September 14, 2010

Loving Hut | Tilth Harvest Festival | Urban flocks

Last night marked our second visit to The Loving Hut vegan restaurant in Seattle's International District. I can't talk about the food without first giving a little background about the restaurant, and the woman behind it. But ... it's complicated. The Loving Hut is part of an international chain of vegan restaurants operated by independent owners under the auspices of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Is that a cult, you ask? Well, maybe. In searching out information about Supreme Master Ching Hai, I found lots of conflicting facts concerning what may or may not be unusual business practices and behaviors. To keep this at a reasonable length, and not be negative towards the Supreme Master, I'll stick mainly to the positive message approved by Supreme Master on her various Web sites.

She was born in Vietnam in 1960 to Catholic parents, but was exposed to Buddhist teachings through her grandmother. Her father was a distinguished naturopath. She was married briefly to a German scientist (when she worked in Germany) but left the marriage to pursue enlightenment with spiritual masters in the Himalayas. She sought out, and eventually found, a teacher of the Quan Yin method of Buddhist meditation — the meditation on inner light and inner sound. Supreme Master Ching Hai now accepts students of meditation, and offers her teachings free to all who agree to follow certain rules of behavior, such as being vegan, and giving up alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other vices.

The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived, but several dining parties
Her enterprise is massive, and she has millions of followers. But, I'm mainly concerned here with the restaurant and its message. The restaurant's slogan is "Be vegan. Go green. Save the planet." Can't complain about that. The restaurant strives to serve delicious, healthy, organic, reasonably-priced vegan food. So far so good, right? And they have a parking lot — no small concession in hard-and-expensive-to-park-in Seattle. There's a literature table when you first walk in, and it has things like a vegan restaurant guide, and other information on embracing a vegan lifestyle. There was a "Meet Your Meat" DVD from Action for Animals, and a "Food Choices & Climate Change" DVD. The latter was obviously produced by the Supreme Master TV group, and it had photographs of Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and, that's right, the Supreme Master. I haven't had a chance to view it yet.

There is a large-screen TV in the restaurant that plays the Supreme Master TV channel nonstop, but the sound isn't loud enough to encourage listening, and from where I was sitting, I was unable to see or hear well enough to understand what was showing. But no need to visit the restaurant if you want to watch, you can do it here: suprememastertv.com. It's available in many languages.

When we entered the nearly empty restaurant, we were greeted with disconcerting enthusiasm. I like to feel welcome at a business establishment, but occasionally a line can be crossed (I'm thinking of some experiences in Trader Joe's checkout line, to be specific) between welcome and weird. The young man who welcomed us, and became our waiter, was incredibly cheerful and helpful. Once I adjusted to his level of joy, I was OK, but something a little more subtle might have been nice. Do I sound like Scrooge? (He was attentive and charming, and I'm sure any discomfort was entirely my fault.)

So, by now you're wondering, how was the food? It was great. In spite of the overload of fake meat on the menu, I enjoyed the dishes we selected on both visits, but last night was my favorite. I wish we'd had more people with us so we could have tried more dishes. And I wish we could go back tonight! For starters we ordered basil rolls. These looked like perfectly made, fresh Thai spring rolls, but wrapped inside with the basil, vegetables, tofu, clear noodles and unidentifiable fake-meat-whatever, was a crunchy layer that might have been fried noodles. Whatever it was, it was amazing, and I want more.

Next we had Chinese Broccoli Noodle, which was filled with veggies, and was delicious. The vegetables tasted fresh, and the sauce was light — not heavy or greasy. I personally think it would have been better without the "beef," but we loved the large amount of Chinese broccoli and the ginger-flavored sauce.

Our second entrée was Curry Masala, with tofu, onion, and according to the menu, "all vegetables." This also was filled with fresh veggies, and topped with a delicately seasoned curry sauce. The dinner came with complimentary tea and brown rice. Although I really liked our food choices, I couldn't help but notice the huge bowl of fabulous looking soup at a nearby table. As we were leaving, I had to comment how good it looked, and ask what it was. It was called Bun Hue, and is a traditional, spicy soup that I'm ordering next time. Yes, we're definitely going back!

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Tilth Harvest Festival

This past weekend we attended the Tilth Harvest Festival, a celebration of local, organic food and farmers. There were rows and rows of informational booths as well as vendors selling everything from vegetables to chocolates to chicken coops. And speaking of chicken coops ...

If you are vegan, what do you think of the whole backyard chicken movement? I spoke to a few members of a vegan group at the fair, and they showed me the information sheet they were handing out. The paper was a realistic discussion of the care and responsibilities involved in humanely caring for urban hens. It emphasized the commitment required to nurture and protect from predators, urban chickens that might live 10 years or more. What happens when the chickens stop laying eggs? What happens when they get sick and require costly veterinary care? Hens are often treated as disposable creatures — certainly as edible ones. I also learned about the possibly questionable sources for urban chickens. Factory farms that hatch chicks routinely either grind up defective and slow-hatching females and newborn male chicks alive, electrocute them, or throw them into trash cans, where they slowly suffocate. Buying chickens from these places supports the cruelty.

On the one hand, if individuals using the highest standards raised their own chickens for eggs, and never depended on commercial eggs, perhaps we could see a small reduction in the suffering of hens raised for egg production. Part of me is very attracted to the idea — I like chickens and find them interesting. On the other hand, I'm vegan, and would rather see the urban, organic, local food movement embrace a more animal-friendly diet. I admit to being a little put off by people in rapture over local cheeses, meat, and eggs.

While at the festival, we attended a fermentation workshop where the owners of Firefly Kitchens talked about and demonstrated their approach to fermenting foods. I sampled their carrot ginger slaw and it was really good. They put the shredded vegetables and salt in jars and pound them to release their liquids, then ferment them from three days to four weeks to obtain the desired results. I felt they were too casual with their directions, telling people to taste a salt solution to see if it was salty enough to prevent bacterial growth, and they didn't make a strong enough case for proper cleaning of jars and equipment. For people new to fermenting foods, there wasn't enough detail. I've done quite a bit of food preserving in the past (before I got so lazy :D), including pickling in jars and crocks, and was surprised at the lack of clear information.

The workshop made me wish I had my Japanese pickle press here in Seattle so I could make quick pickles. The pickle press uses salt and pressure to make vegetables release their liquid, creating fast pickles and fermented foods. I may just pay a visit to Amazon and see how much the presses cost these days. Or maybe it's time to visit City Kitchens, and take advantage of their birthday sale.

Before we left the festival, we stopped at Devra Gartenstein's quesadilla stand where we found her selling three heat-and-eat black bean tamales for $5. We bought three, took them home, and had tamales with leftover ranchero sauce, kale and salad for supper.

18 comments:

  1. I agree with you when it comes to the local animal product craze. Yes, it's much better than factory farming but doesn't quite reach our highest human potential...that's my opinion anyway! Lovely pictures, as always. Thanks for sharing, Andrea!

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  2. I am with you...over zealous waiters kind of creep me out and annoy me at the same time. I don't think that makes you a scrooge! Or if it does, it makes me one too ;-)

    The festival sounds like a lot of fun and the local produce looks lovely!

    Courtney

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  3. You are so funny! Some of your comments are exactly what I think all the time!

    We must have been right behind you at the Harvest Fair because I saw them showing the saurkraut as we were leaving. Sorry we didn't get to meet!

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  4. Thanks for the info about Loving Hut. It sounds like an interesting place and the food looks great. I'll have to give it a try.

    Re: city chickens, I'm more against than for it. On the one hand, if it allows some people to get to know chickens as charming and intelligent creatures, then maybe they will become more sensitive to animal welfare/animal farming issues in general...that would be a good thing.

    But honestly, I don't think the majority of people have enough sense of responsibility to look after the most basic pet, much less an animal that needs special housing, conditions, considerations. I guess that sounds crabby and pessimistic, but from my experience volunteering at the Seattle animal shelter it just doesn't leave me with a strong feeling of confidence...we get lots of hens and roosters in by the way...at the moment there are 4 roosters and a goat in residence at the shelter. (Tilth is promoting city goats too):-<

    I'm all for rescuing farm animals, and hope to have some as companions myself someday, but for themselves as creatures, not for what they can produce. I get annoyed with Seattle Tilth spending so much effort promoting urban animal farming, when they could do A LOT more in the way of offering gardening and agriculture outreach, certification and workshops.

    I'm a member of Tilth, but I totally disagree with the urban animal farming nonsense.

    Sorry, if I sounded a little ranty. :)

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  5. I love when I find a good restaurant!

    As for backyard chickens...I would never do it, but I have a good friend that does.
    I guess if you are going to eat eggs... at least you know where they are coming from.

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  6. I was hoping you would have prepared the fairytale eggplant since my two attempts were so...unfortunate.

    I met a couple of "almost vegans" at a vegan supper club recently. They told me they were "95% vegan" because they only ate eggs from "chickens with names".* Besides the simple fact that vegans have no business eating eggs, period, I too worry that other backyard farmers will jump into the responsibility without fully understanding the care that is involved.

    *The whole story if you're interested (along with some droolworthy food pics): http://a-soy-bean.blogspot.com/2010/07/dining-at-4-course-vegan-with.html

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  7. Aimee' Thank you. I think we're in agreement about the urban farmers.

    Courtney,
    Yes, sometimes it can seem a little awkward when people we don't know are too personal.

    Carbzilla,
    I wish I had known you were there! It would have been fun to meet.

    Rose,
    I think you would enjoy Loving Hut.

    Thanks for your thoughtful answer. The distinction between raising animals for their companionship or for their food value is an important one. And I think it's a realistic assumption that many (most?) people are not up to the responsibility of thoughtfully sharing their lives with animals. I didn't even realize that Tilth was encouraging city goats; I think that's a terrible idea.

    Kiersten,
    I hope your friend treats her chickens as more than just a source of eggs. I realize that not everyone assigns high status to food animals, and many people I know would just consider ideas like that crazy.

    Abigale,
    Backyard farming is "in" right now and I worry about what that will mean for the animals involved.
    I'm going to head over to your blog now to see the story and photos.

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  8. Hi Andrea, other possibly resulting atrocities notwithstanding, I can't help but think that this trend of backyard farming is at least going to end just as poorly as other seemingly "good ideas" such as giving a child a bunny for Easter.

    Have you heard that in NY the new fad is to take "cooking" classes where you learn how to slaughter your own animal? Sometimes it seems we are moving backward. :-(

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  9. So, you don't like cheery waiters, and you only talk to dogs, not the dog people. I'm getting a picture here, Andrea!

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  10. Blessedmama,
    There's cheery and there's CHEERY, I'm more of a cheery. And, well, dogs ... yes ... but I'm trying harder to include the people. :D

    Abigale,
    I'm afraid you're most likely right about that. Just spend some time in an animal shelter and you can't help but feel disheartened. I did read about those unfortunate classes in the NY Times. As backward and horrible as those classes sound to us, they sound amazing and enlightened to others.

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  11. There's a place here that must be part of the chain you're describing--same big screen TV playing nonstop. But it sounds as if the food at your joint is way better than the stuff here, which is extremely simple fare, though tasty. No fake meats or fancy sauces--mostly legume stews, simple rice bowls, etc. Those spring rolls sound phenomenal!

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  12. Ricki,
    From what I've read about the organization, each franchise gets to develop its own menu, so there can be a lot of variation from place to place. The food at ours isn't what I would call fancy. I like it because it tastes like delicious, well-prepared, real food without a huge amount of oil and salt. Can't wait to go again.

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  13. that harvest festival looks wonderful! i agree about backyard chickens...that is one of the most bizarre trends, in my opinion. i mean, overall it's better than getting eggs from a factory farm, and i understand why it's part of the local food movement, but there are so many downsides, like you mentioned. plus the chickens can be pretty destructive to other garden crops.

    i have a semi-vegan friend who keeps backyard chickens and treats them well as far as i know, but i definitely wonder what's going to happen to them as they get older, especially because she doesn't have much money and has been forced to give up animals in the past. i urge all my money-challenged friends to find godparents for their companion animals, just in case. it's infuriatingly irresponsible of people to buy animals they can't afford...i could rant about that for days but that's a whole different issue.

    the fermentation workshop sounds a lot like a canning and preserving workshop i attended last weekend at a local organic nursery. the people running it didn't wash their hands or the tomatoes they were canning, didn't sterilize anything properly...it was driving me crazy! i'm taking a community education class on fermentation next month, hopefully these instructors will be more conscientious.

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  14. Your experience with the over-enthusiastic waiter made me laugh out loud! People like that are too much! Politeness is nice, over the top *happy* is way too much!

    I used to think that maybe some day I would be able to have some chickens and eat their eggs, but now the whole idea of eating something that came out of... you know... freaks me out. Rescue chickens as pets is a whole different story though! Now, *that* I could do! :)

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  15. Emily,
    I know what you mean about people getting animals they're not prepared to take care of. It's a sad thing.

    I hope you'll post about your fermentation class — hopefully it will cover all the "ground rules" that should be followed when preserving food. I really like the blog, foodinjars. There's so much attention to detail as well as exciting recipes.

    River,
    Don't you feel bad, though, not liking someone's behavior because it is too enthusiastic?

    I know someone who cares for rescue hens, and she's had a wonderful experience with them.

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  16. My friend doesn't treat them like pets, they have a pen with grass and a nesting spot...they are just a source of food.

    My perspective...I do what is right, and I do the best I can.

    Eating eggs or other types of animal products is not something my family or I do.

    For others...it would make sense to know where your food is coming from, eating misery?

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  17. Yeah, sometimes I just prefer to remain a little incognito at restaurants. I do really like happy people, though, so tough call.

    And yes, I'd prefer for people to realize life is possible without eggs. I don't know anything about the urban chicken thing. I do know several people (in the country) who have their own chickens for the eggs, and they treat them SO WELL. I can't "really" have an opinion about those instances. I'm so happy they're not directly supporting the more horrible hen industry.

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  18. Kirsten,
    I guess it comes down to each of us doing what we feel is right. It sounds like your friend's chickens are not treated cruelly, and have their basic needs met, which is better than factory-raised hens.

    Jenny,
    I'm conflicted about the urban chicken thing. Like Rose, I don't entirely trust people to be responsible caretakers of the animals they keep, but I hope they will be. And I don't think eating eggs is a good idea, but understand that not everyone feels that way.

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