Friday, December 3, 2010

The Holiday season, or, cheaping out on your close friends and loved ones

The holidays always bring me to a strange impasse. I’m not religiously Christian, and neither are 80% of the people on my list (I’ve got Jews and Hindus and atheists, oh my!) but my love of gift-giving is such that I’ll embrace any excuse to shower my friends with pressies. Sadly and in ultimate proof that the beautiful and noble must always suffer, I’m not paid enough to give anyone a gift even half as cool as they are without coaxing my meager finances to stretch, twist, leap and perform amazing feats of agility. This is never easy. Out of curiosity I tried googling “inexpensive Christmas gifts” and the lists that popped up were horribly inadequate- stuff like “garden gloves and a packet of seeds” or “prepaid photo developing envelopes”, stuff that’s not even close to something I would ever want to give, or that anyone would be jazzed about receiving (except for my great friends from the Senior Center Book Club.) So here’s MY list of how-tos on cheaping out on your loved ones while not looking like a tactless bastard.
-Start early. Keep your eyes open all year for cool, unique gifts in stores or online. Oftentimes you’ll find a gorgeous enamel box, an old flask, or funky earrings for less at a garage sale or on sale for cheap at an otherwise expensive boutique. If it’s well-chosen and specific to their needs it doesn’t have to be expensive. One of the best gifts I ever got was three pairs of long, groovy cable-knit socks that can’t have cost more that $10 total. A year later, I saw socks almost exactly like them retailing at American Apparel.
-Got a skill like painting, drawing, or knitting? Use it. One year I crocheted hats and scarves for my friends, the next, I painted plain wooden picture frames with a design specific to each person and put a picture of the two of us in it. This works for the people at the top of your list too. One year I gave my then-boyfriend a picture I had drawn of us based on a cute photo. This approach takes a while so again, start early. Also, be realistic about your crafting abilities- don’t plan to sculpt everyone an art-deco ceramic vase if you know you’ll end up with blobby thumbprint pots.
- Hit up Goodwill, garage sales, or best yet, craft fairs. In fact there’s a craft fair going on today and tomorrow in the Southside- the I Made It! market. I’ll be there tonight looking for fabulous things for the last folks on my list- hope to see you there :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

State of the GVE address

At almost the end of the GVE and since I bet you’re wondering how it went (whether because you are interested in veganism yourself, wanting to garner a little schadenfreude by seeing me fail, or you’re killing time reading piffy prose on the internet) and I aim to please.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t succeed completely with my goal of total veganism- two days in, and a lack of prepared-ness (plus drunk hunger) had me stopping by the gas station for a bag of really, really animal-o-licious chips. After that little boo-boo I figured out I needed to plan better. Being vegan means you have to eat more frequently than an omnivore, probably about every two hours or so. Protein is in scarce supply so nuts, beans, tofu, TVP, tempeh- all crucial to a happy, full vegan who has no gas-station centric cravings. Using my trusty Moosewood Cookbook, the Fat-Free Vegan blog, and the vast stores energy I should be pouring into my job, I planned out a week’s worth of food (21 meals plus snacks and desserts, to be exact). A sample day looks something like this:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with bananas and strawberries sliced up in it.
Lunch: Brussels sprouts and shiitake mushroom soup
Snack: Baba Ganoush (with cherry tomatoes and tortilla chips as dippers)
Dinner: Asparagus and chickpea casserole
Dessert: Dark chocolate vegan cake*
I devoted one night to making a big batch of soup, casserole, baba, and cake so I didn’t have to think much once the munchies took hold. With that plan I was actually able to stick to my veganism AND have a lot more time during the week what with all the premade meals, so I got some grad school application stuff done too. Yay!
Three lessons learned: Vegans have to eat more often, go to the grocery store more often (what with all the produce) and research a lot. Never ever ask why something isn’t vegan, since it’s always some horribly gross reason you probably don’t want to know… and finally, veganism is a commitment- a commitment to compassion, environmental friendliness, and good health. If you do it right, it makes you feel better to know that you’re being good to your body and the earth. Will I keep it up? TBA. I have enough produce and lesson plans to last me another week or so- so we’ll see! But not to worry, I’ll be writing about plenty of other stuff too.

*sorry, trade secret ;)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Well, I guess this is vegan, right?

So I know I was supposed to do an article about my Vegan experimentation, but I realized there is something amazing (and fall themed) here in our very own Lawrenceville that I couldn’t neglect to alert you to. Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar is a tiny venue that brews its own… you guessed it… cider and wine. The proprietors live right above the shop, make the beverages themselves, and aren’t shy with the samples. Plus, last time I was there I heard tell of them hosting a live music event soon. Check them out on Facebook for the latest happenings, or better yet, in person. I highly recommend the dry sherry.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The quiet and controversial storm

Inspired by a nasty dose of cheese poisoning, I’ve launched full-steam into a grand weeklong VEGAN EXPERIMENT. An accidentally well timed experiment, since November is World Vegan Month. As if my life isn’t complex enough, I just had to add a ban on animal products. I never could leave well enough alone.
I’ve started snooping to find what the glorious ‘burgh has to offer by way of cruelty-free dining goodness, and already I’ve turned up some dirt in the way of the Quiet Storm (no, not that movie). The Quiet Storm is a cafĂ©-and-music-venue turned full-scale vegan and vegetarian restaurant on Penn Avenue. Since I was planning on dragging my friend E along with me on this culinary adventure I read a few reviews online to make sure I wasn’t leading him to a terrible meal that would turn him off of vegan dining forever. What I found was disconcerting. The reviews varied from five-star raves to zero-star slams- the Quiet Storm was broadly accused of being a hipster haven with cold food, terrible service, and a snotty attitude by some and the best vegan niche in Pittsburgh by others. Well, I could never resist a good debate, so here it is!
The Quiet Storm is kind of a parody of a hippyish vegan restaurant. The staff is laid-back, friendly, and exceedingly hands-off. Our groovy waitress didn’t know what day it was, but she handed us a hand-written specials menu that featured some of the tastiest vegan food I’ve had outside of my own kitchen. The selections are creative, delicious, and they steer well clear of the cardinal sin of vegan cooking- trying to make everything a soy-based imitation of meat and cheese. It’s odd to look at a menu and have no conception of what anything was supposed to be (the descriptions aren’t that good and the names of the dishes are more cryptic than guiding) but take a leap of faith and I promise, your meal will not disappoint. And yes, the food is hot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A cure for cheese poisoning

Hello all,
Yes, it’s me- returned from hibernating in obscurity. What can I say- I’m sorry, ever so sorry, blogland, for my extended absence! I’ll make it up to you, I swear I will. Please take me back!
All right, enough of that. The actual point of this entry is to address a very real problem amongst vegetarians who have been socially obligated to eat a Thanksgiving meal prepared by our more omnivorous cousins (or grandparents, or friend’s grandparents). What happens is we get a hearty dose of whatever non-meat dishes around, which invariably are salad with bleu cheese dressing, broccoli and cheese, fried string beans with cheese, cheese-topped cornbread, and spinach and cheese quiche…. After basting our innards with gooey cow goodness galore, we end up with a nasty case of what I’ve not-so-fondly come to term ‘cheese poisoning’. For me, cheese poisoning results in an immediate onset sodium-drenched migraine, blotchy skin, bloated tummy, and week-long disgust of anything even in the same room as a block of Parmesian. As a measure of recovery, I usually temporarily turn to a diet rich in the veggies and whole grains I’m craving- Veganism. And since I figure there’s at least a few of you who are probably feeling the same way, I thought I would pass along a gem of a site that I’ve been relying on for the past few weeks. Yeah, you read right. I’m not a vegan, but the recipes on this blog are so quick, easy, versatile, creative, and healthy (adjective overload!) that they’ve become indispensible to me. Check it out- I hope you get just as inspired as I did.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gallery Crawl

This little entry should be short and sweet, as the merits of this attraction speak for themselves. Gallery Crawl this Friday, October 1 in the Cultural District Downtown! Granted, the "Cultural District" of Pittsburgh stretches across about a street and a half, but it's chock-full of kickass museums which are FREE and open to the public on Gallery Crawl Night! Click the link to check it out. And don't be too bummed if you can't make it- there'll be another one the first Friday of next month, too :).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A taste of the Old Country

If you’re tired from partying all weekend (or sick of staying in) take a stroll down Main Street in Bloomfield and check out the Little Italy Days- running until 7pm tonight. Get serenaded on the street, buy cheap saint cards, and gorge on fresh Italian food that’s both inexpensive and delicious. I recommend the cannoli, and the fortune-reading booth. Great for a date, or a hangover :)