How to stay vegan at camp #camplife

I’ve wanted to write this post for awhile now. I’ve spent the past month at a camp for kids as program assistant and manager of the camp store. At the store, campers can spend cash $ or bring $ and hand it over to myself or a counselor/unit leader during registration. Parents can also set up accounts prior to camp, and some campers have $ left over from the previous year or have funds earned via credits earned during the year. The camp shop also accepts credit cards and checks from parents and camp staff. I assume campers could use credit cards and/or checks as well, though most utilize the account system.

After breakfast on the last day of a week at camp, before they return home on the bus or their parents pick them up, campers frequent the camp shop to ask for their account balance and/or receive a refund of $ not spent. Yesterday I panicked because I thought I over-refunded one kid’s account. I remember this because when I informed her of her account balance on the second-to-last day of the session, she made a comment along the lines of “great, then tomorrow I can buy a hamburger when we stop on the way home”. The next day, when this camper asked for her refund, it perplexed me that it amounted to $9. I could have sworn she had $6 left, because I’d associated her hamburger comment with the Carl’s Jr. “six dollar burger” commercials aired on TV in the late ’90s. Later, when I “counted out” for the evening and calculated the sales/factored in the refunds, it appeared that I hadn’t given her 3 extra dollars after all. Who knows, perhaps the price of burgers has risen significantly since 1999. Or maybe the camper in question planned to stop at an overpriced hipster establishment on the ride home. Maybe somewhere in the town nearest to civilization, the irony is thick enough to have one. When the camper said “burger”, she could have meant “kobe beef slider”. Whatever the case, over-refund I did not—so the reason for the prevalence of this experience on my psyche escapes me.

Here I now sit, just outside a mountain town town I practically grew up in due to its significance as a stop along the way toward family vacations every summer. Its familiarity comforts me, I think. I sip coffee with almond milk and a glass of pineapple juice, my lungs rejoicing in the increased availability of oxygen from the lower elevation. I recall last night, and the heirloom tomato I enjoyed with sliced red onion and a glass of “Unruly Red” California red wine. I hadn’t tasted wine in a long time. I now either appreciate it more, or my acceptance of the “wine hype” has waned. I can’t pinpoint this heightened sense of critiquing social norms and things humans in “society” consider fun or recreational, but I must admit I don’t dislike it. Moreover, this feeling or “sense” (which in this context might seem analogous to jadedness) is not new. An important component of my personality, I have repressed and questioned it the more I develop a self-consciousness of “being an adult”, looking back on my gypsy-vagabond life path and serendipitous decision-making. In the past year I have wondered “am I crazy”, thinking of the airstream trailer and 1985 motor home parked in the field behind the house situated between the two radio towers and deemed by my grandmother as a “meth house” (not so, but her statement did not surprise me based on its appearance to the outside world/drivers on the 1-5). Currently I reside in a raised platform tent, on a cot with a mattress and ultralight REI sleeping bag. I use a flannel/canvas sleeping bag underneath it, which helps the plastic “mattress” to not seem as such—and a pillow I picked up at WalMart at the last minute after realizing I’d forgotten the luxurious one my Nana so graciously lent me, despite the frequency of her reminding me to pack it in my car so as to not leave without it in the morning. Sure enough I left without it, an action that I justify to myself daily under the pretense that “sleeping on a WalMart pillow builds character”.

The camp has a salad bar, so my diet consists mostly of sliced black olives, beets, iceberg lettuce/red cabbage/carrot mix and sunflower seeds. On good days it includes broccoli or cauliflower, cucumbers, and sliced onions or tomatoes. Due to dietary needs by gluten-free and vegetarian campers, the weekly menu includes things like vegetable stir-fry, curry, tacos, pizza, and pasta. For me, this means beans on taco night, stir-fry or curry over lettuce minus the rice, marinara over steamed broccoli on pasta night, or a slice of gluten-free thin-crust cheese-less pizza on pizza night. Sometimes the vegan or gluten-free option has nothing to do with the meal served to the majority, and/or involves raisins (strongly dislike) or pecans (allergic). In general, the adaptability of the kitchen staff to accommodate vegans has impressed me thus far. At first it perplexed me that on some days the vegan or gluten-free option contained no protein (usually on pizza or pasta nights), but the availability of sunflower seeds at the salad bar has allowed me to avoid requesting additional “special food” from the kitchen. On certain days the salad bar includes a plastic 9-pan filled with three-bean-salad. In a bowl or a cup filled with hot water from the carafe across the dining hall, the salty-sweet, vinagre-y syrup strains out, leaving only chickpeas, wax beans/string beans, and kidney beans.

*Disclaimer: I love washing dishes. It’s my favorite chore. I’ve also been paid to do it, even at the camp. Something about scraping things I don’t eat from a plastic plate and arranging them in a plastic rack, or rinsing the forks, knives, and spoons and separating them into separate containers and pass through the sanitizer really gives me a zen experience. I don’t think it’s crazy to enjoy certain meaningless tasks. I hate dusting, for example. It mainly bothers me that professions such as dishwashing are stigmatized, and influence social strata among social and work relationships alike.

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Vegan Borscht + pumpkin seed sour cream

In college I worked at a global-fusion restaurant/cafe called Pangea that specialized in soups and natural/organic/locally-sourced ingredients. *If any of you dear readers go to Ashland, Oregon, definitely eat there. It even has a collection of coffee table books for your viewing pleasure, including What The World Eats, which I consider one of the best and most culturally-relevant photo essays ever made. I would’ve written a 5-star yelp review for Pangea but I don’t know if I can; I think yelp prohibits all employees (former included) from yelping about businesses they are or once were affiliated with.
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Spicy Sautéed Kale with Lime

spicy kale with lime
I love recipe makeovers. Last week I “made over” a Julia Child recipe. This week it’s Martha Stewart. Often recipes makeovers are easy, like in this case, where I only substituted stevia for the honey and lime for the lemon.
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Cooking Smart: Brussels Sprouts + Greens

brussels sprouts green kale

One thing you can do to significantly reduce your bill = cook smart. Whether your stove is gas or electric, or if you’re in a tent in the woods with only one match: here’s how you do it.

Object Lesson A: Brussel sprouts and greens
Let’s say you have brussels sprouts and some greens that have wilted slightly and/or would taste much more satisfying cooked. You have a pot to cook in with a lid, and a knife of some sort.

Trim brussels sprouts of any soiled leaves. If you have a knife, chop off the base of the sprouts (which can tend to be dirty).

Boil sprouts in enough water to cover them. Cover with lid to bring water to a boil more quickly. Once the water begins to boil, lift the lid and add a few shakes of salt if you have it. This will help tenderize the sprouts and reduce overall cooking time. Boil covered for 6-12 minutes. If you like them a bit softer, err on the side of 12.

Turn off heat and remove sprouts with a spoon or strainer, leaving the vegetable water in the pot. Immediately throw your greens into the pot. Cover with lid, allowing the heat from the water/vapor to cook the greens. The salt in the water will also tenderize the greens, allowing them to cook quickly and serve while the brussels sprouts are still warm. Serve with the broth/leftover water to warm your insides and to maximize nutrient intake. The brussels sprouts and broth taste taste delicious as is, but also when lightly seasoned with lemon juice and black pepper.

brussels sprouts greens brussels sprouts and kale brussels sprouts and greens

More Cooking Smart recipes to follow…

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