Sunday, May 30, 2010

Full-Circle, or--A Year Later

A little over a year ago, Matt and I started this blog as we were moving into this house. Now we are quite settled in, married for almost a year, and I find myself recognizing the season more meaningfully as I search the area for edible native plants and cultivate our own little garden. I return to what I wrote about a year ago, believing more than ever that
"Eating is an action with consequences beyond a single individual, and it should be a conscious decision with awareness of implications, with every meal."
My present concern (as was last year) is with bread. Recently, we bought a little garlic loaf at the grocery store, and although it had better than average ingredients, I couldn't help but think about production and value of bread--where it comes from and who puts the effort into it?
I have been reading about making bread and going through the introduction of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Reinhart writes with such clarity and passion, it is difficult not to catch his enthusiasm for the craft. Many of his recipes, however, take several days to make, and I promised myself that I wouldn't start baking from his book until I finished the introduction. Thus, I revisited Dough, and made fougasse to go along with our dinner. I used half a batch of the "white dough" and hope to make breadsticks with the rest tomorrow. As I learn about fermentation and other parts of the bread-making process, I appreciate bread more; I am starting to visualize the process by which good bread comes to be--the release of the sugars, the resulting caramelization of the crust. I love bread!

Of course, as I'm expanding my knowledge of bread, I'm preparing for ten days of raw food. Soon, Matt will be away in Louisville for a week, and I thought that I would repeat last year's raw week. I've started making kale chips and flax crackers, and am experimenting with raw bars (dates, raw cacao, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds). This year will be more challenging, working full time, so I'm focusing more on things that can be more portable. I foresee myself making a few things on my days off (dressings, nut pates, etc.) and eating them for a few days. I'm glad that I'm over last year's unease over my love for bread--I realize that I can eat raw when I want (and when the produce is exceptional and in season), and I can cultivate my bread-making skills. The two aren't necessarily in conflict with each other, and there is a time and a place for both.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cinnamon Buns and Working in a Non-Vegan Environment

Today, in my day off work, I am making cinnamon buns. I've been thinking about these buns for quite some time, but had not previously worked up the nerve to make them--after all, it's quite a bit of work for something that is not savory (and there's all the sugar! and EarthBalance!). However, having worked for a good few weeks at the little bakery and sandwich shop, I became a little envious of the customers who were coming in and eating enormous cinnamon buns with their morning coffee. Sweet Celebrations makes cinnamon buns that are approximately six to seven inches in diameter. These buns are enormous, but also, apparently, delicious. I started thinking about cinnamon buns, and realized that I hadn't had one in over thirteen years. I remember eating one at Cinnabon, before I became too self-conscious about my eating habits and cut out most fats and sugars out of my diet. When I became vegan, I embraced the fats and sugars (and vegetables!), but not in the form of a cinnamon bun. There was still the issue of the time and effort involved in making them; I knew that I could't exactly go out and buy one because where, pray tell me, am I supposed to get vegan cinnamon buns in Knoxville?!
The envy of the customers at my work, and pride in my baking skills finally took over, and so the dough is rising for the cinnamon buns. If they turn out exceptionally well, I just might take some in to work and show them off to my boss and co-workers.

This brings me to the topic of working in an environment that is not altogether hostile to vegans, but is definitely not vegan-friendly. Every sweet that we make at Sweet Celebrations has dairy butter and milk; with the exception of two items on the sandwich menu, every lunch item has meat--and some have several different kinds of it. We also have a large cooler of ice cream and gelato. The little shop is famous for its quiche and reuben sandwiches. Working there full-time means that I either have to bring my lunch or combine the few ingredients that are vegan to create meals: sometimes, I have a veggie wrap, and sometimes the portobello sandwich. Although I'm not bothered by the lack of options, I find myself sometimes covetous of the things that one of my co-workers brings from his other job in a gourmet kitchen; these are hand-made and long-cured salamis, hand-made chocolates, and other things. I don't necessarily regret not trying those things, but I want the interaction that surrounds them--I want the communal experience of sampling a delicacy and discussing it. I suppose that until this point, I have been quite sheltered from the omnivorish world, and able to make it a disgusting or risible realm--nothing of which I'd want to partake. As Matt and I would say, "Who eats better than we do?" And now, now that I am constantly around people who eat tasty food, sometimes it becomes a task to remind myself that their food comes with a heavy price. Is this a fault or flaw on my part, to momentarily waver? I don't think so.

There are things to be grateful for, too. The main chef at Sweet Celebrations used to be vegan and is sensitive to my desires. Whenever he's not too busy, he whips up lunch for me--things that are not available on the normal menu. I brought in Vegenaise and a few blocks of tofu at his request, and he told met hat he'll try to broaden the range of food that I am able to eat while at work. Yes, yes, yes.

The dough for the cinnamon buns has risen, so off to roll and cover it in Earth Balance and sugar and cinnamon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Urban Land Scouts

I've been thinking of personal responsibility (to the environment and the community) beyond veganism. For many, veganism is a step in becoming more aware of food consumption and production, but of course, there is more to conscientiousness than just eating vegan food (or not wearing animal products). There are other steps an individual can make towards conserving resources and living sustainably. As a result of all this thinking, I bought a composter with the rest of my tax return, and we moved 2/3 of our winter compost pile into it for quicker composting. I've been combing the area for native edible plants, and I've also been attempting to start a small container garden (out of wooden drawers that we've been taking from the abandoned school next door). Because of all these things--and my interest in building community and supporting the environment, I was incredibly excited to become a part of Urban Land Scouts.

The Urban Land Scouts is a project created by Katie Ries, and it is part of her Master's Thesis work, although I think that it has been coming along for a few years. Katie is involved around town, and is very conscious about people's interactions with the land that they occupy. Here is a brief description of the organization from their website:
The Urban Land Scouts are a new group helping modern urban people become better stewards of the land and communities where they live. Membership is open to all.
Also, here are the core values of an Urban Land Scout:

1 – The Urban Land Scouts looks at the land daily; he is observant of and attentive to it.

2 - The Urban Land Scout tries to identify and use the plants in her neighborhood.

3 - The Urban Land Scout seeks to cultivate native or edible plants in whatever soil he can access and tend.

4 - The Urban Land Scout is fed by the land in which she lives.

5 - The Urban Land Scout makes an effort to grow vegetables.

6 - The Urban Land Scout plants and cares for seeds.

7 - The Urban Land scout shares information freely and teach others what she knows.

8 - The Urban Land scout is lucid, patient, and rooted in the land where he lives.

9 - The Urban Land Scout composts with the help of worms.

10 - The Urban Land Scout shares her harvest.

These are also the ten levels of the Urban Land Scout, and you can see the logical progression--from observing and identifying to harvesting, sharing, and composting. What I especially like about ULS is that it's a project with built-in accountability on several different levels; yes, the project itself is about being mindful of our (urban) environment and connection to food creation. But also, in order to earn a badge, each of the scouts has to document the achievement and report back to the site. One of the tenets of the group is to share information (to blog about it!), resulting in wider awareness of the project and its goals.

As many of us become more and more estranged from the sources of our food, we can become less and less aware of the kind of impact our consumption makes on the community and environment; it is thus critical to pay attention to the land one inhabits--to take care of it, in any way, even if these actions are just small changes to the everyday routine (such as saving seeds from vegetables bought at a local farmer's market). I strongly encourage everyone to become an Urban Land Scout, officially or not. Everyone can become a genuine steward of the land! Everyone can become more responsible to the land and to our respective communities!