Middle Eastern Salad

I love looking at beautiful food.  Bright colors and thoughtful plating are always appreciated.  I also enjoy making food with people I love, like my mother and sister.  My sister, who normally exists on things like chips, soda, pizza, and chicken nuggets, says that I can make anything healthy look good.  She’ll hesitate to try some of the stuff I make, but when she sees me eating, it makes her want to try it.

This past weekend we made a beautiful salad based on a recipe from an episode of The Barefoot Contessa.  If I had a garden, I would make this all the time.  Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, parsley, and mint.  Fresh-squeezed lemon juice brightens everything up and chickpeas add protein.  Next time I make this, I’ll probably add cooked bulgar as well, to bulk things up a bit.

When you chop the herbs and veggies, you can chop them as fine or as coarse as you want. I tend to leave the tomatoes and cucumbers a bit larger and chop the herbs more finely, but you don’t really want to mince them.

Ingredients:
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
10 green onions, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 European cucumber (the kind that come wrapped in plastic), chopped
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 1 1/5 cups cooked from scratch)
juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced

Put everything into a big bowl and toss together.  Serve with toasted pita points.  To make this into a more substantial meal, serve with homemade falafel!

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Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Here is another marvelous recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero.  The recipes in this book have never failed me.  The cupcakes always turn out moist and fluffy, not dense, thick, and chewy like so many vegan baked goods. I made these for Easter.

The recipe says it makes a dozen cupcakes, but I unless they’re pretty small, I can’t see getting a dozen out of it.  It made 10 for me.

For the carrot cake cupcakes:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon each baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy yogurt, plain or vanilla (I used So Delicious’ brand greek-style coconut milk yogurt, plain)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/4  cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins (I used dried currants)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tin with paper liners or lightly coat with non-stick spray. 

In a medium bowl, mix together sugar, vegetable oil, yogurt and vanilla.  Sift in the dry ingredients together and then add to the wet ingredients, mixing until smooth.  Fold in carrots, walnuts, and raisins.

Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 26 to 28 minutes.  Once completely cooled, pipe or spread on cream cheese frosting (recipe below) and garnish with chopped walnuts.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
(this makes enough to pipe frosting onto about 17 cupcakes)

1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat margarine and cream cheese together with an electric mixer until just combined.  Continue to beat while adding the confectioners sugar in 1/2 cup batches.  Mix until smooth and creamy, then beat in the vanilla.  (I actually added an extra 1/2 cup confectioners sugar in to make the icing thick enough to pipe.)

 (Sorry about the plastic wrap in the pic.  I snapped this in a hurry right before running out the door!)

The Dark Side of Chocolate

Those of you who know me (or who read my blog regularly) know that I LOVE chocolate.  It’s right up there with fried potatoes and coffee for me.  Melty, gooey, creamy, sweet-and-slightly-bitter chocolate!  I like good quality chocolate, but I’ll take anything I can get.  Or at least that’s how it’s always been.

How is it that I did not know before now about the dark side of chocolate?  I’m not talking about how chocolatey treats expand your hips and thighs.  I’m talking about the precious cocoa bean and its link to child slavery in Africa.  

Slave traders are trafficking young children from their homes and selling them into slavery to work on cocoa bean farms in West Africa.  The kids are lured and kidnapped from bus stations or areas where they are begging from food and forced to work against their will.  The children, generally ranging from ages 12-16, endure inhumane conditions and extreme abuse so that American and European chocolate companies can buy at a lower price. Sadder even, is the fact that not all of these children are kidnapped.  According to a documentary released by BBC in 2000, hundreds of thousands of children are actually sold by their parents for next to nothing.  In the fields, they work up to 100 hours a week without pay and they are abused and barely fed.  If they try to escape, they are beaten nearly to death.  The work requires children to use sharp knives and machetes and exposes them to hazardous chemicals (pesticides), according to the International Labor Office. 

UNICEF estimates that there are nearly half a million children working on cocoa farms across Ivory Coast.

CNN has launched what they call the Freedom Project in an attempt to end modern-day slavery through bringing issues like these to light, giving a voice to the victims, and making the media more aware.  Their site explains that over a decade ago, US lawmakers took action to end child labor on cocoa farms.  The “Cocoa Protocol” was introduced and signed in 2001.  This legislation required a labeling system for chocolate that caused major concern for chocolate companies.  They compromised by agreeing that companies could volunteer to certify their chocolate as “child-labor-free” on the label (meaning that companies who couldn’t do so would certainly be targeted with negative media attention).  The legislation has been changed and deadlines pushed back several times since then.  Unfortunately it’s hard to say whether much good has been done.  Civil war on the Ivory Coast from 2002-2004 has made it difficult for exporters and manufacturers to eliminate child labor.

So how can you be sure your chocolate is was produced slave free?  Although ¾ of the world’s cocoa is grown in Africa, none of the organic chocolate is grown there.  So if your chocolate is labeled organic, fair trade, or was sourced from anywhere other than Ghana or the Ivory Coast, then it’s slave free according to SlaveFreeChocolate.org. 

According to FairChocolate.org, some of the major companies that knowingly use chocolate produced by slave labor are Hershey’s, M&M/Mars, Nestle, Kraft, Toblerone, and Hauser.

Sources and additional reading:
http://www.globalexchange.org/fairtrade/cocoa/raisethebar
http://slavefreechocolate.org/
http://www1.american.edu/ted/chocolate-slave.htm
http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/12/chocolates-child-slaves/
http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/19/child-slavery-and-chocolate-all-too-easy-to-find/

Vegetarian East on Oahu (Honolulu, Hawaii)

A couple of years ago, we took the most wonderful vacation to Hawaii.  We stayed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Honolulu on the island of Oahu, snorkeled at Hanauma Bay, went scuba diving and even got in a cage in the ocean while sharks swam around us!  It was definitely a trip full of firsts for me.  Hawaii is so beautiful.  Everything is very green and the air is fresh and clean.  There are tropical flowers and pretty little birds everywhere. The water is the most gorgeous color turquoise near the shore and a rich, royal blue when you’re out on the ocean. 

It was incredibly easy to find vegetarian (and vegan) food in Honolulu.   The first night when we got in, I had been awake for nearly 20 hours and I was exhausted.  I hadn’t researched anywhere to eat that late at night and I was very hungry.  After walking the streets in a sleepy daze, we came across a brightly lit diner called the Rock Island Café.  There were statues of Elvis and posters of I Love Lucy everywhere.  They had a juke box, a gift shop, and a LOT of neon lights.  In the back, there was a restaurant where (lucky for me) they had a veggie burger.  I thought maybe it was just because I was so hungry and tired, but it was one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had and the fries were hot and salty and so good smothered in ketchup.  Everything tasted amazing!  Turns out it wasn’t just that I was hungry, their veggie burgers were actually really good.  We ended up eating there several times throughout our trip.  In addition to the burger, they also had a veggie pizza and an Elvis Peanut Butter Banana sandwich served warm (hello melty, gooey peanut butter!).

One of the places I did plan ahead to eat at was Ruffage Natural Foods.  I had reviewed the menu online before we left Birmingham and the menu is almost entirely vegetarian.  The only non-vegetarian items they offered were turkey and tuna sandwiches and a turkey chili dog.  Everything else was meat free, and menu items included a tempeh avocado burger, tofu scramble, veggie burrito and veggie chili dog.  Their menu distinguishes between vegetarian and vegan items; they have great fresh fruit smoothies; and they also have a little market in the back where you can buy Amy’s frozen meals, non-dairy milks, organic cereal etc. This is another place we went back to several times over the course of our trip.

We spent nearly one full day of our trip on the Diamond Head volcano.  We hiked up, enjoyed the view at the top, and then hiked back down.  At the top, there was a beautiful view of the ocean and the rest of the island.  When we got back to the bottom, we were very hungry and stopped in at the Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, another placed I had planned to visit.  They have fresh juices, smoothies, wraps and salads.  They do serve fish, but veg options include vegetable omelets, veggie wraps and what they call “Da Cove Bowl,” which has blueberries, strawberries, acai berries, organic granola and honey.  I had the jumbo hummus wrap, which is stuffed with spinach, grated carrot and an assortment of other veggies in a zesty dressing made with Dijon mustard and mirin.  It was so filling (and very flavorful) that I was barely able to finish my smoothie!

If you visit Honolulu, you have to make time to go to the Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium.  It’s a huge open air flea market with just about anything you could want.  They have items you might typically buy for souvenirs:  bags, jewelry, t-shirts, figurines, mugs, children’s clothes, magnets, beach towels, Hawaiian print dresses, etc.  They also have fresh-cut fruit, homemade baked bread, fresh vegetables, nuts and lots of other food that you can buy to eat while you shop or take home with you. Just be careful because they won’t allow you on the plane with certain plants, including some fruit – we learned the hard way that you can take a pomegranate into Hawaii, but you can’t take it back out!.  There is nothing better than fresh-cut, cold pineapple from Hawaii (the Dole farms are right there on the island) and they’re selling it everywhere!

So I found it really easy to eat veg (and healthy) in Honolulu.  I’ll take pics of the actual food on our next trip (perhaps next spring – fingers crossed)!