Friday, September 29, 2006

World Vegetarian Day Oct. 1

Sunday, Oct. 1 is World Vegetarian Day, to lead into October as World Vegetarian Month. It was begun in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society as a way "to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism."

If you're not a vegetarian, it's a good day to give going meatless a try. If you are a vegetarian, it's a good day to share information with friends who might be curious about your lifestyle or to do some reading yourself to learn more. Or if you're vegetarian, maybe try going vegan for the day.

You can find out more about the day here and get some tips on things you can do to celebrate -- such as holding a potluck dinner or dinner party for friends or putting up fliers.

Want to send friends an e-card to mark the day? You can find several at this site. Cute!

I couldn't find any local events planned to celebrate World Vegetarian Day, which is a shame. If you know of any -- or have some ideas of things to do -- please share them!

Coming up: Julie and I will let you know what vegetarian treats you can find at the Dixie Classic Fair.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hot Diggity Dog

Who knew that Winston-Salem's own hottie, Texas Pete, makes a vegetarian chili? Well, my omnivorous friends did, that's who. At morning coffee one day, we got to talking about hot dogs, which led to chili. And then John mentioned that Texas Pete's chili has no meat in it.

But even after I read the ingredient list - on a can procured from the pantry of another meat-loving friend - I was skeptical. It all looks OK … except what is that "natural flavor"? As experienced vegetarians know, "natural flavors"can be just about anything, and often are derived from meat or other animal products. Unless the packaging states that the product is vegetarian or vegan, there is only one way to know: Do a bit of research.

In this case, I asked Texas Pete itself, using a handy "contact us" link right on the chili page. And a few days later, one of Pete's representatives wrote back to let me know that "The natural flavor listed in the ingredients is not derived from meat."

So I stocked up – the sauce is inexpensive, too -- and had my first chili dog in more than 20 years (a veggie dog, naturally). That was good! It’s exciting to find out about a great product, and it just goes to show that you can pick up vegetarian tips anywhere, even talking with meat-eaters about their favorite toppings for hot dogs….

Attack of the mystery meat

Most vegetarians have probably encountered this situation before: You order a vegetarian dish from a restaurant, and as you're eating it, you discover a bit of chicken or beef in your dish.

This happened to me recently. I was eating my tofu-filled entree when I came across a small piece of chicken, and then another one. My pleasure in the dish immediately diminished. The chicken pieces had probably sneaked in there accidentally on the grill, because the cook wasn't paying close enough attention to keeping the dishes separated.

When this happens, there's the question of what you should do. Do you send the dish back and request a new one? Do you just pick out the offending piece(s) of meat and continue eating? Do you immediately get up and leave the restaurant?

In my case, it happened to be a takeout meal, so taking the dish back to the restaurant wasn't a very viable solution. I ended up removing the small chicken pieces and eating the rest of the dish very carefully, keeping a close eye out for more. The dish was still good, but I enjoyed it a lot less than I would have had the chicken pieces not been in there.

I think the answer to how you react to this situation probably depends on a variety of factors: how strict a vegetarian you are; whether you think the restaurant will be understanding of your problem with the dish; and the situation. My preferred method would be to quietly speak to the manager, explain that it was upsetting for a vegetarian to find meat in their dish, and request a new dish. Some restaurants will be more understanding than others and more willing to make things right -- that's just the nature of the beast. My experience will, of course, have an effect on whether I return to the restaurant in the future.

If I were at the restaurant for some type of special occasion where I didn't want to draw potentially negative attention to myself -- say, a first date, a business meeting or a friend's birthday celebration -- I would probably push the meat to the side and keep quiet. And I would be less likely to visit the restaurant again.

Of course, if I ordered tofu pad thai and got chicken pad thai instead, I would most definitely send it back -- there's a difference between a stray piece of chicken and getting the entire order wrong.

What do you do in this situation?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Let’s Talk Tofu

Poor tofu, butt of so many jokes and victim of so many misconceptions. I’m convinced that many people who say they don’t like tofu simply don’t understand it. So I’d like to properly introduce you, because once you really know tofu, there’s a good chance you’ll love it.

Tofu, a.k.a. bean curd, is made from soybeans. It’s a valued part of many vegetarians’ diets because it is high in protein and because it can enhance so many kinds of dishes. Plain tofu doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own – and that’s what makes it so versatile. The magic lies in knowing how to use it.

The first thing you need to know is that plain tofu comes in two main types – silken tofu, sometimes called Japanese style tofu, and regular or "Chinese" style tofu.

Silken tofu has a soft and silky-smooth texture. It is most useful in recipes where it will be blended. It makes a great base for a savory party dip; and it is equally at home as a main ingredient in a sweet dessert mousse. It comes in aseptic packages, like little bricks, which last for months without refrigeration.

Regular tofu is generally found refrigerated, floating in water-filled packages. It is the type to choose when you want more texture in your final dish – say, if you’re going to marinate it and thread it with veggies on a skewer for a cookout, or season and broil it as a cutlet.
Choosing the wrong tofu for the task can lead to disappointment. Say you use regular tofu for a dish that is going to be blended – it probably won’t get as smooth as it should, and you’ll end up with a grainy chocolate mousse pie. Or if you try to put silken tofu on a skewer, it’s likely to end up falling into the coals at your cookout.

Both types come in a range of firmnesses – from soft to extra-firm. Choose the firmness that matches your intended use. (I usually just buy the firm or extra-firm varieties. The firmness seems to be less important than choosing the right tofu type, silken or regular.) And low-fat varieties are now available. They seem to work just as well as the full-fat kinds.

When you open package of tofu, drain off any liquid before proceeding with your recipe. If you have any left, store it in fresh water in the refrigerator. Many sources recommend that you change the water every day to help keep the tofu fresh. But even if you do that, try to use it up quickly. It doesn't tend to keep for long once the package is open.

When you go shopping for tofu, you’ll also find that natural-foods stores carry a tremendous variety of tofu that has already been flavored and prepared so that it is ready to eat straight from the package. We’ll talk about those later – it’s the plain tofu I wanted to introduce today. Here’s a quick recipe to get you started:

Onion Dip
1 package silken tofu (Mori Nu is the brand most often available here.)
1 envelope dry Lipton (or other) onion soup mix. (Lipton’s mix is vegan, according to an extensive list from PETA of name-brand vegan products at

Crumble tofu into a blender and blend until smooth.
Add dry soup; blend just enough to mix thoroughly.
Enjoy with chips, veggie sticks, etc.

This is tasty with just the two ingredients. If you want to get fancy, add a tablespoon of lemon juice for extra twang, and/or a tablespoon or two of oil for extra richness. For people who want to consume fewer animal products, blended silken tofu (without the onion soup added, but with a bit of lemon juice, salt and oil) can replace sour cream or mayonnaise in many dishes.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Drop that spinach!

Here's a news story that could affect you whether you're vegetarian or not -- and especially if you're Popeye.

One of the things I pretty much always have in my refrigerator is a bag of prewashed spinach. I use it to make salads, to put in wraps, to toss into a pan of scrambled eggs. It's healthy and super-convenient.

So it was particularly vexing and alarming when I read that the FDA is warning people not to eat fresh bagged spinach because of an outbreak of E. coli. So far there have been 50 cases in eight states, and one person has died. Most healthy people can fight off the bacteria, but it can cause kidney failure and death.

Reports seem to conflict over whether it would do any good to wash the spinach first -- so better safe than sorry, I'd say, and just not eat it until they can narrow down the cause. And to be on the safe side, it's best to go ahead and wash all of that bagged, prewashed produce. Yeah, it defeats some of the convenience aspect, but it's better than getting sick.

Some grocery stores are pulling spinach off their shelves, but others probably aren't aware of this FDA alert, so you might want to mention it to the produce manager if you're at the store.

It's disheartening to realize that we have to watch out for such healthy foods, too, but cases such as this also make me more convinced that we need to pay more attention to the foods we eat in general, develop safer food-production methods and grow more of our own food when possible.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Beyond the cheese enchilada ...

The last time I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant, La Botana, there was a new special on the board - Quesadilla Nopalitos. It is a quesadilla stuffed with sauteed cactus strips, black beans and other goodies; and it is delicious. The specials always are. And that got me to thinking of a prime strategy vegetarians can use for good restaurant eating: Going off the menu.

Now, La Botana has a fine vegetarian section on its regular menu, with a lot of variety. I might never have ventured to try the specials until one day as I was ordering, the waiter asked whether I was vegetarian. It turned out that he was vegetarian, too. He particularly recommended the burrito caliente - stuffed with pinto beans, sauteed onions, and diced, fried potatoes, and covered with a chipotle-cream sauce. So I tried it, and was hooked on it, and on La Botana's other specials.

For a while, the vegetarian enchiladas de mole nearly edged burrito caliente out as my favorite: Cheese enchiladas on a bed of rice and pinto beans, topped with mole sauce and spicy onions. (If you decide to try that one, be sure to be clear about what you want - there's a similarly named dish on the regular menu that includes chicken.) In fact, I've ordered it so often that I haven't yet tried the veggie chimichanga....

La Botana's creative chef keeps dreaming up new specials; not all are vegetarian but many are. And the best part is, once you find a favorite they will make it for you, even after it no longer appears on the special board. La Botana is at 1547 Hanes Mall Blvd. in Winston-Salem, near the Wynnsong 12 movie theater.

In future posts, I'll talk about other restaurants with specials to make a vegetarian's heart beat a bit faster. Meanwhile, let me know if you know of any restaurants that have really special specials.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Marinade recipe

jennytarian requested marinade ideas, so I thought I would share my favorite marinade recipe. I adapted it from one I found on I'm never that exact with the ginger and sesame oil -- I just add until it tastes "right" to me.

Teriyaki Marinade

1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. grated fresh ginger (or more to taste -- I like a lot)
1/4 t. sesame oil
Dash of black pepper

Combine all ingredients and pour over tofu or vegetables.

(You can change it up a bit by substituting lime or pineapple juice for the orange juice.)

What happened to your comments?

Apparently our blog is not a vegetarian. It also eats comments. If you tried to comment on our blog this week, your comment went into the gaping cyber maw. Settings have been changed to stop that from happening (knock on wood -- but lightly, since trees are our friends).

Buying organic food

One of the things I would like to do is eat more organic foods, especially produce. Unfortunately, the high cost keeps me from buying as much as I would like. It can be hard to choose organic grapes at $4.99 a pound, when those juicy red conventional ones are sitting there at 99 cents a pound.

One way to cut costs is to concentrate your organic buying on those fruits and vegetables that tend to have more pesticides. You can download a wallet guide at that tells you the 12 fruits and vegetables that consistently have the highest and lowest levels of pesticides. So if your budget forces you to choose, spend your money on organic apples instead of organic bananas.

The difference in price between conventional and organic items can vary greatly. On a recent shopping trip, I compared prices of a few items at random. There wasn't much difference in the cost of leaf lettuce (conventional was $2.29; organic was $2.49) or green onions (conventional, $0.69; organic, $0.99). And the price of an organic avocado was actually the same as a conventional one -- $1.99.

But there was a huge difference in other items, such as red peppers -- $2.99 each conventional vs. $4.99 each organic -- and the previously mentioned grapes.

Some organic products are easier to save a bit of money on. When organic rice milk is on sale, I can stock up, because it won't expire until next April. So when you find a good price on something that will keep for awhile, it pays to buy a lot of it.

Speaking of organic food, there's an Organicfest in downtown Asheville on Saturday the 9th (that's tomorrow!) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Its purpose is to celebrate "everything organic," and there will be giveaways, free samples, music, food, crafts and more. I haven't been to this before, but it sounds intriguing. You can find out more information here:

What are some of your tips for buying organic foods without breaking the bank?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ask Julie and Cassandra a question

What do you want to know about being a vegetarian? What are your curious about? Got a comment? Post it here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Welcome to the Veggin' Out blog

Cassandra Sherrill, graphic artist for the Journal: I need to confess something right off the bat: I’m not actually a true vegetarian in many vegetarians’ eyes. I’m what some call a pesce-vegetarian (and others might call a pesky vegetarian). In other words, I eat fish, but no beef, chicken or pork. I think of myself as mostly a vegetarian, but some say there’s no such thing – like being slightly pregnant.

I turned toward vegetarianism because of health as well as ethical reasons. I wanted to be kinder to my cranky digestive system, and also avoid the hormones and antibiotics given to animals raised for food. I also have a deep love for animals, and thinking about them being killed so that I can eat them makes me feel queasy.

It has been a gradual process for me. One year I gave up beef; the next, pork; and the next, poultry. I don’t have any plans to give up fish, but one day, I might decide to do that, too.

Julie Harris, Journal library director: My main reason for being vegetarian is for the animals – I don’t even like to bite into a chocolate Easter Bunny, much less contribute to the horrors inflicted upon real, live animals…. So I try to learn as much as possible about animal-rights issues. My goal is to go completely vegan. (A vegan diet excludes eggs and dairy products as well as meat. Vegans also avoid the use of such animal products as leather and fur.) I see vegetarianism as a journey, as a way to get from the world as it is now to what it ought to be: a place of peace and plenty for all creatures.

But going veg also turned me into a "foodie." There is so much variety and beauty in the vegetable kingdom, and so many delicious new tastes to be discovered. Now I read cookbooks like novels, and enjoy trying new things all the time.

We'll be updating this blog twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. We may post on other days for special occasions or if there is late-breaking news we think you'd like to know about quickly.

Well, enough about us; let’s talk about you. Won’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and what interests you most about vegetarianism?