Watch Out, There Are Vegetarians Among Us !!!

Vegetarians are weird: they don’t eat meat, they don’t eat this, they don’t eat that…. Some eat fish but not dairy products; others prefer everything RAW !!!

Vegetarians can be defensive when normal people (aka carnivores), poke fun at their dietary choices.

Being a vegetarian is not that simple, Bugs Bunny. It’s not all carrots and alfalfa and endless salads at Ruby Tuesday.

I’ll try to explain, but be warned: it’s kinda complicated…

vegetables copy

Imagine standing at the counter at Starbucks staring at the menu wide-eyed, like a deer caught in headlights. Ask for an espresso. The barrista calmly looks at you, then looks up at the menu board.

There’s a line of impatient customers behind you, and you suddenly realize that Starbucks serves twelve different styles of espresso and they all have fancy names like Caramel Macchiato, Mocha Valencia, Espresso Con Panna, and Latte Espresso.

Defining the vegetarian lifestyle is like ordering an espresso at Starbucks:

  • There are ovo-vegetarians (eat eggs, but not dairy products)
  • Lacto-vegetarians (eat dairy products, but not eggs)
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians (eat both eggs and dairy products) –  also my personal favorite Scrabble word.

Near the end of the healthy eater lexicon are vegans: the standard bearers, source of inspiration, purists with a cause. Vegans consume no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products, and will not use or consume any animal by-products.

I’m in awe; there’s no way I would last more than eight seconds as a vegan. Think about all the delicious food I would have to give up. Darn, there goes my favorite chocolate pudding – has cream and eggs – big no, no no; there goes juicy hamburgers – ground beef – ughhh ! And “86” delicious salty butter for popcorn.

Despite my dim view on the subject, more people are opting to eat healthy, adopting the vegetarian lifestyle as a counter-culture to hamburgers and french-fries.

Films such as “Fast Food Nation”   and the Morgan Spurlock documentary “Super Size Me,” have captured the collective imagination. The nation has been battling the influx of “junk food” found in school cafeterias and fast-food outlets. America is responding: the city of New York has banned the use of artery-clogging trans fat in restaurants, with cities such as Los Angeles planning to follow. Emphasis on nutritional content, plus access to healthy food choices and brands,  have made it easier for us to be proactive in our food choices.

Changing eating habits to a vegetarian lifestyle is not as difficult as people think. It’s ok to make the change with little baby steps. Gradually add more vegetables and fruit to your diet, while reducing your intake of red meats such as beef. Don’t lose heart if your resolve crumbles at the sight of a sizzling, juicy rib-eye steak; no one is perfect!

What truly matters is being aware of what you eat and making healthy lifestyle choices. Removing meat, our primary source of protein (vitamin B-12), is easy to replace by combining foods such as rice and beans or soybeans and wheat to make complete proteins. Minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc, which support growth and strengthen bones, are found in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Essential fatty acids, important for brain and nerve development, are easily found in nuts, seeds, and fish oils. It also doesn’t hurt to take multivitamin supplements to compensate for any nutrient the body might be lacking.

Over time, as your body removes the toxins, preservatives, and other chemicals stored in the body from years of eating junk food, you will see and feel the benefits. People who follow a vegetarian lifestyle are less at risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Add some exercise to your routine, and you’ll be good to go for at least another seventy years. If you really think about it, the cleaner the fuel in your car, the better it runs. Why not do the same for your body?

What Drives My Passion

“…but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”

― M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me

The kitchen has always held a mysterious fascination for me. My fondest memories as a child are the times I helped my mom prepare Sunday dinner.

Some people find their vocation early in life, but I was headstrong and stubborn. I went to college, had enough, and decided I was better off earning a paycheck than going to school. That pattern of obstinance has repeated itself many times in my life.

I’m a professional cook by default; I’d be lying if I told you it has always been my passion – in fact, I spent years trying to do everything but cook. I had to carve and whittle my youth away like a block of wood before finally conceding I was happiest behind the stove.

IMG_5786

I thank my mom for allowing me to find my own path, even though I made many wrong turns and sometimes appeared to lose my way. She never told me what I could or could not do. In her eyes, if I could dream it, then I could achieve it. She never told me to become a professional chef, but I’m sure she heaved a sigh of relief when I announced my intention to go to culinary school.

I’ve always liked to read. I developed the habit in my early teens, when a neighbor lent me her collection of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew detective novels.  They became my secret pass to worlds filled with dashing adventure, hated villains and valiant heroes. I devoured the adventures of The Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and The Three Musketeers.  I was shamelessly addicted, I wanted more, and each word and every sentence from the author was the only way to sate my appetite.

I’ve matured in preference: now my shelf is filled with authors such as Wilbur Smith, Stephen King and Anthony Winkler (a personal favorite). Strangely, I’ve developed an aversion to cookbooks, and my collection of them is varied and sparse. One of the few that I treasure is The Art of Eating by M.F.K Fischer: part memoir, part cookbook, seen through the eyes of a woman deeply in love with food.

I’ve never come across another writer able to describe her life and experiences as a gourmet in such a sensuous and provocative way. Fischer’s works date from 1937 to after her death in 1992,  but good prose is timeless. Her writing, crisp and incisive, has been the source of inspiration for Photochefs.com. Often, when I’m writing and words seem to fail, I’ll take her book from the shelf and randomly thumb through the pages, reading whatever first catches my eye.

Looking back, I still feel the same sense of awe and excitement as when I started as a culinary intern. As a cook, I’m always learning and progressing. Each kitchen is unique in the lessons it teaches: technique, cooking style, respect for ingredients are passed from one generation to the next.

I’ve grown to love this conundrum of fire, rubber mats, stainless steel and sweat. I’ve learned from my experience – older, wiser  – that cooking is my way of sharing with my peers.  It’s how I give back and say, “Thank you, this is what I’ve learned and I’m proud to show it to you. ”

I derive my pleasure from feeding the hungry with well-prepared food and well-written words. Through Photochefs.com, I have an outlet for these twin passions.

Even A Scientist Could Make This Chocolate Brownie

“The true measure of passion is the ability to follow your dreams

without encouragement from anyone else.”   Jomo Morris  

Science was never one of my favorite subjects in school. I had no time for formulas, physics, or complicated mathematic equations. Within our rigid “British styled” school system, it was ludicrous to equate science with anything happening in the real world.

The preferred method of teaching in our Jamaican school system was for students to memorize and accurately regurgitate whatever was written in our textbooks. Teachers were encouraged to use the strap, and they were quite adept at using this as a motivational tool.

Fear helped me commit to memory the collective works of Einstein, Hahn and Newton. Much to the delight of my teacher, I had become a human Xerox machine and could repeat verbatim “Einstein’s conversion of mass to energy” or Newton’s “law of gravitation.” I made it through high school with a foolproof recipe for success: binge study, pass the exam, and promptly forget everything. IMG_6989 It’s no wonder I decided to pursue a career as a cook; in my kitchen there wasn’t a textbook in sight. Line cooks didn’t need to study: my hours were spent chopping, peeling, and prepping ingredients for service. I was content with this routine, until I saw my chef making chocolate.   IMG_7374My executive chef likes to make chocolate. Call it his passion: some people paint, some sing, some write; he processes chocolate from raw cocoa beans. I never knew the cocoa bean had such a rich history. It took centuries for the bean to make its way from the jungles of South America to the imperial courts of European aristocracy and ultimately into the hands of artisans, who transformed chocolate into the decadent treat I know and love today. This was a rare opportunity to witness a centuries-old process, and I was determined to soak it in like a sponge.IMG_4451 At first, I was afraid. A line cook’s sole purpose is to prep hard – focus up and head down – but I was intrigued. It took time, but over the ensuing months I’d strategically position myself whenever the smell of roasting cocoa beans filled the kitchen. The rich earthiness of the roasted bean, a kind of edible perfume for cooks, conjures images of distant rain forests and faraway lands. Gradually, as my chef went through each stage of the chocolate making process, I was able to follow along. IMG_5456 I discerned that prying the sweet essence from the cocoa bean required diligence, technical expertise and a delicate touch. Chef had spent years perfecting his recipe. Surely I would have paid more attention in high school chemistry if I’d known the results could be this delicious!

 I’d never dare attempt making artisanal chocolate in my tiny apartment; instead I’ll share my favorite recipe for chocolate brownies. There’s not a hint of baking chocolate in this recipe – which may surprise chocolate aficionados –  but trust me, this is the best brownie you’ll ever have. It was given to me by the pastry chef at work and I was surprised that it was so simple. In this recipe, cocoa powder stands in for chocolate and the entire mixture can easily be made by hand.

Chucks’ Chocolate Brownies

2 ¼ cup granulated sugar

1 ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. salt

1 ¼ cup butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4     eggs

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Use a pat of butter and heavily grease the sides and bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking tray. Combine the sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl.

Melt the butter and pour the melted butter into the sugar, salt and cocoa powder mixture. Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture until it resembles a thick chocolate paste.  The mixture will be thick and grainy.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. Sift the all-purpose flour and use the rubber spatula to incorporate into the chocolate mixture by thirds. Make sure to mix one third of the flour in completely before adding another. The mixture will be extremely thick, like chocolate paste

. Spread evenly into the baking tray.  Bake for 30 minutes. It is done when a toothpick in the center emerges slightly moist with batter. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. For presentation purposes ,the best way to cut a brownie is to freeze them for a bit before removing them from the pan. IMG_5670