Thursday, February 25, 2010

Confessions of a wannabe vegan

So I've been on this vegan journey for one week and....I have a few confessions to make.
1. My multi-vitamin and evening primrose oil aren't vegan.  Both have gelatin that come from animal sources. I was not about to buy a new multi-vitamin for 40 days when I have bottle with more than 100 tablets.

2. I accidentally ate a piece of soy cheese that I thought was vegan. I was so excited about how it has such a great flavor. I went back to read the ingredients and noticed that has casein, which is a milk protein.  The company does make vegan cheese that I might buy in the future....for now I live a cheeseless life.

3. Since Lent began, I have been out to eat at least five times. I refuse to buy salads at restaurants because I can go to the grocery store and buy lettuce for a few dollars. I realized that I really don't know how to be vegan in public (i.e., at a restaurant).  I asked basic questions like "does XYZ food have eggs", "what kind of oil is XYZ prepared in", "can I get the baked potato without butter, sour cream, bacon bits, cheese, etc. etc.", but I haven't interrogated anyone about how the food is prepared and what it's prepared on or near.

Restaurant 1
I went to Rulis' in downtown El Paso. Usually I get the grilled veggie panino which has aioli made with eggs. I tried the Garden (vegetarian) pasta dish with linguine, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, and sweet red onion without Parmesan cheese, of course. The cashier didn't seem to mind me asking so many questions about how the food would be prepared. She had to ask the chef several times....Maybe next time I'll just ask to speak with the chef.

Restaurant 2
Then, I went Nothing but Noodles twice. I had the pad thai noodles the first time and spinach cranberry salad the second time.  (في رأيي the thai cart in Richmond, VA on the MCV campus has the best Thai food I've ever eaten. I've never been to Thailand though.) The Pad Thai is described as "Rice noodles tossed in a classic Thai sauce with bean sprouts, scallions, crushed peanuts and fried egg. Garnished with fresh cilantro, a lime wedge and peanuts."  So what are the ingredients for thai sauce?  

Restaurant 3
I went to Jaxon's and had the mushroom burger with a black bean patty, no cheese or mayo. I think the the bun had butter on it. And I'm certain that the black bean burger is prepared on the same grill as all the other meats.

Restaurant 4
Tuesday, I went to Yamato Japanese Restaurant on Mesa St for lunch. I just had a small bowl of veggie fried rice (minus the eggs). The highlight of eating here was that I successfully mastered eating with chop sticks!  I'm assuming that my dish was free of animal product.   Unfortunately, assumptions don't get people very far...

Being vegan in public is hard work!  I'm sure I've probably consumed some animal product at these restaurants but not knowingly or willingly.  Maybe next time I'll consult dining guide for the Vegetarian Society of El Paso.  Or maybe I should just stick to more experimental vegan cooking and say NO to eating out.....decisions, decisions. :-)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Priorities: God, family, and....chocolate

So, Ash Wednesday is tomorrow and the season of Lent begins. I decided to go vegan (transitioning from vegetarianism). Farewell, green chile cheese enchiladas.....

Tonight I spent a little time experimental cooking and getting my menu prepared for the rest of the week. I really wanted to make vegan chocolate covered peanuts (my version of the famous color-coated milk chocolate peanuts) or agave nectar roasted peanuts (my version of honey roasted peanuts). Unfortunately, I don't have all the ingredients to make a chocolate sauce and agave nectar taste too much like syrup for me to substitute it as honey. I may make a small batch this weekend, but for now I'll have to find another sweet to nibble on.

I did make a delicious stir-fry with portobello mushrooms, tri-color peppers, broccoli, and sprouts. I made the sauce from dijon mustard, sesame oil, Bragg's liquid aminos, agave, nutritional yeast, and some vegetable blend seasoning. I will make a pita sandwhich with the stir fried veggies. Hopefully, this will be my lunch for the rest of the work week.

For dinner, I'm planning on making a concoction of pinto beans, carrots, rice, and a variety of seasonings. So what am I actually going to make from all the cookbooks I have?? Who knows :-)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Going vegan

So, I'm already a vegetarian and have been toying with idea of going vegan (just food, not the entire lifestyle). I've decided to go vegan for Lent. This is going to be challenging because I really like cheese, eggs, and honey. I went to the library and got a few cookbooks. My 2 favorite books right now are Becoming Vegan and You Won't Believe it's Vegan.

During the Lenten season, I hope to update my blog with a few biblical insights and delicious vegan recipes. No more experimental vegan's real.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I am a horrible blogger...

I am a horrible blogger, I hope to update you about my adventures in Tunisia soon. In the meantime check out Arabic Without Walls.

Monday, June 8, 2009

برشاء برشاء برشاء

It's been a few days and much has happened. We spent the remainder of last week in Tunis, the capital. We had a few days of orientation at CEMAT including Tunisian Arabic lessons. The Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) that is taught in class isn't used in everyday conversation. Orientation was pretty much all day from 0830 to 1800. We visited the US Embassy, had a reception at the ambassador's house, met some of the researchers at CEMAT, took a tour around the capital, and had a few lectures about Tunisian history and family structure.

The program seems be pretty well organized. Our classes will be held in Sidi Bou Said at the SIT building A typical schedule for us will include class in the morning from 0830 to 1300, a break from 1300 to 1700 and an evening activity. This week we have 1 hour of Tunisian Arabic lessons. Other days will include excursions around town with Fulbright Foreign Language Teacher Assistants (FLTAs). Basically, they'll walk us through a real life scenario (shopping, ordering food, etc.) using the local dialect.

We also have cultural clubs: cooking, dancing, darbuka (drumming), and calligraphy. I'll be in the cooking club (of course) and I can't wait to add new recipes to my cookbook.

So yesterday (Sunday) was the BIG day! We met our host families. I was a little anxious about meeting my family but soon realized that I have nothing to worry about. My immediate host family consists of a mom, dad, and 4 month old baby girl. My host mom and I are actually the same age! We live in a house upstairs and downstairs is part of my extended family where my classmate, Anthony, is living. Yesterday after meeting everyone and having a mini-tour of the houses, I showed pictures of my family and Alabama on a map. The family's last exchange student was from Alabama too! It's nice to know that Alabama is being represented in Tunisia.

We ate lunch. It was delicious. I played with the baby and played "language charades" with my parents. Since I don't speak French or Arabic, we have to do a lot of pointing and gesturing to communicate. Although it is frustrating, I am happy that I can't use French as a crutch to get by...

After lunch, we went to the beach. Anthony, Mouna (my host cousin, I think), and I walked to our host grandmother's house where 2 other classmates are staying (David and Angela). The beach is beautiful!!! We hung out there for a couple of hours. I met some other exchange students who are studying Arabic through SIT, met some more extended host family...

When I got back my host parent's helped my study the alphabet. That was really helpful. In Tunisia, dinner is eaten really late. We didn't eat until after 2100. I got to make my first Tunisian dish! I made brik which is a tuna and egg turnover (in simple terms). The turnover is cooked so that the yolk is still raw. The goal is to eat it without getting egg all over your face :-)

I was supposed to go out for coffee afterwards but I was very tired. So I ate a small dessert and looked at some more pictures of my family and went to bed.

You may notice that I mentioned eating alot...If you think Southern hospitality is great, then you haven't experienced Tunisian hospitality. In the US, we say "no thank you" to be polite if offered something, because wasting it is considered rude. In Tunisia, it's considered rude to say "no thank you". It's actually better to take what's offered (even if it’s small) and eat some of it, than to refuse it all together. So I aet alot of things yesterday including beef stew, watermelon, apricots, peaches, bread, brik, salad, cookies, tea, tuna, etc. Will I eat these things when I get back to the US??? Only time will tell :-) (but not the beef stew)

Today, we had a first real Arabic class...Overwhelming only partly describes the material. It's alot to learn, and I'm ok with that. I spent much of the afternoon studying, but have decided to take a break this evening to update the blog. I hope to post some more profound and meaningful entries later on.

Thanks for reading! Bisslaama!

PS: برشاء (pronounced bar-shah) means "a lot"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In Tunisia

Hi everyone! We arrived in Tunis today around 1000. No one had missing luggage :-). We met the executive director and associate director of CEMAT and went to our hotel, Hotel Carlton. We'll be staying here for the rest of the week.

Our flight was relatively uneventful. We did have to sit on the tarmac for about an hour before take off, but we arrived in Paris on time. No vegetarian meals were reserved for us on the plane, so I ate the rice that came with a chicken dish. Airport security in Paris was pretty much like the US. The flight from Paris to Tunis was about 2 hours long.

We got checked into our hotel and then I went wandering down to the Medina with a group of student from the CLS program. We had a small lunch at a cafe nearby. Cafe's are lined all up and down the street. It's been a little frustrating for me because I don't know Arabic or French and I keep wanting to answer and ask questions in Spanish...but I'll be speaking Arabic soon, Insha'Allah. Because we ventured out into the city on our own, we thought of alot of questions to ask our instructors.

Tonight we're meeting all the program staff and then having a welcome dinner at Le Pacha with traditional Tunisian food!

I'm posting some pictures from our walk today.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Back in DC

I got to Washington, DC yesterday afternoon. We're staying at the Renaissance M Street Hotel (which is actually on New Hampshire Ave.). It's a really nice hotel, but everything is pretty much a la carte (from the internet to a $5 bottle of water). Fortunately, there's a Starbucks right around the corner and thanks to Daddy I've got wi-fi access. We were finally able to get the connection to work and after about 30 minutes of troubleshooting I finally connected to the internet for the first time in almost 24 hours!

So yesterday, we had to register from 1600-1800. A bunch of us decided to go walk around the city before our meet and greet at 18:30. We walked all the way to the WWII memorial and back. I was nice getting to talk one on one with different people and hear about their language and traveling experience. We had our meet and greet, bascially just introducing ourselves and why we want to learn Arabic. There are actually three people from Alabama in our group! We were all on the same BHM flight. Most of the group is interested in international policy, law, economics, etc. There is one other public health person.

By 1900 I was very hungry and not very interested in talking more with people. So one of my new traveling partners and I left found a restaurant called Luna Grill. They had a nice vegetarian options :-). I've decided that I'm not going to eat any exotic meals before flying.

This morning around 0030, my roommate arrived! I was sleep and thought someone was trying to break into the room. She's a PhD student at LSU studying political theory.

Well, I'm heading back to the hotel for breakfast and a day of "informational sessions" sponsored by our friendly Department of State. Pictures will be posted soon I hope.