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Awww au jus!

I used to live on roast beef sandwiches and au jus sauce. Any time I saw French dip listed on the menu of a restaurant, I ordered it. I loved taking the two slices of soft warm bread, stuffed with slow roasted beef, and dipping it until it was soaking in au jus sauce. My mouth watered at the mere thought of getting a French dip sandwich.

But then I became a vegetarian. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the first few years as my body adjusted to my new diet and I learned how to curb my cravings. I started eating meals made with meat substitutes, like tacos made from Morning Star Crumbles and fajitas from Smart Ones Chik’n Strips. Not only did it satisfy my body’s need for protein, I took comfort in the familiar tasting food* without sacrificing my principles.

When I meet new people and they learn I’m a vegetarian, they often ask if I miss meat. My answer is always the same: I miss French dip. There’s no substitute for beef drenched in hot beef broth. I can get a fake turkey for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I can have “bacon” and eggs for breakfast. I can even make “meat” loaf.** But I can’t find anything to replace the taste and experience of French dip.

Until now.

I was recently in Whole Foods, searching for Tofurkey Deli Slices when I saw they had a variation that I’d never seen before. I don’t know if it’s new or that my grocer in Indiana never sold it, but either way, I was happy to see it. It was their roast beef flavor. Roast beef! I couldn’t believe it! I grabbed a few packages, resisting the urge to buy up all the stock. After all, what if it wasn’t any good?

Later, when I was getting ready to make my first roast “beef” sandwich in 15 years, I flipped the back of the package over and read the suggestion to try it with vegan au jus sauce.

WHAT?! Au jus sauce can be made vegan? HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?

I grabbed my keys and headed back to Whole Foods, bent on finding this sauce. Surely, if the Tofurkey people were suggesting vegan au jus sauce, then someone out there must be producing it. And if someone was producing it, then Whole Foods would have it.

But I couldn’t find it. I walked up and down the soup and broth aisle three times before it occurred to me to pull out my phone and search the internet. Thankfully, there were recipes for what I was looking for, including one that mentioned eating the Tofurkey Roast Beef slices with it. So, after much more searching through the store, I got the right stuff, went home, and made my first batch. As the sauce heated up on the stove, I took my hoagie bun and put several slices of roast “beef” on it and stuck it in the toaster oven.

After a just a few minutes, I sat down with my toasted sandwich, the bun warm and soft, and the vegan au jus sauce steaming up my glasses. I’d been waiting for this moment for the past 15 years and hoped that it wouldn’t disappoint. I dipped my sandwich and pulled it out soaked. I took a bite and closed my eyes.

Oui!

*Some meat eaters have tried these meat substitutes and say they’re pretty spot-on, but not all meat substitutes are created equal.

**I never ate real meat loaf when I did eat meat, so I don’t know if the recipe I have even tastes like the real thing. Also, if fake bacon is called facon, then wouldn’t fake meat loaf be called feat loaf?

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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in About me, Everyday Life, Food

 

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Goodbye Brickyard – Part 1

After my first going away party, I had a second, smaller party at one of Indy’s best pizza places: Bazbeaux Pizza. When Jess learned that I was going there before coming to Virginia, she asked me to bring her some (like it would last that long!). That’s how good Bazbeaux is.

I first experienced Bazbeaux my sophomore year at Butler University, when a group I participated in went out to Broad Ripple, the strip of bars and restaurants frequented by students. A few people in the group were vegetarian, like me. Having not been to Bazbeaux before, I thought that I was in for just some plain ol’ cheese pizza (which I enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not very exciting). Low and behold, they had just as many specialty vegetarian pizzas as they did for the meat eaters. There was a Chipotle pizza with black bean sauce rather than marinara, a Greek pizza with feta cheese and spinach, a Spring pizza with carrots and broccoli. There were so many choices, I didn’t know where to start! Thankfully, another vegetarian helped me out, as we would have to split the pizzas between several people. That day I tried the Chipotle pizza. It was different and a bit unusual, but I liked it.

The next time my family visited me, I insisted that we go to Bazbeaux. They instantly loved it, too, and it became a regular place for us to dine when they were in town.

So, after more than a decade of decadent pizza, I naturally had to give the place a proper farewell. When a coworker suggested dinner when she couldn’t make it to my first going away party at Mediterra (also in Broad Ripple), I picked Bazbeaux to be the place. The branch we went to was in Carmel, though, close to work. The group was smaller, but it consisted of people who couldn’t make it to the first party, so it turned out perfectly.

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After dinner, I asked if someone would help me with another tradition that Jess and I partook in: posing with the statues in the Arts & Design District. Everyone decided to come on the outing. There was a fairly new statue that Jess and I never got a picture with because we couldn’t think of anything to do with it. The statue was a lady walking a small dog. I thought it might be funny to pose as if I were peeing on the dog:

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Of course, it just looks like I’m trying to kick them at a weird angle, but that worked as that was my signature move for many statues over the years. Then someone suggested that I make it look like I was about to slap the woman:

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And that was the end of my second going away party and the last time I’ll have Bazbeaux pizza (until I save up enough money to go visit!).

A few days after the Bazbeaux outing, I had my final shift at the store. A few friends popped in to say goodbye, which was great. Toward the end of my shift, though, I was ushered into the back to enjoy some gourmet cupcakes (I had a cream-cicle flavored one! Yummy!) and to open my going away present from the staff. One of my coworkers and great friend Burt is an illustrator (a great one at that!). He’d drawn a picture of me and my nephew donned in Hogwarts outfits and holding hands. We each had a wand, spraying out hearts, and above our heads he wrote, “Have a ‘magical’ time with your nephew!” The matte around the illustration was signed by my coworkers, wishing me luck and saying goodbye.

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I currently have it sitting on the nightstand to I can see it as I lay down at night and wake up in the morning. When I get my own place, I will hang it on the wall and display it proudly. My friends’ words of love and support are very precious to me.

Once my shift was over, I went around to the staff that was there and got some more pictures to remember them by:

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in About me, Food

 

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Terrible: the opposite of super

Once again, we have arrived at Super Bowl Sunday and, once again, the Steelers are in position to take the cake.  Speaking of cake, I thought it would be fun to make one to share with Fred and his parents as we watched the big game together.  Fred and I will be cheering for the Steelers since my entire family requires it* and since our beloved Colts aren’t playing.  So, what better way to cheer them on than to have a cake to look like the Terrible Towel?

Before I even started I knew that my (lack of) artist skills would have some effect on the cake.  So I figured that I wouldn’t have the font exactly down, nor all the tiny writing but the basics I could get.  At the store I picked up mix of chocolate cake, along with cream cheese frosting and some black decorative frosting.  I had yellow dye at home so I could get the yellow just right.

After baking the cake, I let it cool in the kitchen while I napped.  When I woke up for lunch, I discovered that my cat had decided to take a bit of a taste of the cake.  Of course, she had to try some, not on the corner that would be easy to cut off, but about four inches in from the side.  Unwilling to waste the good 2/3 of the cake (and not really wanting to make another one), I cut off the bad part and proceeded to frost.  Not having a full-size cake really hurt the production value, as you will soon see.

First, though, here’s what a Terrible Towel looks like:

And here’s my rendition a la cake:

And it truly is a terrible cake!

*Almost everyone in my family went to Miami University where Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisburger went.  (And I do mean everyone: my mom, dad, sister, aunt, uncle, two of my cousins…)

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Food

 

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Happy Non-turkey Day!

“What do vegetarians eat on Thanksgiving?” I am often asked.  There are actually a number of options, including Tofurkey (I don’t recommend that; it’s a bit rubbery).  But the dish I always make is Quorn’s Turk’y Roast.  Made out of mushroom, the roast is made to taste similar to turkey.  How close is it?  I can’t tell you for sure, as it’s been 12 years since I’ve had the real thing.  But several of my meat-eater friends have tried it and liked it.  I’m sure it’s not exact but it’s still pretty damn good.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2010 in About me, Food

 

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I went to Virginia and all I got was drunk – Part II

Halloween morning the other girls slept in but my body is used to waking up between 7 and 8 and sure enough I was awake by 8.  So I spent the quiet time working on Fred’s birthday present (more on that in a later post).  Once I popped the crème brulee French toast in the oven, though, the girls started to stir.

After the delicious breakfast, we headed out to our first winery for the day, Jefferson Vineyards.  It rests just south of Monticello on land that was originally Jefferson’s.  He had something like 5,000 acres of land and part of it was for growing grapes for wine.  The vineyard isn’t that big now, of course, but it rests on his land, ergo the namesake.  The tasting room was busy, but there were plenty of people to pour wine and still take the time to chat with us.  They asked for the tasting fee up front (some wineries wait until after the tasting and if you buy a bottle, will comp the fee).  However, the glasses we used were for us to keep.  They were nice, too, with the vineyard’s name etched in them.

We went on a short tour of the vineyard then.  Even though we’d already been to three wineries that weekend, this was our first tour.  After a brief history lesson, our guide took us around the outside of the facility.  He showed us the crates the grapes were placed in and then the two pieces of equipment used to extract the juice.  Which machine they used depended on if they were making white or red wine, which actually had nothing to do with the color of the grapes.  Who knew?  Red wine grapes start the fermenting process right away and their skins are left on to extract the color into the wine.  Then after fermenting for however long they need, they are squeezed.  White wine grapes are squeezed first and then fermented.

Inside the facility, we saw the steel fermenting containers and a room full of barrels of wine.  Each barrel holds approximately 300 bottles worth of wine.  The guide explained a process for getting the most flavor out of the oak barrels.  I can’t even describe everything that has to be done to the wine but let me just say that I never knew that so much work went into the aging process!  No wonder wine is so expensive.

After the tour, we bought a fair amount of wine and had the cashier open a bottle for us.  We took it, along with a cheddar cheese ball and crackers, outside.  The Monticello area is filled with trees and hills.  So we sat atop the vineyard hill and sipped and ate.  The sky was a bright blue, the trees were turning, and the sun was warm.  It was nice to sit and relax for awhile.

There were other vineyards on our list and other activities as well, but we didn’t want to rush around.  After our midday snack of wine and cheese, we went back to Jess’ house to get ready for the trick-or-treaters.  Jess dressed as a witch.  Missy was a rejected leprechaun (pretty much her outfit consisted of mis-matched green articles of clothing), I was a pathetic-looking Wonder Woman*, and Kate was a Southern Belle.  She had the whole she-bang.  See, Kate and Missy’s family participates in a lot of Civil War reenactments and Kate had her reenactment ball gown with her.  (She even sewed it herself.  I was very impressed!)  However, getting the costume on proved to be a challenge, a very hilarious challenge.  The bodice was a bit tight and Kate’s, er, womanly features had grown since she’d made the gown.  It started with Missy trying to get the bodice over Kate’s chest but it was not a one-man job.  So I stepped in.  We pushed and pulled but with no avail.  I called in Jess to help.  At that point, our faces were red from laughing so hard.  It took all three of us, pushing and pulling, to get that damn bodice onto Kate’s body.  In the end, though, she looked really good.

We sat outside to welcome the trick-or-treaters.  There were some really cute kids.  The most memorable ones were the young, charming boys.  One seven-year-old was dressed as a prince, with a gold crown and a red robe.  He walked up to us and proclaimed, “I’m a prince!”  So much for saying “Trick or treat”.  He thought Kate was a princess and she went along with it because who wants to explain a Civil War Southern Belle to a seven-year-old?  Before he left, I heard him say to Kate, “Prince and princesses belong together.”  Another charmer was a three-year-old dressed as a dinosaur.  He was rather shy but with a little push from Dad, he came up to us and held out his bag.  He didn’t say anything.  Kate asked him if he could roar so he gave out a meager “Rawr”.  We all acted impressed and scared so he roared again, this time louder.  Again, we pretended to be terrified.  A smile lit up his face as he watched our reactions.  He roared again, even louder.  Later, we could hear him roaring at the neighbors’ houses.

Before the night was over, Jess and I wanted to recreate one of our favorite Halloween pictures from our childhood.  The original:

I was the witch and Jess was Wonder Woman.  How cute are we?  Fast forward approximately 25 years and here we have…

 

Obviously, we’re not wearing the original costumes.

We cut the evening’s activities short because we had to be up early to head out on the road.  Missy had to work Monday evening and Fred had tickets to an NFL game for us (more on that later).  So, after a brief stint of sleep, we headed back on the road at 4am.  It’s not my favorite time of day, that’s for sure, but there was little traffic and overall, we ended up making great time.  Yes, it was a lot of driving for a 4-day weekend but it was worth it.  I love my sister and my cousins and being around them made it all worthwhile.

*Jess made me a crown out of construction paper.  At the right angle, it looked like the Pope’s hat.  Just look:

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2010 in About me, Food, Travel

 

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I went to Virginia and all I got was drunk – Part I

For Halloween weekend, my cousins, Missy and Kate, and I headed out on a road trip.  Our destination: Virginia and Jess for a fun-filled girls’ weekend.  After 11 non-exciting hours in the car (and standing behind the most indecisive person at Subway) we pulled up to Jess’ recently purchased townhouse.

As she gave us the grand tour, my mind filled with images of décor and paint.  I mentally spent the money Jess didn’t have to make the house over in her style.  We then made an alcohol and pizza run settled in for a night of food, drinking, and Euchre.

The next day we started out on the road again, this time to take in several vineyards and wineries of Virginia.  We did not lack choices; Virginia is riddled with them.  Jess and I are not wine connoisseurs (yet) but Kate and Missy know quite a bit, so we took their lead.  The first winery was up in the hills, through winding roads lined with orange and red leafed trees.  DuCard Vineyards is a small, organic winery.  We were the only ones there early in the morning.  Our host was a young man and when he spoke, I’m surprised the four of us didn’t swoon visibly.  A thick French accent came from his mouth, dimples on his cheek as he smiled at us.  None of us caught his name so we’ll just call him Pierre.

Pierre started to tell us about the first wine but then stopped in the middle of his speech.  “Can you understand my accent?” he asked.  It took me a second to figure out what he was asking, but once I did, I nodded and smiled.  It was a beautiful accent and I didn’t want him to stop.  I don’t think the other girls did, either.  We continued on and I watched Kate and Missy.  I swirled when they swirled, sipped when they sipped, ate a cracker when they ate a cracker.

Not surprisingly, I enjoyed the sweeter wines.  Kate assured me that when she started drinking wine, she started with the sweeter and went drier.  I still tried the dry wines because one never knows if something will strike her fancy.  I actually liked a few of the dry wines but not enough to actually buy them.  Kate also explained that red wines go well with red meat but I could try it with pasta and red sauce instead.  I will, too, but I wasn’t willing to spend twenty dollars on a bottle of red yet.

After the tasting, we bought our favorites and headed outside.  The first thing out of my mouth was, “He was cute!”  (Fred, if there were a cute French girl there, I wouldn’t have minded if you had looked.)

Pierre recommended Sharp Rock Vineyards and gave us directions from DuCard Vineyard.  It wasn’t too far so we went there next.  It was warming up outside and between the weather, the scenery, and the wine coursing through my body, I was in a great place and I was with my girls.  Who could ask for anything better?

Sharp Rock Vineyards rested by a creek in the hills.  The tasting room was in the attic of a converted barn.  We walked into the barn and the first floor had barrels of wine sanctioned off but there was no room to just stand and look.  We went upstairs and went to the counter.  There were other people tasting there but there were two people pouring the wine.  Because it was busy we didn’t have one-on-one service and the people couldn’t stop to chat about the wine as much.  Plus, they weren’t French or cute.  Still, I bought a bottle of wine, as did Kate, and we headed out again.

We had plans for 2pm but we still had some time to kill so we went to Prince Michel Vineyard.  They were busy as well, but they had more than enough staff to pour and talk about the wines.  They had a wide variety of wine glasses and accessories.  It was pleasant, except for the drunk woman by us, who was shouting at the lady helping us, “Why didn’t you ask for my ID?”

It was nearing two so we left for the Library of Congress (the audio/visual conservation branch) in Culpeper.  Every weekend they screen a movie and that day they were screening Young Frankenstein.  Despite my love for Mel Brooks, I had only seen the movie once before and this was a chance to see it on the big screen (for free, none-the-less!).  The Library of Congress did not disappoint.  The theater, which holds about 250 people, was practically full.  There were plush chairs, beautiful lights, and the ceiling was painted like the night sky.  Before the movie started, a guy gave an introduction for it, informing us of some trivia about the film, like how Mel Brooks appeared as a gargoyle.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, mostly consisting of more drinking and Euchre.

…To be concluded…

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2010 in About me, Food, Travel

 

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Tis the season

The radio station I listen to was advertising a canned food drive coming up later this week. Many people feel charitable between Thanksgiving and Christmas and donate then. But food pantries are open year round. Hunger for the poor and homeless doesn’t happen 6 weeks a year but 52 weeks a year. Many of the food banks in my state are low on supplies. Some have even shut down because they are completely out of resources. Chances are that food banks in your area are in the same boat. So, the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up an extra can or two for your local food bank. A little act of charity can make a big difference.  If you don’t know where to donate, check out Feeding America‘s website.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2010 in Food

 

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