Thursday, July 23, 2009

Style: Nikki, the Sentimental Thrifter

dress: Austin, TX; Belt found at estate give away in the Haight

One doesn't have to compromise on aesthetics to "live green". Nikki is a perfect example of this. She combines eco ethics with great fashion and home décor. This social worker always sports stylish thrifted outfits and adorns her beautiful Cole Valley home with furniture and bric-a-brac scored at small town antique stores, flea markets and garage sales.

Objects are always more than they seem to be. In this consumers' society, they are signs of status, wealth, social class, of whichever identity one wishes to display. But for Nikki, collecting objects is about much more than just owning valorizing stuff: every piece has a story to tell, a memory attached. Like Proust's madeleine, they transport her through time, and she can remember the circumstances, the people, the place, the smells, the weather, the sensations. She has also learned from her loved ones the art of scavenging, mending, repairing, and creatively turning used objects into something new. She's the sentimental thrifter.

Blue vintage suitcase: Portland, Oregon,
Blue polka dot dress : Austin, TX; Necklace : New Orleans

Why do you shop used?
I like treasure hunts. It's rewarding to work, to sort, to dig for that diamond in the rough. It's less wasteful to buy something second hand than to consume something new. It's more cost efficient. I like to give discarded things a new home where they will be loved (just like Joey my Chihuahua).

Joey the Rescued Chihuahua

Where do you shop?

I grew up shopping at the Goodwill in Cupertino. I still make pilgrimages back to San Jose to hit this little known goldmine. Many things in my home town have changed over the years, but the Goodwill still stands. Besides finding great stuff there, I like shopping in the same familiar building I roamed as a teenager.

"reading is sexy"
Skirt : Haight street Goodwill; Shirt: Buffalo Exchange on Valencia;
Patent belt: Austin, TX; Shoes : Goodwill Haight street
Antique chair: Alameda Flea Market

I also frequent the Goodwills in San Francisco. A friend turned me onto Savers in Daly City, which has become a favorite also. For home items, I scavenge Building Resources in the Bayview. There is a women’s shelter in my neighborhood. The residents leave all sorts of things out on the street as they are in transition. I guess you could say that I ‘shop the street’ regularly.

Sun dress: Painted bird, SF; Bandana: Williamsburg, NY

Skirt : Haight street Goodwill; Tee-shirt: Buffalo Exchange Market street;
Belt : found on street in Bayview during bike ride

What are your favorite pieces?
Many of my favorite pieces have an adventure associated with them. The thrift items become wearable souvenirs from trips I’ve taken. Like some people’s tattoos, they remind me of different times and people in my life. The pink necklace from New Orleans, the polka dot dress from Austin, the gold brooch from Portland- they are all bits of my special memories.

Red shirt: Crossroads Haight street, Marilyn skirt: Alameda flea market;
White beads : Cupertino Goodwill; Suspenders : Buffalo Exchange, Haight street

Rooster bell scored at the (sadly) now closed Pickled Hutch
in Noe Valley

Do you use stuff for other purposes?
Yes, it's good fun. Mom’s pitcher holds cooking utensils. Dad’s toothpick cup now offers Qtips. Soup pot becomes garden pot. Spaghetti jar becomes vase. The possibilies are endless.

Mom’s pitcher holds cooking utensils

What do you suggest for recycled gift ideas?
I make cards out of flyers I find, out of scrap paper, ribbons and out of old magazines.
I like getting dishware at garage sales and filling them with a home made food treat.
Old glasses can be shined and served up on a vintage tray. A lonely piece of crystal from a broken chandelier transformed into a gift necklace.

Nikki's apron collection

Nikki's homemade cards made of reused materials

A gift for a friend: this chandelier part is now a vase

Do you mend?
Bien sûr. And staple and tape and pin. Whatever it takes! Grandma’s sewing machine is a girl’s best friend for mending and alterations.

Knit shirt : Savers Daly city; Pleated skirt : Goodwill Cupertino;
Broche : Goodwill Portland;
Shoes : Goodwill Haight street; Sparkle belt Austin, TX

grandma's sewing machine, vintage fabric

vintage fabric

What are your tips to earn karma points?
Growing my own food.

Nikki's garden (here: zucchini plants)

herb garden

this over 10 y.o. plant was saved and is now thriving

Dad's lilies

the seeds of this corn were a gift from a squirrel

Nikki can be found walking her chihuhua Joey in Cole Valley, training for triathlons in the chilly San Francisco Bay, sharing with friends some home-made rosemary-infused vodka, or in a cute vintage apron, cooking elaborate vegan dinners with Queer Food For Love.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Vegan Dessert Challenge

ice-cream sandwiches

Here are two ideas for delicious vegan desserts: ice-cream sandwiches and chocolate-walnuts zucchini cake. The first one is quick and cute, perfect when you are in a rush but still want to make an impression, and the second one is rich and decadent, when you really want to make a statement.

One of the things non-vegans usually say about vegan pastry is how inferior it is to the "real thing", that what it has in good intentions, it lacks in taste. I find such statements not only unfair, but also very butter-&-lard-centric!

Chocolate Walnut Zucchini Cake
(made by Nikki and Greg)

There was an episode a couple of nights ago when my good friend Jenn -a talented cook and the sister of a celebrated pastry chef- decided to make impromptu cupcakes at a friend's house, and to make them vegan for my sake. Isn't that sweet? However, an inner voice kept prompting me to tell her to forget about it and stick to something she would normally make, because, if the attempt failed, the vegan would be blamed for spoiling everyone's pleasure!

Brittney's Strawberry-Banana-Coconut Milk Muffins

Of course, something went wrong, the kitchen did not have the right kind of chocolate, and the cupcakes turned out super blah, which, sadly, seemed to settle once and for all the case of the inferiority of vegan pastry. I did argue that another friend had made those very same cupcakes with the right kind of chocolate and they had turned out lip-smacking good, but my statement was probably attributed to my unreliable taste buds and filed under "pathetic attempt at vegan propaganda".

Vegan desserts are not inferior, just out of the Western norm where butter, dairy cream, eggs and sometimes lard prevail. Western tastebuds are just dairy-centric, that's all! When I became vegan, rather than lowering my standards, I believe I expanded my horizons. I do know for sure that butter tastes good, and so does dairy cream, and cheese: I'm French, I was raised on the best stuff! But I also know for sure that there's much more to life than this, even from a purely pleasure-based point of view. Dairy-centered folks are missing out on tastes and textures that truly deserve praise. How sad!

These were from a Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World recipe...
(the Book, the Blog) -picture by Yasmin

The only thing we can do is to convince the agnostics by blowing their minds with incredible goodness! It doesn't sound so awful, does it? (Except maybe for your waistline...)

Ice-cream sandwiches
These were my contribution to a cocktail party. I knew the homemade beverages were going to be fancy and elaborate, and served in pretty thrifted glasses. I wanted to contribute with something bite-size that would look very cute.

Sorbet or non-dairy ice-cream
Small-sized vegan cookies

These delicate little thing complemented the fancy beverages.
In the pitcher: Greg's Limoncello Punch.

I simply went to the store and purchased fruit-sweetened raspberry sorbet and lemon cookies. I then made the sandwiches in 10 minutes, at the party. Easy peasy!

Of course, you can also be truly amazing and make your own cookies and ice-cream...

raspberry + lemon= yum!

kinda cute...

Decadent Chocolate-Walnut Zucchini Cake

This recipe comes directly from the Post Punk Kitchen Website.

Dang! I gained three pounds just uploading the photo...

bundt pan, mixing bowls

2 1/2 cups grated, peeled, fresh zuchini
2 ripe bananas, mashed well
1 cup canola oil
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar*
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup ground walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
*I could cut a little bit of sugar...

In medium sized mixing bowl, combine zucchini, bananas, oil, and vanilla. Stir well or beat with electric mixer if you want to be fancy. In large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except chocolate. Add wet mixture to dry, mix well and add chocolate chips. Pour into lightly greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes, until toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool upright 15 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack. Allow to cool 30 minutes before tasting. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vegan Smoked Bacon Crumbs

I love smoked foods. Unfortunately the taste is mostly found in animal products (meats, fish flesh, and those delicious smoked cheeses...). Thankfully, there is this thing called smoked salt, which, added to your recipes, renders that special flavor.

I used it for the first time to make a mean baked beans dip. Then my friend Yasmin seasoned a Cajun stew with it, and I believe it made the flavor more subtil and "authentic". I also substituted it to regular salt in simple black beans and it made me feel like a Woman of the Wild West... (Yes, some simple American things are still exotic to me and evoke a mythical past!)

My favorite smoked creation is fake bacon crumbs made with crushed almonds. It's a great way of making use of the almond pulp that remains after making your own almond milk. Almonds give the "fakon bits" a pleasant crunchy texture.

You can sprinkle it on a simple salad, or include it in a vegan quiche.

this salad never knew what hit it...

1 cup of Almond Pulp
3 tbsp* Smoked Salt
2 tbsp* wheat-free tamari (or any soy sauce)
Vegetable oil (1 tbsp, to cover the bottom of the dish)
*I never bother to measure...

unsung heroes: wheat-free tamari and hickory smoked salt

oven dish with a large flat surface

Preheat the oven to 350º
Mix the ingredients until you reach desired taste (it should be VERY salty and smoky)
Lay the pulp flat on a dish
Roast for about 30 minutes (do check regularly, the time depends on the oven and the amount of pulp)
It should come out brown, but watch out because it burns easily if roasted for too long. Take it out of the oven when it's brown but not too much. Actually, some bits might still be light brown and a little wet: they'll become all dry and crunchy while cooling down.

the finished product

bacon bits make this simple salad very exciting

Monday, May 11, 2009

Homemade Almond Milk

homemade milk!

It's so easy to make fresh almond milk that you'd have to be crazy not to do it! Making your own milk feels like having a cow in your backyard.
The good thing about making your own milk is that you use no packaging. Just buy almonds in bulk. A cup of almonds is also lighter to carry than a pack of milk (which makes a difference when you bike n' shop like me).

1 measure of raw almonds
4 measures of water
(some recipes call for a date, but I like it just plain)

Food processor
Fine mesh sieve
A big bowl
A container for the milk

How to proceed?
I make milk with raw sprouted almonds, which are more nutritious, healthier and easier to digest than unsprouted almonds. You might have difficulties finding truly raw almonds, since the Almond Board of California now requires growers to sell their production pasteurized (and most almonds in this country come from California), but my coop carries (imported*) unpasteurized raw almonds.

Fill a jar with almonds and water and soak for at least 12 hours. (Keep the jar in a place that won't be hit by the sun or get too hot). I usually soak the day before I want to make the milk.

Pour water and almonds in a food processor. (Soaked almonds are much softer and easier on your blades than unsoaked ones). Blend.

crushing the almonds

Drain through a sieve.

no udders required

Voilà! You now have delicious, nutritious almond milk.

Bonus: the almond pulp!
You can use it in cookies or breads recipes, or simply eat it with your morning porrigde, in a yogurt, etc.
I make fake bacon with it, by mixing it to (a little bit of) oil, wheat tamari and smoked salt, laying it flat on a baking tray, and roasting it in the oven (for an amont of time that I forget). I used it on salads and it is astonishingly tasty.

breakfast: almond pulp, cashew yogurt, blueberries on a quinoa + fruit porridge

*I know it's not very locavore of me, but it feels healthier and more natural. And pasteurization uses energy too, I guess...

An article on nuts. And another one.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Delight: Baked Tofu in a Lemon and Dill Marinade

Spring delight

For Spring, something fresh and light like dill and lemon is a great idea. I love the delicate and strange taste of dill combined with the tangyness of citrus.
I made it a base for a baked tofu marinade, and it turned out simply delicious accompanied by a simple casserole of brown rice, lentils and fresh vegetables.

The tofu needs to drain and then marinate for at least a few hours. I find it easier to make it the day before and let it sit overnight. Since the recipe calls for cooked rice and lentils, I cook a big batch of both beforehand, for this dish and other purposes. Otherwise the prep time is pretty short.

Ingredients for 2
2 blocks of firm tofu
Prep: drain tofu by wrapping it in a clean towel and sitting some weight (plates, books...) on top.
this marinade is also a great salad dressing
2 lemons (or one lime and one lemon)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup fresh dill, cut in small pieces
I clove of garlic, minced
pepper (to taste)
Put everything in your food processor and blend.
You should end up with more marinade than you need, but you will use it to flavor your side dish (It's a great salad dressing too).

Place drained tofu in a container and fill with marinade. Let sit for a few hours or overnight. I usually don't refrigerate it because things don't soak as well when they are cold.

freshly baked

Side Dish: Spring Rice and Lentils Casserole
1/2 cup green peas
1 cup brown rice, cooked
1 onion, minced
1/2 cup green or black lentils, cooked
1 carrot, diced
2 stems of celery, diced
1/4 cup of dill, finely cut
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)
Turn the oven on at 400˚.
Cook the green peas in water (it should only take a few minutes)
Chop onions, celery, carrots (you can put other veggies like pearl onions, spinach, etc...)
Mix everything together with olive oil, season to your taste.

Put marinated tofu and rice and veggie mix into a casserole dish. Cook in oven for about 40 minutes.

You can serve the tofu on a bed of fresh spinach leaves. Place the remaining marinade on the table, to be used as dressing for the greens or to be sprinkled on the casserole: it's tasty!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Savannah's Spring Detox Tea

tea time still life:
herbs, almond galette and a good book

Not long ago, I ran into Savannah in the spices and herbs section of my favorite coop, Rainbow Grocery. Her and her friend seemed to be having so much fun picking up bulk herbs from the big jars that I wondered what kind of witches' brew they were going to make. As it turns out, they were making detox tea. I was myself shopping for spices to make a cleansing soup for Spring (modeled after my Winter detox chorba, but with Spring veggies) so we exchanged recipes*.

I love this tea, mostly because of the licorice. In fact it's so good that I ironically find it pretty addictive. I usually brew a big pot on the stove and keep drinking it all day when I'm at home. Or I transfer it to my crockpot so I can always enjoy a hot cup.

Savannah's detox tea**
2 parts burdock roots
1 part red clover flower
2 parts dandelion root
(for mucus, phlegm:)
1 part fennel seed
1 part fenugreek seed
½ part licorice root

Apart from being fabulous and awesome, Savannah Knoop is a talented local fashion designer from San Francisco, and Tinc, her business, is green! Check it out here. And if you like good stories -and juicy Hollywood revelations- read her inspiring memoir, Girl Boy Girl, how I became JT Leroy, on her impersonating the infamous young queer writer.

one of Savannah's Spring o9 creations

* My favorite part of the story is when we ran into each other that very same night, "detoxing" at a bar with hot toddies!
** Found in Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods

Monday, March 2, 2009

Give up disposable containers for Lent!

my faithful waterbottle

This year, because I am following a food almanach inspired by popular traditions, I decided to do something for Lent. I have never, ever, done anything for Lent -and I come from a Catholic background. "Giving up something" sounds abominable and so dramatic: deprivation, self-inflicted pain... what's the point?

You may also look at it from another angle. Many cultures and traditions include a fast and a time of reflexion in their calendars. It's healthy. No need to be religious to celebrate Spring as a time of renewal. Cleansing, getting rid of the superfluous, the clutter, making space for the new: that's pretty positive -even necessary. It's not about depriving our bodies, inflicting pain to ourselves, but, rather, about re-centering our priorities, coming back to a more simple, sane life, even for a short while.
By giving up the old, the worn out, we make space for the new (ideas, habits, joys, excitements, etc.) to enter our lives.

I have a suggestion for y'all this Spring: something to give up that will both make sense and give you a lot of karma points. For Lent: give up disposable containers!

Here are a few ideas and suggestions. You might want to follow them all, for 6 weeks, until Easter or forever, or you might simply want to give up one item, for just a week. Whatever you do makes a difference and will probably inspire you to do more.

Please, also bear in mind that, although we do have a responsibility as individuals, big companies which give you no choice but to purchase items wrapped in thick plastic have a huge role to play in the gaïacide, and, to this day, are not held accountable for their part in the global mess we're in. Let's put the blame on them too. They should pay for their mess, that might make them reconsider their packaging addiction.
We also live in societies that impose a lifestyle which gives us no time to stop, think and be sensible. It seems that we are always in a rush in our busy lives: ready-made, packaged foods are thus very appealing. It's our whole system that we have to rethink. Perhaps you can ponder upon this during Spring.

- Plastic bags. Those awful suckers are everywhere! To avoid them, just... don't take them! Put small purchases in your bag, or carry them in your hand. That's one plastic bag saved! A good thing to do is to always carry your own grocery tote bags with you (in your day bag, your purse, in your car). At all times. They're so light you won't feel them. That's one effortless way to act responsibly!

You can also just say no to all the small bags, for fruits or veggies. Reuse the ones you brought back from your last grocery shopping trip. Stop discarding your bags after one single use: that's crazy! Instead, wash them if they seem dirty, and use them again... and again and again. I use and reuse the same bags about 30 times. Can you imagine how much plastic I save? Just carry a couple with you everyday, for spontaneous purchases, and grab a handful before going grocery shopping.

Souvenir from Brooklyn:
a hot-looking thermos cup (with a screw top!) from Gorilla Coffee

- Paper and plastic cups and dishware. Make sure you say "for here", or insist on a ceramic or glass cup, when ordering a beverage at the counter. If you want your drink to go, or if you patronize a coffeeshop which uses only disposable cups (those places still exist, even here in San Francisco!), just bring your own beverage container. It can be a thermos cup (please, for your own safety: no plastic on the inside! Always stainless steel!) or a regular ceramic cup, or even a cute glass jar with a lid. Use reusable silverware (ask for a metal spoon if they don't have any available).

- Bottled water. Not only do these inocent-looking little things pollute the environment when made and discarded, but haven't you heard it's unsafe to drink from plastic? That the chemicals in plastic end up in your water and then in your body? (read here -sorry about the disturbing animal testing part- or here) I am not a scientist and don't want to spread false rumors about plastic (some say it's not so toxic), but one thing is sure: disposable plastic containers are terrible for the environment. Get one of those sleek metal bottles right now, preferably stainless steel (i'm not a fan of aluminium), and fill it with the freshest filtered tap water.

Bamboo cutlery set, the holder is made of recycled plastic bags
by Conserve, an Indian NGO

- To-go boxes.
Seriously, people: styrofoam, plastic and even paper containers are not planet friendly. When you eat out, why don't you bring your own glass or metal container? For my doggie-bag needs, I bring a simple jar, or a cute/cheesy Japanese thermos container that I got for a couple of bucks at a thrift store. Afraid to look stupid? If you have image insecurities, let me tell you one thing: if the rest of you looks cool, I bet your glass jar will look cool too, so go work on your style... What looks really stupid is you killing wildlife in the ocean.
You can also get a really cool looking stainless steel container, like an Asian lunch box.

For your Chinese take out: lunch box, 19th century (found here)

LinkMore modern: stainless steel containers (found here)

If you want your food to go, that's harder. When ordering at the counter, hand them your own container. Don't be shy! Just smile and think of all the dolphins and albatrosses you are not killing! If you didn't bring a container: why don't you take a seat and eat there? You needed a break anyways...
You want food delivered? Just go and get it yourself already! A little walk will do you good! What do you mean: "It's too far to walk/bike"? You mean you are actually ordering from places that are going to use gas to bring food to you? That leaves me speechless.

a few containers

- Don't buy packaged food. That's the hardest one, I know, because you feel you don't have a choice... However, you do. Some stores are really packageholics (Yes, you, Trader Joe's... Are you insane?), and you don't have to support that. Shop at places where you can buy in bulk (and reuse your own bags). Shop at the farmers' market. Get an organic box. Buy unwrapped soap bars, not liquid soap in plastic bottles. When you consider buying an item, along with price and efficiency, take packaging as a criteria.
The best thing to do is to cook as much as possible from scratch. It's simpler than you think, even for the kitchen-challenged! The perks: you avoid all the bad ingredients in processed food. It's good for you and the environment. With a little common sense and practice, you can prepare things that are simple, fast, healthy and delicious. Just go one step at a time.

My tips:
The best way to green your lifestyle is to take on new habits. Make conscious living a second nature, a reflex, something you don't have to think about, something that's not a drag. Make it easy on yourself!

There are lots of things that could be a drag if you had to think about doing them (drying yourself after showering, grabbing your keys when you leave, zipping up your pants, tying up your shoe laces, closing the door after yourself...) however, your mind has accepted them as part of your routine, your mind doesn't rebel and just does it out of habit. Train yourself to do the same for containers.

What worked for me:
I really trained myself, like a dog, or a kid! I don't have to remember to bring containers to the store: it's a reflex now. I store plastic bags at the same spot, and just grab a handful of them when I go grocery shopping, just like I grab my keys before leaving the house. I do the same for other containers. When a container is empty (let's say a bottle of tamari, a coffee tin) I put it in a special place, by the plastic bags. That way, when I go and get my plastic bags, I automatically think of taking those containers with me. (It's like a shopping list, with containers to fill up instead of written items to cross out.) I am very lucky: I shop at a place that allows me to buy almost everything in bulk, unpackaged (and that includes beauty and household products). I'm sure you have a co-op somewhere near your house: check it out.

Even better... for the hardcore
I thought I had to buy certain foods packaged, like plant-based milk. Guess what: I don't! I now make my own organic almond milk! And it's simple and cheap!
I don't buy canned tomatoes. Nope. I had frozen some farmers' market bought crushed tomatoes last summer, and I have some sundried tomato flakes. I also don't find it necessary to use tomatoes off season. There's plenty of seasonal foods to chose from. If you really want tomatoes all year long, why don't you can or freeze some yourself next summer?

Room for improvement
I don't think anyone can be "perfect". I do love the taste of Earth Balance on my toast (or melted on my popcorn...) It does come in a nasty plastic container, though. I just don't eat it everyday, and cover my toast with homemade hummus or nutbutter spreads (that I can buy in bulk at my coop!) instead.

Just so you know, I bike and walk everywhere, and I do carry containers with me. It does require a little more planning, but I believe it's worth it. An unexpected bonus came out of this: I am today much more organized, in my life in general, than I was when I was less conscious.

One last word about "recycling".
When I moved to the US a few years ago, I realized that people weren't throwing things away anymore, they were "recycling" them. I love how the English language has a creative capacity to make a verb out of a noun (to "google" something instead of "looking up on Google", for instance) however, this "recycling" thing was a totally different matter to me and really rubbed me the wrong way. I do come from a first world, loves-to-waste-ressources country, however, it could never match the wastefulness of the US. Wasting is like a religion here. So when I see people drinking out of a plastic bottle and then discarding it and calling it "recycling", I can't help but think it's a tad hypocritical. The only way someone can "recycle" an item is by giving it a second chance, by making something else out of it. Otherwise, it's called "throwing away in the recycling bin". Then, the item might or might not be taken to a recycling facility that can make something new out of it. I'm sorry to break it out to you, but this process is wasteful too: it uses energy (to transport and transform). It's very simple-minded to think we're good to nature because we throw our containers in the "green bin". The only way we can be good to nature is to lower our impact, and the only way to lower your impact is to consume less, and that has nothing to do with discarding things in the right trash can.
More to read:
Ocean + plastic =
sad, very sad...