Saturday, July 3, 2010

Health vs. Culture: vegan sausage

I made some fake breakfast sausage links today and I have to say they are really good. Maybe not so good if you are expecting a greasy Bob Evans link but good for just sausage. I put slices on pizza with green chile (a local favorite pizza topping) and enjoyed it immensely. Ate all the leftover bits, too.

I'm not sure what to do when I go visit my Dad this fall, though. I don't think I can get him to understand this vegan/vegetarian thing.

He called a couple days ago with an urgent question. How was my supply of chorizo? Seems he found a local source that carried Spanish, as opposed to Mexican chorizo and wanted to know if I needed some. I said truthfully that my supply was fine. "Dad", I said, "I have several packages of chorizo in the freezer and we aren't eating much meat these days anyway". Well, maybe I soft pedaled it a bit but John is still eating a little meat occasionally so it was true.

The conversation ends with Dad saying he's going to go ahead and send me some anyway and me saying sure, I'll try it out and let him know what I think. Sigh. What a coward.

This would all be OK if I weren't going there for a week. If I try to eat now like he'll want to cook for me, I'll end up the last several days in the bathroom. I need to explain but he'll worry that I'm a) not getting the nutrition I need and b) rejecting my cultural foods. That equates to rejecting my whole culture since food is so intrinsic.

Well, I have a new plan after today's sausage success - vegan chorizo! Surely that's possible. I have a few months to work it out, then I can pack it with dry ice or frozen gel packs, send it ahead and tell Dad I'll do dinner one night. Vegan asopao! I don't have to use shrimp or eat it if I do.

OK, there's one problem potentially solved. Now I have to figure out how to deal with being treated like a twelve year old without getting hostile. 

Update 7/14/10: Well, I picked up vegan chorizo at the grocery store. Looks pretty awful but I'll try it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Baby's got them whey powder blues

More about trying to eat healthy in the land of tamales.

I did not figure I would actually be "vegan" but I thought I would give it a shot under the premise that no matter where I start, I will eventually lose ground. Best to set the bar high. I  have developed a few concerns beyond the risk of B12 deficiency.

Concern #1. I was thinking food and health and "vegan" is a term specifically coined by those who embrace a whole life-style and philosophy. No leather shoes. No honey because it's cruel to the bees. PETA on speed dial, probably ahead of Mom. I would not have the choices and the information that I have were it not for them but it's not for me. I respect their claim to the label so, I will use the word as an adjective for recipes only.
Concern #2. There are animal products in everything! Whey powder, casein, egg white, buttermilk solids, anchovies in the Worcestershire sauce, milk in the wheat buns, cheese in the Boca Burgers. "Natural Flavor" can mean anything from vanilla to chicken fat and the label doesn't have to say if it's not on a certain list of allergens. Even table sugar is sometimes whitened using filters containing bone char. I doubt if much bone remains but if you really want to eliminate animal products, you can't buy anything that might contain refined sugar as it might contain bone char.

So much time is now spent cleaning greens and learning new recipes and new techniques that I'm not so down with making my own vegan Worcestershire sauce. I think I can live with the anchovies. The cost of organic sugar or alternative sweeteners is outrageous, especially when you also use it for wine-making. I need the store-brand 10 pound bags and to hell with how it was filtered.

So here is tonight's dinner: Mini (because that's the only bread I had) baked seitan sandwiches with almond mozzarella "cheese" which would be vegan were it not for the Worcestershire, dolmas made by nimble-fingered Greek women and a small glass of blackberry-honey wine.  The wine was made by me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vegan shopping in the land of Tamales

I have decided to try a more plant-based diet as the burgers just kill me these days. Our ever expanding waistlines are also cause for concern and sweetie has decided that he's lactose intolerant. I've already quit using so much cheese (and I love cheese! I got no problem with cheese!). 

My self-serving theory is that eating healthy most of the time means we need not feel guilty when we don't. So I do a little research on staple foods, download some promising recipes and thus armed, head to the groceries in Socorro. The little market in Magdalena, sweet as it is, is not much of a resource here. I can pick up canned beans, maybe some frozen spinach but they never have fresh cilantro let alone anything more exotic. They sell lard in really large buckets, though. It's an essential ingredient in tamales.

Tamales. Sigh. Pork, corn, red chile and lard. Fabulous! But I gave those up over a year ago and seem to have survived. The Mexican family that sells their home-made tamales in front of Smiths was there yesterday. We used to buy them by the dozen. Those were the days...

But back to tofu and what-not. We have Smith's and we have a John Brooks affiliate. Technically, we also have a Wally world but they rarely had what I wanted before. I didn't even look for vegan foods. So it seems possible to eat this way without regular trips to Albuquerque but only just barely. There are large, gaping holes only some of which can be filled by mail-order.

Smiths has some tofu but no tempeh. John Brooks has some nice tempeh but the soy milk is mostly flavored and only comes in half gallons. We use little milk now. Pints or quarts would be better. Safflower and coconut oils can be had (pricey, though) but not soy margarine. I find margarine to be an abomination (butter flavored plastic) but I was willing to try the soy to make the vegan bechamel sauce with cashews. Maybe I can make the roux with safflower oil instead. Butter may end up staying moderately in the diet, though. Shrimp and honey are staying (no such thing as a vegan mead!).

Thai foods are very scanty.  I found Thai coconut milk at Smiths but none of the other ingredients to make a Thai curry. No curry paste, no lemon grass, no kaffir lime. I really love green curry now so I'm seeing Albuquerque in the future. Wonder how long the lime leaves keep?

Quinoa flour is here but not the whole grain. I did pick up TVP at Smiths but if nutritional yeast is here, I don't know where they put it. I suspect they wouldn't really know where it should go. I should have checked the baking aisle!

I'm mostly looking for asian foods but I did order a cook book of vegan comfort foods (Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Foods by Alicia C. Simpson) that has a lot of vegan versions of non-vegan foods. I'm figuring out now that those kinds of foods tend to be loaded with fat, salt or sugar. They're vegan but not healthy. Well, we all need a little comfort some time and maybe it'll help ease the transition.

I was drawn to Isa Chandra Moskowitz's book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. Beautiful cupcakes, fabulous flavors! Not healthy, per se but such a fun treat. But I looked at some pages on Amazon plus I went to the author's blog and saw some more recipes. Until Socorro gets soy margarine and soy yogurt, it's not happening. Deleted that book from the wishlist.

Meanwhile, an online Asian grocer is sending me red and white miso, a couple different sesame oils, dried shitakes (which I could get but the price was actually better online) and a few other things that are escaping my memory right now. In fact, it just now occurs to me that they may have wakame, another thing I couldn't find here. Shipping was a mere $5 for fedex ground. Lovely!

Food Fight in Oregon is sending me nutritional yeast, some locally-made Thai curry paste, some low-salt organic vegetable bouillon cubes (no vegetable bouillon at Smiths, I didn't check Brooks) and Braggs Liquid Aminos. The Braggs is weird but it seems to be a staple and is a healthier substitute for soy sauce. I'll give it a try.

>Bob's Red Mill will get an order to get the quinoa for sure and they have so many other delightful things. They also are touting new, lower shipping costs. Shipping kept me from ordering very often so I'm really quite excited. I hope I don't over-spend.

Speaking of money, it sure isn't cheap to eat healthy. However, a lot of what I'm buying are staples that will last a while so I think it'll get pretty cost-effective so long as I stay away from the prepared foods - except for Boca portobello burgers. Those are just plain good! They have them at Smiths.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Schools out but not for me

10:30 Friday morning after spring semester is over and summer session hasn't started yet. Not a great deal to do here to earn my pay. I've been reading my favorite forums, updating my profiles, looking up Chuck Brodsky songs on YouTube and now I'm on my blog.

I'd feel guilty but I've also done a couple small financial reports, answered a real phone call, helped a student place a supply order for one of the research projects and - most important of all - I am here, all day, just in case.

Oh! Just remembered there's a retirement party to go to! Why, I'd be totally remiss if I didn't go over there. I should be back just in time for lunch.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Waiting for budbreak

We are more than halfway through April already. In the valley, everything has been green long enough to start losing that vivid spring color and is settling into the deeper summer green. Flowers and people in shorts are everywhere.

A couple thousand feet higher - where I live - it's much, much earlier. The weather gurus will not promise that it won't frost until May 21. I remember thinking that was an error the first time I read it. I also remember planting tiny mail-order perennials about this time a few years ago and it snowed that night.

Today we have rain and actual by-god fog. It's been raining since yesterday afternoon and the ground has gone squishy. I tried to check the leafbud progress in the vineyard but I was sinking into mud. I couldn't get near the blackberries and raspberries but there were no signs of life a day or two ago. Nothing has emerged where the hops rhizomes are planted either.

I fret. I fret a lot. When I planted the berries, I said it was a test to see what would grow here and whether fall planting would work. I said that if they didn't make it through the winter, I would just replant in the spring. I said I needed to know and I said it would be OK. I totally lied.

It is not OK. They must live! I have 12 brown and lifeless twigs planted in beautifully amended soil, carefully mulched and newly connected to the drip system. I've lost track of the money spent but the bigger cost was to this aging body. Digging out boulders with a pick is not something I can do much longer, I must admit. In fact, I don't think I could do it again. Little green leaves - is that so much to ask?

But then I have to remind myself that it's early here. The Russian sage and the New Mexico locust have just popped their first leaves out. The daffodils just started. The grass is still dormant and even the weeds are tiny. I think it's February that is known as the "cruelest month". Here, at 6500 feet, it's April.

Photo is the damp (good!) and dormant (sigh) vineyard, berries are beyond, marked with the blue flags.

Update: A few hours after I wrote this, the rain quit and I got out to pull damp mulch away from the berry canes. One of the Heritage raspberries has a little green shoot from the root! Woo-hoo! Also found what I think is an elderberry shoot under the mulch across the yard. At last.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fun with Kit Wines

The long awaited WinExpert Limited Edition Trio Blanca arrived ("blanca" with an "a" on the end. That sounds wrong to this hispanic girl) and spent 6 days in primary before being racked to the secondary.

Now, I've been been kind of dismissive of the kit wines as in "I've made this! and that! and this other! Oh, and a Malbec but it was a kit." Husband points out that there are plenty of ways to screw up a kit and I shouldn't be so shy of taking pride. He's right.

Case in point: last night, I go to rack the Trio Blanca to the carboy after working all day and then having a glass and a half of wine. My carboy fills up - and there's still more wine. I grab a half gallon jug, fill that up - and there's still more wine. I finish off by filling a quart jar. Then I take the half gallon and the quart and combine them into a gallon jug with too much headspace.

It's not until the next morning that I realize this cannot be. My primary fermenter is marked at 6 gallons. The mark was obtained by filling a 6 gallon Better Bottle carboy with water and pouring it into the primary. If the primary was filled to that mark, I cannot have leftover wine!

What I have done is filled a five gallon Better Bottle. They look an awful lot alike unless you have them side by side. And, I discover this morning, both have a big "6" on the bottom! Seems to be a recycling code. Dang! That 5 gallon carboy is getting a BIG sharpie 5 right on the top!

Fortunately, fermentation is still very vigorous and I probably did no harm by racking them both to the real 6 gallon carboy at 8 o'clock this morning. Bubbling, bubbling away right now.

The other thing I learned is that oak chips are a pain in the patoot. The malbec kit had oak powder. Not the greatest but at least it doesn't get sucked up into the racking cane or clog the sink when you go to dump it out of the primary. Those buggers really swell! The up-coming Luna Rossa kit has 4 packets of french oak chips. FOUR! I'm going to put them in a nylon straining bag and put that into the primary.

Back to potential errors: I have concern that the oak chips were not in the Trio Blanca long enough to impart their full intended flavor. I am using WinExpert guru Tim Vandergrift's extended kit prep schedule which calls for a fairly quick transfer from primary (where I had the oak) to secondary (where there are just a few random floating bits).  That alone could change the character of my wine.

I also have a pound of medium toast American oak chips I bought a while back. I have a plastic tube left over from a broken hydrometer which I intended to make into an oak chip infuser - drill a bunch of holes, string a nylon cord through it, loosely pack with oak chips and suspend in a carboy. I thought my first use of this gizmo would be to oak my traditional mead but I may decide to add extra oak to the Trio Blanca. That, too will change my wine. So, if it's good, I can take credit. If it's not - well, so it goes. All part of the learning process.

The photo is Stella whose attention was first caught by the exciting noises made by the airlock and kept by the fascinating bits of oak swimming up - then back down. Right of the carboy are the Luna Rossa kit (next up when the brew belt heater is free) and the Viognier kit. Behind the Trio Blanca is a gallon of hot red chile wine and 3 gallons of blackberry mead.

The beer bottles are homebrew stout which has disappointing carbonation. They'll get opened, dosed with some additional sugar and re-capped.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Currenty happening in the Nafiat "Winery"

It's snowed more than it oughta and it's been cold. Snowed in today, in fact and I would mind less if I weren't paid by the hour. Spring and gardening seem forever away and I am oh-so-antsy. Fussing with - or I should say obsessing about my various concoctions is the only thing keeping me from going nuts.

So because this is the only thing I want to think about whether or not anyone else cares, here's where things are:


The Skeeter Pee lemon wine has been bottled. 18 were labeled but my labels were smudging. Spraying with claybord fixatif helped but I didn't get them sprayed evenly. Opened a bottle last night as no aging is required. The stuff grows on you. I'm working out a recipe for a kiwi-lime-grapefruit version.


The 3+ gallon batch of blackberry melomel has had the fruit removed and is now in a 3 gallon carboy plus a one gallon jug. The jug was short quite a bit and rather than dilute, or use a half gallon and scramble for some other small container, I added every one of my glass craft marbles. They're more like pellets so they settle tighter than round marbles. There must be 2 and a half inches of them in there. The brix measured at about 11 this morning so the alcohol is already over 10%. Taste wasn't bad - kind of sweet-tart with lots of berry flavor. It might end up better than the first batch I have going because I am now thinking sweeter balances the acid of the blackberries better. But we'll see.


The hot chile wine seems to have stalled at about 8.25 brix. I decided to splash rack it to a 1 gallon jug, removing the chiles and the swollen raisins and leaving behind whatever lees did not easily flow out. My high-tech method involved pouring it from the 4 liter to the gallon through a funnel with a mesh strainer sitting in it. The handle of the strainer had to sit on the above-countertop shelves to keep it all from tipping sideways. Very elegant.

Because of the very swollen raisins, I had to top off with over a cup of water. Good thing I didn't use the pound of raisins the jalapeno recipe called for. There would have been no room for wine!

So I realized I ought to give it a taste now. I was expecting gaggy sweet with a little heat. What I got was barely sweet at all and a LOT of heat. I think the heat was cutting the sweetness and it was actually sweeter than it seemed. If it decides to ferment no further, I'm OK with that. It's pretty good!

More Lemons

The Limoncello has been strained, blended and sweetened and it bulk-mellowing in 2 jugs. I probably have about one and a quarter gallons of it. It came in at about 35% alcohol which seems pretty good. My biggest problem is that it tastes very good right now AND there is no worry about too much headspace in the jugs. That makes it awfully easy to take a little taste. And another. I may have to give away the bottles I plan to very soon just to keep me out of it!


The first batch has been bottle conditioning for about 16 days. I knew it wouldn't be ready yet because that part of the room is staying in the low 60's. I warned John but he wanted to try a bottle anyway. I have to agree it's useful to check so we popped it. There was a slight bit of carbonation, but not much. I've been worried about how much priming sugar we used since I had to do a bunch of conversions from UK gallons. It also tastes a bit thin and I wish I had followed my first inclination to make it to 5 gallons instead of 6. Or at least 5.5. We're getting an American kit next time!

Anyway, the rest of the bottles will keep. We'll maybe try another on the weekend.

Grapes, even

I think we've opened 3 of the Malbec kit so far. It keeps improving, though it'll never be great. It was dang cheap, though and an excellent learning experience. I think I'll mostly be sticking with midrange or better kits in the future.

My first WinExpert Limited Edition kit is in transit. It should arrive Friday just in time for the weekend (if it isn't delayed by this snow - Yikes!). That's the Lake County CA Trio Blanco. I'm very excited!

I finally claimed my "buy one get one free" voucher that I won in WinExpert's Limited Edition contest. Midwest Supplies said they'd take the voucher so long as I mailed it to them so I sent it with an order. I'm getting the highly touted Viognier. I was going to get the Italian Amarone but I decided to go for the Luna Rossa because it was $20 cheaper and would not need as much aging before it was drinkable. I'll still get the Amarone later, though. If I didn't have such a young "cellar", I would have gotten it now.

I'd like to have all three started bam-bam-bam but I want to do Tim Vandergrift's extended plan for kits meaning that carboys will be tied up for a few months for each one. And how many empty 6 gallon carboys do I have? One! Yup. Pretty poor planning on my part.

I have to order at least one as this will not stand, man, but I think I'll also bottle the Prickly Pear wine and free up that one. It's been bulk aging for 5 months. I just don't have the space to leave it for a year. Yet.

The other meads

Blackberry, Joe's Ancient Orange and the chai tead are all still fermenting but starting to clear. Well, the tead is pretty murky but I'm saving that one for next solstice anyway. I can wait. I am pondering oaking the 3 gallon batch of mesquite/wildflower mead. I have chips. Not the best, I understand but it'll do if I'm cautious. I think I can make an infuser out of the plastic tube from a hydrometer. I can pull it out when it tastes right without racking - being that I just used my last 3 gallon carboy for the blackberry melomel. Geez. More carboy woes.

And I have yet to figure out what I'm going to do with all the full bottles. I'd like a nice rack. I'd even build one if I could figure out where to put it but my best space is full of gardening and home-improvement stuff so where do I put that? Oh, such problems to have!