Food Talk

  • Adventures in Home Brewing

    ScottishAle

    My dark Scottish ale with barbados molasses. One of the best beers I’ve brewed.

    Let me tell you a secret. I hate beer. More accurately, I used to hate most beers, which is why it is such a strange turn that has led me to the art of home brewing. Looking back, it’s not a huge surprise I disliked beer for so long. When I was growing up, the choices were limited to some rather foul fare. Bud, Michelob, Schlitz, yuck. There wasn’t a craft brew industry at the time to speak of. I still remember that first beer I ever had. My dad gave me a small taste of Lone Star beer when I was pretty young and the reaction to it I had was, uh, strong to say the least. Budweiser puts Lone Star to shame in the taste department. I spat it out and my dad, my uncles, and my grandfather laughed and laughed. I didn’t touch another beer until I was in my mid-20s. My dad is a clever man.

    The next beer that I had was Shiner Bock. Living in Texas at the time, it was a natural choice. It wasn’t really bad, per se, but it wasn’t my thing, either. It’s what most of my friend college friends drank and Shiner is, what I consider, the stepping stone to craft brew.

    BrotherTheloniousIt wasn’t until I was having a private dinner at Millennium Restaurant a few years ago that I had my first truly great beer. With no idea what to order, I asked the sous chef to pair a beer for me with the dinner. Why beer and not wine? I was very intrigued by the selection of beers on the menu I had never seen or even heard of and I am always one up for trying something new. I had a whole menu of craft brews laid out in front of me. The chef chose a goblet of Brother Thelonious from North Coast Brewing. It’s a Belgian-style abbey ale, which means it’s full-bodied with a lot of other flavors underneath (I’ll talk about how they achieve that in another article.) I was instantly hooked. It didn’t taste like fizzy golden stuff (you know what I’m talking about when I say “stuff.”) Rather, it was dark, complex, slightly sweet, balanced with bitterness, and full of body. I still keep a stash of Brother Thelonious around at home, replacing it when I’m about to run out. From then on, I tried a few different craft brews every couple of months. Some were definitely better than others, but they were all interesting.

    I’ve been thinking for a while that it might be fun to try and brew beer, or make wine. Many alcohols are not vegan because they have fining and clarifying agents made from animal products and breweries are not obligated to list them. I wanted to know exactly what was in my brews and to be sure that they were both organic and vegan. It wasn’t until last July, however, that I took the plunge. World Market had beer kits for sale and I had a gift certificate. I went back and forth between getting more kitchen equipment (like I need more kitchen equipment) or the kit. Curiosity, and the fact that I have every piece of kitchen equipment imaginable, won out and I got the Bone Dry Irish Stout kit made by Craftabrew.

    CraftabrewIrishStoutKitWhen I got home I popped open the kit and removed the mysterious ingredients inside. A glass jug called a carboy to ferment the beer, a rubber stopper for the top of it, a bag of some strange ingredient called dried malt extract, a clear vinyl hose, some weird looking mini-airlock, what looked like a long thin sock, a thermometer, a bag of specialty grains, a bag of hops, a packet of yeast, sanitizer, a few instructions, and some bottle caps. All this to brew one gallon of beer. What the hell had I gotten myself into?

    It turns out, it was actually pretty easy.  The sanitizer is to make sure everything is mega clean, because any wayward microbes will throw off the beer. That weird looking sock was for holding the specialty grains, which I had to steep for about 15 minutes at 155°F in a gallon and a half of water and that powdery substance called dried malt extract is actually what’s left after evaporating wort, the liquid precursor to making beer. Just dissolve the extract in water, (in my case, the water in which I steeped the grains) boil it for an hour, and you’ve got a reconstituted finished liquid that you can pour into the jug and ferment into beer. Let that come down to about 65°F to 70°F, transfer it to the jug, shake it around to get some air in it, and toss in the packet of yeast. Put the stopper on it, plug the stopper with the mini-airlock, and wait a couple weeks. Sanitize, steep grains, boil water mixed with extract, cool, add yeast, and wait a couple weeks. Super easy. After two weeks, I bottled my first batch of beer and waited two more weeks for the beer to carbonate. A month after I started, I had one of the best beers I’ve ever had. It was a beer that even a beer hater could love.

    If you want to get into craft brewing at home, I’ve put together a few key principles, an equipment list to help you get started, and an easy recipe. I’ll be writing some more articles about home brewing and delving into the specifics of moving from extract brewing to all-grain brewing (that’s when you make that liquid wort entirely out of steeped grains and no dried extract.) I am by no means an expert. I’ve only been doing this for about 8 months now, but I’ve already got fourteen, going on sixteen, brews underneath my belt. I also have some experience making ciders and wine, which I’ll share. Hey, home brewing isn’t just limited to beer!

    I’ve outlined an easy way to get started. The very easiest way is to simply buy a one-gallon starter kit. There are several of them on the market, although I’ve only tried the ones from Craftabrew so I can’t vouch for the other ones. The kits have all the equipment you need, the ingredients, and the instructions. However, if you want a little more control over your first batch, you can assemble your own kit. After you’ve got your kit, follow the recipe I’ve outlined below and you’ll end up with a delicious dark beer that keeps getting better with age. Plus, you’ll learn the basic principles of brewing!

    You can see the vinyl hose wrapped around the carboy, the thermometer laying against it, and my red bottle capper in the back left.

    You can see the vinyl hose wrapped around the carboy, the thermometer laying against it, and my red bottle capper in the back left.

    Getting Set Up: If you go to a home brewing store, they’ll most likely try to sell you a five gallon starter kit. Don’t do it. First, it’s usually about a $100 to $140 investment to get set up with one of those and you don’t even know if you like doing this, yet. Second, it requires some big equipment and space. Third, five gallons of beer is not easy to drink through. I have a few five-gallon batches sitting around and it will take me forever to drink them. My suggestion is to get a 1 gallon carboy (that’s the fermenter,) a stopper for it, a mini-airlock, a 2 to 3 foot long vinyl tube, and a couple grain bags (those are those sock things I mentioned.) You’ll need sanitizer, a pot at least 2 gallons in capacity (stainless steel works best because it won’t impart any metallic flavors to the beer), a thermometer, a funnel, and a bucket big enough to hold the equipment to be sanitized. All told, the equipment for a one-gallon batch will run about $25. Way better than that $100 investment. You can get all of this off of places like Amazon, but they’re pretty much the same price at a brew store and you can support your local brew store in the process. Plus, you can ask the people that work there about brewing. I do it all the time and I’ve learned a ton doing so. Alternatively, you can purchase a one-gallon beer kit which will come with everything you need except for the bottles.

    Sanitize and Sanitize Again: Sanitization constitutes about 60% to the success of a beer, more than the grains, hops, or yeast. Make sure you thoroughly sanitize everything that touches your beer, from the carboy to the bottles and caps, and don’t rely on soap and water to cut it. You’ll want a heavy duty sanitizer. I use one called StarSan, which is pretty much the sanitizer of choice for most home brewers. Sanitization is important because any wayward microbes will throw off the taste of the beer and may even propagate enough in the nutrient-rich beer to completely shove out yeast and ruin the beer.

    Temperature Control: Temperature is also very important for your yeast and for steeping your specialty grains. If the temperature is too high, you’ll kill the yeast. If it’s too warm, the yeast will produce flavors you don’t want for this particular recipe. If the water temperature is too high, your grains will give off astringent tannins, but if it’s too low, they won’t give the beer any body. That’s why that thermometer is so important.

    Two grains left over from one of my brew sessions. The left is roasted barley and the right is 120L caramel malt. The number refers to how dark of a brew by volume the grain will create.

    Two grains left over from one of my brew sessions. The left is roasted barley and the right is 120L caramel malt. The number refers to how dark of a brew by volume the grain will create.

    Now that I’ve covered some of the basics, here’s a recipe for a basic light Irish stout using a few specialty grains and dried malt extract. It’s easy to do and perfect for getting started. You’ll need to go to your local home brew shop to get the ingredients and make sure to ask them to mill the grains for you.

    Basic Light Irish Stout

    4 ounces of roasted barley
    2 ounces of 60L Crystal malt*
    1 ¼ pounds of Briess dried malt extract
    ½ ounce of Goldings hops
    1 packet of Safale-04 yeast
    ½ ounce of turbinado sugar when bottling

    *malt is another name for grains and 60L refers to the color of the malt

    Sanitize everything you are using and let it dry on paper towels.

    Bring 1 ½ gallons of water to 155°F. Place the roasted barley and Crystal malt in a grain bag (that’s the sock) and tie it closed. Place this in the water and steep the grains for 15 minutes, then remove the bag from the water. Do not squeeze it and this will leech tannins from the grains and make your beer astringent. Make sure to keep the temperature right around 155°F and use that thermometer to test it every few minutes.

    Add the dried malt extract to the water and stir until it dissolves. Bring this to a boil and add the hops. Boil this for 60 minutes.

    About 15 minutes before the boil is done, plug your sink and fill it with water and either ice or ice packs. You want that water to be as cold as possible. Once the boil is done, transfer the pot to the sink of cold water. Use your thermometer to monitor the temperature and once it gets between 165°F to 170°F, you’re ready to transfer it to the carboy.

    Place your sanitized funnel in the carboy and pour the liquid into the carboy. Place the stopper on top, plug it with your thumb, and shake the carboy vigorously for 1 minute. This will oxygenate the liquid, making a healthier environment for your yeast. Remove the stopper, pitch the yeast into the carboy (do not do this before you shake it,) and replace the stopper. Fill the airlock halfway and close up the stopper with it.

    Place your carboy of beer in a dark place with an ambient temperature of 165°F to 170°F and let it sit for two weeks. Within 48 hours, you should see quite a bit of activity within your carboy. That’s the yeast doing its job, eating the natural sugar in the beer, and making alcohol. This will slow down after a few days and the beer needs time to finish fermenting. Now you’re ready to bottle.

    I use flip-top bottles, which I get at my home brew store, because they are very simple to use. Alternatively, you can use regular beer bottles, but you’ll need a bottle capper. Sanitize the bottles and funnel and let them dry.

    Melt the sugar in about 1 cup of water by gently boiling it for 10 minutes. Let the sugar cool to room temperature, then add it to the beer.

    Remove the stopper and airlock from the carboy.

    Ok, I’m going to commit brewing heresy because I want this to be as easy on you as possible. Ideally, you should use the vinyl tubing to siphon the beer into the bottles. It reduces the amount of oxygen that gets into the beer. Oxygen is good before the yeast is added. It produces off flavors after fermentation is complete. However, making a siphon is a real pain and you should be drinking this beer well before any extra oxygen will ruin it, so I’m going to have you simply pour the beer into the bottles. Using the funnel, very gently and slowly pour the beer into each bottle and cap it. Try not to get any of the yeast at the bottom of the carboy into the beer. The less splashing of the beer, the better.

    Let the bottles sit for two more weeks to age and carbonate. Pop one open and enjoy your first home brew! I like this beer slightly cool, but not completely chilled.

    An Italian Adventure Part II: Rome

    I’ve been to Rome three different times now, and it’s always a different experience. With so much to do and a type of vibrancy unique to Rome, it has become my favorite city. When I step onto the stairs of the subway and hear the thrumming trains, I feel at home. It’s a place where you can find something new to explore every day, but when I was first there a couple years ago, my food options were limited. There was only one vegan restaurant and one vegetarian restaurant I was able to get to try (there were a few more vegetarian ones, but I don’t remember seeing any more vegan ones.) There were, of course, the markets, but eating at the same place over and over again can get dull and with limited access to a kitchen, the markets weren’t always viable. Just two years later, everything has changed.

    Not only were there plenty of vegan restaurants in the city, there were quite a few restaurants that weren’t vegan or vegetarian, but quite willing to provide great vegan food and were knowledgeable about it. I noticed this the most at the gelato shops. At nearly each one I visited (and that was, ahem, a lot), the servers knew what I meant when I said “vegano.” There were even a number around the city that served soy gelato, or gelato di soia. A big difference from my first visit, where I generally avoided the gelato shops! I could write several pages on vegan Rome, but I’m going to stick with the highlights. If you are visiting Rome, these are the places you don’t want to miss!

    RewildExterior

    Rewild sits next to an autoshop on a dark street off one of the many plazas in Rome. Inside, Rewild has a strong vegan vibe and delicious food that makes me want to go back.

    Rewild – Vegan Restaurant

    Rewild is a cool restaurant. It has a very punk vegan vibe with wine and a classy, outstanding vegan menu. The first time I went there, I had a vegan cheese platter (before they became the new “thing”), wine, a sandwich, tiramisu, and a delicious orange fennel salad followed by a smoothly brewed espresso. I absolutely loved the food and was able to enjoy it in a quiet atmosphere. My experience this time was a bit different, but it encapsulates one of the things I love about Rewild. When I got to the restaurant this time, which is off a side street near an auto repair facility and the front of which looks nothing like a restaurant, I was assaulted by a panoply of laughing and shouting and clinking glasses. Not the relaxed atmosphere I was expecting at all, nor was the quick plate of pasta and bread (both of which were still excellent) that was slung in front of me when I sat down. Wine came quickly, followed by a ginger cake drowning in soy whip cream (yum!). It was crazy and intense and it was all for a good cause. That’s because Rewild was hosting a fundraiser for a famous cat shelter in Rome and everyone was there to celebrate the shelter. Rewild donated all the profits to the shelter and everyone, including me, the unexpected interloper, had a great time. The people at Rewild have good food and good hearts and because of that, I will always recommend this restaurant when visiting Rome.

    Some of the many shelter kitties for which Rewild was hosting their fundraiser.

    Some of the many shelter kitties for which Rewild was hosting their fundraiser.

    Ops! – Vegan Restaurant

    The buffet line at Ops! was pretty impressive. I tried to get one of everything on my plate, but there was so much food.

    The buffet line at Ops! was pretty impressive. I tried to get one of everything on my plate, but there was so much food.

    This is one of the new vegan restaurants that have popped up in the last two years and it has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the best. Named after the fertility goddess Ops (which basically means “plenty”), this restaurant lives up to its name. Each night, they put out a buffet line of dishes from which people can choose, and by buffet line, I mean they put out at least twenty different vegan platters of food, all of which are nicely arranged and well-done. Even better? The menu rotates every night. I could have loaded up two plates of food, piled high, and still not have tried everything they put out both nights I went there. The food itself ranged from good to great and much of it was organic. It had a fresh, lively taste, and a lot of care was taken in preparing each dish. The downside is that you pay by the weight of your plate, so I ended up spending quite a bit of money each time I went because that price does not include drinks, bread, or dessert. If you eat light, you might get out of there at €20, but if you eat like me, it might be closer to €35. Still, considering how much money food can cost in Rome, it’s worth going there at least once.

    My dinner at Ops! I really did try to get one of everything on that plate.

    My dinner at Ops! I really did try to get one of everything on that plate.

     

    My delicious lunch at Il Margutta.

    My delicious lunch at Il Margutta.

     

    Il Margutta – Vegetarian Restaurant

    Il Marghutta is a great place to stop and get a late breakfast or lunch at a reasonable price and not far from the Spanish Steps.

    Il Margutta is a great place to stop and get a late breakfast or lunch at a reasonable price and not far from the Spanish Steps.

    The opposite of Ops! cost-wise, Il Margutta also puts out a buffet, albeit with significantly fewer choices, but at a significantly lower cost. Located in the area around the Spanish steps, this vegetarian restaurant is mostly restaurant and part art gallery. The food is good and about half the dishes in the buffet are vegan. The rest are vegetarian, so be aware that not everything there is free of dairy. You can tell which dishes are vegan by the green card they put next to them in the buffet line. Best of all, they are open for lunch, unlike the other restaurants I have mentioned, so if you’re looking for good vegan food at a reasonable price, head down to Il Margutta during the day. At night, they have a regular menu, and while I haven’t tried the food at night, I have heard from others that it is excellent.

    Gelateria ai Cerchi – Gelato shop along the Circus Maximus

    Soy gelato. Hooray!

    Soy gelato. Hooray!

    Soy gelato! Open late! Just off a major metro stop! Indulge your vegan need for soy gelato and head to Gelateria ai Cerchi, which is located at the corner of the Circus Maximus. This place was always crowded (a good sign) and they had a big selection of vegan gelato. My late night treat was a gelato and a walk around the Circus Maximus. It was the perfect way to end a day of walking on cobblestones and concrete in the heat. A fun place, a cool walk, and a sweet treat.

     

    Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo – The Amica farmer’s market at the Circus MaximusMercatoCircoMassimo

    This farmer’s market is only open on the weekends, but it’s the best one in Rome. Located in a large warehouse-like building near the Circus Maximus, you’ll find plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, buckets of olives, fresh bread, lentils, beans, herbs, and spices. Basically, everything you need to create a great meal if you happen to have a kitchen (which I did.) Even if you don’t plan on making your own meals, the outrageous amount of produce available makes the market a must-see site. Even better, you don’t have to pay the tourist prices that you find at some of the other markets. It’s also not far from a metro stop, making it a convenient place to shop. Also, many of the vendors speak enough English to answer questions you may have about the goods. Even if you aren’t shopping for lots of food, it’s still worth stopping by to get fresh bread and a few olives for an afternoon treat.

    The Gateway to Your Roman Vegan Experience

    Rewild: www.rewild.it
    Ops!: www.opsveg.com
    Il Margutta: www.ilmarguttavegetariano.it
    Gelateria ai Cerchi: www.gelateriacerchi.com
    The Mercato: www.mercatocircomassimo.it

    Those are my must-see foodie sites for Rome. If you happen to be in Rome in the middle of June, there is also a brand-new vegan festival. I missed it by a day, but I plan on making a point of going next time I have the opportunity. All the vegan restaurants are there and it’s a great way to sample vegan Rome in one excursion.

    Until next time, ciao.

    The Circus Maximus in the morning. Where charioteers used to race and animal hunts were done, vegans like me now take morning strolls. It's a nice example of a violent place becoming a place of peace.

    The Circus Maximus in the morning. Where charioteers used to race and animal hunts were done, vegans like me now take morning strolls. It’s a nice example of a violent place becoming a place of peace.

    The Coliseum as seen from the Temple of Venus and Roma.

    The Coliseum as seen from the Temple of Venus and Roma.

     

    The Forum in the late afternoon.

    The Forum in the late afternoon.

     

     

    Wandering the streets of Rome, there is always something interesting to find.

    Wandering the streets of Rome, there is always something interesting to find.

     

    World Cup excitement! I was walking by the Forum at night and stumbled upon this crowd watching the World Cup on a big screen TV, so I joined them.

    World Cup excitement! I was walking by the Forum at night and stumbled upon this crowd watching the World Cup on a big screen TV, so I joined them.

     

    Me after a few hours of bike riding down the old Via Appia, the famous road that connected Rome to much of the rest of the world.

    Me after a few hours of bike riding down the old Via Appia, the famous road that connected Rome to much of the rest of the world.

     

     

    An Italian Adventure Part I: Florence

    AtopIlDuomo

    Something funny happened while I was in Florence. I was at Le Fate, a vegetarian restaurant on Borgo Allegri, talking with the chef and he mentioned something to the effect that it must be hard to be vegan in the States because Americans ate egregious amounts of meat. It took me aback, because while it’s true that the typical American does eat quite a bit of meat, consumption of it in the US has actually been decreasing while access to quality vegan food and the very ease of being vegan has been increasing at a rapid pace. Ironically, when I talk to most people about being vegan in Italy, they say the same thing my Italian colleague said about the US! In both cases, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Italy has been one of the most vegan friendly countries I have been to.

    FlorenceFarmersMarket

    I imagine she was as surprised as I was at all the beautiful produce

    Perhaps that is because what we see in many Italian restaurants in the States are meat heavy dishes or meals smothered in cheese. However, in a land with some of the best soil in the world, it should come as no surprise that vegetables are front and center of most meals. Just check out the picture of the local farmers’ market in Florence and you’ll see rows upon rows of fresh, high-quality produce. In fact, only one stall was selling cured meats and a few cheeses and one more stall was selling cheeses (neither of them shown in the picture; I wouldn’t do that to you). The remainder was comprised of fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans…and porcini mushrooms. Oh, the porcini mushrooms. Mushrooms the size of my fist for only a couple euro, waiting in huge boxes to be picked and taken home for a meal. I bought one every single day. Dried whole porcini were also there for the taking, at about a quarter of the price they are in the US. While I love to explore new places to eat when I travel, I spent every day at the market and made half my meals in my apartment. I would simply buy what looked the best and figure out what to do with it later. That’s how I ended up developing my recipe for Porcini Borlotti Bean Stew, a simple stew packed with hearty flavor from a giant porcini. I also made a nice pasta dish with an apricot sauce, a zucchini and mushroom stir fry, another pasta dish with zucchini flowers, lentils with Sicilian sundried tomatoes, stuffed figs, apples in a wine and caramel sauce, zucchini in blood orange juice and balsamic vinegar, porcini and fingerling potatoes with fresh rosemary, and plenty of nuts, fresh fruit, and bread to snack upon.

    Zucchini with the flowers still attached. Individually, those flowers would sell for about $2 each. Here, they just come as part of the zucchini.

    Zucchini with the flowers still attached. Individually, those flowers would sell for about $2 each. Here, they just come as part of the zucchini.

     

    The largest fresh porcini I have ever seen.

    The largest fresh porcini I have ever seen.

    The borlotti porcini stew. One of the many dishes I made in my apartment in Florence.

    The borlotti porcini stew. One of the many dishes I made in my apartment in Florence.

    LeFateJust the farmers’ market in Florence alone made it eminently easy to be vegan there (and that’s not even touching upon the gigantic tourist-oriented farmers’ market elsewhere in the city), but even without access to a market and a kitchen, there were plenty of vegan and vegetarian restaurants and even more restaurants that called out specifically vegan options. There were three restaurants in particular that I frequented during my week in Florence. The first was Le Fate, a vegetarian restaurant with an astrological theme (hence the name of the restaurant). In truth, finding this place was purely accidental (or was fortune guiding me?) as my mission was wandering down to the Arno river at sunset to see the bridges, food barely a thought on my mind. For me, that is. Food is always on my mind. Still, what a wonderful find! My first vegetarian restaurant in Florence! I was extra excited. Then I discovered they were having a book signing and event that night that required reservations. Fortunately (callback points for me!), the owners were incredibly nice and found a seat for me. Not only did they find a seat for me, they paired me with a group of people who spoke English so I wouldn’t be lost. It turns out that one of them was a vegan chef and not the one I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Did I mention that Florence is vegan friendly, yet? Then the meal came, and it kept coming. You see, this was a book signing and tasting, but it was an Italian-style tasting. I tried six different recipes, including a delicious small pocket with a dough made from black sesame seeds, plus three humongous desserts and every single dish was outstanding. Much wine was served and my new friends were incredibly gracious for speaking English with me and putting up with me fumbling through Italian. Afterwards, I purchased a copy of the book, mostly for the recipes, but also because reading through cookbooks is how I learn other languages, and I went on my way. Grazie Gabriele e Serena!

    LeFateDessert

    My next stop was Panino Vegano, a vegan sandwich shop near the center of the city. This was a nice place to stop and get a bite to eat, but it was a little expensive for what it was. Still, it’s nice to have the option of having a dedicated vegan restaurant right near the main tourist attractions. The small restaurant had very limited seating and the cooktop was basically a tiny 2 foot by 1 foot griddle, but it worked. I ended up getting a chickpea burger with eggplant, caramelized onions, and sautéed veggies. The cool thing about this place is that all those items I mentioned are actually optional toppings you can get on all the sandwiches and burgers. It was definitely not your standard fare and I could have eaten a plate of those toppings all by themselves without the burger. My other vegan haunt during my week in Florence was Dolce Vegan. This was a bit out of the way, but still within walking distance of the city center if you’re willing to trek a couple miles (and I am quite willing to walk that distance for good food). When I got there, I was a bit concerned because I was the only patron, but I was on an American schedule and had arrived long before most Italians head out for a meal. I won’t complain, though. I got my meal fast! Ok, that might have been because I got a raw pasta made of zucchini with avocado, tomato, olives, and onion, but then again it might not because I also got a vegan double cheeseburger (I had to try it!) and, ahem, a vegan cheesecake. Maybe it was good I walked a couple miles to the restaurant and a couple miles back…

    I came here every day to buy porcini and sundried tomatoes.

    I came here every day to buy porcini and sundried tomatoes.

     

    Borlotti Porcini Stew

    ¾ cup of dried borlotti beans (use red beans if you can’t get these), soaked for at least 6 hours
    1 onion, chopped
    6 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 large red bell pepper, chopped
    1 teaspoon of minced fresh sage
    ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
    ¼ teaspoon of crushed red chile flakes
    4 cups of water
    2 small zucchini, chopped
    1 Yukon gold potato, diced
    1 large fresh porcini, chopped or ½ cup of dried porcini
    ¾ teaspoon of salt
    ¼ cup of olive oil

    Once the borlotti beans have soaked, drain them, then transfer them to the soup pot. Simmer the beans, onion, garlic, bell pepper, sage, black pepper, and chile flakes in the water for about 1 hour. Replenish the water if it cooks down below the level of the beans. You should add enough water so that you end up with about 1 ½ cups of liquid left in the pot.

    Add the zucchini, potato, porcini, and salt. Simmer this for about 8 minutes, until the potato is just tender.

    Remove the soup from the heat, stir the olive oil into it, and serve.

    Low-fat Option: Simply omit the olive oil from the soup.

    My burger at Panino Vegano.

    My burger at Panini Vegano.

    The food here was also great, reasonably priced, and there was a small vegan shop adjacent to the restaurant. Bonus! I ate at each of these restaurants a couple times during the week and I’m not even listing the juice and smoothie bar that prominently advertised their vegan options, the café near the train station that did the same, the plethora of pizza joints and cafes that noted their vegan offerings, or the places that I missed like the vegan crepe restaurant Crepapelle, the organic restaurant Bioveggy, the vegan farm and restaurant La Fonte, and even my friend Gabriele’s vegan personal chef business. I could have stayed another week in Florence just trying the vegan offerings and playing with the fresh produce I brought back from the market.

    This sign was outside a random panini shop near the farmers' market. The shop wasn't even vegetarian, but they still went out of their way to create vegan panini.

    This sign was outside a random panini shop near the farmers’ market. The shop wasn’t even vegetarian, but they still went out of their way to create vegan panini.

    Ironically, Florence has a reputation for being meat heavy and is famous for its steaks, but I never wanted for being vegan no matter what part of the city I was in. It was easy, delicious, and totally fun exploring the vegan side of the city. If you travel there, be aware that most people in the service industry speak English, but if you head to the market, you would do well to learn the question, “Quanto costa?” which is “how much does this cost?” and to learn at least the numbers from one to twenty. That will easily be enough to get by at the market.

     

     

     

     

    The Gateway to Your Florentine Vegan Experience

    Le Fate: www.ristoranteveganolefate.it
    Dolce Vegan: www.dolcevegan.it
    Panino Vegano: www.paninovegano.it
    Gabriele’s Professional Vegan Chef Service: www.facebook.com/cibarius

    In Closing

    I could write pages more about the amazing architecture, the river, the bridges, the art, the Renaissance vibe of the city, but I’m eager to get writing about my vegan adventure in Rome in part two of this series, so I leave you with some pictures of the places I visited.

    My first apartment in Florence.

    My first apartment in Florence.

    Il Duomo is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture I've ever seen.

    Il Duomo is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen.

    Ponte Vecchio, which means "old bridge," is the only one the Germans didn't destroy in WWII.

    Ponte Vecchio, which means “old bridge,” is the only one the Germans didn’t destroy in WWII.

    This graffiti was everywhere around the center of town.

    This graffiti was everywhere around the center of town.

    Florence is a city of towers.

    Florence is a city of towers.

    Florence at Night

    Florence at Night

     

    The Dude and Severus Snape

    When it comes to food that other people serve me, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am as laid back as The Dude. On the other hand, when I get served food by professionals, I turn into Severus Snape. I’ve wondered why I react that way for awhile and here’s what I’ve pinpointed.

    If someone invites me over to their home (or comes over to mine) and goes out of their way to make me a vegan meal, my appreciation for that trumps the quality or lack of quality of the food. The fact that someone cared enough to do that is enough for me. You could serve me a pot of badly spiced and oversalted beans, and I would still smile and say “thank you,” and mean it. That’s different if my vegan meal was just an afterthought and poorly considered if everyone else is getting a well-prepared non-vegan meal because that shows a bit of annoyance with me on the cook’s part, but as long as the meal is well-intentioned, I will always be profoundly thankful. Even in the face of bad, but well-intentioned food, The Dude abides. (and don’t get me wrong; if you serve me a great meal, I’ll appreciate it even more!)

    As soon as someone offers their food in a business format, my attitude changes. In part, that’s because I expect good-quality food if I am paying someone to make it. I don’t expect the world, but I expect it to be a solid meal. Of course, if I’m paying $30 or even more for a plate, it better be phenomenal.

    A huge part of it is professional pride. I take a large amount of pride in my work and too often, I see people coasting by on the fact that they are selling vegan food, writing vegan books, etc. I find it a particular problem when some of the celebrated vegan authors and chefs in our community do that, and there are too many of them that do (and thankfully quite a few that don’t!). Slapping the word vegan in front of what one does should never give anyone a free pass for serving substandard fare. Rather, it’s quite the opposite. When you serve vegan food or publish vegan food related work, you are representing to the world what it means to be vegan. There’s more at stake in using the V word than just the vendor’s pocketbook.

    Take the time to make your food exceptional. Get away from using an outdated style of vegan cooking that was seen during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Don’t fake it. Don’t just throw “vegan” in front of a style of food like Mexican or Italian or Thai and then skate by on the goodwill of unsuspecting customers. Learn what those cuisines are really about. Don’t call a cheese a cheese if it’s nothing like it. Be awesome. Think like an award-winning chef, not a “well let’s just do something vegan and people will buy it” chef. We, as your fellow vegans, deserve more than that. The non-vegans who come to your establishments and read your books need more than that. The animals they save and people they will help by speaking well of vegan cuisine will appreciate it.

    Fortunately, there is a group of us out there unwilling to compromise on the quality of our food simply because it’s vegan. There are chefs winning awards, pushing what can be done with food, authors like me doing research on true authentic cuisine and making it vegan, and presenting food in a way that stands up (and often exceeds) to what is being done by traditional (read: not vegan) award-winning chefs. As compassionate consumers, you deserve that level of food. When you demand it, you help improve the quality of vegan fare, and that can only have an even greater positive impact in the world.

    And always remember, I’ll appreciate that pot of beans. The Chef abides.

     

    Eat Healthy | Eat Compassionately | Eat Well

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    Keep Moving Forward (and a confession)

    Vegan has been in ascendance for the past few years. Vegan chefs are winning awards and are finally being accepted as legitimate contributors to the culinary world while vegan consumers are dominating the marketplace. We’ve done a great job of bringing compassion to the masses, but for all we’ve done, there’s still more to do. Even more important, we must keep doing better in order to keep this trend going. Otherwise, we risk stalling this incredible momentum that we’ve built. That’s why I think it is imperative that we don’t rest on our laurels.

    It may seem like an odd thing to say, but I know I’ve been guilty of taking a breather. It’s tempting to sit back and say, “I’ve done my part.” I know other vegan chefs and food activists who have done the same. I don’t do as much tabling as I used to do, or as many pro bono classes. I wrote recipes no longer to advance a cause, but simply because I was interested in writing about good food. It’s so much easier to be vegan now, advancing the vegan cause didn’t seem as necessary. Most people wouldn’t think that’s such a big deal, but I became a vegan chef to make a difference in the world. What’s one more voice? I can’t believe my attitude had changed that way. It snuck under the radar, slowly, over a couple of years.  I decided to make a change and if you’re one of those people who have been sitting back a little more like I was, I hope you decide to make that kind of change with me.

    Now is the time to capitalize on our successes, not rest upon them. Keep up the good work, keep up the good food, and keep making a difference.

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