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West Elm Scribble Curtain – Feather Gray

NYC Vegetarian Food Festival

As soon as I heard about the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, I knew I had to check it out. This year’s festival was a two-day event (March 3rd & 4th) featuring food and drink from green-minded food vendors, restaurants, and health and wellness companies, as well as live talks and cooking demos. The way to someone’s social conscience is often through their stomach, and One Green Planet, a media platform dedicated to championing a “humane, healthy and green lifestyle,” definitely served up plenty of food for thought!

On Saturday morning, I braved long lines and threatening skies outside the Metropolitan Pavilion. Over 75 national and local vendors came to share samples, including big names like VitaMixPeanut Butter & Co., and Honest Tea. There was something for everyone– vegetarians, semi-vegetarians (or flexitarians, if you prefer), vegans, and omnivores were all welcomed and encouraged to learn more about healthy living and sustainable cuisine.

My first stop was the Coconut Bliss table, where Luna and Larry were serving up non-dairy frozen desserts. The founders love coconut milk for its health benefits and source fair-trade and sustainable ingredients.

I’m not typically a huge coconut fan, but the coconut milk gave a rich, creamy texture to the iced treat without an overpowering coconut taste. It was a delicious way to start the festival, and their mint chocolate chip (my favorite ice cream flavor) certainly gives dairy-based frozen desserts some tough competition.

Next I wandered over to Rescue Chocolate, a company whose sweet products are backed up by a serious message: 100% of the net profits from each chocolate sale are donated to animal rescue organizations across the country. Each flavor highlights an aspect of pet overpopulation, like Pick Me! Pepper, which encourages prospective pet adopters to find pets at shelters rather than breeders.

Continuing the chocolate & mint theme, I sampled the Foster-iffic Peppermint, a rich dark chocolate bar with crunchy cacao nibs and a refreshing hit of peppermint.

Of course, vegan food isn’t all about sweets and treats! There were many savory options, and one of my favorites was the Raw Hot Sauce at Bao Food & Drink.

As a mango fiend, I considered it my duty to do a shot of the mango sauce. Tangy and spicy-sweet, I could see it going well as an accompaniment to Indian food, or as a glaze on BBQ’d veggies in the summer.

After fortifying myself with some samples, I was ready to hear what some of the speakers had to say. Given my own dedication to an active lifestyle, I was eager to hear from Matt Frazier, the No-Meat Athlete. One of my favorite takeaways from his talk was that a plant-based diet shouldn’t be held up as healthier than one that does include meat, eggs, and dairy. Going full vegetarian or vegan is challenging, and given constraints of time, money, and location it’s certainly not for everyone. There are also plenty of people who simply enjoy a steak, burger, milkshake, or dish of Eggs Benedict for brunch, and it’s alienating and counter-productive to lecture about healthy choices from a standpoint of absolutism.

Matt also recaps and expands upon at the Festival on his blog. If you’re thinking about cutting down on the meat in your diet (or adding more vegetables), it’s a great resource.

After Matt’s talk, I realized I had neglected an entire aisle. As I wandered past cookbooks displays and heaps of sandwiches, rolls, wraps, and veggie burgers, a table piled high with brightly-colored paper caught my eye. The vendor smiled and handed me a piece of elephant dung paper (no, really!). Human encroachment on elephant habitats in Sri Lanka often results in the deaths of many elephants. Mr. Ellie Pooh encourages villagers to instead make use of the dung (which I would think is a nearly inexhaustible resource) to create paper products and gifts. In addition to preserving the wild elephant population, this encourages economic growth in rural areas and reduces dependence on clear-cutting to make paper.

A little closer to home is Clean Plates, a guide to healthy eating in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and LA. They share restaurant reviews, healthy eating tips, recipes, and more on their site. I’m already a big fan of their recipe makeovers, and plan to make the vegan spiced black-eyed peas this weekend.

I found I had room for dessert after all, so my last stop was Sweet & Sara‘s table for a vegan marshmallow. I avoid marshmallows due to the gelatin, and it’s been tricky to find a satisfying substitute. I’m happy to say that the soft, tender goodies were even more satisfying than the “real” thing. I tried a vanilla marshmallow s’more, and picked up a box of the strawberry marshmallows and some spring-shaped almost-too-cute-to-eat treats for a friend’s birthday:

I find that large food festivals can almost be too overwhelming to navigate. If you got there later in the afternoon, the line to get in was certainly daunting. NYCVFF was definitely well-attended, but samples were plentiful and my fellow seitan worshipers were all on their best behavior. One of my favorite aspects of the festival was the real-time photo blogging. I saw and tasted quite a bit, but there was still no way to seek out every last vendor, speaker, or sample. You can view the photo gallery here. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival!

ETA: read One Green Planet co-founder Nil Zacharias’s take on the market for vegan food over on HuffPost Food, plus some bonus recipes from the NYCVFF!

Crisp for a Blueberry Girl

One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, has written many stories– weird and whimsical, frightening, fantastical, and magical. I especially love the poem he wrote for the birth of Tori Amos’s daughter, Natasha, which was made into a book illustrated by Charles Vess.

Ladies of light and Ladies of darkness and Ladies of never-you-mind,

This is a prayer for a Blueberry girl.

First, may you ladies be kind.

It’s a beautiful poem, full of love and well wishes for a little girl and the woman she will become. It’s also a great gift for an expectant mom– I am not one, but I currently know a few!

When one of my close friends recently had a birthday, I started to think of what I could make for the occasion. Something told me that I should choose a dessert a little different than my usual “death by chocolate” approach. My friend is artistic and expressive, and I thought of the blueberry girl from Gaiman’s poem. And then it hit me like a bolt from the blue: a blueberry crisp.

Crisps, crumbles, slumps, grunts, bucklers, and cobblers (and probably several more that I’ve omitted) are all in the family of baked fruit desserts with some sort of topping. Maybe it’s biscuit dough, or oat-based, or (my favorite) large crumbs of buttery goodness. They’re simple and fairly quick to prepare, and you can use fresh, frozen, or even slightly past-prime fruit. I used a mixture of fresh blueberries and the last of the wild berries I had picked last summer and frozen for just such a day, stirred together with a little Meyer lemon juice and zest. The sweet tartness of the lemon complemented the juicy berries perfectly, and the topping-to-berry ratio was just right for a dessert that was satisfying without feeling too heavy.

Blueberry and Meyer lemon crisp

After the comforting taste, one of the nicest things about a crisp is that you can assemble the fruit directly in the baking dish. Mix the topping separately, cover the berries well, slide the whole thing into the oven, and in about half an hour you’re rewarded with the most mouthwatering aroma. It’ll perfume your home for at least a day after baking.

Fruit filling:

4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Juice and zest of one Meyer lemon

Topping: (Adapted from Nigella Lawson)

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 Tb brown sugar or raw sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted, or the equivalent raw food-quality coconut oil

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Grease a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Rinse the blueberries, if using fresh, and pat dry. Spread the berries evenly over the bottom of the baking dish and combine with the lemon juice and zest.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and sugar. Pour the melted butter or coconut oil over the mixture, then blend with a fork or pastry blender until large clumps form. Bake until the crisp is golden and the berries are bubbling up from under the topping, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly– it’s best served warm!
Listen to Neil Gaiman read Blueberry Girl as you enjoy a piece!

Friday fitness: water matters

Welcome to Friday fitness! Every Friday I’m going to make a “this is why you’re fit” post, touching on an aspect of health and wellness. I plan to cover physical matters such as nutrition and  exercise, as well as mental and emotional topics like building positive habits.

This week, I want to talk about a good habit that will affect your ability to engage in your favorite active pursuits, the inner workings of your body, and even your appearance. There are no tricky moves involved, nothing to buy, and you can do it pretty much everywhere you go. I’m talking about drinking water, of course!

Staying hydrated is just as important as getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. This week, the Huffington Post demystified the “rules” of getting enough liquid in your system.

Just as you can drink too little water, you can over-saturate your system if you start guzzling H2O by the gallon. Everyone knows the 8 x 8 method (aim for 8 8-0z. glasses daily), but as with most health matters, it’s different for every person depending on your age, activity level, and a host of other factors.

The HuffPost article referenced something I’ve used since my days as a counselor at Girl Scout camp: the next time you have to use the restroom, take a quick glance at the color of your urine. During hikes or weekends spent camping in the woods, we’d frequently stop for water/bathroom breaks. As the campers headed off for the woods or latrines, we’d shout, “all clear?” “I’m clear, we’re clear, everybody’s clear!” they’d reply.

You can sound the all-clear for yourself with a look at this handy chart from the Boy Scouts of America, posted by Blisstree.

However, saying “stay hydrated” is one thing. Actually forming the habit is another! In a nation with a clean and plentiful water supply, it shouldn’t be a challenge to remember to sip water throughout the day. But we’re busy. And it can be hard to remember to keep the water flowing if you’re not engaging in physical activity.

One of my co-workers keeps a 32-oz. bottle at her desk, and makes sure she fills and finishes it twice throughout the day. I found that what works for me is having a cute and cheerful water bottle. I smile every time I see it:

Kick the dehydration habit!


It’s a fairly small bottle, holding about as much as a can of soda. That makes it the perfect size for my bag; it also means that I drain it fairly quickly, forcing me to stand up and walk away from my desk for a refill. As sitting all day is another common issue to avoid, having a task that keeps me hopping up frequently breaks two bad habits for the price of one.*

And I have to say, not only does drinking more water gives me a bit more energy, it helps protect my skin from the ravages of winter dryness.

Share with me– what’s your “this is why you’re fit” this week?

*Extra credit because this gets you moving whether the water is coming or going– I may have taken a bathroom break in the course of writing this post. Yes, mom, I washed my hands.

C-CAP benefit

As a home cook and baker, I am always in awe of the stunning presentation and creative ideas that professional chefs bring to the table. The only thing better than beautiful, delicious food is when that food is served and enjoyed for a good cause. And that’s what the Careers through Culinary Arts (C-CAP) annual benefit is all about.

C-CAP is dedicated to helping under-served youth develop careers in the culinary and restaurant industries. The program was started by culinary educator Richard Grausman over 20 years ago, and has raised over $30 million in scholarships for students across the country.

The 2012 benefit honored Michael McCarty of Michael’s NY and Michael’s Santa Monica. Chef McCarty was instrumental in pioneering local, seasonal farm-to-table cuisine in California, and his contributions to the culinary world are impressive and far-reaching.

Bette Midler and Martin von Haselberg were in attendance as honorary chairs of this event. As a personal friend of the honoree, Ms. Midler brought a warm personal touch to her address but wasn’t afraid to take the guests at the Shun Lee table to task for clamoring for Peking Duck during the speeches.

Over 800 guests made the trip to Chelsea Piers to enjoy the signature dishes of 38 of New York’s top chefs. (View the full list over on the C-CAP blog.)

Kerry Alexander, Jessica Scholl, Deborah Grausman, Jamie Davis at the 2012 C-CAP Benefit

Sampling the offerings of nearly 40 chefs is an ambitious task. As I don’t eat meat other than fish, some of the decisions were made for me. However, every omnivore around me had no hesitation about going back for seconds and even thirds of the meatier options.

To name just a few of the dishes I tried:

Asiate‘s quinoa crusted sea scallop, onion marmalade and grapefruit butter sauce; decadent without being heavy

Park Avenue Winter‘s black truffle croquettes, which looked like chocolate doughnut holes but tasted like pure, earthy truffle

Barbuto‘s crudi salad with shaved Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, radishes and pecorino cheese was a light dish with a lot of crunch– great in between a couple of the richer offerings. Chef Jonathan Waxman trained under Michael McCarty at the start of his career.

Extra Virgin‘s tuna tartar cones with avocado mousse and pomegranate was both tasty and portable, making it the perfect cocktail party food.

On the sweeter side, Daniel’s pistachio dacquoise with fresh raspberries and vanilla cream was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

The team from The Modern offered a variety of petit fours, lollipops, and chocolates, but they won me over with their irresistable chocolate-passion fruit macarons. A complete stranger and I glanced at each other and nodded in silent, mouth-full-of-macaron ecstasy.

A couple of dishes went beyond delicious with their commitment to delivering sustainable and ocean/earth-friendly treats.

Oceana had prepared wild Alaskan king salmon a la plancha with Meyer lemon jam and a radish salad. The Ocean Institute notes that wild king salmon from Alaska is ranked by the Marine Stewardship Council as a best environmental choice; the species is relatively abundant, and catching methods cause minimal habitat damage. The salmon was a bright orange hue, and the tangy lemon jam contrasted nicely with the rich fish.

C-CAP alum Mehdi Chellaoui, founder of Dörk Chocolate, was serving an assortment of chocolate truffles– my favorite was infused with cardamom. Dörk Chocolate makes hand-crafted chocolates in small batches, using “native heirloom cacao exclusively from sustainable family owned farms throughout South America.”

The benefit raised over $900,000, the highest in C-CAP history. All proceeds will go to support the program’s many services and training opportunities, from career counseling to culinary school scholarships.

Check out more about the event over on the C-CAP blog, get the Zagat take on the night, or discover 2010 honoree Marcus Samuelsson‘s favorite dishes of the night.

To learn more about C-CAP and make a donation, you can visit their website.

All photos by Kerry Alexander.

Angelina can haz cheezburgr

Angelina can haz cheezburgr

Just when you thought it was safe to stop thinking about body policing, health, and self-esteem, the Academy Awards blew into town. I personally wasn’t invested in which film won what award (except for The Muppets!), but I was bowled over by one overwhelming media reaction:

Angelina Jolie needs to eat a goddamn cheeseburger.

From individuals on Twitter and Facebook to news sites like TMZ, it was like lolcats had brainwashed the entire internet[s].

Yes, Angelina is thin. But unless you yourself are Angelina Jolie (and if you are, thanks for reading!) OR her doctor, get your nose out of her business and step away from the snark. Two of my friends mentioned that they were sick of people using hamburgers as a universal panacea for being thin. I did a little searching (for “Angelina cheeseburger”, amazingly) and found some wonderful support for my own feelings on the matter.

Kelsey Wallace of Bitch Magazine had this to say:

“Look, I get that Angelina Jolie is thin, and that she also burns the brightest of all of our Bright Hollywood Stars and is therefore subject to more scrutiny than your average woman. However, body snarking of the “eat a sammich, skinny” variety is hardly different from body snarking of the “stop eating sammiches, fatty” variety that we (hopefully) know better than to post in our Facebook feeds.”

BlissTree‘s Briana Rognlin weighed in, and called for a cheeseburger embargo:

“Even if we knew more about the state of her health or body image, telling someone who you suspect has an eating disorder to eat more just isn’t body positive, and it’s not helping Jolie or anyone else.”

Even Bill O’Reilly referred to Jolie as “emaciated” on The O’Reilly Factor, which Jezebel‘s Tracie Egan Morrissey calls “concern-trolling.”

“You’re a little late to the game on this one, but we’re sure you’re genuinely worried about whether or not she has an eating disorder, so much so, in fact, that you’d be willing to call out how gross you find her, physically, on TV because we all know how women respond so well to having their bodies scrutinized. I’m sure she’s stepped up her caloric intake all because of last night’s broadcast. Good work, pal!”

My thoughts exactly. As someone who struggled with body image in college and had more than a handful of friends with eating disorders, the worst thing you can do for someone with disordered eating is to judge them and tell them how they should own their health. On top of that– how do you know if Angelina or anyone else has disordered eating, engages in unhealthy behavior, and eschews cheeseburgers? For all you know, she made the limo driver stop at a drive-thru on the way to the Oscars, and Brad had to help her fish a pickle slice out of her decolletage.

You can’t make a snap judgment on someone’s health based on their looks. A friend of mine who self-identifies as “zaftig” runs over 40 miles a week and has textbook-perfect blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels. Another friend, while visually on the tres petite end of the spectrum, has a family history of high cholesterol which wasn’t helped by her cheese addiction.

My point is that everyone feels pressured to conform to a very small range of acceptable– that whole “be skinny, but don’t lose your curves!” message again. This is especially true for someone as visible as a Hollywood star. I’m glad to see backlash for “eat a [calorie dense food]” because the truth is, we don’t really know the truth. I’d rather we concentrated on the industries that create this type of pressure, and work to grow acceptance for bodies of all shapes and sizes.

Judgment in the guise of concern is not the answer. Burgers are not a cure for issues with body image, and disordered eating can’t be solved with a prescription for sandwiches.

Angelina can haz cheezburgr by toughcookienyc on

A woman without curves is like a fish without a bicycle

Man without muscles

This is not the post I had planned for today!  But we’ll put that post on the back burner for now, because I just saw something that made me realize need to cover another aspect of health that’s just as important as eating well and exercising– if not more! One of my favorite resources for banishing fitness boredom is BodyRock. The “home workout movement” features free daily workout videos, and their challenging moves fall under the category of high intensity interval training. Their instructors are encouraging and upbeat, although it feels a little gratuitous to see the female trainers only work out in sports bras and very brief shorts.

I also follow them on Facebook, and today they posted “like this post if you feel the same way!” with a picture of a very zaftig lady wearing lacy pink briefs. The picture was captioned “a woman without curves is like jeans without pockets: you don’t know where to put your hands.”

First of all, this message isn’t about the woman, it’s about the person wanting to put their hands on her. Why is she just an object? Second, I don’t want soft-core images from my workout gurus. I want pictures of people challenging themselves, pushing their limits, and being active, not come-hither. Third, women come in all sizes and shapes. They’re all capable of being happy, healthy, and attractive, although I’m more concerned with accomplishing my personal goals and less concerned with which men want to put their hands on me (actually I’d prefer not to think about that… otherwise I’d never walk down the street).

Men come in all sizes and shapes, too, although I’ve never seen an image that says, “a man without muscles is like jeans without pockets: you don’t know where to put your hands.”

Your sense of self matters more than having six-pack abs. Call it inner health, call it self-esteem, confidence, or whatever makes sense to you. I’d rather be happy and comfortable in my own skin than obsess over every morsel of food that goes into my mouth. I never want to feel that I need to work out to maintain my dress size, rather than just exercising because it makes me feel good. Yes, I admire my arms (frequently), but I don’t beat myself up if I skip a day, or if I can’t lift as much as the woman at the next bench. Each and every athlete is different, and I’m not in competition with them. I’m not even in competition with myself!

The problem with being interested in health and fitness is that you see a ton of health and fitness messages by companies who want your repeat business. Magazines want you to keep subscribing. Stores want you to keep buying. Gyms and trainers want you to keep up your membership. There are some great people out there who really do have their customers’/students’ best interests at heart, but at the end of the day, that magazine/clothing store/gym is a business, and they need you to make a profit. What sells?

Insecurity, that’s what.

There have been many studies done about the number of messages women receive in a day. Ads, articles, commercials, TV, internet, movies, magazines. You’re bombarded with people who are Photoshop-perfect, smiling with white teeth as they effortlessly glide through life. These unattainable, aspirational images are meant to sell you on the product, whether it’s deodorant, pink razors, diet pills, or shapewear.

I try to avoid generalizations, but I think it’s safe to say that most women have something they’d like to change about their bodies. Ads used to blatantly dance along the edge of women’s desire to lose weight. Then, finally, women started fighting back with body-positive messages like “I love my curves” or “kiss my big butt!”

Did companies respect this message? Did the people behind the ads say, “hey, we should stop telling women there’s something wrong with them?”

If you believe that, I’ve got this great bridge for sale…

The message is still there. It just has a new face, or a more subtle hook. Some companies, like Nike actually do a pretty decent job with positive motivation:

A WOMAN IS OFTEN MEASURED by the things she cannot control. She is measured by the way her body curves or doesn’t curve, by where she is flat or straight or round. She is measured by 36-24-26 and inches and ages and numbers, by all the outside things that don’t ever add up to who she is on the inside. And so if a woman is to be measured, let her be measured by the things she can control, by who she is and who she is trying to become. Because every woman know, measurements are only statistics and STATISTICS LIE.”

Great message, right? Although they’re still trying to sell you shoes/pants/sports bras, this is at least a step in the right direction.

What I have a problem with is messages that try to play women against each other, or elevate one body type by bashing another. The biggest weapon in this body battle royale is one simple word: “curves.”

Having curves used to mean that you weren’t as thin as society thinks you should be, and you were okay with that. That you were proud of your womanly figure. That in itself was problematic (you can still have a womanly figure if you’re not terribly curvy, right?) but it was a stand against the “thin is in!” tsunami.

Then curves became a gauntlet in the face to any woman who wasn’t voluptuous enough. “Real women have curves.” I’m pretty sure a real woman… is anyone who identifies as a woman. Curvy, not-so-curvy, two X chromosomes, transgendered… if you feel like a woman, you’re a real woman.

I’m simply not a fan of this body-conscious trend. What does it matter, as long as you’re happy and healthy and comfortable in your own skin? And when did curves become the new C-word? Women get enough messages telling them they’re not ____ enough (fill in the blank with young, sexy, skinny, successful, etc.). We shouldn’t be encouraged to turn on each other and judge who gets to be a woman and who’s left out.