Friday, May 25, 2007

Vegan Eats in the San Francisco Bay Area

I was so pleased to see the two articles (below) in my local paper.

I'm familiar with Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I own both of her cookbooks. You can find a link to her website, The Post Punk Kitchen, under Links on the right.

I had previously heard of Que SeRaw SeRaw, but I have yet to eat there. Soon, I promise. And I'll report back.

I had not heard of the vegan donut place in Berkeley, however. That was news to me, and I'm trying to figure out an excuse to drive across the bay and buy some donuts.

Nina's Kitchen

The other day I went out for lunch at a local coffee shop, and I discovered something new. They had these apple walnut cinnamon rolls made by Nina's Kitchen. I had never seen them before, and I'll try any new vegan thing I see at least once. The $3 was a little steep, but it was worth it. It was really delicious, and I'm going to keep buying them so that they keep them in stock. I checked out their website: Nina's Kitchen, and found out that they're in nearby Watsonville.

Vegan fare

Here is a mini-article that accompanied Let 'em eat cake:

- Que SeRaw SeRaw offers vegan and raw food to go with many vegan desserts on the menu. 1160 Capuchino Ave., Burlingame (650) 400-8590.

- Whole Foods Market offers a wide variety of vegan cookies and desserts in their stores. 3000 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley, (510) 649-1333; 774 Emerson St. Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676; 1250 Jefferson Ave. Redwood City, (650) 367-1400; 1010 Park Place San Mateo, (650) 358-6900; 100 Sunset Drive San Ramon, (925) 355-9000.

- The People's Donuts offers vegan doughnuts in a variety of flavors at Eclair Pastries, 2565 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley (510) 848-4221.

- Author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a Web site called the Post Punk Kitchen ( which offers a variety of vegan recipes, including desserts.

- Charlotte Blackmer features recipes, restaurant reviews and other food-related musings on

Let 'em eat vegan cake

This is a reprint of an article entitled Let 'em eat vegan cake by Kristin Bender in the San Mateo County Times:

Seven days a week, bakers at People's Donuts churn out blueberry, chocolate, vanilla cake, lemon poppy seed and other sugary sweet doughnuts without using any animal products.

But some days, the bakers go hog wild, if you will, making a maple doughnut with textured soy protein bacon bits on top for their most special customers.

"I feel like you shouldn't let the meatatarians have all the fun," says doughnut maker Rachael Devlin, wiping a dab of chocolate from her chin at Eclair Pastries on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, which is where the six-week-old People's Donuts does its baking.

From doughnuts to chocolate truffles to strawberry cheesecake, bakers are increasingly cooking up delectable vegan desserts and plenty of non-meat eaters and carnivores alike are gobbling them up.

Last year, Alicia Parnell opened Que SeRaw SeRaw, an organic vegan raw retail food store in Burlingame.

Nothing in the store, which offers prepackaged salads, soup, entrees, pizza and desserts, is cooked above 118 degrees. Still, her food doesn't skimp on flavor, she says.

"We have the yummiest (vegan) cheesecake on the planet," says Parnell.

In addition, they sell blueberry scones, chocolate truffles, pecan bliss cookies, cinnamon rolls with frosting and pies.

"I have one customer, who wants to buy a whole pie every day," she says. "We are only two people making food. Then he comes in and says he's buying it for his mother and his aunt."
Her desserts, she says, also aim to satisfy even the most serious chocoholic.

"We have a chocolate pudding that is absolutely out of this world," she says. "It handles the chocoholic's need for a fix."

The anti-Krispy Kreme

People's Donuts owner Josh Levine of Oakland spent a year studying doughnut-making and tasting doughnuts before perfecting his recipe, which he says contains no eggs or milk and is nearly all organic.

Claiming to be the first vegan doughnut operation in the state, he says even those skeptical of vegan food find the doughnuts tasty.

"I've had marriage proposals and exclamations of love," says Levine. "They are surprised because they think it's going to taste like bean sprouts and tofu."

Ryan Kellner, the owner of Mighty-O, an all-organic vegan doughnut shop in Seattle, understands the long-standing prejudice toward vegan food and is working to change it by making great-tasting doughnuts.

"There are some people out there who if you say, 'Try thisit's vegan,' they will say, 'No thanks I'm not vegan.'"

He once gave a batch of his vegan doughnuts to a group of construction workers who gobbled up every last crumb.

"Then they found out they were vegan doughnuts and then didn't want to eat them any more," he says. "I think it's really weird but it's part of human nature. Some people like to eat meat (and eggs and dairy) and they don't want to be told that their lifestyle is wrong."

But these days with people paying more attention to the evils of trans fats — thanks in part to the Food and Drug Administration's January 2006 requirement that it be listed on food labels — there is an increased yearning for delicious, healthful desserts that go beyond the hippie earthy crunchy date-oat bar sort of thing.

"Vegan baking is becoming more popular, and people are becoming more conscious of the fact that there is a lot more of it going on," says Kellner.

"The vegan movement has always been asking for it, but most of the stuff five or 10 years ago wasn't any good. But now, these people are growing up and they are willing to try different things," he says.

Beyond the table

A vegan (pronounced, VEE-gan) avoids all animal meat, chicken and fish as well as eggs, animal milks, honey and their derivatives.

But veganism also denotes "a philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, nonhuman animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, nonhumans and the environment," according to one description in the "Vegan Voice," a magazine devoted to the lifestyle.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz knows quite a bit about cooking and eating vegan.

The author of "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" and "Vegan with a Vengeance," the 34-year-old New Yorker has been a vegan since she was 16.

She says vegan baking isn't more difficult than baking with eggs and milk, but there is a little more trial and error.

"You have to really learn how ingredients act together," she says. "I think a lot of people try and replace eight eggs with eight cups of apple sauce and that doesn't always work."

Moskowitz, who is working on a third cookbook, says she tried for a decade to make the perfect lemon bar.

"Every couple of months for the last 10 years I'd try and make them," she says.

Finally, it was agar agar, a vegan gelatin substitute made from seaweed, that helped her turn out the perfect lemon bar. Moskowitz keeps track of what people are saying about her vegan dessert recipes and the reviews are quite good.

"I haven't had any complaints. I look at people's food blogs and people say 'I can't believe it, it's the best cupcake I ever had,'" she says.

Got cake?

Charlotte Blackmer of Berkeley can relate. She runs a Web site and food blog called Love and Cooking, which offers her home recipes, experiences feeding the multitudes, restaurant reviews and other food-related musings.

Blackmer says while "it is perfectly possible to make a lovely fruit compote, or a crisp, or even fruit pie without use of animal products, sometimes the soul just cries out for ... chocolate cake."
For this, she got help from an "extremely non-hippie source," an acquaintance who is a convert to Orthodox Christianity hipped her to a vegan chocolate cake that is truly heaven sent, she says.

Because Orthodox Christians have strict rules about abstaining from particular foods in the seasons of Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter), as well as abstaining from certain foods on most Wednesdays and Fridays during the year, they find ways to eat dessert without cheating, according to Blackmer.

So, wrote Blackmer, "If you or a near one are vegan, or dairy-sensitive, or egg-sensitive, or trying to cut down on your cholesterol, this is just a darn tasty cake, and it couldn't be easier to put together."

And if that doesn't satisfy the sweet tooth, you can always grab a maple bar with those yummy soy protein bacon bits at People's Donuts in Berkeley. Your arteries will thank you.

Josephine's Lenten Chocolate Cake
Recipe courtesy of Charlotte Blackmer

2 cups (16 fl. oz.) very cold water
Shortening or margarine for greasing
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting the pan
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Dark chocolate chips (check label to make sure they're vegan, some brands have whey) or nuts (optional)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4cup (6 fl. oz.) corn oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put 2 cups of water into a container in the fridge. Grease (not butter!) and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl until well blended. If you want to add the optional dark chocolate chips or nuts, you can do so at this stage.

Mix wet ingredients together (I found my 4 cup Pyrex good for this and used a whisk). Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix together (again, my flat whisk was helpful).

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tested done.

For topping, you have several options. Josephine either dusts it with powdered sugar, or frosts with frosting-in-a-can that passes the ingredient test. If you are a better person than I am, you can whip up some frosting of your own as long as you use margarine or shortening, not butter. What I did was put some high-quality dark chocolate chips on the cake the minute it came out of the oven, and after they melted (about 5 minutes), spread them with my spatula to cover the cake.

Serves 12.

Per serving (without topping; 1/2cup each chocolate chips and chopped walnuts added): 448 Calories; 20g Fat; 5g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 391mg Sodium.

Per serving (without topping): 372 Calories; 14g Fat; 4g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Garden of Vegan

My current favorite cookbook is Garden of Vegan. Here are some of the recipes that have become regulars in my household. The numbers in parentheses are the page numbers. This is a reprint of a post I made at the GoVegan Forum.

The Death by Chocolate Pie (194) is a true winner. If you know someone who loves chocolate, this is guaranteed to make them happy.

The Nut Butter Cookies (184) are wonderful. I make them with a mix of peanut and almond butters.

My youngest son, who is almost three, and I can finish off a batch of the Chickpea Toss (147) by ourselves. Quick, easy, tasty!

The Megadarra (123) is awesome. I tried it for the first time just a handful of weeks ago, and I've already made it again. And my wife is already bugging me to make it again. We jazz it up with some seitan chicken.

Nana Marg's Nuts and Bolts (108) is perfect for entertaining. It has gone over well with my omnivore relatives and coworkers.

My all-time favorite homemade salad dressing is the Maple Dijon Flax Oil Dressing (98). I've made this countless times. In fact, I'll be making it tonight again because I'm bringing home a whole bunch of leftover salad from our volunteer appreciation lunch today.

The Rustic Quinoa & Yam Salad (95) is great. Quinoa, yams, garlic, red bell pepper, cumin, cilantro - need I really say more?

Auntie Bonnie's Chickpea Salad (92) is another great recipe combining chickpeas and olives.

I liked the Hungry Person Stew (87), but it didn't go over well with anyone else in my home. Oh well...

I haven't made them in quite a while, but the Raspberry Fig Breakfast Bars (47) are delicious. I've had a couple of my wife's omnivore coworkers ask for this recipe, they liked it so much when they tried hers.

For other breakfast treats, try the Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes (40) and Claire's Couscous Porridge. Can you tell I like breakfast?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thank a Teacher

The San Francisco Education Fund put together a website called Thank a Teacher Today. On it, you can send a free E-Card to a teacher and say "thanks."

By the way, the April copy of California Educator, the magazine of the California Teachers Association has a mini-poster (see above) reminding us that Wednesday, May 9, 2007 is Day of the Teacher. The theme this year is "Celebrating the Artistry of Teaching." You can also find the poster and other information on their website and at Day of the Teacher 2007.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Study: Stress, low pay turning teachers away

Here is a reprint of an article from Sunday's San Mateo County Times written by Shirley Dang:

Sabrina Walasek loved teaching middle school science and math in Daly City and Felton, near Santa Cruz. But after six years, the Oakland resident found herself worn out from keeping kids in check.

"The amount of energy spent on discipline and behavior management just got to me after awhile," Walasek said.

Ultimately, she said, the stress wasn't worth the pay.

"It was almost impossible to exist in the Bay Area on that salary," Walasek said.

She and her husband, also a teacher, both left the profession. Now she uses her education experience and business degree to develop educational toys at LeapFrog in Emeryville, a job that comes with a much higher paycheck.

But pay isn't the only issue causing teachers to rethink their careers.

Stifled by bureaucracy, faced with poor conditions and blocked from making decisions in their own classrooms, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, according to a new study released Thursday by Cal State University's Teacher Quality Institute.

The 1,900 teachers surveyed cited the litany of rules and regulations, lack of textbooks and supplies and a test-obsessed culture as reasons they left or plan to leave within two years.

"Those kind of things aren't just driving people crazy, they are driving teachers out of the classroom," said Ken Futernick, principal author of the study and director of K-12 Studies at the institute.

About one in five California teachers abandon the field after four years, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. With this type of exodus, the nonprofit Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, based in Santa Cruz, projects a 30,000-teacher shortage in California by 2015.

At high-poverty schools, one in 10 teachers jumps ship each year, either for a different campus or a new occupation entirely.

"It's students from our most challenging schools who suffer the most," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of schools. "We really do have a revolving door."

Nearly half of teachers surveyed by the institute left for personal reasons, such as childbirth or retirement. The other half left out of frustration with the job.

Top reasons include bureaucratic impediments, poor district support, low staff morale, a lack of resources and an unsupportive principal. Like Goyne, more than 40 percent of those who left said they did so because they lacked authority to make decisions about how and what to teach.

"Why did I go pay all that money to go to college if I can't even apply the skills I was taught?" Goyne said.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association, said the study echoed the union's concerns.

"We need to have more say at the local level," Kerr said. "Teachers are feeling like they're not able to use the knowledge they have."

English teacher Paula Gocker left El Cerrito High School in the West Contra Costa school district two years ago after she was ordered to teach using more excerpts from novels and plays rather than whole works of literature.

"I knew I couldn't be culpable in that kind of education," said Gocker, a 20-year veteran and a former Teacher of the Year in West Contra Costa.

Like a quarter of teachers surveyed, she felt strait-jacketed by the required curriculum, which lays out when and how to teach a lesson. She escaped to teach English at San Rafael High School, where she said she has more input, flexibility and respect.

"If teaching is going to attract bright and creative people, they need to see they're teaching people, not just shoveling in curriculum."

Not surprisingly, low pay also tops the list of gripes in the survey. In the Bay Area, the sky-high cost of living and comparatively low salaries make it especially hard for new teachers to stick it out, particularly when the school presents a challenge.

However higher salaries won't necessarily draw teachers back, Futernick said. According to the study, teachers who ditched a campus said poor working conditions trumped pay among reasons for leaving.

"They're almost saying 'you couldn't pay me enough to stay at this school,'" Futernick said. Interestingly enough, teachers surveyed who stayed in the field and felt supported at their campuses cited their compensation as adequate, the study says.

Fewer than one in five teachers said they would return to the field for more money or "combat pay," extra cash for teaching in a tougher school.

"As long as we think of these schools as combat zones, we're not going to close the achievement gap," Futernick said. "We need to turn those schools into learning zones and teaching zones."
Futernick, also the husband of a teacher, said he remained hopeful.

Nearly 30 percent of teachers said they would return to the classroom — even if they did not receive more money — if the school itself changed for the better.

"We have to think about making them attractive places," Futernick said. "When we do that, people will want to go, and they'll want to stay there. Because they'll be doing what they came into the profession to do in the first place, which is to make a difference."

Money is a big concern. I can't afford to live in the city which employs me. This is true for many teachers. My wife also works in San Francisco - for lawyers, who pay her far more than I get paid. And yet even with our two salaries we can't afford to live in San Francisco. Well... we could. But we don't want to settle for what we can afford. And what we'd like for ourselves and our two children we can't afford.

I've commented recently on the "test-obsessed culture" which is also mentioned in this article.

The school bureacracy needs a major overhaul. District administration eats up far too much money. And the hoops they make us jump through. I often think that the people in human resources in my district forget that I am one of the human resources that keeps them employed. They work for me, not the other way around. They provide a service to me and my fellow teachers. Instead, I get excuses for their incompetence and they make it sound like I'm interrupting them when I call for assistance.

I am lucky that I have a supportive principal. I am grateful every day that I have a job at the school that I do. It's a good school. I like the neighborhood and the families that send their children to my school. I like my colleagues; some of them I even respect and admire. And I have a principal that lets me do my job to the best of my ability without getting in my way, no micromanagement, but she supports me when I need help, advice, or just an ear to bend.

I'm not going to leave the field, but this article certianly points out many of the reasons why some people are leaving teaching. If we really respected teachers, if we really valued public education for everyone, if we put our money where are mouths are, then maybe we wouldn't have these problems. But as a culture, our respect for teachers is waning. We undercut equity in education. Some schools have all the money and resources they need; others, sadly, do not. And we just don't pay teachers a salary that compensates them for all the work they do.

If we paid teachers a salary that was commensurate with the responsibility we entrust them with and the accountability we place on their shoulders, we'd have to pay them all a million dollars a year. Now wouldn't that be nice.

Why You Should Be Vegan Follow-up

Today I read my essay (see below) and had them critique/grade it based on the rubric that I also gave them.

Overall, they gave me good scores. But they did have a couple of good criticisms that I think might make it an even better essay.

First, one student suggested that I start with the argument about cost. It's factual and really hard to argue with. She said that I should then use the argument about health. "Oh, it's cheaper and healthier for me too - cool!" And that I should end with the argument about suffering and compassion because she thought that was my weakest. As she pointed out, some people just don't care that cows have to die for them to eat hamburger.

The other major criticism was that I did not address the objection about plants having feelings. A few students brought up this response which I had neglected to include. They felt that it would have been a better essay if I had addressed that. One student claimed that plants do have feelings. I challenged him to bring in evidence backing up his assertion. We'll see if he does or not; I'm not holding my breath.

Which got me thinking... How could I respond to that objection about a vegan diet? I went to the Internet and found the information below from Don't Plants Have Feelings Too?:

1. What about plants? Don't plants have feelings too?

It is very possible that plants have sensitivities that we do not yet understand. Because plants do not have nervous systems and cannot run away from predators, it has generally been assumed that they do not experience pain and suffering. Recent scientific evidence suggests that this assumption may be incorrect. However, we do know that birds and other nonhuman vertebrates have well-developed nervous systems and pain receptors the same as humans. Like us, they show pleasure and pain and they present comparable evidence of fear and well-being. Animals cry out in pain, they nurse wounded body parts, and they seek to avoid those who have hurt them in the past.

In order to live, one has to eat. However, when we eat animal products, we consume many more plants indirectly than if we ate those plants directly, because the animals we eat are fed huge quantities of grasses, grains, and seeds to be converted into meat, milk, and eggs. As a vegan (one who eats no animal products) you cause fewer beings to suffer and die for you.

I also found this response at the MadSci Network:

Plants can sense light (phototropism, photomorphogenesis, photoperiodism) and gravity (gravitropism) and some can respond to touch (thigmotropism, thigmonasty) (Salisbury and Ross, 1985). As far as botanists have determined, plants do not have feelings, do not grow better when exposed to certain types of music, and cannot communicate with humans as claimed in the bestselling book "The Secret Life of Plants." Those claims have been debunked by real botanists (Hershey, 1995). Botany is unfortunately hampered by many misconceptions. However, the scientific aspects of plants are extremely fascinating, probably even more so than the false claims (Attenborough, 1995).

Even nonvegetarians are indirectly eating plants because photosynthetic plants are at the base of our food chain. So we either eat plants directly or we eat animals that eat plants. Medical research has clearly shown that it is better for your health to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. It is also better for the environment because domestic animals pollute the environment with massive amounts of waste and eating animals is less efficient. The land area to support a human population eating plants is about one-tenth the area needed to support the same population that eats meat (Starr and McMillan, 1995). Strange as it seems, if you want to help plants, become a vegetarian.

Those ideas should help me make my essay stronger.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why You Should Be Vegan

The essay below is one that I wrote last year for my students as a model of a persuasive essay. I'm a teacher of fifth grade students, so keep in mind that this is aimed at ten- and eleven-year-olds. I'm planning on having my current students read it tomorrow (Thursday). If their reactions are anything like I remember, I'll post some of their comments, anonymously, of course.

As I’m sure you’re already aware, I am a vegan, which means I’m a strict vegetarian who doesn’t eat any product that comes from animals, including milk and eggs. It works for me and many other people all around the world. And it can work for you too. You should adopt a vegan diet because it’s healthy, it’s cruelty-free, and it’s cheaper than being an omnivore.

One reason being vegan is better is because it’s healthy. First of all, if you don’t eat meat, you’re not consuming cholesterol. And cholesterol you don’t need to eat, because your body can make all it needs. Scientists have found that many fruits and vegetables are not only highly nutritious, giving you all the vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates you need without all the fat, but they help prevent disease. Blueberries, for example, are one of the highest in antioxidants, which are important in fighting free radicals that could lead to cancer. The American Heart Association recommends eating “a variety of fruits and vegetables a day” because they know from all the research that a low-fat, high-fiber diet helps prevent heart attacks and stroke.

It’s cruelty-free. I mean, really, who wants to eat food with a face? It’s just gross!!! Those poor, unsuspecting animals were just trying to get by, just like the rest of us and then BAM they’re dead, cut up into pieces, wrapped in plastic, and shipped to your local neighborhood grocery store. Animals have feelings just like us, even chickens and cows, and they shouldn’t have to suffer and die for us to have a nice meal. You can have a perfectly fine meal without meat at all. Look at all the dishes from around the world that are already vegetarian: red beans and rice, falafels in pita bread, miso soup with tofu, and so on. I’m sure you can think of even more. And we don’t need to take milk away from cows either. That’s cruel too. Cow’s milk is for baby cows, not for humans. Think about it!

Have you been to the grocery store lately? When you were there did you compare the cost of a pound of beef to a pound of tofu? Of course you didn’t, so I did it for you. Yet another reason that being vegan is better than being an omnivore is that it’s cheaper. By the way, a pound of tofu costs about $1.29 to $1.49 per pound, $0.20 extra for the nice organic tofu, while even cheap, fatty, nasty-tasting hamburger I wouldn’t feed to my worst enemy’s dog still costs about $2.29 a pound. Salmon and cod cost $6.99 a pound, porterhouse steak costs $5.99 a pound, chicken strips are $4.99 a pound, and pork loin roast costs $3.49 a pound. All of those prices, by the way, are the weekly specials that are discounted more than the regular price, while tofu always costs about the same. All meats cost more than the meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, and seitan that vegans eat, because all of those come from plants not animals. It’s just cheaper to raise plants than it is to raise animals. It’s just plain old common sense.

People are always saying to me, “What do you eat?” It’s hard not being sarcastic after a while, because I feel like I’m VeganMan, poster child of the vegan movement. So, I politely say, “I eat fruits, vegetables, and grains. You know, all the stuff on the food pyramid, except meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products, like milk and cheese.” Yeah, being vegan does take a little bit more work than being an omnivore. I can’t just walk into most fast food places and order whatever I want off the menu. But, being vegan doesn’t mean I’m deprived of anything. I get plenty of protein; you don’t have to eat meat or drink milk to get enough protein. And I still enjoy foods like cookies, muffins, and ice cream; it just has to be made with soymilk and soy margarine instead of cow’s milk and butter, which comes from cows, by the way. Now I’m not saying you’ll never have a heart attack if you’re vegan, but why wouldn’t you reduce your risk if you could? And the thing is, you can. It’s totally up to you. You choose what you want to eat. If you can talk your parents into buying you toys and other stuff you want, surely you can talk them into buying you healthy, cheap, cruelty-free vegan food.

So, I have to be a little more careful and selective. I have to read food labels and politely say, “No, thank you,” when people offer me food a lot of times. But for me, it’s worth it being vegan. I know that my food choices keep me healthy, are right for my beliefs about suffering, and it’s easy on my checkbook. Go vegan!