Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My First Vegetarian Cookbook

In 1985 or so, I bought a cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey, titled "World of the East Vegetarian Cooking." It was the first cookbook I ever bought. I was enticed by the lovely drawing on the front -- an Indian woman in a green sari, with a long, thick braid, sprinkling spices into a karhai (i.e., a wok-like dish commonly used in North India). Madhur Jaffrey, who has written numerous cookbooks, veg and non-veg, grew up in India and therefore has a different perspective on vegetarian food and cooking than many Westerners. To her, it is not about sacrificing anything. It's not about "I can't/don't eat x, y, and z."

It's about the wide variety of food that IS available to you. The introduction itself is wonderful to read. Jaffrey talks about how she and her friends are baffled by people who ask what vegetarians eat -- there is so much wonderful food out there. -- and goes on to describe dishes that will make your mouth water. One of the best aspects of the book is that it brings together vegetarian recipes from different parts of Asia, where vegetarianism is not viewed with any sort of skepticism, or really with any sort of opinion at all. I saw this myself on a recent trip to Southeast Asia, where most people are non-vegetarians, and fish is commonly eaten. When I informed people that I don't eat meat or fish, but egg was OK, everyone was immediately understanding and prepared vegetables and noodles or rice, sometimes with tofu or egg mixed in, without comment or attitude or judgment. This is probably because many Buddhists are strict vegetarians -- although many are not as well -- and the people in Southeast Asia are used to the idea.

One thing about Madhur Jaffrey's book is that many recipes have ingredients that can be difficult to find, especially if you don't have access to an Asian grocery store -- like blocks of tamarind, or chickpea flour (both of which are easily found in Indian grocery stores, or hard-t0-find lentil varieties. But in spite of that, there are some terrific recipes that I have turned to again and again. The best has got to be the Delicious Spicy Chickpeas, which Jaffrey modeled after the chickpea dishes sold by street vendors in Old Delhi. Another is, surprisingly, the Ginger Limeade, made with fresh grated ginger. She also has a lovely Indian-style tomato soup (she correctly notes that Indians love tomato soup and have adopted it as their own).

Overall, this is not the cookbook I turn to most often. But Jaffrey's writing is wonderful, and it's worth reading some of the introductory paragraphs before her chapters and many of the individual recipes. She talks about friends and relatives who make the particular dish, and where and when she has eaten it. But for a more generally useful vegetarian cookbook, I have others I prefer, like Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone or Crescent Dragonwagon's Passionate Vegetarian.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Food Writing

I have been catching up on a New Yorker backlog, and read most of the November 23 "Food Issue" last night. Really interesting article about the restaurant reviewing process that the Michelin Guide uses!

There was also a piece titled "What's the Recipe? Our Hunger for Cookbooks," by Adam Gopnik. I am a cookbook fanatic (although I'm not up to 101 yet, like Heidi at 101cookbooks.com, one of my favorite vegetarian-focused websites...) and I particularly love to sit in bed at night and page through cookbooks. Gopnik says that the list of things he knows how to make, and that his kids will eat "are as fixed as any cocktail pianist's set list ... [y]et the new cookbooks show up in bed, and the corners still go down."

This describes me pretty well! I have a rather short list of things I make regularly, and a somewhat longer list of things I make once in a while, but I still read the cookbooks and mark the pages of recipes I want to make. I don't feel like I'm wasting my time, though, because even if I don't rush to the kitchen to make a particular recipe, I definitely get interesting ideas from reading how different ingredients can be put together, and about different techniques for doing that.

Gopnik also talks about the different types of recipe-writing. I have to say, as a longtime lover of food writing, I always refer back to M.F.K. Fisher's prose. I have a compilation of all her essays, starting from her early writing in the 1920's. She does include recipes in some of her essays, but they are very general about amounts and cooking times. For example, in "How to Cook a Wolf," she describes how to make minestrone. She first lists the ingredients (a number of vegetables), then says "Bring the whole thing slowly to a boil... Add some pasta twenty minutes before serving if you like it ... Churn the soup ferociously, and serve over thin toasted bread or not..."

"Stir ferociously!" I love that! Gopnik talks about the very different approach of some recent cookbooks, like Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," which gives meticulously detailed instructions, even explaining "How to Boil Water: Put water in a pot (usually about two-thirds full) and turn the heat to high." Pretty ridiculous, in my opinion! But I have read and sort of enjoyed Bittman's cookbooks (not enough to purchase any of them, however).

I'm planning a future post on some of the vegetarian cookbooks I have liked enough to purchase.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cold Weather Running

I've been reading a number of blog posts lately about the joys and challenges of cold weather running. It's been a colder-than-usual winter thus far on the East Coast, so I've had to pull out the cold weather gear earlier than usual. I actually prefer running when the temps are in the teens and 20s, compared to the 90 degree/ 90 percent humidity we get in July and August, but you have got to have the right gear. And a lot of magazines and websites suggest that you've got to spend a lot of money for that gear. Not the case! Here are some great sources of inexpensive cold-weather running gear:

1. Target -- really. My warmest fleece zip-up was purchased at Target three years ago for $10 on sale. I used it on my coldest run, in Long Island when the temp was 11 degrees F, with the wind blowing hard, over a silk undershirt. Halfway through my run, I had to unzip the jacket because I was too hot. They probably don't have the same bonded fleece jacket at Target anymore, but do check out their workout clothes.

2. Lands End. Check out their overstocks page for great deals, especially now, on fleece, long underwear, gloves, hats, and earbands. If you are a small woman, their larger kids' sizes will fit you (check the size guide), and are usually cheaper. I bought a great wind-resistant fleece earband from their kids' catalog for about $6, which is my go-to on my coldest morning runs. I also regularly turn to a long-sleeved silk undershirt which I purchased from the kids' catalog for $10, more than ten years ago (OK, it has holes in the armpits, but nobody sees those...). Wish I had bought more of them!

3. LL Bean. Obviously, great quality always, and excellent customer service. Sign up for a LL Bean credit card, and get free shipping and free returns. I just ordered (yesterday) some long underwear, on sale for $18, which I plan to wear under running tights. I also bought wind-resistant fleece mittens from their kids' catalog, which I wear over glove liners (source: Athleta). They also have a good headlamp for about $30, for those of us who run early or late in the day in the wintertime and need to be visible. Check their online sales now, while the getting is good! (A little off-topic, but their coolmax t-shirts are wonderful for summer workouts and indoor (treadmill) runs -- good quality fabric that feels almost like cotton.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Fake Meat Debate

Many vegetarians (and vegans) oppose on principle eating "fake meat," i.e., textured vegetable protein (TVP) products intended to mimic meat. I don't mean tofu or tempeh, which are products in their own right, eaten frequently in other parts of the world, sometimes along with meat. I mean things like Trader Joe's "chickenless strips," or the Morningstar Farms sausage patties. From what I gather, the objection is based on the fact that if you choose not to eat meat, you should not eat things that are intended to mimic the meat you've chosen not to eat.

I have no objection to fake meat on principle. My main reason for eating it only infrequently is that it is processed food, which I generally try to avoid. However, every once in a while -- like this weekend -- I want chicken pot pie. So I use the TJ's chickenless strips and make my own. I use lots of vegetables and I also add beans and/or chickpeas, depending on what I have. I also make a whole wheat crust. And sure, it would probably be decent enough without the fake meat, but it does step it up a bit, in my own personal opinion. And I don't feel guilty about it!

I eat fake meat only once a month or so, at most, with one important (and significant exception). Before my morning runs, I usually want something in my stomach, but I don't want to take a lot of time, since I have to work most days that I run. So I end up eating a single Morningstar Farms sausage link -- just one, microwaved for 45 seconds. I know, I know.... And obviously it doesn't fill me up or fuel my run, since it is such a small amount of food (only 40 calories). It's clearly a mental thing -- I just feel better knowing I have eaten something. But 4 times a week, that's more frequent consumption of processed food, even a small amount, than I'd like to have.

So my new goal is to find a substitute -- something small, with protein, that won't weigh me down, but will alleviate the sensation that I'm running on a completely empty stomach.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Running Pace

After having suffered some shin splints (severe pain) and stress fractures (not so severe) a few years back, I decided I wanted to make sure I could run for more years, rather than trying to run more miles or at a faster pace. Having said that, I still have a bit of a competetive strain. I don't really keep track of my pace, but every once in a while I will run with my ipod, which has several playlists designed for running. The playlists tell me how long they are, and I know my distance (thanks to favoriterun.com), so I can calculate my pace.

So last week, I ran with the ipod. I am running at a pace of 8.7 mph, which is pretty much where I was a year or so ago, when I was regularly running to playlists. I should be satisfied with this, but wonder whether I should have improved in the last year. As someone who wants to do better and better, it's not always easy to deal with the fact that I probably won't get much faster or run much longer -- or will hurt myself if I try to -- and that's OK because it will (hopefully) help me to keep running as I get older.

Morning runs

I cannot express how much I love my morning runs! That's not to say I don't mentally curse when the alarm goes off, especially since I have the most comfortable bed in America, but once I'm out there, it's wonderful. Even on those "slow days" when I feel like my feet are stuck in mud, there are still lovely moments, perhaps only a few.

I've tried running later in the mornings, on days when I don't have to work or am working at home, or even in the evenings after work, but I never enjoy it as much as the first-thing-in-the-morning run. Now, perhaps this is because exercise could be easier in the morning, according to the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/10/health/nutrition/10best.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=exercise%20morning&st=cse.

But I choose to believe it's because of the atmosphere of the morning, the day just beginning. I have always wanted to be more of a morning person than I am -- one of those pop-out-of-bed-at-5 am people. I'm lucky if I can get up by 7, and I could easily stay in bed until 8:30. But I've discovered that my life is better if I get up early, so I make the effort (not always successfully).

I am a 46-year old vegetarian who started running about six years ago, and stopped eating meat and fish about nine years ago. I've had injuries and other roadblocks, but have managed to persevere. If you had told me in the past that I would one day call my self "a runner," I would have laughed, probably hysterically.

I want to use this space to talk about food -- yes, primarily vegetarian food -- and exercise. Not just running, although I can certainly wax on about that, but also bicycling, Pilates, and yoga. I hope there are enough of you out there to have some interesting coversations!