“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell

June 30, 2008 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Book review, Reflections | 4 Comments

It’s time for a book review!! This is not a book about food, but it has one of the most compelling stories that relates to the vegan philosophy, of any book I’ve read. The book is “Cloud Atlas,” a novel by David Mitchell. This is a wonderful book, a really brilliant, original novel; the book was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2004. I read it about a year ago, so my exact recollection of the details may be fuzzy, but I will attempt to describe how I remember it.

Roughly, the book is a series of inter-related stories, with characters and plots that connect to each other (although the connections are not clear until the end). I love the structure of the book; it has an intricate structure and complex stories. Some of the sections are structured as a diary, some as an interview, some as a mystery-suspense novel. The different parts of this book deal with different characters and settings, but roughly it is the story of one soul that keeps getting reincarnated through different lives and keeps dealing with themes of tyranny, control, and fights for independence. There are several contrasting settings and characters: a 19th-century quack doctor who travels the Pacific, a missionary on a Pacific island who exploits and converts the natives, a composer who tries to escape the tyranny of the mentor who steals his melodies, a journalist in the 1970’s who gets threatened with organized violence when she tries to expose a corporate plot, and a futuristic island where people have reverted to uncontrolled violence and warfare in an attempt to survive. David Mitchell’s writing style is so unique, so vivid– it is a really compelling book.

The story that sticks in my mind the most is called “An Orison of Sonmi~451” (divided into two sections in the book). When I first read this book, this section really shocked me, and I really strongly disliked it (it has very graphic descriptions of violence in it, quite shocking), but after a year, I find that I keep thinking about it, and I really appreciate it now. The story is structured as the transcript of an interview with a prisoner, before her death sentence is carried out. The setting is a futuristic Earth, in which a large corporation has come up with a brilliant method of providing food for a large population. The corporation uses human clones, bred for servitude and loyalty. The clones live their lives in the fast-food restaurants, serving food and repeating 1984-like chants of loyalty to “Papa.” The clones are fed rosy stories of how, after they have payed back their debt (for their creation) by years of loyal service, they will be taken to a wonderful resort island to live out the rest of their lives in luxury. One particular clone becomes enlightened when she starts to find out small details about the outside world, and wants to escape and live her own life. The most chilling, terrifying scene in the book is how she witnesses the retired clones being taken, not to a paradise island, but to a meat processing plant, where they are processed to become the food that they have served their whole lives.

When I first read this book, I found this part of the novel to be very shocking, violent, and disturbing. I was very upset by it, and I almost didn’t finish reading the book because of it. But after thinking about it for a year, (and now after becoming vegan), I realize that this story is a wonderful metaphor for the current state of our mass food supply (specifically fast-food restaurants). Also a wonderful metaphor for how “we are what we eat.” Our society relies on cruelty and exploitation of animals and people in order to supply the food we eat. In the story, the violent descriptions were necessary in order to create the effect of shock and disbelief, similar to how PETA uses videos of animal cruelty to expose what happens in meat processing plants. Mitchell’s intent was to be shocking. It is easy to remain complacent and to keep believing a rosy picture of how our food gets to our plate (I think most people picture happy cows and happy chickens on an idyllic country farm), when the reality is much more disturbing and cruel. “An Orison of Sonmi~451” (in “Cloud Atlas”) is a very stark, shocking, but brilliant picture of ourselves, cloaked as a picture of a fantastical, futuristic setting. It is an exaggerated story, a fantastical, unrealistic story, but it represents the vast corporate meat industry that markets “happy meals” and erects huge “golden arches” all over the world. I would highly recommend this book!


My weekend

June 30, 2008 at 12:06 pm | Posted in Auto-biographical | Leave a comment
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This past weekend my husband and I traveled to North Carolina for my sister-in-law’s wedding. It was a wonderful weekend, and we had a great time seeing our families! I enjoyed being a bridesmaid in the wedding, and it was so much fun to visit with everyone! I put a lot of thought beforehand into how I would handle my vegan lifestyle while traveling: I took vegan soap, shampoo, conditioner, and cosmetics in 3-oz. containers, in a plastic quart-size ziplock bag (for air travel). I bought some vegan shoes to wear with my bridesmaid dress. I took some healthy snacks with me– Odwalla cereal/fruit/nut-type bars, tamari-roasted cashews, a banana, and some date/raisin/sesame seed squares.

Even though I’d been worried ahead of time about how I would manage to eat vegan food in the heart of the South, I managed to (mostly successfully) navigate my way through all the meals. When my in-laws picked us up at the airport, they took us out to eat at an Indian restaurant, which was the first time they’d ever eaten Indian food, I think! So that was fun! I ordered a lentil curry and rice, and it was delicious! The next morning, for breakfast, my mother-in-law fixed me a breakfast of fruit (fresh local organic plums!), tea (she knows I like tea, so she always makes tea for me when I visit her– she’s so sweet!!), and a cinnamon bun. I ate the cinnamon bun, even though it was not vegan– in cases like this, when I am someone’s guest and they make an effort to feed me, I feel it’s more important to appreciate their hospitality, than to make them feel bad by refusing their food (although I don’t ever eat meat). For lunch that day we ate at a Mexican restaurant, and I ordered veggie fajitas without cheese, sour cream, or beans (they only had refried beans with lard).

The rehearsal dinner was a bit difficult: the dinner was at a steak-house. The guests had their choice of steak, chicken, or salmon, along with salad and a baked potato. When the waitress took my order, I asked for just a salad and a plain baked potato, without any meat. I asked what salad dressings were available, and she said that they all came with ranch, so I asked for a plain salad without dressing. And I ate some bread, without any butter. I had mixed reactions from the people at my table: I got some very strange stares from the groom’s mother when she heard me say that I am vegetarian, but my husband’s uncle, who was sitting next to me, asked if I was vegetarian or vegan, after seeing what I ordered. He was very impressed that I was vegan, and said that his son had been vegetarian for two years. He also said that he and his wife have started eating a lot of raw vegetables after reading about the raw food movement. I was impressed!

The next morning was the bridal brunch. It was a buffet, with bacon, eggs, sausage, chicken salad croissants, various pastries, and a fruit salad. I knew that this would be the only meal I would get until dinner, since we would be busy with getting ready for the wedding during lunchtime, so I decided that in order to not starve during the day, I would eat some (non-vegan) pastries. I felt like I really didn’t have much choice, so I don’t regret it. I ate an apple-walnut danish, a biscuit with jelly, and some fruit. It was still not a substantial meal, but at least I was able to avoid meat. (And I munched on my vegan snacks around noon.)

After the wedding, at the reception, I ate some fruit and crackers (the only vegan items), and for dinner that evening, my mother-in-law prepared a really great meal– I was so happy and impressed!!! She made brown rice (since she knows I like healthy foods), and a vegetable stir-fry (fresh local organic zucchini, squash and onions, with olive oil, sesame oil, and soy sauce), and sliced tomatoes. She also made chicken with mushrooms and onions, separately, for the meat-eaters. All the vegetables were really fresh, and really local– they were grown by a local couple who have a vegetable garden behind their house, and sell the veggies at a roadside stand next to their house, just 2 miles away from my in-laws’ house! The veggies were delicious!!! I was so happy– that was a very good meal!!! Anyways, so that was my weekend. I had a wonderful time; it was great to see family!!

To finish up, here are a few pictures. This is a meal I made sometime last week– mashed yellow potatoes (with a little almond milk stirred in), topped with portobello mushrooms (cooked with olive oil, onion, a sun-dried tomato tapenade, garlic powder, cumin, and coriander), and broccoli topped with a “cheesy” white sauce (pureed cannellini beans, firm tofu, olive oil, almond milk, garlic powder, salt, and dried sage). (In this picture you can see Mirabella sitting on a chair underneat the table– isn’t she cute?!!)

And here is a yummy, easy breakfast dish: cornmeal mush (cornmeal and water), with a little wheat bran, some flax seeds, walnuts, almond milk, a little salt, and pure maple syrup.

Lime-Walnut Seitan

June 18, 2008 at 11:02 am | Posted in Vegan Recipes | 2 Comments
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For lunch, I love eating sandwiches. It’s so convenient to fix a quick sandwich in the morning, to have ready for lunch. But, I get tired of PB&J, and although I enjoy some of the vegan deli slices that are available (like Tofurkey brand slices), I get irritated that they are so expensive– they’re often more expensive than comparable meat slices. So, I decided to try to make my own seitan to use for sandwiches.

I found a recipe online for a vegan mock bologna, which involved mixing wheat gluten flour with a tofu-tomato-paste mixture (with other ingredients), and baking it. I was intrigued, and wanted to try the recipe, but I didn’t have all of the ingredients. I ended up completely changing the recipe (although I still modeled the preparation method after the original recipe), and ended up with a Lime-Walnut Seitan (somewhat reminiscent of turkey, I think). I think it turned out great!

Lime-Walnut Seitan

  • 1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten flour
  • 1/3 cup ground chickpea flour
  • 5 oz. firm tofu
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp. tahini
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 1/2 tsp. lime juice (I used bottled lime juice, but fresh would be good too)
  • 1/8 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. sage
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. Spike vegetable seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt

Mix the flours together in a bowl and set aside. In a blender, puree the remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour, and mix well, kneading until it has a smooth texture. Cover with a towel and let it sit for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375. Knead the gluten again, and place in a baking dish. (I used a round casserole baking dish.) Press down so it fills all the sides of the dish. Mix the following ingredients, and pour over the gluten. (If you have extra liquid that won’t fit in the casserole dish, keep it in the refrigerator to pour over the gluten as it absorbs the liquid while cooking.)

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 1/2 tsp. lime juice
  • generous dashes of sage, dill, garlic powder, and cracked black pepper

Place the casserole dish in the oven, with a tray underneath to catch any liquid that spills over. Lower the temperature to 250 and bake for 3 1/2 hours. Throughout the cooking time, spoon some of the liquid back over the top of the seitan. Towards the end of the cooking time, I noticed that the top of the seitan roast was developing a nice dry texture, while the sides were gooey from being pressed to the sides of the casserole dish and immersed in liquid. So, for the last 45 minutes, I removed the seitan from the small casserole dish, placed it in a larger one, and raised the temperature to 350 to try to make the sides of the roast have the same texture as the top. I think this worked– the outside has a nice texture, while the inside wasn’t too dry.

Here’s a slice of the seitan, lightly fried and served with channa masala and wild rice (I used Vegandad’s recipe):

And here is the seitan in a sandwich (with vegan mayonnaise):

Although this recipe was time-consuming, I think it was worth it; now I have sandwich fillings for several days! And there are endless possibilities for how you could use this besides sandwiches– in stir-fries, in salads, in soups…

Vegetable Pot Pie

June 15, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Posted in Vegan Recipes | 2 Comments

Even though the weather here has been very hot, and already feels like the middle of summer, I found myself craving an easy, one-dish meal that would be filling, hearty and simple. So, vegetable pot pie it was! I used two store-bought frozen spelt pie crusts, and I had lots of fresh vegetables from our local farmer’s market to choose from. I like throwing together whatever I have in the refrigerator, and this combination worked out really well!

Vegetable Pot Pie

  • two pie crusts (store-bought, for convenience)
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 rutabaga, thinly diced
  • 1 cup green beans, ends trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • several mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • the kernels sliced from one ear of corn
  • 1/3 of an onion, thinly sliced
  • a large bunch of basil, thinly sliced (I used purple basil)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • several generous dashes of dried sage, garlic salt, and Spike vegetable seasoning (or other seasonings of your choice)
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch

Sautee the vegetables (and added seasonings) in olive oil for just about 2-3 minutes, while preheating the oven 350. Then, fill one of the pie crusts with the vegetable mixture. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch into the almond milk, and pour evenly over the vegetable mixture. Top the pie with the second crust, pinching the edges together. Prick the top crust with a fork or knife to allow steam to escape, and bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is done.

Banana Cream Pie

June 11, 2008 at 7:04 pm | Posted in Dessert, Vegan Recipes | Leave a comment
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Think a cross between a vegan cheesecake and banana pudding! I made up this recipe today, and I have to say I’m quite proud of myself! It turned out great; the picture may not look like much, but it tasted wonderful!

I used the gingersnap crust recipe from La Dolce Vegan (only substituting walnuts instead of pecans, and melted Earth Balance instead of regular oil). For the filling, I used:

  • a 16-oz package firm silken tofu
  • 2 ripe medium-sized bananas
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. agave nectar
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. stevia extract powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice

Combine all the filling ingredients in a blender, puree, and pour into the prepared pie crust. Bake at 300 for 60 minutes (or until done), and then refrigerate for a few hours to set.

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