Soup makes the world go round

So soup is sort of one of my favorite foods of all time. Some people don't get it, but they are missing out. Soup is not just a one-trick pony. You can have a light, summery soup, or a thick, hearty chowder, or a sweet tomato based soup, hell you can even have soup as desert. What is there not to love. So I dedicate this post to four soups that I made in the last year.

First up is the heartiest of them all, Cream of Potato and Broccoli Soup from Vegan Dad. This soy and coconut milk based soup was extremely delicious. I really enjoyed eating it, but also making it. It was all new to me trying to make such a cream heavy style soup. I pretty much had given up any hope in having delicious cream of whatever soup. The cream wasn't over powering, as veggie broth and sweet onion mellowed it out creating a perfect soup for a cold day. You can see in the picture a little roll of bread. I will have to admit that it is the lid to my attempt of a bread bowl. Renae at ieatfood.net had a great bread bowl recipe. So i tried, and failed miserably at making my bowls actual bowls. One was a tiny little thing with a huge tumor like growth of bread to the side, and the other was more like a oblong loaf. I figure I didn't knead the bread long enough, and will just have to try again.

The next soup's name made me feel all warm just by what Veg Bitch had named it...Warming Lentil Soup What is not to love about that, soup...lentils...warming...k, it's mine. The soup was filled with things I love: onions, carrots, lentils, and tomatoes. I added for my own enjoyment some spinach leaves. Since I made one soup with kale, all of my soups need some green floating around. It adds just another element to soups. This soup was brilliant. It warmed me up, it was so full of flavor from the broth, tomatoes, and paprika and thyme. mhmm. You can even see the steam rising in the photo. Unbelievable.

This next soup is Hearty Vegetable Soup from
Show Me Vegan. Another three words I love to hear together. I seriously think I could eat soup every day of my life. I always ask people what their last meal would be, and I always give the same strange answer. Soup, a bagel, tofu pad thai, fries, and a diet pepsi. But soup comes first, yo. Potatoes, onions, kidney beans, tomatoes, orzo, kale, garlic, and carrots. I mean what is not to love. I believe I even added more, as I think I see some celery in there. I couldn't get enough of this soup. It was heaven in my mouth. I ate it 3 days straight. The first dinner, then for both lunch and dinner the next two days. It was that delicious, and all the flavors from the veggies made it such a great creation.

This last photo is absolutely terrible. I though I forgot my camera charger at home, but it was packed away neatly in my book bag all week. So don't judge. This recipe for Italian Bean Soup
by vegalicious was something I've had starred since she wrote the recipe. In her post, I saw the mention of easy and fell right for it. Most people think soup is tedious and hard work, but it is simple and can take less than an hour. Celery, onions, carrots, tomatoes, white beans, plus my as always addition of spinach. It took me less than 30 minutes to make it. I love that soup really is not heavily focused on added spices. This recipe only called for some basil, and that is really all it needed. The broth and the vegetables all together are all that it takes to make a meal delicious and wholesome.

So there is my story. I love soup, you better love soup. And if you were ever scared to make your own soups, you are missing out on such a diverse, easy, and delicious meal.


New School Year, New Worries

The new school year is nearing and I have new book purchases, clean, new folders and notebooks, new classes and faces to see as usual. But also I am nearing a new chapter of my life. One year left of undergraduate and am currently preparing for the future. I have been researching grad school programs for my Masters in Forensic Science program (MSFS), a total of 18 schools I am going to look into more. Most of them in the upper east coast, some in the midwest, and a few in California. We shall see which ones I apply to and which ones get the boot. The process of applying for graduate school is long and much harder due to highly specific recommendation letters needed and signing up for the GRE while taking a full semester. But don't worry! I am well prepared and working ahead. I know who will be writing one of my letters, if the university will allow a non-degree class, I have my second. And I will need a third for a few, gargh. But yeah, I am further than most, and will have my applications out by my deadline of Oct 31st (most schools are Feb 1st, 2010). I will also be applying again for the FBI internship and looking to get an internship at the crime lab in my city. I am hoping so hard that I will be able to get an internship there, non-paid or paid it is what I need right now.

Even with all this school stress, one thing I am reallllly excited about pulling out is my LAPTOP LUNCHBOX. Although my schedule is a whole lot less hectic than last semester, hell I better be showing up to school with my lunchbox.

In honor of the lunchbox. Here are two of my lunches from last semester that I had yet to post.

-peanut butter and jelly
-frozen fruit
-black beans with a italian dressing in the container
-two fruit leathers

-large tortilla wrap with hummus and zuchinni, and any other fresh food I had left at my fridge during final week...
-frozen fruit
-two fruit leathers


Chowder & Chocolate Thumbprint Jam Cookies

Both of these recipes were made a long time ago, but haven't yet to been commented on. I made Vegan Dad's Mixed Vegetable Chowder back in October of 2008. Yes, I said a long time ago. Luckily this is the last recipe I must review of 2008. The recipe was extremely simple and had such few ingredients which lured me in. A bag of frozen vegetables: check, coconut milk: check, and soy creamer: no check, but easier enough to get my hands on. Took awhile to chop the billion potatoes and to cook/peel them, but after that the recipe was a breeze. It was one of the first recipes that I got to use my immersion blender. My mom got me a great duel immersion blender that turns into a hand mixer. Absolutely genius for someone who has small space and only uses those two items for very specific items (cookies and soups). Yet, those few meals are so important in my kitchen that it is a necessity. Anyways, my chowder was very, very hearty. I know I would never make it again, but it isn't because it wasn't good, it just wasn't my thing. It was too thick for my taste buds, all the cream and the coconut milk (even lite milk) was too much for my stomach. If I made this again I would do half coconut milk and half vegetable stock to allow it to be just a bit thinner and lighter on the stomach. But it was absolutely amazing seeing how thick a vegan chowder could get. Who'd thunk it.

One night in chilly January I had a taste for cookies. I wanted to try and make one of the many cookie recipes that I always looked at while skimming through Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan. Torn between peanut butter chocolate cookies and the thumbprint cookies. I ended up on the Thumbprint cookies due to my desire for not just chocolate but sweet. Quick and easy cookie dough that made at least 30 cookies. The only messy business was my burning my poor little thumb. But a thumb works so much better than any spoon, so the sacrifice was small. I used a mixed berry preserve that I had in the fridge. The cookies were absolutely perfect. Chewy, chocolatedly goodness with a hint of sweet berries. I was so glad that the dough made so many cookies, as I didn't gobble them all up while they were cooling. They were a perfect addition to my lunches and dinners for the next week.


Comet Cafe and the adventures of vegan friends

It is always great having vegetarian and vegan friends to help you try out all the new and exciting restaurants in the area. Sadly, most of my friends are not vegan. They sometimes will come out with me to a specific very vegan restaurant, like the Chicago Diner. But most of the time I venture off on my own. Luckily, the past year I made friends with one of my friend's cousin. We became vegetarian buddies as she was dealing with the swift from omni to veg and how her very irish, meat loving family was handling it. We first had an awesome little tea party with home-made dishes. She made a delicious apple crisp and I made chocolate chip cookies and Smlove Pie from Veganomicon. Sadly I had horrrible luck with that pie and I absolutely hated it. I just scraped the toppings off and ate it, so not worth any pictures and I was so frantic in the kitchen getting ready I forgot to take pictures of the occassion.

We also had a day where we went to a mexican restaurant called Riviera Maya. We got the suggestion from the Milwaukee Vegan Meetup. We would have gone with the group, but both of us couldn't make that date. So instead we took the bus down one rainy day and had some amazing mexican food. We both started with delicious margaritas, I mango and she peach. And then HAD to try their mole appetizer tray. We were given 6 different moles to try (peanut, almond, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, tomatillo sauce, and a chocolate mole. All served nice and warm and they were absolutely amazing. We had a fun time trying to figure out the tastes and textures that were in our mouths. What is great about this restaurant is that two of their 'meat' choices are vegan. So almost every single dish can be made vegan. Although I opted for my favorite, el burrito. But my meat mixture was: zucchini, corn, carrots, and red pepper. It was absolutely delicious in every way, I couldn't have asked for a better dish. My friend ordered a Mexican hot sub with potatoes, peppers, and corn as her meat. The sub looked delicious and was overflowing with toppings. Again, no photos. Failed everyone in that department. But if you are in Milwaukee, definitely check the place out. A bit expensive, but it was worth it.

Our third veggie night was at the Comet Cafe, which my friend had been raving about for ages. I had never been, but heard they served up a mean sandwich. The restaurant is half vegan, half omnivore's dilemma. Almost all of the sandwiches can be veganized and some are fully vegan from the start. The restaurant itself is full of ambience, with a 50's diner feel and huge booths and retro dining sets. We ordered for an appetizer the vegan deep fried ribs, which are described as beer batter riblets with a side of hot sauce and bbq with a spciy mayo dipping sauce and a side of fries. I am so positive I had a photo of these, but I guess not. They were sooo damn good. We ate every bit of them, even all the fries. It was a meal unto itself. But we still ordered more. My friend ordered the Marinated Tofu Sandwich. It was stuffed with red peppers, lettuce, and onions. And with a side of those heaping fries. I had a piece and it was amazing. The tofu was smoky and sweet, with a little kick all at the same time. I had to order their Reuben and compare it to the ever so great Chicago Diner's. It came out looking delcious. The bread was nice and crisp, the saurkraut looked fresh, and the seitan piece was crisp and tasted just like what I was looking for. The two restaurants have different textured seitans, but both were high in my book. I enjoyed every bit of the sandwich, enough to take home the little bit I couldn't force down my throat. It made a great midnight snack when I had to get down and studying.

Our adventures don't end there. We have gone to Riverwest Co-op together, which is a little health grocery store with a little vegan cafe attached. Great sandwiches and deserts, and all the vegan food products you can't find anywhere else...like Teese!

Hopefully our adventures do not end here. Although my friend has graduated from school, she is planning on staying in our school's city, so we can continue to eat our way through great conversations. And what is also super great is my friend just recently took the plunge and is fully vegan. Yay vegans, friends, and food. It's what life is all about.


Summer in India: Week 3

The third week of my trip to India was a home-stay segment. We were all assigned to families that were friends with one of my professor while he was still living in India. A few were his relatives and the rest friends. I was a bit worried about this portion of the trip, not because of the prospect of invading someone's home, but because of my being vegan. We arrived from New Delhi after a 3 hour cramped car ride (we had 4 girls in the backseat of a car) and went to our welcome party. At the welcome party my teachers were assigning the families. Again, so great about the program, the teachers knew us pretty well by this point and were able to place us perfeclty with a family. I heard my name, though, being rattled off in the span of 5 minutes more than the comfortable amount while I was sitting and chatting with the other guests. I was feeling extremely guilty due to the fact that veganism is completely unheard of in India. But I was placed with a family. We were told some families would be Muslim, others Hindus, some rich, some with just 1 bedroom for the whole family, and others where you would have your own room. So I was expecting anything and was ready for it while on the ride over to the house. We arrived and my house was literally in the center of the city, it was a small apartment ontop of a men's clothing store. My host dad had just had double bypass heart surgery, so I carried my heavy suitcases up the small stairwell to the apartment. After I had recovered I got to know my family.

I was living with a host father and mother. They were a Hindu vegetarian family with three kids (2 grown and moved out, and one had passed away). My host mom and host dad were very nice and accommodating. They even turned on their A/C unit for me the first day, well until the daily power outages from 4pm-6pm. Every single day the power would be out. Each house would have a generator to allow some fans and some lights to function. Most of India does not have any electricity and when there is electricity it is highly unreliable and overused. The amount they have does not cover the demand, so daily power outages have become the temporary solution. The minute the power outage would be over, my host mom would turn on her soaps... We had had a LONG day and as you can tell in this picture, I was weathered! The photo is of me, my host mom (in the middle), and her friend. The first night we had a little of a celebratory party where the women sat in the bedroom with the A/C drinking small glasses of cola and talking. Then we joined the two men (my host dad and the son of the friend) for dinner. This happened at 9pm-11pm. My host dad told me that he was excited to have me in the house and the food was no issue because of his surgery he was not allowed to have much dairy. It felt like a huge wave of relief knowing that they didn't feel too burdened by my restrictions. He also told me that he already thought of me like his American daughter and that he would treat me just like a daughter. I just had no idea how literally he would be saying that.

I was soooo exhausted and so utterly pleased to find out that they do put the A/C on for the first 30mins of sleeptime. The city that we were in for the host stay was one of the hottest cities and also having a heat wave. At the time it was probably 110-120 degrees from 10AM-11PM. My host turned out to be the only one with an A/C, but most had fans and desert coolers (fans that had water churning inside). Anyways, before the little party, my host mom and I went to the temple which was just around the corner. They were having a celebration of Ram and Sita, where they were decorated beautifully in their vault area. The room was heavily perfumed with incense and jasmine, people were sitting everywhere in the dark singing and chanting along with the main priest, and bells could be heard from every which direction. It was a magical site and I was sad to leave it and realize it only happened once a week, so that would be the last time I saw it. But I did visit the temple three-four times, as my host mom went there every single day and would then walk around the little courtyard that was there with her friends gossiping. There was also always someone giving out free strawberry lassi, a drink made from strawberries and milk, like a thin milkshake. The beggars and the woman at the temple would always be gathered round tight getting second and third cups of the stuff. I also saw a strange scene at the temple where a crow looked as if he was dying to bits, he was laying flat on the ground croaking. A dog saw this as an invitation to eat him, but every time he got near to getting it, the bird would flag violently with its obviously injured body. Finally after watching in horror at the scene a man came and picked the bird up and threw him in the air so he'd go inside the gated garden, he plopped down, and then a few minutes later flew away all fine...it was quite a scene that I will not forget.

It was a bit awkward the first night as my host dad was forced out of the one bedroom of the house to the living room. Which part of the living room is shown in the picture, with the door leading out to the balcony. I shared the bedroom with my host mom. In India, showing your legs is highly provocative. Most women never show their legs in publics, all pant suits, sarees, jeans, all will cover their legs. So I had no idea how my host mom would react to me wearing short shorts and a tiny tank for bed. I DIED the first night as I had decided to wear at least a tshirt over my tank. She never mentioned anything about the shorts, but she might have been highly disturbed. We formed quite the nightly routine, every single night for a week we would have dinner at 9, which my host parents would go to bed right after. I would want to shower at night since I felt so disgusting after the day. Our shower and bathroom were in two different parts of the house. Inside the house near the entrance was the western style bathroom that never flushed properly and outside on the balcony was a little room with a bucket and spout. I got used to bucket showers and was thankful for the cold water being splashed onto me, but the fact that the shower was outside meant that mosquitos were in heaven with my blood. I would rush my showers, as well, as the house to the right had a higher roof than us, so if they went up they could clearly see into our shower, and with being very half-assed in the language at that point had no idea if people walking in the alley were really in the alley or on the roof.

After my shower I would always go to the room and read a bit of Holy Cow! or do some of my homework assignments, then attempt to fall asleep. Some nights I slept great and some nights I thought I'd never sleep from being the most uncomfortable I'd ever been in my life. I felt bad as my host mom had to have woken up while I was trying to cool down (sitting up, getting up, soaking myself in my filtered water).

I was never allowed to go anywhere on my own. My host dad was extremely overprotective of me. He would have one of the male students come to my house to share a rickshaw to school. It was nice money-wise as we shared the cost both ways, but the rickshaws in India are not standard. Each city has a normal size seat, well the seats in Aligarh were made for either two school children or two very, very, very small adults. We all left Aligargh with bruises on our thighs from trying to sit on the seat and absorb the shocks from the roads. Every morning at 9.30 I would be expecting my ride to come. Before then I would take yet another shower and eat breakfast. Breakfast in the house was one of my favorite meals. It was greasy and always fried, but amazing. Some days we would have grilled vegetables sandwiches with green chutney, a few days we had a thick fried rice and vegetable breakfast dish, and some days we had Kulcha a fried bread similar to batura, but it has mashed potatoes, onions, and spices kneaded into the dough. I helped once with breakfast, but my host mom really never wanted any help and when I tried to make a Kulcha, I did everything wrong apparently. So I would ask every day to help, but never was I needed.

My family didn't seem to have to make many changes to make their normal vegetarian cooking vegan, but others around me were always completely astonished that I didn't eat dairy. In India, vegetarian does not mean lacto-ovo, but it implies a lacto vegetarian. This is because most vegetarians in the country are vegetarian for religious purposes. And eggs are not considered clean, nor pure because Indians view them how we vegans see them, revolting. I always thought eggs were gross eating. Why eat another animals eggs? I remember learning about the layers of the egg and the umbilical cord in jr high and having stopped eating eggs for a long time, but it didn't last. I'm glad I had my last egg almost a year and half ago. But in India, dairy is not considered to be impure at all, but to be almost holy in itself. One of the most well-known dieties in Hindu religion is Lord Krishna who is known to be a flirt with all of the milk-maidens. Cows are also holy, so put together the two and other factors within the scripts we have a product that is highly auspicious. Though, much of the milk in India is from water buffalos. The issue is India is a country with OVER-consumption of dairy. I have no doubt that some of my food was contanimated with a dairy product. No matter how many times you asked if the food was clean of all dairy it easily could have not been. In general, you have to be very specific with the questions you ask:

"Does this have milk" no
"Does it have cream" no
"Does it have yogurt" oh yes, of course

hrm. it would go on and on like this. I felt bad as I was never comfortable enough to ask a Hindi speaking server if food was okay for me. After awhile, I would know which dishes to completely avoid and some that would always be clean. But some could have been vegan at one restaurant, but not at the next. I worried the most when we went to non-veg restaurants where chicken stock was being used in the food, who knows about that. I normally would just eat bread and wait til we got home to get a Clif bar. But at the homestay, I was lucky as my family knew everything that shouldn't be in my food and were comfortable with it.

Though, my host mom's friend would constantly sit and tell me how strange it was that I didn't drink milk, but my skin was as white as milk. I would sit and just try and tell her that I wasn't even the whitest of the bunch. And she was even light herself! Indians are obsessed with fairness as we are with having young skin. Every beauty shelf with Fair & Lovely or any of the other 20 different brands. All TV personelle are as white as possible. We had a few people tell us they worship light skin and think we should marry Indian men since they would treat us like gods. And of course, not only is the dream mostly unattainable for the majority of the nation of beautiful brown skin, but these creams are so dangerous!You'd see someone wearing a cream and they'd just look ashy or like they didn't get all the soap off in the shower. Westerners want to be dark and Easterners want to be light...go figure.

One of the highlights while in Aligarh was the university convocation (graduation). The guest list was quite impactful. Not only was A.R. Rahman, the famous composer of thousands of Indian songs, but also
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, one of Gandhi's grandsons. It was a great honor to be present with these brilliant minds. The students were all too excited as well, plus we were an added bonus. I actually had to have the TA near me acting as my publicist pushing people away from having photos. I would say yes to one and then have 30 more photos to take in that one instant. It was fun at first, but then by the end of just that one day I had probably taken over 100 photos and had been in the background of another 200 photos. It was insane. The TA questioned why her people wanted their independence if they are so enamered with pale skin. It was kind of a laughing joke during the trip, but sometimes not wanted.

The night of the graduation my family had a little final get together where we had dinner at the family friend's house. The parties always start with drinking soda, sitting in the nicest bedroom with the best fans or A/C, then moving onto watching TV, and then dinner. We had a really nice dinner and good talk and what not. It had been a really long day, but it was worth it. After dinner we took some family photos (women and men seperate). Sometimes I would complain to the other kids about my family being boring, as it was just the two of them. But, I really did enjoy them. They were such a nice family and such good people. They worked hard in their life to be able to retire and do absolutely nothing, so they are enjoying it. I just had a different pace, but because the person nearest my age was engaged to be married, well I didn't get out much that week. I read a lot, and sat quitely a lot. For awhile, I wished the homestay was less than a week, but it was really a great time getting to know my family.

The last big event with my family was shopping for my saree. After going to 5 stores and turning down a good 50-60 different materials, I finally set eyes on the saree that I loved. And of course, it was the most expensive one I had looked at. At 50 American dollars, it was a 'luxury' saree. I figured if I get one, it should be nice since I wont be wearing it other than at something really formal. But commonly you can get a saree for 5 dollars or less. Sarees are just 6 feet of fabric that are lined with patterns. The saree is extremely hard to wrap as you have 3ft of pleating to deal with before you can move on to wrapping it around your upper body. But if you do it right, the saree is quite comfortable. The tops are specially made and are extremely tight fitting. It took two times for them to get the measurements right, but it fits like a glove. The day that I left, my host family all sat around waiting for me to try my saree on. And with the help of my host mom and beautiful jewelery she bought and gave to me for my saree it was perfect. They had me wear my saree with the sleeve long, which is common for an elegant, regal look. But again, there are so many ways to wrap and wear the saree. Women who work in construction normally wear saree's to work...imagine that.

After all the students packed into a little bus, we were headed to Agra. On our way to see the Taj Mahal...

To view all the photos I took from the time period in this post, please visit my flickr India collection: http://flickr.com/photos/shadowsarah