potato + pizza = the jam

potato pizza lead

It’s been a long time since I lived in New York, but if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still transport myself to my favorite spots, still hear my favorite sounds (guy on the stoop rockin’ on the accordion, I’m talkin’ at you), and taste my favorite foods.

Two New York foods I keep at the ready for my daydreameatings are chocolate ice and potato pizza. I had not eaten either of these since moving to the West Coast, and I miss them terribly. I’ve got a recipe for chocolate granita somewhere that I keep meaning to try, but I just know I won’t get it right. And I’d have to find those little paper cups to serve it in…anyway, too much of a hassle for what would likely be a huge disappointment.

So that leaves potato pizza. This was the treat I would get after my lunchtime optometrist appointments. I worked downtown and my optometrist was in Chinatown, upstairs from a furniture shop. (It didn’t have its own door—you had to walk through the furniture shop and find the secret staircase up to the office!) Anyhoo, after the appointment I would walk back up Broadway and stop in Dean & Deluca to grab an Orangina and a piece of potato pizza. Ritual.

I don’t even know what bakery they got it from, but I can only assume it’s super famous in some circles and it wins tons of fancy awards, because this onion-potato-rosemary-olive-oily flatbread is indeed the jam. Served as a room-temp, palm-size rectangle of starch and oil and herb, it really is a treat.

Oh, and it turns out, super easy to make. Let’s.

What you need:

dough for one thin pizza (half of your favorite 3 cups flour, 1 cup water…recipe), room temperature
one yellow/sweet onion, for somewhere reaching 1 cup, sliced thin and cut in half
one giant russet potato (or a pair of medium potatoes), peeled and sliced suuuuper thin
as much fresh rosemary as you can handle, just the leaves, no stems
olive oil, salt, and pepper

What you do with it:

Get your oven preheating to 475°F.

I’m not kidding here about the suuuuper thin potatoes. Like potato-chip thin. You want to see light through them. I have a mandoline slicer that sits in a drawer 364 days a year. This is where it earns its keep. If your potatoes are not thin enough, they will not cook through and you’ll end up with potatoes on bread. So slice those potatoes, and if you’re afraid they’ll go brown while you’re working and stick them in cold water, make sure you dry them out on a tea towel before go-time. Slice the onions as thin as possible as well, while you’ve got that mandoline out.

Toss the potatoes and onions in just a touch of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Throw in some of your rosemary leaves, but make sure to set some aside—as you lay out the potatoes you’re going to want plenty of rosemary on top, for the pretty.

Room-temp dough is key, especially when you want a thin crust. If you’re pulling your dough from the fridge or freezer, give it ample time to come to temp or it’ll fight you as you try to stretch it and you’ll end up with a thicker, denser crust—not what we’re looking for here. Coat a 9×13-inch baking pan with olive oil and push the dough all the way to the edges and corners. Give it time and patience so you’ve got an even, thin layer. If it’s not going to the edges or is otherwise being fussy, walk away and let it rest a few minutes, then try again. Brush the top with olive oil and bake for about 5 minutes and pull it out to top it.

On your par-baked crust, lay out your potatoes, scallop style. The sliced onion will come along for the ride. You’re going to want two full layers but not much more or it won’t cook through (see earlier “potatoes on bread” note). Wound up with extra potato and onion? Wrap it in clingyfilm and cook it up with breakfast!

After topping with remaining rosemary, pop it back in the oven (top-rack this bad boy) for 10-ish minutes. The crust will be crispy and brown and the potatoes on top will start to curl up and brown. If your crust bottom is brown but your potatoes up top don’t look done, try the broiler for a little bit. Then get it on to a cooling rack until you can handle it enough to cut into rectangles.

Then let it cool some more. Yes, it’s going to smell so good that you’re going to want to dig in. And who’s looking? Go ahead and try a little piece! But as it comes to room temperature, the flavors come together, the starches bind and set, and then it’s really ready enough to make you not freak out about new glasses costing you four freaking hundred dollars.

Seriously, this is great for next-day lunches, picnics, camping/hiking, marathoning Game of Thrones—anytime you can’t be bothered with refrigeration or reheating. And while it may not make you think of New York, it’s still pretty damn good.

potato pizza end

vida vegan con news!

Vida Vegan Con III Date Change landscapeAs you may know, I’m one of the trio behind Vida Vegan, home of Vida Vegan Con, the vegan media and lifestyle conference. We started out as purely a blogger conference but have widened our scope a bit to include video, audio, presenting/speaking, publishing, and some general philosophy/sociology/lifestyle aspects of veganism. We figure if folks are better at writing and talking about a cruelty-free life, that’s going to help those around us see that this vegan thing ain’t so weird or tough. Good for the animals. Good for the earth. Good for our health. Boom.

So with that out of the way, two giant bits o’ news:

VVC III

After a gut-punching monkey wrench of a scheduling error, we have finally been able to announce our new date for Vida Vegan Con III, in (one of my favorite vegan-friendly cities) Austin, Texas: May 29-31, 2015. Mark those calendars, ’cause it’s on. Regular registration doesn’t open until August 1, but as part of announcement #2 (don’t skip ahead!), limited Early Bird registration and inclusive packages will be available tomorrow, Friday, June 13, at 8:00 a.m. PST. These are $60 off regular price, so cha-ching! (It’s below cost for us, but it’s fun and we’ll just work super hard to get loads of great sponsors to make it up.) For more information on this and speaker applications, visit our site.

Vida Vegan Membership Drive

One of the coolest things about Vida Vegan Con is that the attendees and speakers are really on equal footing and are able to turn to one another for advice, skill sharing, and general friendstuffs. We hang out when we travel, we consult one another when we’re buying a new camera—you get the idea. We have a private Facebook group for past VVC’ers and it’s great except if you’re not on Facebook. So the grand plan is to expand our website to include member pages and a forum. That costs cash. Like a ridiculous amount of cash.

So we’re baby-steppin’ it. Our members will be part of our inner-circle-type group, which we’ll turn to for input as we move forward with Vida Vegan developments. Members also have a chance to opt in to be connected with vegan-friendly brands for potential samples, reviews, and such—and of course they’ll receive VVHQ discounts and other opportunities.

To kick things off, from June 13 through July 31, we’re holding a Membership Drive, with crowdfunding-style perks: from shout-outs to a personalized postcard or Instagram photobomb from VVC III (if you can’t join us), all the way up to a trip to Portland and brunch with me and my VVHQ co-founders, Janessa and Jess. You know you want to brunch with us. Janessa will have a bag of nooch in her purse, Jess will ask you lots of questions, and I will make funny faces and show you how to order the best breakfast of sides.

So I’m off to do what I can to ensure a smooth launch. Wish me luck, and I hope to see you in Austin!

worldwide vegan bake sale 2014: pdx edition

portland bake sale michele truty

Spring: cherry blossoms, kittens being crazy-pants way too early in the morning, and taxes…oh, and planning for The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale!

Since 2009, groups all over the globe have come together during this very special week to raise funds for nonprofits by hawking donated vegan treats. Bonus, we show the world how great vegan treats can be. This year, that week falls April 26-May 4. Find out if there’s a sale in your area, or start scheming with your vegan community to start a new annual tradition. (The WVBS site has lots of advice for groups wanting to get started.)

The Portland crew/gaggle/super squad is back, and we’re aiming high. For the past couple of years, we’ve pulled in around $2,400 each time, for a nice little handful of nonprofits, but we always sell out early! We know we can do better. Come on, Vegan Mecca, get to baking!

Our sale is Sunday, May 4, 10-3, at Mississippi Marketplace, which is kind enough to host us for the third year in a row. (Pick up your treats then grab some lunch at Homegrown Smoker or Native Bowl!) All funds raised at our sale will go to Chimp Sanctuary NW (to help the chimps) and Russia Freedom Fund (to help the LGBTQ folk in Russia).

We set up this schmancy website here for more information. If you already know the deal, you can sign up to donate here. And here’s the Facebook event, should you want to sync up your calendar or invite your friends. (Psssst, invite your friends!)

We need lots of bakers (sweets, savories, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, palm-free, raw—we need it all—and don’t forget to bring an ingredient list!) and lots of buyers. We’ll have some take-home containers, but be a champ and save the earth a little by bringing your own reusable one.

So mark your calendars, hope for sun, spread the word, and let’s bake the world a better place.

vegan v. plant-based: fight!

vegansocietyIf you’re not as obsessed with vegan products and marketing trends as I am, you may not have noticed the uptick in the use of “plant-based” by companies to market their products. You might assume “plant-based” is less scary than “vegan” to the mainstream, so this new moniker simply reads as healthier and more natural, so  normal, not-crazy-vegan folk will buy it.

We, the public, would also assume these products are vegan, as we’ve been using both terms for a while, and this assumption would be safe, by 2010 standards. Hey, it might be good enough for many of us now. But here’s the whole flipside to this “plant-based” trend: A plant-based product might not necessarily be cruelty-free, as we are becoming increasingly aware (by the power of the Internet and lightning-fast social media). Companies are beginning to understand that calling something “vegan” really needs to be animal-cruelty-free, and they are protecting themselves, getting in front of the backlash they might receive, should loud or numerous voices point out that maybe “vegan” does not apply to their products.

A danger of reliance on the “plant-based” label is that the floodgates are open. Bone-char-treated sugar might no longer be a concern, nor would any other plant-derived ingredient that underwent animal-related processing, such as albumin in wine. If the final substance is free from animal ingredients, then no rules are being broken—“plant-based” it is, and we’re none the wiser. Hell, by definition, a plant-based product could have been developed using animal testing.

Then there’s palm oil. It’s still a hot issue because of the way it’s being farmed. While some palm oil is grown sustainably, it’s a pretty small percentage, and deforestation has increased massively to meet our demand for this crop, displacing so many animals—most notably, the orangutan. Many products we have come to rely on as vegans (including alternatives to dairy products) now have this sinister aspect to them.

Ugh! It was supposed to get easier to go vegan!

So we have a choice: to try harder to find new alternatives or keep using these products when we feel we must to get through the day, perhaps feeling guilty while we do it. Either way, we can appeal to these companies—threatening boycott or not—and ask them to please discontinue their use of these tainted ingredients.

At the end of the day, we do need to be able to A) live in this imperfect world and B) live with our imperfect selves. We have to do the best we can to survive and feel good about how we’re doing it. We accept the evils we buy into, such as petroleum, plastic packaging, and pharmaceuticals. We try to lessen our entitled human footprint by avoiding paper products made from virgin trees, recycling and upcycling, and buying quality, local, sweatshop-free goods.

True, not everyone can read every label then write to the companies to find out whether that lactic acid is derived from plants or animals. Not everyone is aware of the less-than-perfect aspects of products they buy, whether it’s exploitation of animals, the environment, or workers’ rights. How much can we rely on that super-unofficial “suitable for vegans” on the label—or even the Vegetarian Society’s little flower icon—do these designations mean a product is perfect?

I trust this isn’t reading as hopelessness. We can still make better choices and fight our fights. I think it’s important to find out as much as you can about what you buy or put into your body, and it’s important to make companies profiting off these products aware of the fact that you care and that you are willing to walk away from something that might taste really, really good if they don’t produce it ethically. I mean, y’all walked away from cheese, and you friggin’ lovvvved cheese, right?

childhood favorites: fakey chicken pillows

beyond meat vegan phyllo pillows

Let’s get this out of the way right away: My feelings about Beyond Meat are complicated. CONS: It’s creepily meatlike, it contains soy protein isolates (more on that here, although note that Beyond Meat specifies its soy is non-GMO), and it’s a processed convenience food that comes in WAY too much packaging. PROS: It’s super quick and easy, it packs some protein, and it has a mild flavor that makes it quite versatile and an easy sell to omnis.

Over the holidays, there was a coupon floating ’round the Internet for a free package. So I printed it 4-up and went on a Beyond Meat tour of Portland, stocking my freezer with free food. Because I’m broke and I love grocery stores. I used it in tacos, pastas, stir-fry, and peanut noodles. And I managed to recreate an old favorite from my omni days, which is always a beautiful thing.

Back in high school, my friend’s mom served “chicken pillows” at a party and it was love at first bite. I was already red-meat-free and was struggling getting chicken down my gullet (remember, it was the ’80s in Chicago, so true vegetarianism was just crazy talk). But these were little bits of chicken and loads of garlic wrapped in phyllo for a crispy, sort of fancy little snack.

I’ve since attempted this with tofu, marinated tempeh, soy curls, seitan, a couple of other chicken substitutes—nothing was right. There was too much liquid or the flavor or texture was off. So damn frustrating. But this is it, we have a winner, and it’s space-age fakey chicken strips.

The marinade/filling is simple. Just make your favorite garlic-heavy pesto, but keep it pretty dry. Mine went something like this:

  • 1 bunch parsley (leaves only, completely dried off—the stems contain a lot of water)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, raw
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • nooch, salt & black pepper to taste

I just whizzed this up with my stick blender and added it to chopped-up Beyond Meat (I used the Lightly Seasoned flavor, but whatever you got is OK, I’m sure). After letting it sit for a bit, I laid a bit of the filling into phyllo, rolling it up like little burritos or spring rolls. If you’ve never worked with phyllo before, don’t fret, sweet thing. Check out YouTube for a gazillion demystifying videos.

My technique for these:

  • Spray one phyllo sheet with olive oil (or brush with olive oil or melted Earth Balance…heated long enough to boil off a bunch of the water).
  • Fold in half, the squat way—you don’t want a long, skinny piece—and spray again. Cut a line down the center, to make two pillows from each sheet.
  • Place filling along an edge, leaving space on the sides to fold over and roll carefully, folding sides over at the end.
  • Spray with yet more oil! Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 425° for 10 minutes or until yummy-brown.

Oh, and bonus! Leftovers, while super soggy and sad when pulled out of the fridge, crisp up nicely in a toaster oven. Childhood favorites for the win!

Extra bonus! Don’t know what to do with the extra phyllo sheets? Roll ‘em up with some sweetened-up apples or chocolate chips or leftover mashed potatoes. Aside from water content, this stuff is pretty forgiving.