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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Breakfast Club: Vegan Banana Pancakes



Breakfast. A Neccesity.

I am a breakfast person. No, I am an extreme breakfast person. If I do not eat within the hour after waking up I get cranky. I can, and have, rolled out of bed, put on a pot of coffee and immediately poured myself a bowl of cereal to enjoy. I do not understand people who don't like breakfast. In fact, I don't trust them. I don't trust people who don't drink coffee either.

My closest friends who how crazy I am about breakfast and they understand that it is imperative that I am fed in the morning, even if we are traveling, on vacation, at a strangers house or in the middle of nowhere. I am going to visit my brother and his wife in North Carolina this week and I am already contemplating the breakfast situation. Should I go to the store and buy cereal, almond milk and blueberries  I doubt they will have that stocked in their house. I used to be shy about eating breakfast around people who don't and I would try to wait until both of us were hungry. Now I am older and wiser and realize breakfast makes me happy, so it must happen.

I don't stray too much from what I consume for my morning meal. It is usually Trader Joe's Multi-grain O's mixed with Strawberry O's or Puffins of some kind mixed with blueberries. However, every once in awhile on a day off I will treat myself to a heavy, indulgent breakfast, such as vegan and gluten free french toast I previously wrote about or, in this case, vegan blueberry pancakes. I am still trying to get the hang of the perfect pour for pancakes. The last time I made pancakes was on Christmas for my boyfriend and I. They were a messy, burned and way too thick. This pancake attempt went much better. I discovered this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Sweatpants and Superfoods. I can not stand to let any of my produce go bad and I always buy too many bananas; it never fails. So, instead of making banana bread for the 500th time this year, these pancakes were a good alternative. In addition to what the recipe calls for I added some cinnamon, vanilla and blueberries. I indulged in one pancake with just butter, which was good, but of course it was definitely better with maple syrup. Save this recipe for a special morning, rainy Sunday or holiday brunch. It warms the heart and tummy!

Banana Pancakes

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes, depending on how many pancakes
Total Time: About 15-20 minutes

Ingredients:

2 bananas
2 cups soy milk (or other nondairy milk)
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder

::Optional::
Add vanilla extract, cinnamon or chocolate chips (or all of them) for additional flavors

Preparation:

1.Blend the banana in a blender or food processor until smooth. ::I did not use a blender. I mashed the bananas by hand. If your bananas are ripe this is very easy.::

2.Pour the banana into a mixing bowl and add the flour, soy milk and baking powder.

3. Mix together and make some short stacks!







Friday, August 17, 2012

Local Produce: A day dedicated to fresh food









Recently I have been overwhelmed by how much I would rather be cooking than doing almost anything else. But alas, I have a job and other obligations to attend to. However, whenever I get the chance I dedicate my time to exploring new food aspects. A few weeks ago I decided that I would skip buying produce at the store and take a trip out east to gather my usual essentials from the many farms that populate Long Island. I wish I could easily do this every week, but the time commitment makes it difficult.

My cousin, Lauren, came along and we drove until we hit Harbes Farm. I have been there a few times before, mostly to drink their wine. I love everything about it there. They have a diverse farm stand and a berry stand across the street, as well as a food stand that sells fresh corn, salads, fresh lemonade and cider donuts. Lauren and I each got a freshly squeezed strawberry lemonade and browsed the produce with wide eyes. I had to pace myself because I knew the point of the trip was to visit a few stands, not just one. I wound up buying a lot anyway. I left with two limes, four peaches, lettuce, an onion, a shallot and grapes. Then we ran across the street and I bought two bundles of blueberries and two bundles of strawberries. I am obsessed with blueberries and religiously eat them in the morning with my cereal. My plan for the strawberries was to make a jam with them, since I had made a fig butter the night before and am now currently obsessed with jams and jarring. I also bought fresh honey, which I have been using in shakes that I bring to work, which keep me full for hours.

Plants and herbs at Sang Lee Farms

I was also determined to buy some fresh herbs. My boyfriend and I had grown basil and I used it all the time, but unfortunately we lost some plants when the heat wave hit. To buy organic basil in the store it costs almost $4 and it goes bad quickly, especially in the summer. I prefer fresh herbs because they taste better and are more cost effective. I drove until I spotted a certified organic farm, Sang Lee Farms, and frantically cut the wheel of my car so we didn't miss it. I bought oregano, mint and basil for a total of $10 and I will have a constant supply for whenever I need it.

My cousin Lauren, browsing the merchandise
By this point, we were starving. We kept heading east until we hit Greenport, where we strolled along the water, grabbed some pizza and kept with the local theme by visiting the Greenport Brewing Company for a tasting. I wound up bonding with a woman over my license picture, in which I'm sporting a perm, as the result of a bad break up. Apparently she had made the same brilliant decision. I guess bad break ups sometime equate to bad hair as well. Lauren and I enjoyed the beer, people and the wood work that decorated the walls and then I wound up leaving with a jug of their Triton beer.

The trip made me feel refreshed and excited to use all of my local products. The next morning when I threw the blueberries in my cereal, my taste buds became very excited. The taste of fresh produce is in no way comparable to produce that has been grown, picked, packaged, shipped, unloaded and stocked. For the next week I used the things I bought for some nutritious creations. Below are my recipes for a great salad, a filling smoothie and a fresh strawberry jam.

Fattoush Salad


I created this salad based on a recipe I found on the blog Eat, Live, Run. I used the lettuce that I bought at the market to create it. It is a deceivingly light salad with a lot of filling ingredients. I used Tzatziki instead of Tahini the first time I had the salad and the second time I mixed together olive oil and lemon for a lighter dressing.

Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

8 cups spring mix (about 2 10-oz packages)
10 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
2 whole wheat pitas, cut into thin strips (easiest way to do this is with a scissors)
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (more or less to taste)
small pinch of salt (to taste)
Tahini for serving

Preparation:

1. Place the pita strips in a small skillet on the stove over medium high heat. Toast, tossing often, until pita strips are very crisp. This will take about four to five minutes. Don’t let the strips burn! When crisp, remove from heat and set aside.
2. Toss together the spring mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, feta crumbles, cilantro and chickpeas in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Add the toasted pita strips and toss again.
3. Finish salad by drizzling a spoonful of tahini over top just before serving.

Peach and Honey Smoothie

I found this recipe in the book "Homemade" by Clodagh McKenna. It is a simple creation that I have started making a few times a week, alternating with a mint mango smoothie that I love. It keeps me really full for up to four hours and gives me energy at work when I start to feel sluggish. McKenna's recipe calls for plain yogurt but I have been using soy yogurt instead. Although I do not like to eat a lot of soy, the dairy substitute works well and I do not have to worry about getting a stomach ache later on. I used the peaches and the honey that I bought at Harbes Farm to make my smoothies for the week.

Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh peeled and sliced peaches
1/2 banana
2 teaspoons honey
generous 3/4 cup plain yogurt
4 ice cups

Preparation:

Simple. Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.


Strawberry Jam
I am just getting familiar with jam making and as of yet, I do not have a jarring kit, so this was a bit of an experiment. I took the simplest recipe that I could find and threw it together. To my surprise it came out really well! I also learned an interesting trick. If you want to know if your jam is ready, place some on a cool plate. If it thickens and stays put it is ready, if it slides on the plate, it needs more time to cook. This recipe is from the blog Rumbly in My Tumbly. This recipe and some others, say to only cook the ingredients for 8 minutes. I found that I needed at least a half hour. I have been enjoying this jam with Earth Balance Coconut Butter on a piece of Ezekiel Bread. Mmmmm.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Ingredients:

2 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 tsp fresh lemon zest

Preparation:

1. Wash, hull, and slice your strawberries.
2. Put them into a saucepan with the water, lemon zest, and sugar.
3. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until jam thickens and reduces. Mash with a potato masher while cooking to break up big chunks.
4. Pour into a heat resistant jar and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.




Monday, July 30, 2012

Living, Breathing, Reading Food: My recent good book find


A few weeks ago I went to Barnes and Noble to track down a murder book, specifically, "Shake the Devil Off," about the murder in New Orleans, which I previously wrote about. This is because I might be slightly crazy or sick in the head. Regardless, they didn't have it. So, I went the more normal route and bought "Homemade" by Clodagh McKenna and "Apron Anxiety" by Alyssa Shelasky.

"Homemade" was a book that I actually found in Anthropologie in the Chelsea Market while waiting to go on a job interview at Amy's Bread. I wanted it badly but figured I could find it cheaper elsewhere. It is a book based on entertaining, explaining things such as how to organize your cabinets, how to make fig butter, making energizing smoothies and making the perfect picnic. It is a charming book and I sigh lovingly every time I look at it.

I bought "Apron Anxiety" pretty much out of boredom. The book summary explained it was about a girl who moves in with her chef boyfriend and falls in love with cooking in the process. It did not seem that impressive, but I bought it anyway. Turns out, this girl was dating Spike Mendelsohn from Top Chef. I'm not a dedicated Top Chef fan, but I enjoy it when I watch it. Shelasky never out right says that this is the person who the book is about, calling him Chef throughout the book instead, however a quick google search blows her cover immediately.

Shelasky worked for US Weekly and People magazine and her celebrity stories pulled me in like the little celebrity gossip whore that I am. Before I knew it I was sucked into the book and was shocked when I realized it. She tells a good story of falling in love, figuring out if love is enough, finding herself and realizing how stabilizing food and the act of cooking can be. I think the main reason I like the book so much is that I can relate to the love affair she winds up having in the kitchen with cooking. After a bad day all I want to do is cook or bake. On my days off I spend my time either food shopping or cooking. I sometimes cook things and don't even eat them and then contemplate bringing them to the homeless guy who begs for money on Middle Country underneath the Nichols Road bridge. I think I might. He needs food more than .50 at this point, I think.

I read this book in two days. It is definitely a "chick" book and an easy read, but enjoyable nonetheless. I found myself googling Shelasky and Mendelsohn for a few days after I finished it, trying to soak up any other information I could get about their relationship (again, I am a celebrity gossip whore). The book also provides recipes from different events and points in her life, which is nice. I recommend this read...and now that my murder book has arrived via Amazon.com, I will disappear into that for a few days and will probably need another light-hearted read. Suggestions please!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cooking as a Cure: Strawberry, Avocado, Goat Cheese Toast


Yesterday I took the plunge and dyed my hair completely blonde. Well, my amazing hairdresser did the actual hard labor, and I owe her a big plug...so if you like my hair now or have in the past, ask for Bryn at Salon Eden in Bayshore. This is something that I decided I wanted to do a few months ago, adding it to my bucket list. I have had almost every shade or hue of brown, black and red but never blonde. I even made an attempt to dye my hair purple (that is what college is for, isn't it?) and got a perm after a bad break up, but I have always been too scared to go light.

I pride myself in being pretty low key about my looks, especially my hair. I like to think that I have the confidence to pull off any look because as long as you think you can, you will find a way to make it work. I left the salon today loving my hair and feeling daring, but as I got home my anxiety started to creep up. I wondered if I looked silly or fake or if my friends and boyfriend would like it. I hadn't eaten much since my hair took almost three and a half hours to complete and the anxiety caused my chest to feel so tight that I couldn't even tell if I was hungry. But I needed to cook. I knew the familiar motions in the kitchen would normalize me. I decided to make an open faced sandwich that I had found on pinterest and wanted to try. There was no recipe attached to the amazing picture of toast with avocado, strawberry and goat cheese since it was linked to a food photography Web site, so I made it up as I went.

Sure enough, I cooked, ate and felt better. I looked in the mirror and found my confidence and fell in love with my hair. So now I have a new look to sport in the kitchen while I kick ass. Here is my recipe for this simple, decadent toast. It made for a great pick me up and might even work as a great appetizer or dessert.

Strawberry, Avocado and Goat Cheese Toast



Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 18 minutes

Ingredients:

- 1 Hass Avocado, mashed
- 8 Strawberries, sliced
- 2-4  tablespoons of honey goat cheese (Trader Joe's)
- 2 slices original Ezekiel bread
- Olive Oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

1. Slice and remove pit of the avocado and then remove the skin. Put the avocado in a bowl and mash it, like you are making guacamole. Add a touch of salt.

2. Slice 8 strawberries into thin, long pieces.

3. Coat one side of each piece of Ezekiel bread with olive oil. On the other side spread a layer of the avocado. Put half of the strawberries on each piece of bread.

4. Slice 2-4 tablespoons of the honey goat cheese and split between the two pieces of bread, spreading it on top of the layer of strawberries.

5. Heat a frying pan on medium for 5 minutes, place toasts in pan and cover with top. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the top layer of goat cheese is warm and slightly creamier than usual. Season with salt and pepper. Then you're ready to enjoy!

Makes 2 servings

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feeding Friends: Girl's Night and Gluten Free

No breakfast is complete without coffee.
Food speaks to me. Not in a crazy, voices in my head, kind of way (Well, only sometimes). Most of the time it is inspiring. While at work I noticed Mango Butter and for some reason I needed to buy it. I had no idea what I was going to do with it besides put it on toast and that seemed way too boring, so I googled some ideas and came across a vegan and gluten free recipe for french toast with mango butter spread on top. I love food, but there are only rare circumstances when I taste food and it is so perfect that I feel at ease and let out a sigh of relief. That happened with this dish. The star ingredient of this meal is the coconut oil that it is cooked in. It was my first time using it and I am now obsessed and will find any reason to use coconut oil. It leaves a subtle beachy, exotic, lay on the beach drinking pina coladas, after taste. I was so enamored by it that I told my best friend, who is gluten free, that I would make it for her. Only, this meant that I had to lug all of my ingredients onto the LIRR, into a taxi and up to her apartment to cook it in her closet sized kitchen. But it was worth it. After being up for over 24 hours due to work at 5 a.m. and a night out with my two very best friends in New York City, being our crazy selves and meeting one of my favorite bands ever (thanks Melissa and Sam), we all woke up with headaches and slight hangovers. After a trek to Starbucks to obtain caffeine and some mango juice, I focused as much as I could on cooking, because no hang over could have stopped me! As an extra treat I sliced some of the gluten free and vegan banana and chocolate chip bread and added it to our plates. There is nothing better than making your friend's belly's happy after a great night together. So, without further ado, here is the recipe for this haunting dish, as well as the banana bread. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has me!

Gluten-Free and Vegan French Toast with Mango Butter
Recipe from Sweatpants and Superfoods (Amazing blog title and I am jealous that I didn't come up with it)

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: Approximately 2 minutes per slice
Total Time: 20-30 minutes, depending on size of batch

Ingredients:

- 1 cup soy milk (I used Almond Milk)
- 4 Tbs oat flour
- 2 Tbs flax meal
- 1 Tbs coconut oil (for cooking)
- 4-6 slices of gluten-free bread

Preparation:

1. Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a skillet. Whisk the batter ingredients together in a shallow dish with a whisk or fork. Let it sit for a minute so the flax meal has time to soak up the milk; this will help mixture will become more batter-like and almost frothy.

2. Dip each piece of bread in the ‘batter’ and cook each side in the heated skillet for a few minutes or until the edges start to brown.

** The blog also includes a recipe for fresh mango butter, but since I had already bought mine, I use that. I guarantee the fresh one is better though!


Gluten Free and Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Recipe from Whipped

I somehow did not take a picture of this. Silly me. Just trust me, it looked and tasted amazing.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: Approximately 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Ingredients:

- 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon xantham gum
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 2/3 cup agave nectar
- 2/3 cup rice milk (I used Almond Milk)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3)
- 2 cups chocolate chips

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 7 x 4x 3 inch-loaf pan.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, xantham gum, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup oil and agave nectar, rice milk, and vanilla to dry ingredients and stir until smooth.

3. Using a plastic spatula gently fold in bananas and chocolate chips.

4. Fill prepared pan halfway with batter.

5. Bake on the center rack for 35 minutes, rotating 180 degrees after 20 minutes. Cook until when you press on the loaf is bounces back slightly and a toothpick comes out clean.

6. Let banana bread sit for 20 minutes before inverting onto a cutting board to cut.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A creepily inspired love note to New Orleans


A calm Bourbon Street
Yesterday was my day off and I had a list of things that I wanted to do in order to enjoy it. Yes, I even make lists regarding how I am going to "try" to relax. I made myself some delicious vegan and gluten free french toast (the recipe will come later, I promise), enjoyed a cup of coffee and put on an episode of "Final Witness" which I had dvred. I love murder mystery shows and I recognize that it is somewhat disturbing that watching tragedy is enjoyable for me, but I am always intrigued by human behavior in general. However, in recent months, I have started to become more spooked and anxious while watching these shows. Maybe it is because I am getting older and realize that the terrible things that I am watching, did and do happen in real life and could happen to me or anyone else that I love. Ugh. Terrifying thought.

Sam and I, the night we arrived in New Orleans
Either way, I put this show on, expecting to watch it and move on with my day and my list of things. If you have never seen "Final Witness," which is possible since there have only been 3 episodes, it is a show based on true crime, depicted by actors and narrated by friends and family of the victim and suspect. The episode I watched yesterday was "Graveyard Love" about Addie Hall and Zack Bowen, two people who fell in love in New Orleans and their ultimate demise. The show opened by explaining that Addie arrived in the French Quarter and immediately felt like she was home. Those who are close to me, know that my best friend and I were very close to moving to New Orleans about 2 1/2 years ago. So I can definitely relate to this statement and from the very beginning the episode sucked me in.

Here is the shortest summary of the show that I can provide:

Blurry Bourbon Street from a bar balcony
Addie and Zack met at a bar they both worked at and slowly developed a relationship. They were both lost souls, looking for a place to call home and looking for comfort and they found it in each other. Zack had been deployed and had already been married and had two kids by the time they met. Their love affair began before Katrina and when the storm was due to hit Zack decided he needed to be with his kids. When he went to go say goodbye to Addie, he decided that he could not leave her, so they weathered through the brutal hurricane together. What was interesting is that the show depicted the aftermath of the storm in a way I had never heard. Apparently, the French Quarter was never flooded, damaged yes, but still livable to an extent. Zack and Addie found magic in the fact that a city that is always "on" was now quiet and peaceful. They had the whole city to themselves and a few others who had stayed. When the city started to come back to life was when things fell apart for them. They started to look for the magic they had experienced in drinking and drugs. They fought. Zack had an affair with a man. Things got ugly. They tried to save their relationship by getting an apartment together, but Addie wanted to play it safe and secretly signed the lease with only her name on it. When she found out Zack was cheating, she kicked him out. Zack told people that she left him and moved back home. He was seen hopping from bar to bar, racking up tabs and leaving. A mutual friend of the couple called him to see if he was okay and Zack invited him out that night. They were out until 4 a.m., when Zack abruptly said that he had to leave and go on vacation, and then left. Soon after, police found his lifeless body. He had jumped from a building, committing suicide. In his pocket they found a note which explained that if the police visited his apartment they would find his girlfriend's corpse. They arrived at the address and searched the apartment, but no body was in sight. On the walls sayings were spray painted, such as "I am a failure" and "I really loved her." Addie's journal was on the table but the last few pages were written by Zack, where he explained how he killed his girlfriend. They had been fighting and she kicked him out. She would not stop talking so he, calmly, started to strangle her. It did not take long before she was lifeless. He slept next to her corpse that night. He went to work the next morning. He thought about how to get rid of her body and decided that he would cut her body into pieces and then cook the parts to detach the flesh from the bone. Police found arms and legs in one pot and a head in another, all partially cooked. Zack explained that he was not disturbed by the fact that he killed Addie, but by the fact that he had no remorse and this is when he decided to spend the last of his money having a good time and then take his own life.

Whew. Okay. That is a lot to take in. So I will give you a minute....

Here is my experience with New Orleans and why the episode hit me so much:

Me, at peace, enjoying Cafe Du Monde coffee in New Orleans
As I mentioned before, I watch these terrible kinds of shows all of the time. What made this different is that in a weird way I felt connected to these lost souls in New Orleans. My best friend and I took a road trip to the city at a time when we were both a little lost. Me especially, after my parents shocking divorce, my abrupt break up and move from upstate New York back to Long Island, long nights working at a bar followed by long nights of drinking and little sleep. I was the definition of lost. When I got to the French Quarter, I felt like I was home. Apparently this is a very common feeling and it is hard to explain if you have never been to New Orleans. I felt calm. I felt like I could be and do whatever I wanted or needed and it would be okay. Granted, I was on vacation and that is a common vacation type thought, but this was different. I felt it in my heart and my gut. It is very easy to fall in love with that city. On our road trip back my best friend and I decided we would move there. Why not? We had no careers or boyfriends holding us down. It would be a fresh start. We were both bartenders so we could find work easily. Immediately we were excited and became wrapped up in the romantic idea of moving there. We made a time line and I even got a second job, mainly to help me save for the move. We both had a common goal that brought us even closer together and motivated us. We had Nola nights, where we drank Abita beer, made muffaletta's and watched "Princess and the Frog" (it takes place in New Orleans. Don't judge). Nothing else mattered because New Orleans was in our future. We planned a second trip to the city to look at apartments and secure jobs. However, the second trip lacked the magic that we had experienced the first time. This time we considered the reality of what we were about to do and bottom line, I think we both got a little scared. So instead of searching for our potential future residency, we decided to treat it like another vacation and the dream of moving there slipped from my fingers. It was devastating to let go of that dream, but when I woke up and looked around my life, I could not help but notice all of the improvements that I had made while holding onto this dream. I was happier, motivated, making more money, secure with who I was and the decisions I had made. Even though I did not physically move to New Orleans, the city helped me come back to life. It helped me find my balance. I will always carry New Orleans in my heart and my time there has shaped who I am today. I know people who had moved there and I carry a sense of jealousy toward them, but I would not trade my life at the moment for a life in that city. However, the city in part, got me the life that I have now. Which is why I proudly explain to people that the Fleur de lis on my wrist is not for the football team The Saints (Although my best friend and I literally cried when they won the Super Bowl), but for the city of New Orleans.
My Fleur de lis tattoo
There are a few reasons this episode of "Final Witness" hit me so hard. I can relate to be being a lost soul in that city. I can also imagine that my life there would have been somewhat similar to what their lives were. Each working in a bar and doing side jobs to stay afloat. I can imagine falling in love and having a whirl wind romance in a magical city. I had imagined these scenarios so many times while preparing and daydreaming about my move. I can't understand how Zack could kill the person he loved, but sometimes a downward spiral is only that. You are not guaranteed an upward spiral. That you have to work for. Basically, the episode made me look back on my time in New Orleans and my love for the city in a way that I have not done in a long time. I am that person who believes everything happens for a reason, and obviously New Orleans is not a city filled with all good (no place is), but New Orleans was my life preserver and I will continue to romanticize it for as long as I please.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food Smarts: Know what is listed in the ingredients

Courtesy of igourmet.com

I am a health conscious person and I have been a vegetarian for 18 years. I have tried a few times to go vegan, but have failed due to my adoration of cheese. I have never been a person to study food labels, just assuming that based on common sense, certain foods did not contain meat, or that cheese, for example only contained milk from an animal. Oh boy, I was wrong.
My whole outlook on consuming food took an interesting turn while at work the other day. A customer asked a co-worker a simple question about an ingredient in the Parmesan cheese, animal rennet to be exact. He asked another employee and found the answer that shock my world. Animal rennet, as it turns out, is from a mammals stomach. It is series of complex enzymes that are commonly used in the production of cheese for the use of coagulating the milk and separating it into solids and liquid.

Ok. So, I admit that I should have done this research a long time ago, but I didn't. So here I am, an 18 year vegetarian veteran finding out something that is probably common knowledge to many other people. Shame on me. However, I spent a long time looking at different cheese after I found this out and discovered that a majority of the cheeses use vegetable rennet or microbial rennet.

I did some more research though and discovered that vegetable rennet is mostly derived from mold. Yum. However, this would technically make it a microbial rennet and leave the cheese with somewhat of a bitter taste. Another option is genetically engineered rennet, which turns me off immediately because anything concocted in a lab to pass as food, makes me apprehensive. Below is a description of GM rennet from Wikipedia. It is a complicated thing and I do not think I can explain it well enough.
"With the development of genetic engineering, it became possible to insert cow genes into certain bacteria, fungi or yeasts to make them produce chymosin. Chymosin produced by genetically modified organisms was the first artificially produced enzyme to be registered and allowed by the US Food and Drug Administration. In 1999, about 60% of US hard cheese was made with genetically engineered chymosin[4] and it has up to 80% of the global market share for rennet.[5] By 2008, approximately 80% to 90% of commercially made cheeses in the US and Britain were made using GM-based rennet.[6] One example of a commercially available genetically engineered rennet is Chymax, created by Pfizer. Today, the most widely used genetically engineered rennet is produced by the fungus Aspergillus niger.

Cheese production with genetically engineered rennet is similar to production with natural calf rennet. GMO-produced rennet contains only one of the known main chymosin types, either type A or type B. Other chymosin types found in natural rennet do not exist in GMO-produced rennet."

It goes on to say that GM rennet is safe to use by vegetarians but that requires knowing if calf rennet has been used during the genetic modification and by simply reading the ingredients on the back of a package, you are not going to be able to tell. So, this poses a problem for me because my diet contains a lot of cheese. It is my downfall. I love pizza, and bagels with cream cheese and dips with cheese and cheese and crackers. All of these things I limit to indulging in only every once and awhile, but on a daily basis I put cheese in my wraps, on my salad, I sprinkle some on my roasted vegetables.
I have read that cheese can be addictive. I found a great Op piece from Boston.com, by Anthony Howard, titled "Culinary Curious: Addicted to Cheese? Here's why." He explains that the primary protein in milk is casein and when humans digest it, our bodies produce casomorphins, which have a "opiate-like" effect on humans. Casein in cheese is very concentrated and therefor produces a lot of casomorphines in humans as compared to other dairy products, such as plain old milk. In addition research starting in the 80s confirmed that cheese already contains small amounts of morphine, explained by scientists as a result of cows producing it in their milk to help calm their calves. Aw and Ew all at once.

So, now I have a mountain of reasons to not consume cheese. Will I stop completely? Probably not. I wish my will power was stronger than it is, and I admire and envy all vegans out there kicking ass and taking names. However, my life is already difficult enough as a vegetarian. I love my lifestyle and food choices, but I am not going to say it is always easy. I do not crave meat, but simply making smart choices can be hard. Also, when you cook for someone who does eat meat, things get tricky. If I added no cheese to the list, not only would I be making two meals each night, but my food bill would increase, since I would probably wind up buying both dairy and dairy substitute products.

All of this information does make me eager to be more informed about exactly what is in my food. This scenario only occurred last week and since then I have turned over very package and read the ingredients. If there is something I do not recognize I look it up on my fancy smart phone. I encourage you to do the same. Just be aware of what you are putting in your body and if you are not comfortable with it, make changes accordingly. I plain to curb my cheese intake and to definitely try to only purchase ones that are made with vegetable rennet.