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.

diaclaimers & such: being honest about blogger perks

I received a press release for lemons. Lemons. Maybe you’ve heard of them, but they’re fruits and they’re good for…oh, come on, they’re friggin’ lemons.

You may not know this, but bloggers are sent loads of press releases, marketing packets, and free products. Because of you, the reader. Many bloggers support themselves in part via advertising on their blogs. Sometimes it’s super obvious, like when pop-up ads block whatever you’re reading until you interact with them. But quite often, a blogger will feature or review a product that they’ve received free. They’re supposed to tell you when that happens, but they rarely do.

Another way companies get exposure is by hiring bloggers as brand ambassadors or bringing them on as recipe developers. I’ve gotten a couple of these offers, but since I’m not strictly a food blogger, I think it would be weird if I started featuring recipes based on these products. (Some of these “recipes” are pretty funny—don’t know if you’ve noticed them—but the product is sometimes used as a topping or thrown in a cookie or it serves as a layer in a parfait. Snore.)

Perhaps it’s because I spent a few years as an in-house magazine staffer and my interaction with other bloggers (in my experience with Vida Vegan I’ve seen a full spectrum of blogger behavior) that I have such a low tolerance for sneaky paid ink. I don’t care for the dishonesty, and I think it’s pretty transparent. I’ve seen feigned excitement in print that I know for damn sure wasn’t felt by the writer. Hey, ever notice a bunch of bloggers writing about the same thing at the same time? It’s not a coincidence. It was a busy mail day.

When you’ve seen posts here featuring products, I bought them and either liked them or thought they were crap. The times I was treated to free food, I’ve told you well up front and was honest about the highs and the lows. If I ZOMG-love everything and am always so excited about <insert new thing here>, why should you believe me? Oddly, PR groups don’t seem to care about that. They just want the ink. And who can blame them? It’s the cheapest, most natural-looking exposure out there. And for a small, independent company, blog features just might be the best use of a limited marketing budget.

You know, this post has sat unfinished in my draft folder for a while, because one thing has really given me pause about hitting “publish”: Most vegan bloggers are, I believe, truly passionate about what they’re presenting to you, and it does take a bit of time and money to produce a blog. We buy domains and hosting and try to have a decent camera, and we need stuff to photograph and try out so we can tell you all about it. So some of us welcome, even depend on, being compensated in some way for these costs.

This is not to blame those bloggers selling ad space or for saying “yes” when they’re offered free stuff. I just want everyone to be honest about what they’re doing, because there’s a shift in vegan (or “plant based”) business happening right now, as marketing folk realize vegans are starting to make up a nice little consumer category. Suddenly there’s a bunch of money to go around to target you, the reader, and not everyone’s getting an A+ in Ethics. So I want you to keep your eyes open, to know when you’re being sold to.

By the way, I really do like lemons. Always have.

meditator’s delight: gettin’ by in kathmandu

meditators_delightI have to share my boy Tom’s recent adventure with you. See, he just got back from five weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he lived and studied at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

He credits this little sandwich, which he named “Meditator’s Delight,” with his well-being. (This and his UV water-purification pen.) The sandwich is—brace yourself—peanut butter, garlic chutney, and chili sauce on rice cakes. Sounds kinda Thai, right? Almost? He swears it’s surprisingly tasty…but I’m gonna have to just trust him on this one.

kathmandu_groceriesWhile he spent pretty much every waking and sleeping moment within the monastery grounds, he was able to walk down to the market for supplies. The catered lunches were largely Northern Indian food, with vegan options, but there was nothing for him at breakfast (again, not all Buddhists are vegan).

He’d packed a couple dozen Clif bars and Tofurky Jurky, and he picked up some vegan sausages and other treats on his previous stop in London (some jobs are just THE WORST), but he needed to supplement. Especially that immune-system wunderkind, garlic.

tight quartersSpeaking of THE WORST jobs, this space served as the classroom for the month. Every surface, nook, and cranny was just so elaborately crafted and decorated.

The downside of this setup? Look at how close those cushions are. A few hundred folks from all over the world spent their days in this space, bringing their new and exciting microbes to share with one another. Tom said not 30 seconds could go by without a sniffle or cough or some other such phlegmy noise; he called it the upper respiratory orchestra. If I were faced with this many cold-havers, I’d order me up a Meditator’s Delight too.

I can’t share all his stories with you—he has so many amazing tales that all I can say after each one is “Thanks for coming home!”—but here are some super fun photos of Nepalese animals:

monkey thiefIn the city, these monkeys were everywhere, and you had to be careful to avoid eye contact because they’d attack. Check out that little guy in the center of the photo, stealing the Buddha’s offering. What a noodge!

goatAnd this is the best goat ever. The monastery has loads of rescue goats (and cats and dogs and such) who roam the grounds. Tom, of course, made friends with them all. At the end of the course, he went to a big picnic where one of the performances was a play featuring a bunch of super young monks (like 5 years old!) dressed up as a brahman, a farmer, and a goat to teach people compassion and why it’s wrong to kill animals. And yes, it was apparently as adorable as it sounds, complete with kids forgetting lines and goofing off.

I seriously need to find some buried treasure so I can go on these trips with him. This year’s obligations include—ugh—Australia.