February 07, 2014

Crispy quinoa cakes with almond, rosemary and dijon | Baby in the house


It was a about five years ago that I went to hear a talk by Mark Bittman. I think he was on a tour promoting his book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. On the slim chance you don't know who Mark Bittman is, he's one of the most well-known and popular food writers in the world. For most of his career, he wrote about indulgent, animal-based cooking — I wasn't one of his fans. Then, because of personal medical issues (pre-diabetic, overweight and other concerns), he reluctantly embarked on a plant-heavy diet to regain his health. He chose food instead of medication, and as he became accustomed to his new regimen, and healthier, he began to really enjoy it. He went from extreme to minimalist in terms of his food preferences, and really began to pay attention to the toll an animal-based diet was taking not only on health, but also on the environment. His thinking continued to evolve, and soon he began to embrace the subject of animal suffering. He considers himself a flexitarian, and in addition to many other food-related books, has written a book and companion cookbook (VB6) about being vegan before 6 p.m., then eating anything you want after 6. Although he still uses animal products, he includes them sparingly, but he believes that people will be more inclined to change their diets if they approach the change slowly and non-dogmatically.

Anyway, I went to hear him out of curiosity — what would he say? Who would show up? What would they think? His talk was amazing, and surprised me. He spoke fervently about the unsustainability and cruelty of an animal-based diet. He talked about the damage the food giants have done to health by producing and power-marketing junk food. He explained what a healthy, responsible diet would look like. He said that free-range chickens and eggs, and humane meat was a scam. He said the ultimate goal would be to become vegan, but he wasn't there yet. He supported his talk with charts and research, and I was impressed with how direct he was in his condemnation of the standard American diet. But he was also gentle, kind and generous in both his lecture and the Q and A that followed — not a bit of snark or superiority. He answered the least informed questioners with the same respect and thought that he showed the most informed. I left the lecture with a lot of respect for Mr. Bittman — he may never become a vegan, but he was using his popularity and access to a widespread audience, to spread a message they might not otherwise hear, and he was doing a great job.

Not only is he sharing information about healthful and cruelty-free eating, but he continually shares great recipes that are easy to make and delicious. Whenever I come across one of his cooking articles, I check to see if it is something I might like. We made his crispy quinoa cakes recently, and they were great — simple, nourishing and tasty. I'm a diehard vegan, as you know, but I still have a lot of respect for people like Mark Bittman, who are introducing people to new ideas about food, and perhaps changing the way they eat. Vegans have made a lot of progress in promoting the vegan lifestyle, but I think we also need people like Mr. Bittman, with his wide following, encouraging people to make changes in their eating habits. What do you think? Are non-vegans helping, hurting or having no effect on diet change?


Ingredients for quinoa cakes
based on Mark Bittman's recipe in the New York Times Sunday Magazine

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots (or onion or scallion)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    For more information and directions, click here. The recipe I made is crisp quinoa cakes with almonds, rosemary and dijon. The recipe links are at the bottom of the article, where you can find links to several variations.

    Etc.

    I just started taking care of my one-year-old grandson two days a week, and I can't resist sharing a few photos from his first naptime. I got the rabbit at IKEA when I first knew he'd be spending time at our house so he would have a cuddly friend to keep him company in his cot. Looks like it was a good choice!


    The little munchkin woke up happy.


    So far he's been pretty easy to care for — he has a great attention span so it's easy to keep him interested in his toys, and he's pretty cheerful.

    27 comments:

    1. What a great post, Andrea! Lots of thoughtful questions and ideas.

      I have a complicated relationship with Bittman. I was first introduced to him when I was transcribing a reality show about him road-tripping across Spain with Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a Spanish actress, Claudia Bassols. It's a weird thing about transcription, because you spend a lot of time watching and re-watching shows you wouldn't otherwise. I slowly watched each episode 3 times as I dubbed it, typed it, and put time codes onto it. The group dynamic of the cast was very off putting to me. Much of the discussion was spent showing each other how cultured, elite, and full of themselves they all were. They gave each other cutesy names like "Batals" instead of Batali or Mario. Mark Bittman was called "Bitty." I found the show beyond irritating.

      Anyway, there was one particular episode where Bittman and Claudia Bassols toured a pig farm. They met the pigs who were happily running around. Then they went to dinner, just the two of them (and a camera crew obviously). The waiter brought them a tiny baby piglet, dead on a platter. The whole piglet. Head, tail, everything still attached. The waiter said that the way they cut the piglet is by using a plate to do it. So as Claudia and Mark sat there, the waiter used the plate to force the tiny piglet's body apart with one heavy, loud force. Claudia gasped in horror. Mark Bittman laughed. When he did, he looked at Claudia in a way that seemed to say, "Oh, you foolish girl..."

      Afterwards Claudia talked about how "beautiful" the experience was - to see the pigs that day and then that afternoon to eat a baby piglet (dubbed a "suckling pig," since he still would have been drinking his mother's milk if he hadn't been killed).

      At the time I was volunteering regularly at Animal Acres, and a new piglet, Jumper, had been saved from a terrible situation. I'd been bottle-feeding Jumper, trying to nurse the little pig back to health. Thinking of that, when I saw Bittman laughing as a piglet was cut apart in front of him, I couldn't help but start crying.

      So when I first started hearing him talking about Vegan Before Six, I was dubious. It seemed like an opportunity to cash in on a craze he would otherwise miss. However, what you describe here sounds like a man who may have been changed by what he has learned.

      Obviously most of us don't start out vegan. Many of us lived decades eating animals before we learned information that compelled us to stop. I know non-vegans who love Bittman's recipes, and I wonder if they aren't more open to trying them because he is not vegan. They don't feel like they're agreeing to more than a side dish. I hope that this change is bred out of sincerity and that his compassion for animals continues to grow.

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      1. Thank you Cadry, for your thoughtful response. You filled in some of the blanks that I only alluded to because I was trying to keep the post a reasonable length, and focused on the present. But, you are absolutely right about Mark Bittman, and that was one of the reasons I was so curious to hear him speak when I saw the topic of his talk. I remember the road-trip show well. I was working at a Public Television station and had to do advertising for the program. I tried watching it, and was disgusted by the attitudes of the stars both towards each other and to the bloody food they were gorging themselves on. It was awful and depressing.

        Bittman's talk seemed sincere (I've heard him twice), and he was extremely knowledgeable about his subject. He was also very accepting of questions and patient explaining his thoughts. I could sense from the questions that most of the audience was clearly unprepared for what they were hearing, but they were thinking about what they had just heard. I don't know if he will ever take the next step and become vegan, but maybe he will inspire others to question and reduce the amount of animal products they consume. We can hope.

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    2. Andrea, your grandson is so adorable! Look how much he loves that rabbit!

      I have mixed feelings toward Mark Bittman (and they are even more mixed after reading what you and Cadry have said). On the one hand, I appreciate that someone as popular as Bittman, who is widely perceived as "mainstream" and considered to be an "authority" on food, is making vegan food look appealing and accessible to those who would feel skepticism or pressure if the same lessons were being handed down by a strict vegan.

      On the other hand, I think the very idea that you should be vegan until 6 and then eat "whatever you want" reinforces the idea that veganism is a restrictive and ascetic lifestyle, where one cannot eat what one *wants* to eat. His firm decision not to fully commit to a vegan diet further promotes this idea that even though veganism is the responsible thing to do, eating animals and their secretions is the more fun option and we should all indulge from time to time.

      I guess on balance I am okay with Bittman; it would be a positive thing if more people ate meatless meals more often, and it's hard to argue that there wouldn't be a measurable impact on animals and the environment if the whole world were vegan before 6.

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      1. Everything you say is true. The whole 'flexitarian' thing is a conundrum. I have the same issues with vegetarianism, because it isn't true that animals don't suffer and die if we consume only their secretions. However, for many people, dietary change is a long process, and I want to be supportive of that process. I have no idea who reads this blog, and where they may be on their dietary journey. We never know what might be the thing that opens someone's eyes and heart — maybe it will be a talk by Mark Bittman!

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    3. Great post! World hunger will be eradicated if everyone eats vegan food...

      If you are inclined towards India cuisine, vegan richa and vaishali's blog holy cow are brimming with so many tasty vegan recipes ...

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      1. Thank you. I love Indiian food and have made recipes from both of the blogs you mentioned. I've also make things from Manjula's Kitchen.

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    4. [ Smiles ] Lovely vegan recipe!

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      1. Thanks. We really enjoyed it. It was even good cold the next day.

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    5. I always wondered why Mark Bittman hasn't gone totally vegan, especially knowing what he now knows about food production, health, etc.

      Crispy anything is always good in my book, those quinoa cakes look awesome!

      Super cute baby pics, that's great you'll be spending more time with the little guy. He's so happy and look at that bed head. :-)

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      1. I wonder that, too. I'm beginning to doubt that he ever will, but he still comes up with really good vegan recipes. Following his directions, the quinoa held together perfectly and was really crisp on the outside with a nice, toasty flavor.

        When I saw the babe cuddling with the bunny I went running for my phone, and I'm so glad I did!

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    6. 1. Those quinoa cakes look fantastic!
      2. Your grandson is adorable.
      3. I don't know much about Mark Bittman, I have heard of the book and without looking into it any further, thought it was ridiculous. But, I do realize that I am saying that from my vegan pedestal. I literally went vegan overnight and knowing what I know there is no way I could not be. I know everyone is different and I can't expect anyone to do what I did but I can't help but be baffled that people continue to support the torture & murder of animals for food when they know what they endure. On the other hand, if a lot of people are jumping on the VB6 train, that's a lot less animal lives being lost. Ugh, I'm so torn. But thank you for the very insightful post, and believe me, I know I'm being a bit closed minded on the subject. I wasn't born vegan, but even when I wasn't I couldn't eat anything that looked like it was once alive. The thought of eating an entire baby pig seriously makes we want to throw up and cry for humanity at the same time.

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      1. Vegans are a small minority of the population, and it's hard for most people to stop doing what everybody else does. And meat eating is addictive — cheese is especially addictive. Even when we know the facts, giving up an addiction is hard, especially when it's supported by nearly everyone else, and espoused by the media, etc. Cutting way back on animal products is at least a start in the right direction, and for many people, it's enough. They just don't want to make the break with the familiar and comforting diet they've always embraced. There are also a lot of ex-vegans who can't resist the pull back to the S.A.D. As vegans, we can reach out to others to offer examples of good food, spread the message of compassion, and support those trying to make changes in their lifestyle.

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    7. aww.. cuteness overload.. a happy kid face is the best!
      those quinoa cakes look great!

      Yea, i just dont think much about bittman. he is doing some good by talking about animals and providing good food and i will be happy if he continues to do that more and more.

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      1. The rice cakes were simple and delicious, but this week, after all the nice things I said about him, Bittman let me down. He was all about fish and pork. Bah humbug.

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    8. I went vegetarian immediately after reading The Jungle, and vegan as soon as I learned the horrifying truth behind industries other than meat (dairy/egg/wool/leather). So, what I don't understand about people like Bittman (and JSF) is that they have all of this information available to them, preach it, yet still fail to commit to veganism.
      While I can appreciate that they are wide-reaching, public advocates for a more healthful and sustainable diet, doesn't it speak volumes that they still fail to adhere to veganism by definition and identify as vegans? By preaching the virtues of veganism but failing to commit, they are reinforcing the idea that not exploiting animals is hard, inconvenient, and second to your own comfort. And, in MB's case, by coining a catchy phrase, he’s gone a step further by dangerously offering an opportunity (much like the humane myth) to make people feel better about the selfish and cruel choices they continue to make while giving them permission to bandy about the term vegan as if it’s a trendy, throwaway, fad word.
      Perhaps motives don’t matter, but I’m wary of anyone who turns failing to take responsibility for their conscious choices into big business.

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      1. Thank you for your honest, heartfelt response. I agree with everything you said, then again, at this stage of my (vegan) life I have to take a step back and look at the facts. In a 2012 Gallop poll, 5% of the U.S. population considered themselves vegetarian. Of that number, 2% said they were vegan. That 2% probably contains some who consider themselves vegan "most of the time." I don't know if it includes foregoing leather, wool, feathers, etc. 2% isn't a very high percentage. If it's so obvious why we shouldn't kill animals for our pleasure, and so easy to be vegan, why are there so few vegans in our culture? Maybe it's not enough to know the facts; it takes something more — to REALLY KNOW the facts, to become one with the facts, to experience the knowledge in a way that changes your life — how does that happen? And what about the vegans who made the realization, then started eating meat again? For most people raised in a meat-eating culture, becoming vegan isn't easy. Yes, you and I find it easy, but for the majority, it's a huge leap. Cutting way back on animal consumption is a start, and I want to encourage whatever steps people are willing to take in that direction. Some will progress farther than others, but all of them will have an impact. When people like MB and Jonathan Safran Foer spell out the facts for people or offer (in MB's case) recipes, they are influencing others in ways we can't predict. How many people learned about the horrors of animal foods because of them and became vegan? (There were quite a few at a JSF talk I attended.) Sometimes I'm impatient and disgusted, waiting for people "to get it." But, in the end, each of us has to decide what we believe, and what we are willing to live with in procuring our food. Encouraging and educating people to appreciate the ethical value of eating more plants and fewer animals is a step forward.

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    9. Mark Bittman is pretty impressive, his vegan recipes are amazing. Mmmm crispy quinoa cakes?! I need this now! Awwww what an adorable grandson! I’m visiting my 9-month old niece, too in a few weeks in Boston, I can’t wait to see her again!

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      1. I'm sure you'll have a fabulous time with your niece — babies are so addictive! And yes, the quinoa cakes were crispy and delicious.

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    10. Your grandson is so cute - what sweet pictures!

      I'm not convinced about the whole flexitarian or VB6 movement - it suggests that veganism is something you can pick up and put down at will, or that it's a part time thing, which implies animal use is fine, as long as it's minimal. I'd rather see people talk about veganism in an approachable fashion, rather than in the context of some new diet.

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      1. I think for some people, being part-time vegans is all they can manage. It's not ideal, but it's better than eating meat at every meal. Maybe they will never be vegan, but it's possible they will find veganism to be totally doable, and preferable. We can encourage them and hope. Some people become vegan overnight, and some spend years finding their way.

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    11. Oh my goodness that babyyyyy!!!!! Eeeeee!!!!
      I made quinoa patties last week! I love them! Such an easy and delicious treat.

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      1. Thanks for the baby-love. We think he's pretty great! :-)

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    12. I've found Mark Bittman's approach to veganism a little frustrating, but regardless of my feelings on his "not being there yet" he's definitely brought the discussion of animal suffering and animal welfare into the local food/food security/food justice community, which I think is still an important conversation to have.

      I also liked reading Cadry's comment because it gives me a sense that his thoughts on animals have evolved a bit since the show Cadry mentioned.

      Goodness those quinoa cakes look amazing. Amazing.

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      1. I think MB has come a long way from his attitude on the show, but there's still plenty of room for his thoughts to evolve. I don't know why, but I find MB less frustrating than Michael Pollan. MP infuriates me nearly every time I hear him speak.

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    13. I'm adding those quinoa cakes to our menu this week. And he is so cuuuuutttte. Sweet pics.

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    14. Philippine pili nuts from the Bicol region in the Philippines is a great Filipino or Philippines food orsnack. Pili nuts are very healthy and nutritious indeed, being a source of energy, potassium and iron.They also have protein, dietary fiber / fibre, and calcium as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.  I know they have no cholesterol, no trans fat, and the unsalted ones have no sodium. What is great about the pili nut snack or treat is that they are so crisp, rich, and delicious.

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