Recipe post: Crispy, crunchy tofu

Tofu is tough to enjoy. It’s the first thing non-vegans ask about whenever the subject of diet comes up in conversation, and it’s a food that lots of people — vegans and vegetarians included — just can’t get behind. Tofu, on its own, is flavorless and fleshy and usually sopping wet. I’ve spent the last several years learning how to make tofu enjoyable for myself, but in the last few months I’ve been faced with a new task: making tofu enjoyable for other people.

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With the help of my partner (who prior to this prep method wouldn’t touch tofu with a ten-foot pole and now actually requests it in meals), I’ve finally found a way to consistently prepare tofu so that it tastes good every time. As a bonus, this recipe is quick and easy (if a little messy). It’s also easy to alter to fit various flavor profiles, depending on the meal you’re making.

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Admittedly, some of the nutritional value is probably lost with this preparation method, but it can’t be denied that this is a quick, easy, delicious way to get the protein punch tofu provides without sacrificing any flavor or texture. Plus, it’s super versatile*. We’ve had it with rice and homemade dressing, on breakfast sandwiches, chopped up in salads, as a protein in faitas, and even on its own. I personally like to have it solo, dipped in a little sriracha. The crunch and flavor are awesome.

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Crispy, Crunchy Tofu
Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cook Time: 10-12 minutes | Total Time: ~15 minutes
Makes multiple servings

What you’ll need:

  • a block of firm or extra-firm tofu
  • 3-4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2/3 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup of ground cashew meal
  • 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1.5 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. lemon pepper
  • pinch of salt

What you’ll do:

  1. Start by draining and pressing the tofu. To do this, cut open the package and let all of the liquid drain. Then take the block of tofu and place it on a food towel (I purchased a 10-pack of dish towels at IKEA for a few dollars and use those towels specifically for food). If you don’t have a food towel, you can use several paper towels, but the process will be quite a bit messier that way. Wrap the block of tofu in the towel and press firmly with your hands on all sides until most of the liquid is soaked into the towel. You don’t want to soak up all of it. Make sure the tofu is still somewhat moist when you’re done.
  2. Using a sharp, smooth-edged knife, slice the tofu into 1/4 inch slices. Depending on the meal and how many you are feeding, you may need more or less. Discretion is up to you, but if you have leftover tofu, store it in fresh water in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to seven days. Let your slices sit while you prepare your flour mixture.
  3. Combine flour, cashew meal, nutritional yeast, paprika, lemon pepper and salt in a small bowl.
  4. Spread a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over a portion of your work area. Make sure it’s large enough to hold all of your slices once they’re breaded.
  5. Take individual slices of tofu, place them in the flour mixture and use your hands to coat. (Note: tofu is fragile when it’s sliced thin! I’ve found it’s best to put the slice directly in the center of the bowl and then use my fingers to toss flour mixture over the top. It puts less strain on the tofu and makes it less likely to crumble when you try to handle it.) Rest each slice on the plastic wrap or parchment paper while you heat your oil.
  6. Coat the bottom of a non-stick frying pan with olive oil. 3-4 tbsp. works for my pan, but you may need to adjust depending on size. You want a very thin layer of oil to fry your tofu slices in. Heat the oil over medium until it gets a liquid-like sheen to it; then, add your slices of tofu in a single layer to the pan.
  7. Fry the tofu over medium heat until crispy and golden on both sides, about 5-6 minutes per side. For a less crispy finish, fry for less time; for a more crispy (but potentially burned! be careful!) finish, fry for more time.
  8. Once slices are cooked, set on a paper towel to soak up excess oil, then serve.

 

* Keep an eye out for recipes featuring crispy, crunchy tofu in the future! If there’s one you’d like in particular, comment below and I’ll get to it!

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Recipe post: Crispy, crunchy tofu

Recipe Post: Crispy green bean fries

In the midst of its Earth Day celebrations, our local Whole Foods put up a table overflowing with green beans outside its sliding glass doors. Above the crates full of crispy greens, there were stacks of white paper buckets and a sign that read, “Fill the bucket for $2.” It was such a good deal that we obviously took advantage, but then we realized we had no idea what to do with a bucket full of green beans. Steam them? Boring. Boil them? Gross. They just looked so beautiful and so fresh that we couldn’t pass them up.

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I love green beans. They’re one of the only vegetables I would consistently eat growing up (prior to going vegetarian and then vegan) and honestly, I could eat raw, fresh green beans by the handful. Knowing that most people, including my partner, probably wouldn’t be down for that, I wondered if it would be possible to turn green beans into something savory, spicy, and with the perfect amount of crunch.

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Since I didn’t want to steam or boil the green beans and plop them, flavorless, onto plates, I opted to coat them in spices and then bake them until they resembled french fries. Of course, green beans don’t crisp up in quite the same way as potatoes — but this recipe gives them a nice crispy, crunchy coating that will leave you craving them for days.

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Crispy Green Bean Fries
Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cook Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes multiple servings

What you’ll need:

  • green beans, trimmed and washed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 3-4 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon pepper

What you’ll do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Put olive oil, 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes, garlic, chili powder, salt, and lemon pepper in a medium bowl. Toss green beans in mixture until they are thoroughly coated.
  3. Spread green beans in a single layer over a baking sheet. Sprinkle remaining nutritional yeast flakes over green beans (this will add the “crispy crunchies” that make them so tasty!). Put in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  4. After 15 minutes, remove green beans from oven, turn, and return to the oven. Increase heat to 500° and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. Serve as a side dish to your favorite sandwich or wrap (we had them with homemade falafel wraps and falafel sliders) and enjoy!
Recipe Post: Crispy green bean fries

Recipe Post: Buttery breadcrumb pasta with fresh tomatoes

Before going vegan, my go-to comfort food was cheesy pasta, a cheap homemade version of macaroni and cheese that basically involved melting a ton of cheddar over some elbows and throwing in my favorite combination of spices, then stirring it all up with some butter or a little milk. Since going vegan, finding a substitute has been hard — while I enjoy vegan cheese substitutes, they just don’t melt quite the right way to make my classic cheesy pasta.

Yesterday, I had a sudden craving for a dish my stepdad makes: browned butter noodles. I decided to take his concept and twist it a little (in addition to making it vegan). I ended up with a new favorite comfort food that’s quick, easy, and absolutely delicious. We’ve had it two nights in a row for dinner and honestly, I could continue to eat it for the rest of the weekend without complaining.

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This dish is savory and fresh with a texture that will make your mouth water. The breadcrumbs add a flavor and crunch that can’t be denied and the tomatoes bring a nice pop of color that brightens the whole dish. It also works as a great starting point for someone who isn’t super comfortable in the kitchen, and it’s basic enough that you can add your own twist to it. If tomatoes aren’t your thing, try zucchini or mushrooms for a different flavor!

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 Buttery Breadcrumb Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: ~15 minutes | Total Time: ~25 minutes
Makes 2 servings

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 4 tbsp. Earth Balance
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 2-3 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tbsp. dried basil or 9-10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

What you’ll do:

  1. In a smallsauce pan, melt 2 tbsp. of Earth Balance, then add breadcrumbs. Toss until breadcrumbs are coated with the butter, then add garlic, paprika, nutritional yeast flakes, and hefty pinches of salt and pepper. Stir until combined, letting the breadcrumbs toast on low heat for 3-4 minutes. Watch them carefully so that they don’t burn! Once the breadcrumbs are toasted, remove pan from heat and set aside.
  2. Fill a large pot with water. Salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Once pasta is al dente, strain it and let it sit so excess water can drip off.
  3. While pasta is straining, add remaining 2 tbsp. of Earth Balance to pasta pot and stir. Add pasta slowly, while stirring, until pasta is lightly coated with Earth Balance. Add basil, breadcrumbs, and tomato. Mix everything together, serve, and enjoy!
Recipe Post: Buttery breadcrumb pasta with fresh tomatoes

Becoming a pet parent

Since bringing our kittens home on February 6, I’ve struggled to write a blog post about them that doesn’t make me sound like a new mom sharing the miracle of birth with the Internet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not really my thing. I’ve tried writing about our girls — Tommen and Jojen, named for characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — at least three times in the last few weeks. The problem is that I don’t really have an angle other than, LOOK AT HOW DAMN CUTE MY KIDS ARE!

So I’m giving in. I’m here to talk about how damn cute my kids are. (This post contains a lot of photos. I’m not sorry.)

Adopting furry babies is a decision AR and I discussed for months prior to the first day of the new year, when I finally took the plunge and looked for local pet adoptions on Craigslist. I emailed several posters and heard back from just one, a young woman looking to adopt out six newborn kittens. After several emails, AR and I committed to bringing home two of them. A week later, we met them for the first time (just days after they’d first opened their eyes!) and fell head over heels in love.

Jojen (upper right) and Tommen (lower right), born December 25, 2014. Photos taken January 8, 2015.
Jojen (upper right) and Tommen (lower right), born December 25, 2014. Photos taken January 8, 2015.

Because of our respective schedules, AR and I are in and out of the apartment all the time. We had agreed at the start of our pet adoption negotiations that we needed to adopt at least two, so that they could keep each other company when their humans aren’t home. According to the woman we adopted from, Tommen and Jojen have been close since birth: they were born one after the other and took to sleeping away from the rest of their siblings, curled up together, almost immediately.

Jojen (left) and Tommen (right). Photos taken January 19, 2015.
Jojen (left) and Tommen (right). Photos taken January 19, 2015.

We visited twice in January with the expectation of bringing them home at 12 weeks of age, which would be the end of March. Without getting into details, plans changed pretty significantly and we actually brought them home at 6 weeks of age. The night before we picked them up, we made an emergency trip to the pet store to get all of the supplies we hadn’t yet purchased: litter, toys, food and water dishes, a scratching post, etc. We barely slept for nerves and excitement and the next morning, we brought the girls to their forever home.

AR and I have both had family pets, but neither of us have had pets of our own that we were expected to take sole responsibility of. Having Tommen and Jojen has taught us a lot. For example: you know those cute cat memes like “if I fits, I sits”? One hundred percent accurate. Kittens are exploratory and silly and kind of weird. They like to hide in and under things and will absolutely figure out a way to scale the cinder blocks holding your bookshelves together if it means they can explore a new space. Within five minutes of bringing the girls home, Tommen managed to get herself stuck behind the fridge and we had to rig the ironing board into a barricade for the space between the fridge and the kitchen counter so she couldn’t do it again.

I’ve also learned that the expression, “kids grow like weeds” is COMPLETELY TRUE. Since we brought them home, both kittens have grown noticeably. Their faces have filled out and their legs have gotten longer and their bodies have gotten bigger. I mean, look at these kids then:

February 6, 2015.
February 6, 2015.

And look at these kids now:

February 20, 2015.
February 20, 2015.

Our next adventure is setting up a vet appointment. Our current adventure is teaching them not to play with cords or bite. They’re really well-behaved girls; they’re just kids, and kids love to play. Tommen and Jojen are both super active and very social, with each other as well as humans. Their personalities shine through more all the time and they’re so, so beautiful. My entire camera roll is photos of them and they’ve all but taken over my Instagram. Every time they do something new or funny or cute, everyone hears about via Snapchat or text. I successfully trimmed their front claws a few days ago (they kept getting stuck in things — my socks, AR’s shirts, the blanket covering the altar table) and bragged about it for the rest of the afternoon.

Long story short: LOOK AT HOW DAMN CUTE MY KIDS ARE! Adopting them is one of the best decisions AR and I have ever made. I suspect I’ll never actually stop talking about them, so more posts will probably be forthcoming. Maybe if I write about them more, my co-workers will have to hear about them less?

Probably not.

Becoming a pet parent

2015: The year of going vegan

GoVeganMy freshman year of college, I was given an easy assignment for my ecology and values course: do something “environmental” for a week and document the experience in a short paper. I opted to cut meat out of my diet for a week, which was easy given how little meat I wanted to eat off the school dining hall menus. When the assignment was finished, I just sort of… continued cutting it out. I was vegetarian for the majority of my college experience, then relapsed to meat-eating, then started working at a vegan cafe and slid comfortably back into vegetarianism.

Despite being exposed to several delicious and sustainable substitutions for dairy while working at the cafe, I continued to eat cheese and butter and eggs. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I went vegan because the most important thing was that I would never eat meat again.

Since moving to Rhode Island last March, I’ve learned more and more about the impact of animal husbandry and dairy farming on Earth’s ecosystems. I’ve also learned more and more about how these practices exploit both humans and animals. I’ve considered going vegan for many months, but one obstacle stood in my way: I didn’t know if I could handle cutting cheese out of my diet.

In December, a few days before 2014 was to end and 2015 was to begin, AR and I went to the grocery store to get some basics from our weekly list and to get some supplies for a small get-together we were planning to have for New Year’s Eve. The 2lb block of cheese we normally purchased wasn’t available. There wasn’t even a hole on the shelf for it, nor a tag. We impulsively made the decision, then and there, to go full vegan. We decided we’d at least test it out for the month of January and see how we felt. (Later, I found out about Veganuary, which is actually a pretty cool way to challenge yourself to try veganism. If you’re anything like me, it will stick. You won’t go back.)

The thing is, I’ve told myself for years that my chronic illness — which is intestinal — wasn’t aggravated by the presence of dairy in my diet. Once I cut it out completely, though, the difference was noticeable immediately. I feel significantly better and more energetic, less bogged down by acid reflux and stomach pain.

On an even better note, I’m learning tons about cooking and baking, a hobby I’ve picked up over the last couple years and gotten really into since moving in with AR. We’ve discovered that vegan cheese substitutes, while tasty in some recipes, just don’t work in several others. It’s forced me to learn more about flavor profiles and how to re-create old favorites without any kind of cheese or cheese substitute, making me a better and more informed chef. (I’ve every intention of sharing some of those recipes in future posts, because it’s been a super fun process and I definitely want to write about it. I’m learning more all the time.)

I think the thing that surprises me most about the decision to go vegan is that once I made it, I didn’t feel any desire to take it back. We’re a week into February and I haven’t once thought about skimping out on this accidental resolution. (Some others have sort of… fallen by the wayside, but I’m trying to get back on track with them.) 2015 has so far been pretty damn good to me and I feel as though a lot of that positivity started with the decision to be better to my body. Forcing it to process dairy wasn’t doing me or the environment or the animal kingdom any favors.

2015: The year of going vegan

The problem with shopping while fat

A few months ago, I had a shopping experience unlike any other I’d had in the past. I walked into Wet Seal +, found several pieces of clothing that were cute, affordable, and flattering on my body, and tried on several options before actually having to decide what I wanted to buy and what I didn’t need. I didn’t feel panicked or frustrated or like I didn’t belong, I took selfies in the dressing room mirror, and I left the store with a bag of new clothes. I didn’t cry once.

It’s pretty disturbing to me that shopping is an activity I’ve come to view as a grueling kind of torture. As a young, fat woman, it’s damn near impossible to walk into a store and walk out feeling good about clothing I’ve purchased. It usually doesn’t fit quite right or it makes me look like an old woman or I’ve spent entirely too much money on a single shirt. Although most of the time, I don’t purchase anything at all. If I do, it’s from the accessories racks, because at least I know a pair of earrings will fit me well.

I don’t often talk about my body or my weight or my frustrations with it, but they can all be summed up in this: shopping, for me, is an exercise in how long I can stand to watch my skinny friends try on cute clothes before I either shut down completely or burst into tears.

So the fact that I finally found a store that carried cute, affordable clothes that fit me correctly is pretty damn cool. The fact that it opened downstairs from the store where I work in the mall is even cooler. What sucks is that after only a few months of being open, Wet Seal + is now closed. I’m back to square one.

f21eat_less_mI’m not the only person in the world who has these struggles, I know. People come into the shoe store where I work all the time looking for wide-calf boots or for pumps that have a chunkier heel to hold their weight. I see posts on sites like BuzzFeed about companies like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters producing clothing that encourages disordered eating (“Coffee for breakfast, chips for lunch, chocolate for dinner” and “Eat less”, respectively). I see ongoing arguments on my social media feeds about the Fat Acceptance movement and what it means and why it’s good/bad/whatever. I don’t really want to get involved in that, because my feelings are complicated and to be honest, they vary depending on how I feel about myself on any given day.

What I will say is that it’s disturbing that Wet Seal, who at the very least tried to produce budget fashion for people with non-skinny bodies, has seemingly lost the retail game to competitors like Forever 21. You may have seen headlines in the last week about Wet Seal laying off nearly 4,000 employees. The company, which has been failing for a long while, announced on Wednesday, Jan. 7, that it is immediately closing 338 locations. Employees were given no warning of their imminent lay-offs or of stores closing, and many took it upon themselves to post hand-made signs in the windows of their stores to inform customers of the awful way the company decided to handle things.

The other night when I discussed the closing of Wet Seal + with my partner, they put it into perspective quite well. They said,

“If this company would just offer a range of sizes for all bodies in all its stores, it wouldn’t have to have a whole separate chain of stores and staffs for people who don’t fit into small sizes.”

That’s the whole crux of the issue. I have no idea how many of the 338 Wet Seal closures were Wet Seal + stores, or whether trying to balance a plus-size chain and a non-plus-size chain drove the company under. To be honest, I don’t care. Wet Seal didn’t handle this situation in a humane way at all. But the fact is, several retail chains offer a plus-size section in their general stores, but the clothes there are nothing like the clothes throughout the rest of the store. They’re covered in sequins or have tons of frills or have no shape whatsoever. Wet Seal + was the first store I’d seen that offered plus-size clothes as cute and affordable as stores that don’t offer plus sizes. I don’t want to shop at Lane Bryant. I can’t afford to shop at Torrid. Ordering from ASOS Curve breaks the bank every single time. And aside from Old Navy, which doesn’t offer a lot of nice adult clothing, those are the only stores that offer clothes that fit me.

Fashion shouldn’t be limited to those who are short and thin. Someone who’s 6′ tall and 250lbs should feel as fabulous when they leave the house as someone who’s 5’6″ and 130lbs. There should be just as many options in colors, styles and cuts for fat people as there are for thin people. I hate that I have to hold onto clothes that work for me until they’re literally falling apart because shopping gives me such bad anxiety that I can barely stand to think about it. I hate that when I’ve finally found a store that understands that young, fat people exist and deserve to look and feel as good as young, thin people, that store closes because its parent company can’t manage.

I guess I’m glad that I snagged some nice work clothes and some cute casual clothes in the past few months, but it’s so disheartening to see the Wet Seal + space empty after finally starting to feel like I could walk into a store and not worry about finding affordable clothes in my size that I like. It was good while it lasted.

The problem with shopping while fat

New to me music: PVRIS

PVRISOne of the coolest things about attending festivals like Warped Tour is that it gives you the opportunity to discover new music you’ve never heard before. Whether it’s local bands that have won Battle of the Bands to perform on the Ernie Ball Stage or bigger bands that you’ve just never taken the time to listen to, festivals — especially Warped Tour — give you the chance to catch them all.

Last month, I attended Warped Tour twice — first in Mansfield, Mass. on Thurs., July 10 and then in Hartford, Conn. on Sun., July 13. In Mansfield, my good friend Lauren worked press for the day and said several times that she really wanted to be sure to catch the PVRIS set in the afternoon. AR and I had never heard of the band, but we hit their set while Lauren photographed it. I was immediately into them.

Hailing from Boston, Mass., PVRIS is comprised of three members: Lyndsey Gunnulfsen (vocals/guitar), Alex Babinski (guitar) and Brian Macdonald (bass). According to official pages, the band formed in 2012 and signed to Rise/Velocity Records in June. The band has two EPs under its belt and is slated to release a full-length album later this year.

When we saw the band for the second time in Hartford, AR and I hit their merch table after the set to meet the band and snag some merch. We ended up with a signed copy of the four-way split the band had available and I was pumped to go home and load it into my computer so I could listen.

Having now heard the songs from that split, as well as the studio version of the band’s latest single, “St. Patrick”, I can say with honesty that this band is 100 times better live. There’s significantly more energy in every song and Gunnulfsen’s vocals —which are super unique and incredibly beautiful on the recorded tracks — absolutely soar in live sets. The five-song set they played on the Ernie Ball stage at Warped showcased that perfectly and I would love to see a longer set from them.

Unfortunately, the fall tour they’re headed on with Mayday Parade, Tonight Alive, and Major League won’t be hitting PVRIS’ hometown, which means I won’t be attending. But I’m going to keep an ear out for future dates, because I’m kind of addicted to their sound and keep playing “St. Patrick” on repeat. You can check out the video below.

New to me music: PVRIS