Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Let them view pictures of cake

May 31, 2011

My brother recently requested that I blog about cake instead of rape and abortion — I think he’s trying to tell me my blog subject matter is a bit depressing? To that I would say (1) what’s really depressing is that I have so much material to write about in terms of the problems with how society views and deals with sexual assault and reproductive rights, but (2) light-hearted material is needed intermittently to avoid drowning in such heavy topics and being consumed by feelings of hopelessness.

And so, I bring you a blog about cake!

My favorite types of cake

First of all, I’m going to admit that I prefer cupcakes to cake. There are cake people and cupcake people, and I’m definitely a cupcake person. That’s partly because I like simple cake flavors, and it’s more difficult to put weird mousse and fruit filling in cupcakes, and partly because cupcakes are so easy to eat and carry around. But this doesn’t mean I will turn down a slice of chocolate cake if someone offers it.

1. Angel food cake with strawberries

I don’t think I’d say this is my favorite type of cake because it is in a category all its own. No frosting (or whipped cream or Cool Whip or whatever weird topping most people like to put on strawberries), just delicious fluffy, light cake with a nice pile of strawberries on top. I probably like this so much because I love strawberries, and the angel food cake offers a different flavor and texture but doesn’t overshadow the strawberries. I also like pound cake and strawberries, but pound cake is pretty heavy in comparison to angel food cake so you can’t eat as much of it.

2. Pepperidge Farm Three-Layer Chocolate Fudge Cake

Now this is a cake. I’m not one for really, really chocolatey desserts (which makes my mom frustrated and wondering if I’m really related to her genetically), but something about this cake always makes me want to eat the entire thing. Layers of chocolate cake with thin layers of a chocolate mousse-type filling (but seemingly denser than chocolate mousse would be) … this cake is just plain delicious. If we were eating cake at any time in my childhood and it wasn’t someone’s birthday, we were eating this Pepperidge Farm cake — maybe that adds to why I like it so much.

3. Red Velvet Cupcakes

I only recently got into red velvet cake, and I think cupcakes are much better for red velvet than a huge sheet cake because the cake is a little sweeter and the frosting is a little tangy (usually cream cheese), so smaller cupcake-sized doses are better than huge slices. Plus their color is so vibrant!

4. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting

My favorite simple, sheet cake combination is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I’m picky when it comes to desserts, so I don’t like cakes that have nuts, fruit filling, peanut butter … most of the things normal people think are delicious. But regardless of all the toppings and extras that people enjoy on cake, everyone has a simple cake flavor/icing combo that always hits the spot.

Cakes that look cool and/or reflect my favorite things

1. Margarita cake

If you’d like to get me an ideal birthday cake, use this cake as a blueprint and replace “Amy” with “Cathy.” This cake not only is colorful, but it comes with chips and salsa and an actual margarita! Some margarita cakes had margaritas with frosting posing as the margarita inside the glass, but that’s pretty gross — how can you drink a glass full of frosting or a fondant marg? It’s ingenious to instead to have an actual margarita, so the birthday person can enjoy a nice drink with their cake. Make mine a frozen margarita, please.

2. Cat cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come on now, I love cakes that not only look like cats, but look like my cats! This cake looks pretty sizable and well-carved out to match the shape of an actual cat (aka impressive). I don’t think I’d want to eat it — I’d rather find a way to preserve it and put it with all my other cat memorabilia.

3. Grilled cheese sandwich cake

I love grilled cheese sandwiches (note the header of this blog). I wish this cake had something sitting next to it to better illustrate how big it is proportionate to a magazine or a person. I also enjoyed googling pictures of cake made to look like pizza, but this grilled cheese cake was more impressive than any of the pizza cake pictures I found (though a lot of them were really cool-looking, too).

4. iCakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spend way too much time with my laptop, and a lesser but still probably unhealthy amount of time with my iPhone. These iPhone icon cupcakes are spot on, and this Macbook cake looks awesome. Unfortunately, both are covered in gross fondant, but it’s hard to make cakes that mimic real-life objects without using the fondant.

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VegWeek discounts are disappointing portrayal of vegetarian options in DC

April 19, 2011

This week is VegWeek, which is a great concept in theory — meat-eaters pledge to go meatless for a week, and restaurants offer discounts so meat-eaters can see that eating vegetarian is delicious and not really much different than the food they eat now. But looking over the VegWeek specials in the DC area, I’m disappointed.

There are only about 10 discounts available, and a few of those are for cooking classes and not restaurants. And even then, a few are dessert-oriented. I think this unfortunately reflects how a lot of people feel about vegetarianism — that if you’re vegetarian you have to eat at specialized vegetarian, vegan restaurants, or if you want to eat something without meat, it’ll have to be a dessert because, well, how can you eat meals without meat?!

It’s great to get traffic to vegan-oriented and vegetarian-oriented restaurants to show meat-eaters that meals can be delicious with meat or animal products, don’t get me wrong. But vegetarians and vegans don’t live in a bubble, and you don’t have to sacrifice being social and going to “regular” restaurants just because you choose not to eat meat. Sure, you’ve got to be more selective — when everyone wants to chip in for chicken wings or nachos, you might have to politely decline or suggest something more veg-friendly — but it’s not impossible.

I like the idea of discounts on vegetarian and vegan food, but I just wish more restaurants were participating. I don’t want people to look at the short list of VegWeek participants and think it’s representative of how many vegetarian or vegan options are in the area, because it’s definitely not. You can go pretty much anywhere and find something on the menu that is either meatless or can be made without meat, so give the challenge a try. It might help get wider vegetarian selections at restaurants if more people are asking for more vegan and vegetarian options, too!

Meat/veg-eaters need to compromise for sake of environment

May 20, 2010

When people ask if I’m a vegetarian, I always feel like they are disappointed in my answer: I’m mostly a vegetarian. They immediately look underwhelmed: I’m basically telling them that I don’t have enough willpower to fully commit, and they think I’m some poser who doesn’t take animal rights or the environment seriously.

But I’m not the only one who sees being mostly vegetarian (aka flexitarian) as a positive, worthwhile endeavor — Graham Hill, founder of treehugger.com, gave this TEDTalk about vegetarianism which is fantastic. I encourage everyone to watch it — it’s only four minutes long, and it outlines his “weekday veg” diet. He doesn’t eat meat Monday through Friday, leaving the weekends open for meat if he chooses.

It doesn’t mean he will eat meat on the weekend, but he doesn’t have to feel guilty for falling off the bandwagon or relapsing into meat. It differs from flexitarianism (which aims to decrease meat consumption generally) by creating a guideline that is easy to remember: as Hill puts it, he won’t eat “anything with a face” Monday through Friday, so you simply check the day of the week and that will tell you if meat is an option. More than a diet, it is a lifestyle change.

Hill says it best when he discusses the downside to meat:

I knew that eating a mere hamburger a day can increase my risk of dying by a third. Cruelty, I knew that the 10 billion animals we raise each year for meat, are raised in factory farm conditions that we, hypocritically, wouldn’t even consider for our own cats, dogs and other pets.

Environmentally, meat, amazingly, causes more emissions than all of transportation combined, cars, trains, planes, buses, boats, all of it. And beef production uses 100 times the water that most vegetables do.

Meat production is terrible. Animals are wedged into cages next to each other, chickens have their beaks shaved down so they can’t peck at each other because they are in such close quarters, and you can imagine the sanitary conditions (or rather, lack thereof) at a place where animals are smashed together into cages.

Combine the disgusting treatment of the animals with the amount of water used in the meat production process and the pollution it creates, not to mention the pollution from the animals themselves and the factories, plus the grain used to feed all the animals, and there is a lot of environmental degradation going on.

But asking people to just stop eating meat isn’t as simple as it sounds — vegetarians and vegans can be elitist and judgmental of people who can’t stick to a strict meatless or animal-product-less diet, and meateaters can be elitist and judgmental of people who don’t eat meat or animal products.

Neither side wants to budge — meateaters don’t want to sacrifice eating meat forever, and vegetarians inherently feel like they are making a deal with the devil if they condone eating meat. “Weekday veg” is a compromise between the two, but both sides need to accept that compromise and some additional “best practice” rules, like trying to eat free-range and grass-fed animal products.

People who cut meat out of their diet during the week are cutting 71.4 percent of their meat intake out. Eating meat only three times a week cuts down your meat intake by 57 percent. These numbers are huge, and they could really make an impact if they became the norm. People often use the excuse, “I couldn’t give up meat,” as a reason not to be vegetarian and then they move on, but why not embrace a diet that lets you do both?

Yes, environmentalists can keep pushing vegetarianism and veganism, but the all-or-nothing approach isn’t realistic in my book. Like Hill says, people get nervous about giving up meat. Think of the health care reform debate — the late Sen. Ted Kennedy always said his biggest regret was turning down then-Pres. Nixon’s proposal for universal healthcare, because Kennedy wanted more than a compromise — he wanted all his demands to be met.

Vegetarianism — more so veganism — is the best option for the sake of the environment and the humanity of the animals who are mistreated in ways, like Hill said, most people wouldn’t allow if those animals were domestic pets like dogs or cats. I’m not going to argue that — but he’s right to say that the binary scares people, and it leads people to shy away from eating less meat, because people say eating less isn’t enough, you must eat none.

Some of the commenters accused Hill of being self-serving — I’m not exactly sure how cutting your meat intake by almost three-fourths and relishing in the fact that it’s healthier and better for the environment is completely selfish. Maybe he’s patting himself on the back, but I don’t really care or see why it matters — if his idea means dramatically less environmental degradation and fewer animals being treated horribly, then he can pat himself on the back 24/7 for all I care.

Burger King has it right: Vegetarians are hungry for options

March 28, 2010

Until recently, a vegetarian was hard-pressed to find anything to eat at a fast food place that wasn’t french fries or a side salad. These days, more fast food joints are catching on to the market of vegetarians they have been ignoring, but even the ones that do aren’t really promoting their vegetarian options.

Are they nervous the association to a veggie burger will make them seem “green” or “hippie,” or do they not understand how much their business benefits from the veggie options? Some entrepreneurs had trouble starting or marketing their eco-friendly businesses before the green movement became mainstream, because investors didn’t want to be associated with or labeled as niche or “hippie.”

About 3 percent of the adult population is vegetarian (one poll says 3.2, the other 2.8), which equals out to about seven million people, give or take a few hundred thousand. About 5.2 percent (11.9 million) are interested in vegetarian diets, and 10 percent (more than 20 million) of adults consider themselves vegetarian even though they occasionally eat chicken or fish. I fall into that latter group, as I probably eat meat once or twice a month at most.

Recently at a Burger King on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I heard one of the employees shout someone’s order — a veggie burger. I was shocked and excited — Burger King had a veggie burger? Since when? Why didn’t they promote it more? Last weekend, a woman next to me heard me order the veggie burger at this same turnpike plaza, and she told her husband, “Wait, they have a veggie burger — I don’t want the fish sandwich anymore.”

Obviously there is a vegetarian demographic that would eagerly gobble this new veggie burger up, but they don’t widely publicize this new menu option (unless I missed the advertising — which I doubt considering all the TV I watch). If about 18 percent of people either identify, try or think about being a vegetarian, that’s a large customer base who are interested in vegetarian options — almost one in five customers.

Vegetarians and vegans are like anyone who has food preferences or allergies — they memorize the food places where they can eat in a mental map. If you’re allergic to peanuts, you seek out and remember what restaurants don’t use peanut oil; if you’ve got a gluten allergy, you memorize restaurants that have good wheat-free dishes — same goes when you don’t eat meat and/or dairy.

I know that I can get a veggie burger at Burger King, Fuddruckers and Flamers (and a grilled cheese at Five Guys, but it’s a pretty pitiful slice of cheese on a hamburger bun and also not vegan). These are fast food places that are burger-centric, and otherwise I might just get some fries if I went there. Because I can get the veggie burger, I immediately gravitate to these fast food joints if I need a quick bite, and I also spend more money at these places — e.g. instead of spending $2 on fries, I’ll spend $6 on a combo.

This is lucrative for fast food places, as vegetarians need to eat on the go, too. Vegetarians are also typically concerned about their health and/or the environment, so they probably won’t be making daily trips to these fast food places, but they and other non-veggie health concerned people are still going to give serious consideration to spending more money at these businesses.

More customers, more products bought = more $$$. Isn’t that a great business model? It’s important to recognize and promote vegetarian options because the customer base is out there. Eating is a very social thing, and when every menu option is either meat or covered in meat, made with a carnivorous audience in mind, it’s tough to find joy in eating out and with friends.

That is, unless, there are a few delicious vegetarian options. Vegetarianism is growing in popularity — between 2000 and 2004, 0.5 percent more people identified as vegetarian — that’s about 1.1 million more people. Vegetarian isn’t just a choice that crunchy granola hippies embrace — it’s becoming a mainstream lifestyle choice that restaurants need to embrace and adopt, rather than hide and ignore.

(Also, let me know if you’ve got some food spots with good vegetarian options!)