Well, 2015 happened. And I didn’t blog very much. So I’m sharing my top nine posts from Instagram as a sort of recap in hopes that I’ll get inspired to pick up the blog again in 2016.
Top row, left:
My lady and I took an epic winter holiday trip (flew from DC to Charlotte, drove to South Carolina, drove to northern Florida and back, and then flew again from Charlotte to DC) involving lots of family time, kid time and time spent in the car. It was fun, but by the time we made it back to Sout Carolina on the 27th, we were ready for a little downtime. Enter Good Life Cafe in Columbia. This place is all vegan (sweet!), gluten-free (score!) and raw (oh, okay). No judgement of people who do the raw food thing, it’s just a little tough on the ibs belly. Also, Good Life was having a pretty rough night of it. We arrived about 6:30 pm and learned they’d had a rush earlier in the day and were out of quite a few menu items. And everything was served cold – like refrigerator cold – which muted a lot of the flavors so the food seemed really salty. Without anything carb-y on the menu, my stomach suffered a LOT from this meal.
Top row, middle:
We stand with Planned Parenthood around here. My partner and I both work in reproductive health/abortion rights and it’s been a shitty year. But our cute selfie was famous for a couple days. Fun!
Top row, right:
I went to Vegas. I already posted about this, but the gist is, i couldn’t find anything to eat, but I found a vegan boozy milkshake. I still don’t like Vegas, but I liked this milkshake.
Middle row, left:
I started a new job! And attended a fancy gala for the Texas Freedom Network in November. I LOVED this gala, because their vegetarian entree was vegan and gluten free. And delicious. But seriously, I spend a lot of work events hungry and/or slightly tipsy, because I had a glass of wine and couldn’t eat anything. It was really nice to be able to eat and drink like a normal person.
Middle row, middle:
Vegan. Tomato. Pie. With a gluten free crust! My lady continues to recreate awesome recipes for me to eat. This was a mix of red and green tomatoes and it was weird and also really good.
Middle row, right:
Do you have Isa Does It? Because this cookbook changed our life. So many awesome, easy recipes that we both love. This is her malai kofta recipe, and even though it wasn’t the prettiest dish, it was one of the most delicious things we cooked all year.
Bottom row, left:
We moved! (Seriously. Lots of things changed in the 2nd half of the year.) And we love out new place. So we got a ridiculously huge holiday tree to celebrate. And then we got in trouble for bringing it in through the lobby instead of the basement. Sigh.
Bottom row, middle:
This was the year of weddings – I was invited to six and made it to five. This one was the day before my birthday in Lyons, Colorado. Amanda and Hayes are cutting their wedding ice cream sandwich. Also, my amazing friends made sure I could eat at all of their weddings. Yay love! and yay eggplant!
Bottom row, right:
New job required me to spend two weeks in Texas for orientation and training. I had a great time, ate some awesome food, and learned not to start a meal with chips and salsa (ouch). My coworkers and I found Licha’s Cantina by accident, and this was my best meal in Austin. This is a black bean-filled blue corn masa cake topped with avocado and some other veggies. Also, Licha’s was so cute, the margaritas were delicious and the service was awesome. Love.
I’m taking this week off work, since we just wrapped our organization’s annual conference (which deserves a post of its own) and Sarah is out of town, so I’m phoning it in a bit on the food front for a couple days. While we eat pretty well when we’re cooking together, I revert to bachelor mode pretty quickly when she travels, so there’s a lot of cold cereal and toast/corn tortillas with butter happening these days. I’m also replenishing my introvert batteries – after being ON for eight straight days (on-boarding and training new staff, managing the final days of conference planning and then managing the conference itself – and training workshops) this introvert is more than happy to watch some bad tv and read on my porch for a couple days.
All of the above is context for the story that I want to share. I was microwaving a baked potato for dinner last night and remembered the first time I baked a potato on my own. I was probably 10 or 12 years old, definitely old enough to use the microwave by myself, and I asked my mom how long it would take to bake a potato. When she responded “45 minutes,” I set the microwave and wandered off, probably to read somewhere. I had no idea that there was a significant difference in the time it took to bake a potato in the oven versus the microwave, until my mom got home about 30 minutes into my cooking time and rescued the sad, desiccated Russet. Our microwave smelled like burnt up potato for months afterward.
After I went vegetarian at 12, my mom spent a couple years managing my diet for me – she was really worried I wouldn’t get enough protein, and I would have subsisted happily on potatoes and bread without her intervention. When I turned fourteen, she declared I was old enough to cook for myself and she wasn’t going to make two separate entrees at dinner any longer. I didn’t learn to cook a lot of things, or how to cook them well, but I had her permission to experiment in the kitchen and that was pretty rad. I also learned the difference between a colander (used for draining or rinsing food and often made of plastic) and a steamer basket (holds food above a small amount of hot water, made of metal) when I tried to cook artichokes for the first time and ruined a colander, a small stock pot and three artichokes.
My mom also bought me my first vegan cookbooks and laughed until she cried when my first vegan cookies came out so round and hard that they rolled off the baking pan when I tilted it slightly while taking them out of the oven.
I guess I’ve been thinking about these things since last night because it really has been a while since I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and I miss it. It’s easy to default to frozen pizza and enchiladas, but I know I’ll be happier and feel better if I take the time to cook for myself, even when I’m only cooking for myself. (But if you’re in need of frozen food recommendations, Daiya’s frozen pizzas are the best allergy-friendly ones I’ve found, and Amy’s Mexican food meals are excellent. Just sayin’.)
Hey! Do you know what is a great way to procrastinate when you’re supposed to be packing/cleaning? Blogging. So great! Also, DC, like much of the Eastern US, is a frozen hellscape and I never want to go outside again.
Flashback to last week when I attended the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s conference in Las Vegas and it was gorgeous and sunny and perfect outside. Of course, conference means I was inside during the days, but I managed to sneak outside for a few minutes each day and feel the sun.
So the weather was amazing, but the food part of the week was hard. I don’t remember whether the conference registration asked about dietary needs, but there was definitely no consideration given to vegans or other restrictions either at the hotel where we stayed or by the conference organizers. I’m hoping this posts comes off as more like, “here’s how I solved by problems” than really cranky, but I’m still really irritated, so that might show a bit.
Anyway. My standard conference survival kit is honed down to: a pack of Udi’s gf burger buns (softer and less dense than their bagels), Chex brand gf oatmeal packets and 2 boxes of granola bars (one high-protein and one more of a snack bar), plus fiber supplements and a daily probiotic. Usually I don’t need all of the food I bring, but it helps to know I’ve got an emergency stash in case things get weird. My travel to Vegas was okay; it’s always tricky to time meals and fiber supplement with flights and layovers, but it worked out and I found a Qdoba in the Dallas airport that had shockingly fresh-tasting vegetables for the middle of winter. Normally, I don’t get excited about Qdoba, but traveling with dietary restrictions has given me a massive appreciation for chain restaurants. I feel much safer eating somewhere that I can google beforehand.
The conference started mid-day the day after I arrived and I spent the morning working in my hotel room, assuming I would just head down around noon, grab something to eat and pick up my name badge. Except that the hotel had literally nothing I could eat at either the restaurant, cafe or mini market; I didn’t leave enough time to go exploring a nearby casino for a buffet or foodcourt; and the nearest Chipotle was 1.8 miles away. <cue sad trombone>
I ended up buying a “protein box” and a bag of potato chips from the hotel Starbucks. The box was about $5 and included a hard-boiled egg, a multigrain roll, a packet of peanut butter, some cheese, half an apple and some grapes. I ditched the roll and cheese, supplemented with my own bread and a granola bar and managed a pretty filling lunch. (I do make occasional exceptions to veganism to eat eggs if there aren’t other protein options available. 18 year old me is making a super judgy face right now.) Anyway, I only learned of the existence of these boxes at Starbucks in December but it’s a pretty rad thing to know about when you’re in an unfamiliar place and trying to feed yourself. Starbucks is literally everywhere except the moon these days.
After conferencing all afternoon, we were invited to a “poolside happy hour” with a hosted bar (that means free!) and heavy appetizers. And they really went all in on the appetizers. They had a table full of sushi, a mashed potato bar, a kebab station, some sort of animal chops…and nothing vegan. I actually asked one of the hotel staff, in case there was like, a secret vegan table I hadn’t found yet, but no, they just didn’t order anything. He kindly pointed me in the direction of some vegetable kebabs which had been hiding under a warming dish and said sympathetically that it was very unusual for a large event like this one not to have anything vegan at all. But as Eric Gordon in Billy Madisonsays “Well, sorry doesn’t put the Triscuit crackers in my stomach, now does it, Carl?”
So first of all, my stomach behaves waaaaaay better when I start a meal with a carbohydrate of some kind. A glass of red wine followed by grilled veggies is basically taunting my IBS. Secondly, I always feel really awkward when there’s only one thing I can eat at a social event, because my instinct is to take more of that thing, since everyone else has more options…and then I worry that other people are looking at me like, why does she think she gets all the veggie kebabs? Save some for the rest of us, jeez. So there’s no way I’m getting a full meal out of this event. And now I’m hangry and surrounded by strangers that I’m supposed to be mingling with when all I want to do is stab them with my little kebab swords.
Since the event was a bust, I left with some friends to check out the Cosmopolitan casino near out hotel and look for vegan food. Of course, since we were in Vegas, the first thing we did was locate the Chandelier bar at the center of the Casino. The photo does not do this thing justice. It’s a three-level chandelier that you hang out inside, surrounded by strings of crystals and lounging on plush sofas and drinking fancy cocktails. They don’t serve food (of course) but I had a drink with butternut squash puree and bruleed marshmallow foam, which is like a snack, right? After drinks we went to a place called Holsteins, where the only thing I could eat was fries, but at least I could eat them. We got two orders for four people, and I’m pretty sure I polished off an entire order by myself. Sorry guys. Holsteins had really good fried pickles, and they also had this:
a vegan raspberry coconut milkshake. With coconut whipped cream and a toasted vegan marshmallow. And vodka. I didn’t really want another drink, but boozy milkshakes are a thing that I have never experienced, since I never saw one till after I’d given up on dairy. This is when I started to forgive Vegas for being awful. Or maybe that was just the vodka.
In any case, the following day of the conference was equally frustrating. The lunch they served was beef, salmon, and mozzarella cheese sliders. When I asked about a vegan option, I was told they could “whip something up for me,” so I asked that it also be gluten free and they brought out a plate of spaghetti, took it back and brought (eventually) some gluten-free noodles and sauce. This is the part where I should mention again that the hotel staff was awesome and I really appreciated their responsiveness. It just sucks to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend a conference, plus the cost of a cross-country flight and three nights in a hotel, and give up three days of work and then not be served food that won’t make me sick.
This is why I’m a little, um, intense when it comes to hosting trainings and conferences for my job. I have asked hotels to change catering menus, to add vegan proteins or gluten free bread products…we even had a chef in Atlanta go out and buy some tofu because the event manager failed to communicate our menu requests in time for him to add it to the weekly order. But here’s the thing – no hotel has ever refused to meet our needs. Some are better than others at the execution, but as a conference organizer, it’s on me to do whatever I need to do to make sure no one goes hungry, and it’s not that hard. And now I have to go back to cleaning.
So can we talk about Beyond Meat? How do we feel about it? Why is there Beyond Meat? Who is it for?
I’ve always had mixed reactions to imitation meat products…it took me a while to come around on Boca burgers, Tofurkey and soy hot dogs. I think it’s because I don’t usually miss meat. I gave it up so long ago that I don’t really think of it as food anymore. And I’ve figured out how to cook tofu and tempeh pretty well.
Since my lady is now soy-free, my tofu skills aren’t as useful and we’re always on the lookout for protein (other than beans) that we can both eat. We’ve had some good meals based around Beyond Meat beef crumbles – they can be a little dry if they’re just sauteed, but added to a dish like SG’s vegan shepherd’s pie or this awesome tater tot casserole that I made for our Winter Solstice potluck, they’re pretty good.
I suspect that the target audience for Beyond Meat might be people who are struggling to give up meat or really missing it? I tried their chicken strips back in December – following the basic saute cooking directions – and my (omnivorous) lady thought they were pretty good. If they didn’t contain soy, she would eat them by choice. I wasn’t impressed by the texture. The strips were just…really…chewy. Kind of stringy? They’re pretty easy to cook, and the flavor isn’t bad, but I just didn’t get it.
So I happened to mention this feeling on Twitter a couple days later, and got a really sweet response from them. The problem is, I don’t know how they could improve. It’s not you, Beyond Meat, it’s me.
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned to SG that I was craving chicken fingers (weird, right?) and she showed up at my house with Beyond Meat chicken strips that she coated in gluten-free breadcrumbs and fried and served with chipotle mayonnaise. Yum. The texture of the breadcrumbs made the chicken strips more tolerable and the meal definitely hit the spot. So we had some leftover strips from that meal in the freezer and I decided to try something a little different last night.
I started with sauteing six strips with some chopped garlic just until they defrosted and then added 1 cup of vegetable broth. I let them simmer until the liquid was absorbed/had boiled off and then let them cook a little longer to try to crisp them up.
I actually enjoyed the strips more once they absorbed some liquid – they weren’t as chewy or stringy. SG said the texture was more tofu-like, which probably means she didn’t like them as much. I served them with roasted broccoli and quinoa; I definitely need something to offset the texture of these strips. SG recommended cooking them in a cast iron skillet next time to get a crisper texture after the liquid cooks off. So…anyone have favorite Beyond Meat products or preparation techniques?
Seriously, February, you are the worst. I don’t know why you think you need to pack all of the stress into 28 measly little days, but I’m already over you and it’s only the 16th.
So far in February I have traveled to Boston, Denver and Las Vegas, broke my washing machine, defeated a death cold and helped SG move into my our apartment on the coldest weekend so far this winter. I am spent. It’s currently snowing in DC and I have everything crossed hoping for a snow day tomorrow so we can continue unpacking and settling into our space, since I’ve been on the road so much. And I thought I’d share a little vegan/gluten free travelogue of the past couple weeks.
First up: Boston! SG* had a work meeting the last week in January, and we found a roundtrip ticket for only $150 so that I could join her for the weekend. I lived in Boston a few years ago and I am still close to some very lovely people up there. So we stayed in a fancy hotel, had some fancy drinks, I saw great friends and we tromped through snow (thankfully, we were in town between blizzards and didn’t get stuck) to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. It was a lovely weekend, and I took exactly one photo the entire time. Of a sandwich.
I discovered Veggie Galaxy in Cambridge, MA while we were prepping for this trip and I was instantly enamored. In addition to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, DC is also sadly lacking diners. Veggie Galaxy combines both of these things AND has an extensive gluten-free menu. Hello, happiness. Most of my friends are omnivores, but they’re super flexible and willing to work with my dietary restrictions, so after SG and I wrapped up our museum outing, we all met up for an amazing late lunch. I had the The Club sandwich on gluten-free bread. I was obsessed with club sandwiches as a kid, so finding a tempeh and tofu version was really exciting. I ate like it was my last meal. After Veggie Galaxy, we wandered over to River Gods for an early drink and met up with more friends I hadn’t seen in a while. We spent much longer there than we’d planned, and then took the T from Central Square to Harvard to meet up with my friend’s fiance. They recommended Algiers for food and an escape from the Saturday night Harvard crowd. (Seriously, it was like -8 out and everywhere was packed. I forgot how normal it is to go out in freezing weather in New England.) Anyway, Algiers was exactly what we needed – we got a big table, lots of wine, french fries and gluten-free falafel. Boston was good to us. I’m excited to go back in warmer weather and show SG more of the city.
I returned from Boston on a Sunday night and flew to Denver the following Wednesday. SG flew from Boston to Raleigh for another meeting and didn’t get back to DC till after I’d left. In Denver, I attended Creating Change, the annual conference for the Nation LGBTQ Task Force. This year, more than 4,000 LGBTQ people and allies came together for the conference, and it was a pretty incredible weekend. In addition to speaking on a couple panels and live-tweeting my boss’ plenary on reproductive justice, I organized a huge karaoke/dance party for a couple hundred people. So that was pretty rad.
I also ate really well in Denver. The restaurant attached to our hotel, Yard House, had a surprisingly diverse menu and was able to accommodate my diet fairly easily. I had their tofu lettuce wraps twice – so good. I was a little disappointed by their truffle fries, which came sprinkled with Parmesan, although that wasn’t listed on the menu. If I could change one thing about the restaurant world, it would be to clarify that cheese is an ingredient, not a garnish, and since it’s a fairly common allergen, surprise cheese is not okay.
Our hotel was just down the street from one of Denver’s two Native Foods locations, and I managed to slip away from the conference twice to pay them a visit. I’ve been meaning to try their nachos since they opened in DC, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Since I’m gluten free and SG is soy-free, Native Foods actually isn’t super easy for us to eat at, despite being an entirely vegan restaurant. I’d love to see them introduce more gluten-free proteins and to offer some of their sandwiches on gf breads…I remember being moderately obsessed with Native Foods in college, but I’ve been less excited about them since they came back into my life last year.Anyway, the nachos normally have seitan “beef” on them, but they were pretty good without it. I went back a couple days later and they had smoky split pea soup on the menu. Since I was starting to come down with a cold, the soup and and order of their polenta bites was exactly what I needed.
Well, that and a package of Zicam lozenges.
I made it back from Denver in one piece and spent two nights at home before I shipped out the Las Vegas for another conference – the Road Ahead, organized by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. I have a lot to say about Vegas and about the Road Ahead, but that will have to wait for a future post.
*aka my lady or my ladyfriend or Sarah…I don’t love the term “partner” and I haven’t decided how I want to refer to her in this space, but she’s a VIP.
Hey so. I need to hijack my own blog and talk about race for a second. I know, right? I bet you didn’t see that one coming.
This is a conversation I’ve been having with myself in my own head for a couple years now. I don’t find a lot of opportunities to have it out loud. It’s awkward. It makes me uncomfortable to talk about it and I don’t think anyone wants to hear me talk about it, so.
But I just attended an amazing LGBTQ conference in Denver and spent several days hanging with some of my favorite people, most of whom are queer women of color, and I’m in this space, enjoying their company, and I’m still dialoguing with myself about my own racial identity. In my head. Because I don’t know how to talk about it. And there were a couple serious conversations about racism in the LGBTQ movement that were not part of the conference agenda but clearly needed to happen in this space. And then tonight, I’m flying to Vegas for another conference and I finally open Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous book, and I found her piece”The White-Skinned Elephant In the Room” (which you can and should read here) and I’m like…oh, hi. That’s me.
I’m half Mexican and half white, but it took me a looooooong time to own my Latina identity. It’s not something my mom’s family was particularly proud of, and even though I always knew we were Mexican, I also knew we were different from “other” Mexicans and that that was a good thing. During my Junior year of high school, I was assigned a research project: how did your family come to the US? I had a fairly progressive US History teacher who was making a point about the US being a nation of immigrants, etc. So I researched my Irish and German relatives and learned some things about my dad’s family, but I just didn’t bother asking about my mom’s family. I didn’t think it would be interesting, and I honestly didn’t want to out myself as Mexican in class.
So I’m not a light-skinned Latina. I am a white-skinned Latina, and I don’t even have to cop to the Latina part unless I really want to. (These days, I actually get really excited when someone ids me as Latina or Mexican or speaks to me in Spanish, but it’s usually a positive interaction that makes me feel visible and not an experience of racism from another white person.)
Anyway, I mostly didn’t talk about my own racial identity through college and my mid-twenties, because I didn’t have to which is a really good example of the level of white privilege I’ve got. And I reached a point where I was embarrassed or ashamed to claim a Latina identity at all, because I’ve been hanging out with white people and being white my whole life, which made me feel shitty, because I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to be Mexican and it feels important to me not to carry my mom’s internalized racism with me. I don’t want to just tell people I’m white, because it feels like a denial of my family. And I’ve done that and it was shitty and I’m not interested in doing that anymore.
I had an interesting conversation with my boss about this a couple of years ago, where she pointed out that I don’t have to conform to anyone else’s standards or expectations of being Latina or a woman of color, and that I can define my identity for myself. Which was a relief, because I don’t talk like Sofia Vergara and I’m not about to start – but to call myself a light-skinned woman of color feels like claiming something that isn’t mine. I try to be really careful about when and how I use the term, because I think it probably is weird for a woman of color to hear it coming from someone who looks like me. I’ve caught myself talking shit about white people and getting some strange looks from people of color who I haven’t specifically explained my identity or background to. I also avoid woc-specific spaces, because I don’t want people in them to question my right to be there, and I don’t want my whiteness to make people feel like the space isn’t safe. And since I’m being real honest, I also keep myself just a liiiiiiittle bit distant from my friends, because I don’t really know how they experience my identity and I don’t know how to ask.
Mia’s piece, which she wrote in 2012, brought up a lot of these things for me. I have also really wanted a term for what I am that doesn’t erase my identity but still acknowledges my privileged experience. In the rare opportunities that mentioning race makes sense (it’s interesting that preferred gender pronouns are catching on, but we don’t mandate other identifiers, but that’s a post for another day), I usually go with “mixed,” but that feels really vague. (I used to say “half-Mexican” assuming that people could just see that I was also half-white, and also relying on white American understanding that white isn’t a race, it’s a standard, and therefore can be assumed.) Anyway, it’s helpful to get some of this out. I promise the next thing I publish will be a return to regularly scheduled programming.
You guys, I love Costco. I have always kind of loved Costco. When I was a kid, my mom ran a small snack store at my elementary school, and while I don’t think it was as effective a fundraising tool as she’s hoped, my sisters and I had a fabulous time helping to pick out the inventory at Costco. I will admit to an embarrassing affinity for Oberto Beef Sticks, and mom’s snack station was my enabler.
In college, I mostly used my Costco membership to buy toilet paper once a year. And then, through my twenties, Costco and I lost touch. I don’t think there was a Costco in Denver when I lived there…and I didn’t have a car in Boston…by the time I moved to DC, Costco was a distant memory.
And then Sarah entered my life. Sarah brings a Midwestern sensibility to all things, including bulk purchasing, and she offered to add me to her Costco membership even before we started dating. So now I have this rad ladyfriend and access to pounds and pounds of inexpensive quinoa. And giant loaves of gluten-free bread. And a stepladder that only cost $19.99!
On our most recent trip to Costco, in addition to the stepladder, I picked up a container of something called Balela. This kind of breaks my unwritten rule of not buying prepared things I could easily make for myself, since it’s basically beans and beans with some spices. But it was 38 ounces! And it was both vegan and gluten free! And I could do so many things with it! Also, balela sounds like an awesome dance that Enrique Iglesias might sing about, or maybe a lady that you met at the beach on vacation!
Except then I got it home and I couldn’t think of a single thing to do with it. I mean…it’s basically just beans and beans.
Last week, I packed it for lunch with some brown rice. The flavor is very similar to tabbouleh, it just needed something more.
In lieu of sticking it in a pita, which it was apparently designed for, I needed to come up with my own serving suggestion. So here we go: balela with sauteed zucchini and Barilla gluten free noodles – sort of a Mediterranean pasta salad. I wish I had some olives or capers to add, but this seems way more interesting than last week’s beans and beans and rice combo, right?
Also, have you tried Barilla’s gluten free pasta? I’d sort of missed them, since my neighborhood supermarket keeps the “special” gluten free brands in the natural foods part of the store and the gluten free versions of mainstream brands in another. Sidenote: these are often waaaaaaay cheaper than what you find in the natural foods section, which is annoying. I was paying close to $5 for gluten free oatmeal packets until I found Chex brand gluten free oatmeal in the cereal aisle. For $1.99.
Anyway, my ladyfriend’s sister bought Barilla pasta for me when we were in Florida over the holidays, and it’s definitely the best gf pasta we’ve tried. We don’t have to make two different batches of pasta when we cook together anymore, which makes life way easier. I don’t think Barilla’s gf is significantly less expensive than the other gf brands I’ve tried, but I’ve gone through three boxes of this, while at least four unfinished packages of other gf pasta collects dust in my pantry, so I guess I’m a convert.