. Or the eggs. Or the dairy…except for the feta cheese I used to add to my kale salad.

I remember attempting a vegan diet about six years ago. I don’t think I lasted two weeks.

But I’m a different person now, and being a vegan wasn’t really something I thought I was moving towards. It just sort of snuck up on me. First I let go of the meat. The eggs came next – that was easy. The goat milk was more difficult because I love it warmed with honey before bed and I love milk in my coffee. But I did it. Last was the feta cheese.

So here I am. My favorite meal these days is a bowl of steamed veg with a spicy tahini sauce. Go figure.

How long will this last? Who knows. That’s the thing. I’m not really putting any pressure on myself to eat any one way or be any one thing.

I have to say, though, that this time it feels different. My first challenge arrived yesterday when the staff and teachers of Samyama had a dim sum celebration with owner John Berg at Ming’s. I passed the challenge. The next big test will be in two weeks when I fly home to Pennsylvania for my mother’s 80th birthday. I don’t know how to break it to her that I really don’t want pork chops fried in butter and mock seafood salad in mayonnaise.

I think sometimes you have to choose your battles. Besides, you just can’t argue with an eighty-year-old woman with a cigar in one hand and a slab of raw pig hanging from a fork in the other. Sigh.

Wish me luck.